Built in 1925, this Masonic Temple sits in the site of its predecessor, which was struck down by lightning in 1921. The ensuing flames wiped out large portions of the town. The first structure was founded in 1855 and was featured in the January 7, 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly, due to its location near a skirmish between General Sherman’s Left Wing and General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate Calvary Corps. During the last weeks of November 1864, Washington County was the preliminary area in which Sherman’s two wings reunited after leaving Atlanta on their March to the Sea. With a force of 62,000 men, the two wings pressed in. On the right wing, Sherman’s 15th were charged with destroying transportation points along the Oconee River and did not move into Sandersville. In Washington County Sherman’s forces met with resistance as Confederate forces attempted to defend Ball’s Ferry Crossing on the Oconee River and the Buffalo Creek Crossing to the west of Sandersville. Sherman’s Aide-de-Camp, George W. Nicolas writes, “Our journey into Sandersville has been contested by the Rebel Calvary under Wheeler, and they fought our front all the way, and into the streets of Sandersville where about twenty were killed or wounded.”
In Sandersville, Sherman’s troops found a Thanksgiving feast of “fowls, vegetables, and meats” scavenged from local residents. On November 25th, Wheeler entered Sandersville from the south with thirteen Union prisoners of war. Twelve were taken by a mob and executed. They aroused citizens at 3 AM to bury the dead before dawn. The next morning, Sherman arrived and found himself in a brief skirmish with Wheeler’s Calvary on the Courthouse Square.
James Connolly of the Union forces described the scene:
Wheeler and some of his rebel cavalry were in the town when the head of the 14th Corps reached here, but they were driven out without even halting our column; the men marched right into town loading and firing as they advanced; bands playing, flags flying, and Mr. Wheeler and his rebels, of course, running almost without returning a shot. So nicely timed was the marching of the two corps on widely separate roads that almost at the same moment the heads of the two columns entered the town, ours from the west and the 20th from the southwest.
General Sherman’s own words hint at his frustration with the Confederate resistance he encountered in Washington County:
I accompanied the Twentieth Corps, which took the direct road to Sandersville, which we reached simultaneously with the Fourteenth Corps, on the 26th. A brigade of rebel cavalry was deployed before the town and was driven in and through it by our skirmish-line. I myself saw the rebel cavalry apply fire to stacks of fodder standing in the fields at Sandersville and gave orders to burn some unoccupied dwellings close by. On entering the town, I told citizens that, if the enemy attempted to carry out their threat to burn their food, corn, and fodder in our route, I would most undoubtedly execute to the letter the general orders of devastation made at the outset of the campaign. With this exception, and one or two minor cases near Savannah, the people did not destroy food, for they saw clearly that it would be ruin to themselves.
The citizens of Sandersville were left with the horrors of occupation for months. Refugee Imogene Hoyle explained the hardships that central Georgia faced in 1865:
It is impossible for us to live here, as Yankees have destroyed everything in the way of provisions. It is very evident that we can’t sit down and eat up everything we have when there is no income to supply the vacuum.
In May 1865, Jefferson Davis , President of the Confederacy, fled through Washington County, making our county the only one to experience both the wrath of Sherman’s March to the Sea and the clandestine flight of Jefferson Davis.