Monday, November 14, 2016

Couple Finds Historic Photo While Tearing Down an Old Barn in Whitfield County

When Antonio and Karen Peters of Ellijay were tearing down an old barn on Riverbend Road in Whitfield County in December 2015, they never dreamed they'd discover a photo of historic importance inside.

Members of the Joseph E. Johnston Camp, No. 34, United Confederate Veterans pose for a photograph on the side of the Whitfield County Courthouse during a reunion in 1909, almost 45 years after they fought in the Civil War.

"I didn't even really pay any attention to it," said Antonio, who repurposes old barn wood into birdhouses and furniture. "I found the photo with the frame still on it, but it was really kinda messed up."

"The glass in the frame was broken," Karen said, "and I was afraid it was going to start scratching up the photo so I took the glass off of it."

"I was just going to throw it away," Antonio said, but his wife quickly suggested otherwise and saved the old photo, intrigued by the mystery surrounding it.

A few days later, Karen carried it to a flea market in Ellijay to show it around and see if someone there might know more about the people in the photo.

It didn't take long for Vickie W. Crowe, a history buff from an organization known as Bartow Ancestors, to tell her that the photo shows a group of Civil War veterans from Camp 34 during a reunion in Whitfield County in 1909.

"Vickie said they are standing in front of the old Whitfield County Courthouse," Karen said, "and this photo shows what was left of their regiment at the reunion. You can see one man's holding a bugle, and some of the men are wearing little medals."

Local Civil War expert Greg Cockburn also confirmed the identity of the photo, saying that it is identical to one at the Georgia Archives except that one has Gen. Joseph E. Johnston superimposed above the veterans.

He says it shows members of the United Confederate Veterans Association, active from 1889 to the mid-1940s as a benevolent, historical, social, and literary association. Its mission was to "unite in a general federation of all associations of Confederate veterans, soldiers and sailors, now in existence or hereafter to be formed; to gather authentic data for an impartial history of the war between the States; to preserve relics or mementos of the same; to cherish the ties of friendship that should exist among men who have shared common dangers, common sufferings and privations; to care for the disabled and extend a helping hand to the needy; to protect the widows and the orphans, and to make and preserve a record of the services of every member, and as far as possible of those of our comrades who have preceded us in eternity."

No doubt the Association would be pleased to know that a photo of their reunion has resurfaced nearly a century later.

The photo shows Camp 34, named in honor of Gen. Johnston, which helped raise the money for Johnston's statue and contributed to other war-related causes. Other camps were named in honor of other Generals, such as Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee.

According to Cockburn, veterans from Whitfield County were in multiple infantry regiments, as well as cavalry, and some of the soldiers fought in the Army of Northern Virginia and surrendered under Lee at Appomattox, while those in the Army of Tennessee surrendered at Bentonville, N.C., under Johnston. The veterans in the photo were a mixture, with different wartime experiences.

Cockburn carried the identification one step further, however, pointing out that the barn where the photo was found once belonged to a Civil War veteran named Adam Kreischer. And since it was taken five years before his death, Cockburn says Kreischer himself could well be in the photo!

Antonio and Karen Peters of Ellijay hold a historic photo showing Confederate veterans at the old Whitfield County Courthouse during a 1909 reunion. (Photo by Mitch Talley).

"Adam Kreischer (1832-1914) owned and occupied the property where the barn was located at the time the photo was taken," Cockburn said, "and his family remained on the property for another two generations. He is buried with other family members, just north of the barn site in the Kreischer/Schneider cemetery, at the intersection of Hill and Riverbend roads."

Kreischer was born in Germany and came to the Dalton area with his German-born parents and siblings in the late 1840s. He was a private in Company C, 36th Georgia Infantry Regiment, that was captured at Vicksburg and later paroled and assigned to Cumming's Brigade, Stevenson's Division, the Army of Tennessee where it remained until the Army of Tennessee's surrender in Bentonville, N.C. According to his 1910 pension application, Kreischer was discharged at Greensboro, N.C., in April 1865. His widow, Kittie Schwab Kreischer, born in Dalton to German-born parents in 1852, lived on until 1933, and after her death, the property was passed on to her daughter.

Karen is just glad she and her husband were able to help preserve a piece of Whitfield County history.

"I thought the photo was pretty cool," Karen said. "Somebody who saw it said to me, 'Why don't you just sell it?' but I said, 'No, why don't I just donate it?' "

That's when she called Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb and offered to give the photo to the county for display with other historical documents.

"We appreciate this couple being willing to donate this photo to us," Babb said. "Anytime you can save history, it's a good thing. We plan to donate the photo to the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society for safe-keeping."

Ironically, the Confederate flag shown in the photo could be the same one that was flown in Dalton in 1864 when the Army of Tennessee was in winter quarters in this area, though Cockburn can't confirm that.

"The flag looks tattered enough and could be the one in the photo," he said, "but you can't really tell. The battle flags ordered by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston were manufactured in Atlanta and shipped from the Atlanta Depot. They were distributed at Dalton and called 'Dalton Issue.' "

Legend has it that when the war ended, Captain S.P. Greene hid one of the tattered flags under his clothes and brought it home with him. He eventually returned the flag to the 39th Regiment to flag bearer B.K. Hix during an 1887 reunion, and Hix's grandson, W.M. Hix, eventually donated it to the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society in 1995.

A serendipitous sequence of events led to the discovery of the old photo last December, according to Antonio and Karen.

"My son had originally come up to Dalton about a year ago to survey the land for Frank Walters right after he bought it," Karen explained. "My son asked him what he was going to do with the barn on the land, and Mr. Frank said he was gonna tear it down. My son said, wait a minute, call my mama, so we came over and Mr. Frank just gave us the barn and said we could have whatever was in it."

Walters told the couple he believes the barn was built in the 1920s and that he had no idea what was inside but they were welcome to have it.

"It turned out there was antique tools you name it, it was in there," Karen said after the dismantling. "I mean, old feed signs like you find at old feed and seed stores. It was just packed full of all kinds of old stuff, old farm tools, old bottles and tools. We found one sign for Pep Feed for chickens, and they stopped making that sign in the early 1930s. Antonio found one in perfect condition in there."

Ironically, with Star Wars all the rage now thanks to the latest sequel burning up the box office, the couple even found an old Star Wars toy in the barn, an X-fighter that actually opens up. "The date on it was 1978, and it's in almost perfect condition," she said.

Karen says she grew up in South Georgia close to the Florida line. "Every summer, my dad used to bring us up to this general area, and we would visit all the memorials, Civil War memorials, and it was fascinating to me," she said. "I thought, man, if my daddy had seen this - he's passed away now - but if he'd have seen that old picture, he'd have had a cow!"

The couple takes pride in helping preserve history whenever they tear down an old barn.

"When we sell the furniture or birdhouses that Antonio makes out of the old wood," Karen says, "we tell the people who buy it where the wood comes from and give them a little bit of the history behind it, so the history keeps going."

As she gazed out recently across the road beside the nearly dismantled barn and cars kept whizzing past, she speculated about how much the view had likely changed since the barn was originally built nearly 100 years ago.

"Thinking about the history of this old barn makes you wonder what all this looked like back then," Karen pondered.

"Either woods or pasture land," Antonio guessed.

Now that they've finished taking this barn apart, they have their eye on another barn that they will dismantle later this year and give new life to.

"If we find something else there," Antonio chuckled, "we'll give you a call!"

(This story & the accompanying photos were submitted to NewsChannel 9 by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications.)

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