July 22, 2008
The date is May 9th, 1865. Richmond has fallen, and the fledgling Confederate States of America is in its dying moments. While most of his government has already resigned, Jefferson Davis is vowing to fight on.
With most of the old Confederacy now in Union hands, where does he plan to go?
Paul Bradshaw, the Site Manager of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site has the answer, "He was going to come through the Deep South and he was going to go to the Florida coast and find a boat. And the boat was going to take him to Texas and he was going to join up with Confederate troops under General Edmund Kirby Smith that were in Texas and had not surrendered to the Union yet. He was going to continue to fight for what he said was the lost cause."
He and a few of his remaining staff members are camped out near the small South Georgia town of Irwinville. What he doesn't know is that two units of Union soldiers are in hot pursuit and on the morning of May 10th, the federals close in and capture Davis and his party.
While this town's unique place in history may be forgotten by some, it hasn't been forgotten by those who have called Irwinville home. This site has been open to the public for more than 80 years. And even though it isn't exactly on the main line, visitors that we talked to have found it to be worth a little bit of an extra drive.
John Dunn is a history teacher in Ocala, FL. He told us that "My wife and I have relatives in North Georgia and we've been taking the trip on I-75 for 35 years and we finally decided to slow down and get off the interstate and to see all of the sights that we wanted to see but never took the time to do."
As you might expect, the site has a museum filled with artifacts from the Civil War era. But there's also has a playground, an enclosed air conditioned shelter to beat the heat and a nature trail here to fill your time. The museum building even serves a purpose that you might not think of...
"A lot of people like to come out here and get married right here in front of the museum," said Bradshaw.
Couples performing a civil union in front of a museum which chronicles the final journey of a man who tried to break apart the federal union...one of those strange twists of history.
Our next stop took us to the town of Fitzgerald. Located just 9 miles north of Irwinville, it was founded in 1895 by former Union and Confederate soldiers. And it has some unique features, perhaps none more unique than the sidewalks downtown with alternating blue and gray bricks.
Speaking of blue and gray, there's even a museum with that name here. The Blue and Gray Museum was founded in 1960 by Beth Davis and after being moved from the old Lee Grant Hotel, it takes up part of the former train depot on Jackson Street.
Would you like to hear the full story of how the town was founded? Check out the 18 minute long video near the entrance to the museum.
Patricia Walker is the Director of the museum. "The video is very informative. It is a good beginning for anyone who comes to the museum to begin to look. Because, number one, if they're not familiar with our story then they get that background before they come to look at the museum."
Just like in Irwinville, you can see plenty of artifacts from the Civil War era, not surprising given the museum's name. But here it's not just about the War Between the States. There are also plenty of other items from this town's rich past.
Everywhere you look, there are reminders of the day-to-day life that the early settlers lived as they carved this town out of the pine forest at a time when all of the carving was being done by hand.
Some of the visitors that we spoke to were impressed by all of the history. Said Sheri Rushing of Richmond Hill, GA., "Some of the clothes, people that wore them, you know, you wonder what life was like, you know, for those people who lived so many years ago."
Here you can get a good sense of what it took to live in a rural South Georgia community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But to see examples of the past, you don't need to go any further than the downtown district where several of the buildings go back to the founding of the town.
Here in Fitzgerald it seems as though the past is not forgotten, even as the town looks towards the future.
If you decide to go: the Jefferson Davis Memorial is in Irwinville, 14 miles east of I-75, Exit 78. In Irwinville, turn left on Jeff Davis Park Road and proceed one mile to the site. To get to Fitzgerald, take Exit 82 off of I-75 and go east on Highway 107 for 20 miles. Both can be easily reached on only one tank of gas.
For more information about the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site, you can call (229) 831-2335 and for the Blue and Gray Museum you can call (229) 426-5069.