1863 Oct - Dec

THE HUFF HOUSE DURING THE CIVIL WAR YEARS

By Marvin Sowder

The Huff House on Selvidge Street was constructed in 1855 by Robert A. Holt and for fifty years or so it faced east overlooking the railroads entering Dalton.  Dr. James A. Black, a prominent physician, purchased the house in 1858 and resided there for four years. Dr. Black and his wife, Mary A. Seay Black, together with their seven children, were the second family to occupy the house and were living there when the Civil War began.

Their oldest daughter, eighteen-year-old Jemima Seay Black, was described as a typical southern girl with laughing brown eyes, long dark hair and a sweet disposition. She was engaged to be married to Robert Thomas (Tom) Cook of Dalton, an ambitious young man with a charming personality. One day when Jemima was attending the wedding of a friend, the Rev. J.A.R. Hanks asked her what vocation she would choose for herself. She quickly replied “I have no higher aim in life than to become a Cook.”

Tom Cook was a member of the prestigious “Dalton Guards,” and had been elected Captain of the company-sized unit by his peers. In the early summer of 1861, Jemima accompanied her fiancé to the Dalton Depot where they said their goodbyes as he and his company boarded the train bound for Camp McDonald, near Big Shanty, Georgia. On June 11, 1861, the “Dalton Guards” were mustered into service as Company B of the Phillips Legion and departed for Lynchburg, Virginia. The sentiments of the time were such that many felt the war would be over in ninety days, so Tom and Jemima set their wedding date for December 25, 1862.

It is thought that Dr. Black had plans to present the house to the couple as a wedding gift, but that would never take place. On December 13, 1862, eighteen months after saying their goodbyes, Jemima received word that her beloved Tom Cook, then a Colonel, had been shot and killed in action while fighting the enemy along the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Grief- stricken, Jemima’s laughing brown eyes filled with tears.

It appears that Dr. Black and Jemima wished to remember Col. Cook in some fashion. A deed to sell the house was drawn up and dated December 13, 1862, the day Cook was killed, and was recorded on December 24, the day Cook’s body returned to Dalton. Col. Cook was laid to rest beside his mother in the Presbyterian Cemetery on Christmas Day, the date that was to have been the couple’s wedding day. It was in this manner that the house was sold to Thomas F. Fisher, thus closing the chapter on the Black-Cook family connection with the house.

Thomas Fisher was a well to do exchange broker in New Orleans before the war. Dalton was the perfect place to bring his wife, Alice Louise Dufilho Fisher, and their daughter Valerie since New Orleans was under Federal occupation. General Benjamin Butler had been appointed commander of the Union Troops stationed there, and he ruled with an iron hand, provoking the hatred of Southerners and earning himself the nickname “Beast Butler”. At the time Fisher purchased the house, he was a Major and Assistant Quartermaster for the Department of East Tennessee under the command of General Edmund Kirby Smith.  Fisher paid the Whitfield county Poll Tax for 1863 and his property was valued at $6,000. The Fishers were the third family to occupy the house. At one time a monthly “quarters” allowance of $36.00 was issued for four rooms that pretty well describes their residence on Selvidge Street.

On April 6, 1863, for reasons known mostly to him, Fisher resigned his commission as Assistant Quartermaster but reappeared in Augusta the following month and in Atlanta in September.  In December he was nominated to become Major of Commissary Subsistence in Brigadier General Alexander Reynolds’ Brigade, but the nomination was rejected by the Confederate Senate.

At some point toward the end of the year, Fisher moved his family from Dalton to Atlanta. In February of 1864 he was appointed by General Joseph E. Johnston as a civilian Forage Agent for the Quartermaster Department of the Army of Tennessee and served in that capacity in Louisiana and Mississippi.  Johnston was the new commander of the Army of Tennessee, then encamped at Dalton, having been appointed by President Jefferson Davis to replace the discredited Braxton Bragg.

Prior to receiving his new command, Johnston had most recently served in Mississippi. After turning the Army of Mississippi and East Louisiana over to General Leonidas Polk in mid-December, Johnston hurriedly packed his belongings and headed east by train, dropping his wife, Lydia, off in Atlanta along the way. Arriving at the Dalton depot on the evening of December 23, Johnston was met by a delegation of local citizens and army officers.

It was raining heavily and the streets were extremely muddy but  General Johnston was safely transported to the home of Dr. Jessie R. McAfee, came in out of the rain and was welcomed by his host. Dr. McAfee had lived in Dalton before the war and was the Surgeon in Colonel Jesse Glenn’s 36th Georgia Infantry Regiment. After a good night of rest, the General was up early and after breakfast met with General William Hardee and staff after which he addressed the following lines to President Davis.

            Dalton, Georgia December 27, 1863

            In obedience to the order of his Excellency the President, the undersigned has the honor  to assume command of the Army of Tennessee.

            J. E. Johnston, General

That same day Johnston received a letter from the Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, advising him, among many other things, of the president’s wish for him to take offensive action against the Union Army then occupying Chattanooga. 

Johnston continued to organize his staff, and in anticipation of Mrs. Johnston’s arrival, he procured private quarters and established his headquarters in the vacated home of Thomas Fisher on Selvidge Street. The house faced the railroads and from here he could observe the rail traffic in and out of Dalton. On December 31st Johnston received a letter from the president and like Seddon’s letter, it advised him of the necessity of taking immediate action to regain the region lost in middle Tennessee.

On January 2, 1864, after carefully reading the president’s letter he wrote back saying,” Having been in Dalton but six days, during four of which it rained heavily, I have not been able to observe the condition of the Army”, and continued on for several pages. The letters from Sedden and Davis were an attempt to prod Johnston into motion as early as possible, but Johnston flatly replied that taking the offensive was not on the table at that time.  Relations between Johnston and Richmond never improved.

Later that evening Johnston would hear a proposal put forth by one of his subordinates, General Patrick Cleburne, which argued in favor of arming slaves to fight for the South in return for their freedom. Cleburne’s proposal did not gain traction until late in the war and by then it was too little, too late. Over the next few months, Johnston’s kindly attitude toward his officers and men gained him much respect. The troops were receiving better rations and much needed blankets, clothing, and shoes. The system of furloughs that he put in place went a long way toward restoring morale and the fighting spirit that would be so badly needed in the coming campaign. For the most part the troops loved him and often referred to him as Old Joe.

When the spring campaign began in early May 1864, Johnston removed his Headquarters location from Selvidge Street to a house that later became known as the Tibbs House located on North Hamilton Street.  Lt. Colonel J.F.B. Jackson, Commander of the 39th Georgia Infantry, was appointed Provost Marshal by General Johnston and late in life remembered:

             “On the 12th of May, 1864, I received an order to report to the headquarters of General Joseph E. Johnston at sunset, prepared to ride with him to Resaca that night, and that my       regiment would be ordered to follow the day after. On arrival (at the Tibbs House) I  found General Johnston and his wife (Lydia) and others eating supper on the side of the             Cleveland Road (North Hamilton Street). I joined with them for supper. After supper was concluded Mrs. Johnston and the other ladies then left in an ambulance provided for them and the General and I followed at dark.” 

The Johnstons never returned to Dalton.

On a Union map of Dalton and vicinity dated February 1865, a person by the name of Brown is shown as living in the house on Selvidge Street. Not much is known about the house immediately following the war, but on January 18, 1867, it was purchased by Lewis D. Palmer from James Lynan and J. F. B. Jackson, the same man who accompanied General Johnston out of Dalton on May 12, 1864.  

As a postscript, the house was purchased in 1893 by Lida Huff, and it served as her residence until her death in 1940.  It was Mrs. Huff who had the house jacked up and rotated by mule power from facing the railroad to face Selvidge Street.  It has been known as the Huff House ever since. This historic structure has survived many changes over the years, and today is owned by the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, which is in the process of refurbishing it to reflect its 160 years of history. 




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