A cold, lonely bronzed historical marker serves as a small remembrance to the many Confederate soldiers who found themselves transported to Covington during the Civil War. The memorial text on the marker reads: “Here sleep 67 known and 8 unknown Confederate heroes, men who died of disease and wounds in the several Confederate hospitals located here. Many of those who died were reburied elsewhere.”
In order to gain perspective on this secluded gravesite location, we delve in to the events that precluded its creation. Historically, Covington and Newton County’s prosperity were based on cotton. The beautiful antebellum homes that line the streetscapes today reflect the wealth and taste of the planter aristocracy from that period in America’s war torn past.
Cotton mills, powered by the Alcovy River, made Covington a prime industrial target of Sherman's army and Union Brig. General Kenner Garrard's cavalry forces who raided the area in July of 1864. And yes, all while the Battle of Atlanta raged westward down the railroad line.
Garrard’s raid was successful. He burned the railroad depot, hospital center of 30 unoccupied buildings, cotton, commissary supplies, trains, bridges, and six miles of railroad track. Doing this most likely prevented Confederate General John Bell Hood's army in Atlanta from receiving much needed reinforcements from the Eastern Theater. Garrard returned to Atlanta with 200 prisoners, leaving the citizens of Covington to pick up the pieces and care for the wounded.
The violence of Gerrard’s raids is difficult to imagine today. Thousands of soldiers who were either wounded, dying or dead were transported to Covington as the visual outcome of the bloody raids in the area. Today, we are reminded of the price they paid by the buildings and cemeteries lovingly maintained to honor those who fought for moral causes during the Civil War.
In 1862, 1863, and 1864, the Hill, Hood, Lumpkin, and Receiving Hospitals were located in Covington. As mentioned, thirty new hospital buildings not yet occupied, were destroyed in Garrard´s raid, in addition to other valuable hospital equipment. Hospitals were under the immediate supervision of Samuel H. Stout, Medical Director Army of Tennessee. More than 20,000 Confederates were treated in them.
A self-guided driving or walking tour of Covington’s architectural lineage is available at the Covington – Newton County Visitors Center. The tour will lead you to many of the fine Antebellum homes in Covington, including Swanscombe, built in 1828 and the former home of C.S. Gen. Robert J. Henderson.
Civil War Veterans Reunion, 1920 on the steps of the Covington Courthouse
For those wishing to catch a glimpse of an apparition or two, the First United Methodist Church was used as a Civil War hospital. It is said the spirits of those brave men still visit frequently. The Confederate Cemetery, where the dead were buried, is located in the back of Covington City Cemetery Off Conyers St. and is equally as active in supernatural activity. If you are lucky enough to book a spot in advance, Covington Ghost Tours never disappoints. Their finely tuned story-telling mix of the historical, other-worldly encounters experienced by residents of Covington about these two historic landmarks is one of our personal favorites.
While in the Confederate Cemetery, we invite you to reflect on one of the most saddening visualizations any human can experience…the grave markers simply titled “Unknown”. For a moment, take in the realization that the residents of Covington, Georgia may have provided one final comfort for a soldier far from home before he took his final breath.