A Moment in Time | Lancaster’s Sherman in Savannah, Georgia

In April 2024, we received an email prompting us to extend an invitation to contribute this story, sure to be of interest to local history buffs. We thank Marty Barnes for taking the time to close the loop on a Lancaster, Ohio – Savannah, Georgia connection of two homes, a native son and a moment in time.  – Publisher Chris Shirer

Was it just a case of serendipity that caused a docent at the Green/Meldrim House Museum in Savannah, GA to check her “Google News” and see an article from the “Lancaster Herald” about the Sherman Museum there, and the fact that Sherman was quite the artist?

Perhaps, but what it did do was provide another bit of history about the General that was unknown in Savannah, while also connecting the house museum to the Ohio museum, because it was the Green/Meldrim house where the General and his staff stayed when the March to the Sea came to an end there.

Sherman’s 60,000 troops arrived in Savannah December 21, 1864 commanded by Generals Slocum and Howard, and bivouacked throughout the city’s many squares.  General Sherman arrived the next day from his bivouac on the road to King’s Bridge. He knew the city well and headed for the Pulaski Hotel, where he hoped to obtain enough rooms for his traveling staff.  Not only were there not enough rooms, there were no stables available  nearby for the horses.

A crowd of dignitaries, including Mayor Arnold, was on hand to welcome Sherman.  Out of the crowd stepped Charles Green, an Englishman, and a wealthy shipping magnate, who announced quietly to Sherman that there was room at his home for the General’s staff, horses and equipment.

Sherman refused, saying that he didn’t care to occupy a private house, because no sooner than they left, they would be charged with stealing and pilfering.  Green replied this would not be the case here.  His wife and children were in Virginia, and he would require only two rooms–one for himself and the other for his manservant.  The rest of the house would be for the General’s use. In the meantime, Sherman’s men reported back that Green’s home did, indeed, have room for everyone, all of the equipment and enough stabling for the horses.  Sherman accepted Green’s offer, stipulating that they would supply their own mess and set their own table.

Sherman quickly took command of the home, installing his staff and taking over the upstair’s Master Suite, where he met with local and government officials, saw that order was restored to the city and planned strategy with his staff for the next move into the Carolinas when they left Savannah.

Green, however harbored two ulterior motives for wanting Sherman in his home.  He figured if Sherman was staying there, he would not burn it to the ground.  The house had cost $95,000 to build in 1854,  including construction, landscaping and furnishings.  (It is still considered the finest example of Gothic Revival architecture in the South.)

But he also had thousands of bales of cotton sitting in warehouses that he was unable to ship to England and was sure Sherman would now allow the shipments as a thank you for offering the house.  However, the General allowed a Federal agent to confiscate all captured supplies, except for what Sherman  and his troops might need, and then sent the now famous letter to President Lincoln, presenting him with the city of Savannah and 25,000 bales of cotton as a Christmas present.

It was not all military business conducted at the Green home.  There were two holiday highlights.  One was the evening Christmas dinner in the elegant dining room, covered by “Harper’s Weekly,” which produced the famous photo of Sherman, standing and toasting the guests.  When Charles Green was also invited, he insisted that his fine China and silver be used for the occasion.  He also addressed the guests.

On New year’s Day, there was a special “Meet and Greet” event held in the two large connecting parlors on the first floor.  Sherman’s aide, Henry Hotchkiss, described it as “a crowd of officers and generals by the dozens, and colonels and majors….plenty as blueberries.”

However, one of the most important and historic meetings in the upstairs room occurred January 12 at 8 p.m. when 20 members of Savannah’s Black clergy met with Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and were asked – “What do you want for your own people?” Out of that meeting came “Special Field Orders, No. 15,” which became known as “Forty Acres and a Mule.”  Unfortunately, Lincoln’s assassination would later silence that order..

On February 1, 1865 Sherman and his troops left Savannah and Green got his house back.  But the friendship between the two men would continue.  When Sherman learned that Green was not well, he made a special trip to Savannah with two of his daughters to spend an afternoon with him.  When Green passed away, Sherman sent an eloquent letter and tribute to Green’s son.

But…serendipity stepped in again…when in 1981, Helen Harris of Savannah married William Tecumseh Sherman – a great, great nephew of the General – at the church next to the GreenMeldrim House.  A headline in the local paper read – “Latest Sherman March Ends at Altar.”

Sources for this story include:
“SHERMAN, Fighting Prophet” by Lloyd Lewis
“Marching with Sherman” by Henry Hitchcock
The Green/Meldrim Museum Home Docent Training Manual

Filed under: Around Town, Histories & Mysteries, News, People
Marty Barnes, docent at the Green/Medrim House in Savannah, Georgia

By Marty Barnes

Marty Barnes is a docent at the Green/Meldrim Museum House in Savannah, Georgia. Previously she was a staff member at the Davenport House Museum in the city. She previously lived in Atlanta where she was Managing Editor of Georgia Travel Publications.