Please welcome guest author Erford A. Harrison of Cleveland, GA. “These stories about my ancestor George Harrison are from tales I remember being told to me by my father and uncles, and from information supplied by my cousin Earl Harrison, a great-grandson of the James Harrison mentioned below. I have heard very similar versions of some of the same stories from other branches of the Harrison clan.
“I can offer no proof of the validity or accuracy of many of these incidents, since this is the first attempt that I know that has been made to write down any of them. However, I can remember the old Thomas Faulkner house, and it was laid out just as described in George’s stories. Also, the rotting remains of the large hollow tree in the the ‘Sheep Hole’ were still there when I was a small boy. I was always told that this was the log in which Uncle George hid after his escape from the Home Guard.”
When the Cherokee Indians were removed to Oklahoma, the land in upper Hall and lower Habersham Counties along the Chattahoochee River was among the land that was parceled out to settlers by various land lotteries.
One settler who drew a land lot — which reached from the Chattahoochee to the top of the highest ridge between the river and Big Mud Creek — was Rubin Harrison, my great, great grandfather. Rubin had a rather large family by two wives, the last being Margaret Harrison. One of Rubin’s older children was Henry Harrison, my great grandfather. Henry married Jane Loggins from the White Creek area of what is now White County.
When the Civil War came along, Henry, who was in the Home Guard, was too old for the conscript, but he had some younger siblings who were prime candidates. Two of these were James and George. George, who was born September 16, 1840, is the central figure in the story as it has been told to me by my father, uncles, and various other sources — including some from the ‘enemy’ camp.
The Confederate Home Guard (1861–1865) worked in coordination with the Confederate Army, and was tasked with helping track down and capture Confederate Army deserters. Home guard units also acted as “plantation police,” charged with making sure blacks had passes that permitted them to be out and about. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Most of the settlers of this area were small farmers; few if any owned slaves. Most came down from Virginia and other areas of the Appalachian Mountains, and not from the lower areas of the state.
They were from a very different culture than the large plantation owners farther south, and consequently had very different views on politics.
From the information I have been able to gather, there was not much sympathy for the Confederate cause in the mountains of Northeast Georgia.
Peter Faulkner, a large land and slave owner in the Holly Springs area of North Hall County, was in charge of the conscript for the Pea Ridge area of Hall County. According to George Harrison, most of Faulkner’s relatives were in the Home Guard, and sought to conscript the likes of George and his brother James for the Confederate Army.
The two brothers weren’t having any of it. They and several others from this area fled home and hid out along the Chattahoochee, sleeping most of the time in the ‘Rock House,’ a large overhanging rock just above the Bull Shoals, overlooking the Sleep Hole.
Faulkner’s Home Guard knew these men were in the area, and spent many hours trying to track them down. George and his friends, having the sympathy of the local people, made this task rather difficult and frustrating for the Home Guard. Jane Loggins Harrison (and I am sure many of the other local folk) helped feed and conceal these six to eight ‘deserters’ who roamed the Chattahoochee Basin eluding capture.
One of the hot spots of the Home Guard’s search was the home of Henry and Jane. It was strongly suspected they were concealing some of the deserters. In fact, George and James (and possibly others in their group) ate regularly at Jane’s table. When it was okay for them to come to the house, Jane would hang the dish towel on a line above the wash bench on the back porch. If someone came to the house, Jane would go to the back porch and remove the dishrag from the line. George and his group did not dare come to the house if they did not see the signal.
Confederate boots. Courtesy Heritage Auctions/Dallas
Living on the run required resourcefulness. At one time, George was captured briefly, but managed to make his escape, and came out in better shape than before he was captured.
As his captors quizzed him about his fellow conscript dodgers, George looked down and noted that the conscriptors all had almost new boots. He thought of his own worn out shoes and quickly devised a plan.
George told them that since they had captured him, he would show them where his friends were to be sleeping that night, and would help capture them. When night fell, he led them to a hill above the river and informed them that his friends would be sleeping at a spot near the top of the hill; if flushed out, they would run down the hill and turn down the river. He stationed them at the foot of the hill along a trail that he claimed they would be taking as they made their escape.
He picked out a Home Guard who had what he thought was near his boot size and had that man accompany him back up the hill. They were supposedly going to get on the hill above the sleeping men and startle them, causing them to run in the direction of the waiting conscriptors. When they had gone part way up the hill, George informed his captor that they must remove their shoes, since the slightest noise would wake his friends, causing them to run in the wrong direction.
George was very familiar with the area and led his captor in a maze of directions until he was sure he had him confused, and then he yelled “There they go!” George ran in the darkness directly to where their shoes were left. He picked up the new boots left by his captor and ran off into the night with a good pair of boots for his night’s work.
At some time during the middle of the winter George and a Smith man from the Skitts Mountain area were again captured in or near the Rock House. They were tied around the neck with ropes and led behind riders on horseback from there to the home of Thomas Faulkner, a nephew of Peter Faulkner.
About this time, Thomas had built a kitchen for his house. He built it plantation style — that is, not directly connected to the house, but joined by a walkway. The kitchen had a large rock fireplace in which was built a hot roaring fire. Thomas had a ‘government still’ on his place and had just ‘run off’ some apple brandy.
George and James Harrison hid out in “Rock House,” a large overhanging rock just above the Bull Shoals of the Chattahoochee River, overlooking the Sheep Hole. It would have looked very much like this. (This image was taken on the Island Ford Branch of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area; photo by Wayne Hsieh/Flickr)
Having ridden several miles on horseback with their captives walking behind, the Home Guard group was in a festive mood, but very cold from the ride. The brandy was very inviting to the captors, and as soon as the room got warm George and his friend could see they were somewhat drunk. George started loosening the noose about his neck bit-by-bit. The Home Guards were preoccupied with getting warm and celebrating the capture of their two deserters, and did not notice.
As the room became hotter and the celebrants became drunker, George begged permission to move back from the fire, since he was accustomed to sleeping outdoors with no fire. He claimed he was uncomfortably hot. Approval was granted, and as time wore on, George asked permission to open the door slightly, as he and his friend needed to cool off from the heat of the giant fireplace.
With the door half open and the ropes loosened from their necks, the captives watched for the right moment. They threw the ropes from around their necks and bolted out the door onto the walkway between the kitchen and the ‘Big House.’ They made a right turn off the walkway straight into the hole that had been dug to get red clay to ‘daub’ the chimney and fireplace in Thomas’ new kitchen.
To add to their misery, there was by this time an inch or two of snow covering the ground. In spite of all this they were able to scramble out of the hole ahead of their drunken captors, and run back to the river. A large, hollow pine tree had fallen, with the top end in the Sheep Hole. George crawled into this log and lay there all night listening to his captors search for them up and down the river bank.
The day after the escape George and Smith went to the foot of Skitt Mountain, where Smith’s uncle had a farm. They slaughtered one of his sheep, built a fire, and cooked and ate all they could hold. A lot had transpired since they had last eaten. They carried the balance of the meat to the owner.
Nonetheless, soon after this episode they were either captured again, or grew tired of running: both George and James were enlisted into the Confederate Army as privates in Company E, 16th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, on November 1, 1863.
Postscript: Although George Harrison was bodily inducted into the Confederate Army, his sentiments were not. After a few months his unit was posted very close to Union forces in Tennessee. He crept across no-man’s land, joined the Union Army, and was discharged at the end of the war as a Union veteran.