It was Will Rogers who is given credit for saying, “All I know is just what I read in the papers.” We assume he was speaking of newspapers, the main source of information in his day. He was born in 1879, and died in 1935.
One must wonder what he would have thought about the erroneous headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune on Nov. 3, 1948, proclaiming that Thomas Dewey had defeated Harry Truman in the presidential election. His 1924 observation on politics, in retrospect, says it all, “I tell you folks, all politics is applesauce.” We could use his wit today.
A few years after the publication of a history of our Woodstock, we discovered how easy it is to make errors in reporting, especially when we rely only on printed sources from historic records. The author quoted from “The Eyes of General Breckinridge” by H. G. Damon, and related how, as the Confederate Secretary of War, the general made a farewell speech on May 7, 1865. In his words, relating to the effort to protect the defeated Confederate President Jefferson Davis, “We … had escorted President Davis and his cabinet from Charlotte, N.C. to Washington, Georgia. On the banks of the Savannah River we were halted. Each private was paid $28 in silver and then we took up our march to Washington, from which place we proceeded to Woodstock.” He was reported as telling the soldiers that the war was over and there was no use in fighting any more. As it turns out, all of this is true, but the locale is very misleading. Breckinridge was never in Cherokee County, Georgia. (It would have been a long trek from the Savannah River to our Woodstock.) The closest he ever got to our Woodstock was during the battles in and near Chattanooga, long before the end of the war.
After publication of “Georgia’s Woodstock” in 1997, Civil War buffs among us remained silent, but an article in the Spring 2014 issue of “Georgia Backroads” gave new insight into this episode from our past. The author, Hank Segars, brought new evidence to light when he wrote about a small town in east Georgia named Philomath. According to Segars and other sources, early settlers arrived from North Carolina and Virginia around 1829, and they called their new home Woodstock. As time went by, residents decided at some point to make application for postal service, but discovered that a Woodstock, Georgia, post office, established in 1833, was already in existence, so a change in the name of the town would be necessary. My research did not lead me to the date that application was made or to the date the name was officially changed, but since Civil War records show that the location was still known as Woodstock in 1865, the new name probably was chosen after that time. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, who had served as vice president of the Confederacy and who would later serve as governor of Georgia, suggested the name of Philomath, meaning “lover of learning” or “seeker of knowledge,” in recognition of the Reid Academy, a renowned boys’ boarding school that had been established in 1848 when the town was still called Woodstock.
Segar’s narrative gives a bit more insight. “General Breckinridge traveled here with several others. Stopping at The Globe, the home of Confederate Captain John J. Daniel, they dined with the owner and held a final meeting there. Reports indicate that there were final addresses given from the porch of the house and that soldiers escorting the group were released from active duty after receiving a small amount of pay for their service.”
While these two accounts may be in conflict with each other, the fact remains. The Woodstock in Oglethorpe County was the Woodstock of the Breckinridge speech. Cherokee County’s Woodstock holds no such incident in its history. I’m just glad we had dibs on the name. Can you imagine our city with any other name? No doubt the early settlers in both the villages had reason to select that name. Since Georgia was a British colony, it seems most likely that those pioneers chose the name to remind them of their homeland where there were Woodstocks in England and Wales. And who knows, perhaps some of them were fortunate in having in their possession a copy of Sir Walter Scott’s “Woodstock,” published in 1826. While it was written, and read, as a novel, our history books are supposed to be fact, not fiction. So with many apologies, and hopes that no harm was done, here’s to a bright future for our Woodstock. One sad note is added. Philomath’s post office ceased to operate in the 1980s. Nonetheless, it has retained its historic district, and its residents are active in the preservation of their heritage. After all, what’s in a name. A rose by any other name…