Thursday, January 8, 2015



In the grand lore of Laurens County, no legend has been more celebrated than the acts of a young Confederate Surgeon and his valiant effort to protect the resources of Chappell's  Mill during General William T. Sherman's cataclysmic "March to the Sea" near the end of the Civil War.  Despite reports to the contrary that his efforts were unsuccessful, Duggan and his lone aide did accomplish their objective, protecting the mill.  In his private life, Dr. James Barnes Duggan was a guiding force behind the establishment of one of  the county's oldest and most important institutions, the Laurens County Library.  

James Barnes Duggan, a s son of Archelaus and Elizabeth Walker Duggan was born in Washington County on November 1, 1833.  One of five brothers, Duggan graduated from the University Medical College in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Duggan began his practice in Wilkinson County and supplemented his income through large farming interests.  Duggan was married three times.  His first wife Nancy Jackson bore him four sons; Isaac Jackson, William Lee, James Henry and Paul Franklin.  His last two wives were a Miss Brown and Emma Bass, sister-in-law of Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stanley, a Confederate surgeon whose family operated Chappell's Mill, then called Stanley's Mill.

On March 4, 1862, during a massive organization of military companies of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry, James B.  Duggan was elected First Lieutenant of Company A,  "The Wilkinson Rifles," of the 49th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment.   His company first saw action during the Battles of the Seven Days on the Virginia Peninsula in late June and early July of 1862.  Following the battles of Cedar Mountain and the Second Manassas  Lt. Duggan replaced Captain Samuel T. Player, who was elevated to Major of the Regiment.  A soldier in Duggan's regiment, was given credit for killing the highest ranking Union officer killed during the war,  General Phillip Kearney, at the Battle of Chantilly.   Capt. Duggan led the company while guarding prisoners at Harper's Ferry during the horrific Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam).  Duggan led his company to victory at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. His company was held in reserve in the climatic battle of Gettysburg.  The Wilkinson Rifles participated in the bloody retreating battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse before retreating to a defensive position around Richmond and Petersburg.    On June 11, 1864, Capt.  Duggan was elected as Major of the 49th Georgia replacing Major John A. Durham, who died from wounds that he suffered at Jerico Ford.

After the long hot summer of 1864, Grant's overpowering forces were poised in a strangle hold against the embattled defenders of the Confederate capital at Richmond and its neighbor to the south, the strategic city of Petersburg.  During the late fall and winter,  when the armies basically took off from the war, Dr. Duggan was granted a leave to return back to his home.

The date was November 25, 1864.  The advance elements of the Union Calvary already reached Ball's Ferry on the Oconee River in Wilkinson County.  Ball's Ferry is located about 1/4 mile north of the present Georgia Highway No. 57 bridge over the river.  The cavalry unit was dispatched to the ferry to secure it for passage by the 15th and 17th Army Corps.  These two corps, composed of nearly sixty thousand men, were the Right Wing of Gen. William T. Sherman's army.

     As the Right Wing approached the ferry on the 25th, patrols were sent down major roads to reconnoiter the area for signs of Gen. Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry.  General Osterhaus ordered the First Division under Gen. Charles Woods to march toward the Lightwood Knot Bridges on Big Sandy Creek.  The 29th Missouri (mounted) was dispatched to destroy the bridges and to guard all crossings along the road to Dublin.  General Wheeler and nearly four thousand cavalry men had just crossed the Oconee at Blackshear's Ferry the day before.

Major Duggan was acutely aware that grist mills were prime targets of Gen. Sherman's men.  The local mill, then known as Stanley's Mill and now known as Chappell's Mill, was also serving as a cotton warehouse with a few hundred bales in storage.  He became aware of the fact that "Yaller Jim," a mulatto servant belonging to the family which owned the mill, had run off to join the Yankees.  Upon hearing of the approach of the Union Cavalry, Dr. Duggan mounted his horse and dashed off toward the Toomsboro Road.  He arrived at the Lightwood Knot Bridges over a swollen Big Sandy Creek.  Legend has it that the bridges were named because the Indians, who once populated the area, bridged the creek by piling a long row of "fat lightered" stumps in the creek.

     Dr. Duggan fell back toward a house where he found an elderly black woman washing clothes in a boiling pot.  Dr. Duggan formulated a plan to deter the cavalry.  He briefed the lady about his plan.  She agreed to help if the good doctor would insure the safety of her home.  The Major and the lady then set fire to the bridge and its trestles.

     Just then four cavalrymen with "Yaller Jim" on a mule approached from the northeast.  They dismounted and attempted to put out the fire.  Major Duggan and the lady began to open fire on the perplexed cavalrymen, who managed to get off a few return shots.  Through the smoke they saw Major Duggan waving his arms appearing to be ordering his men into action.  The cavalry, fearing they had found that Gen. Wheeler's Cavalry had  double backed and returned to Ball's Ferry, reported to their superiors that they had completed a successful mission by destroying the bridges.  "Yaller Jim" lost his mule and ran into the woods - never to be seen or heard from again.  Dr. Duggan dashed off to his home and found it safely intact.  He returned back toward the bridges and put out the fires.  He graciously  rewarded  the woman who had helped him save Stanley's Mill from destruction by Sherman's "Bummers."

     Dr. Duggan returned to his regiment and surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse.  Duggan served in the Georgia Legislature from 1875 to 1876. Dr. Duggan later moved to Laurens County and built a home known as "Elmwood."  A community bearing that name is centered around the intersection of Ga. Highway 338 and Claxton Dairy/Mt. Olive Road.   He died on September 29, 1915 and is buried in the Stanley Family Cemetery, affectionately known as "The Ditch," which lies only a short distance from Chappell's Mill.

In 1903, Duggan's initial pledge of $100.00 led to the building of Laurens County's first public library.  His portrait now hangs in the Heritage Center of the Laurens County Library as a reminder of his most enduring contribution to our community.

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