History is Real

Lee Kinnamon

When I teach the American Civil War to my U.S. History classes at Americus-Sumter County High School in Americus, Georgia, I am fortunate to be able to incorporate a number of original documents, photographs, and artifacts from my family's collection. I have found that students tend to be more engaged in the subject when they are able to see and touch actual pieces of history from their own community. Students begin to see that history is more than a textbook narrative. They see that history is the story of real people with whom they share a connection through time and space.


On April 27, 1861, one hundred and fifty-five years ago, my own great-great grandfather, Moses Speer, enlisted in Company 'K' of the 4th Georgia Infantry, "Sumter Light Guards." Speer saw action
 with the Army of Northern Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign and was severely wounded by a shot to the face at the Battle of Malvern Hill, Virginia on July 1, 1862. The care given to him by a farmer's family near the battlefield undoubtedly saved his life, and he later recalled passing the time happily playing dominoes with the farmer's children while he recovered. Speer's domino set survives in the family collection.

 

Eventually Thomas Dixon Speer, Moses' uncle and a prominent planter in Sumter County, travelled to Virginia to bring his wounded nephew home. Known as "Liberty Hall," the Speer home still stands south of Americus on the Lee Street Road.

 

The army discharged Moses Speer for his disability on July 13, 1862, and he remained in Americus to recuperate. While convalescing in Americus, he married my great-great grandmother, Laura Hicks Cowles, to whom most of the letters in the collection are addressed. Commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Americus Infantry on August 8, 1863 and later elected major in the Georgia Militia in 1864, Major Moses Speer left home and returned to service in the spring of 1864 to assist in the defense of Atlanta.

 

In a letter dated June 21, 1864, Major Speer writes to his brother, Amos Coffman Speer, who also served in the "Sumter Light Guards" and was fighting in Virginia at the time of General Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. Major Speer discusses the birth of his daughter, my great grandmother, May Speer, born May 19, 1864, and he describes the hopeless situation Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston faced as Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman continued his drive toward Atlanta.

 

In another letter, dated July 29, 1864, Major Speer writes to his wife in Sumter County about the defense of Atlanta from his position at Fort Hood, a part of the entrenchments surrounding the city and located out the Marietta Road about 1-1/2 miles northwest of downtown. In the midst of these defensive fortifications stood the Ponder House, which Major Speer describes in some detail. Interestingly, George N. Barnard, a photographer travelling with Sherman, documented Fort Hood and the Ponder House following the surrender of Atlanta on September 2, 1864. CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90
Barnard's famous photographs confirm the devastation described by Speer in his letter. Today, the western edge of Georgia Tech's campus stands on the location of Fort Hood and the Ponder House.

 

Following the Civil War, Major Moses Speer returned to Americus and became a prominent banker and an investor in a number of enterprises, including the Savannah, Americus & Montgomery Railway and the Windsor Hotel. He was active in civic life and helped to establish the public school system and public library in Americus. Major Speer died on December 10, 1898 at the age of 66.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 Photos showing the approximate locations of the Ponder House and Fort Hood on Tech Parkway

 

                                                                                           

 

 

Following the Civil War, Major Speer built the first brick house in Americus, Georgia in 1868 on the northwest corner of Jackson Street and Church Street. It was demolished in 1939. Major and Mrs. Speer entertained many of the famous visitors to Americus during the late 19th century, including Henry W. Grady, "voice" of the New South, and Alexander H. Stephens--member of the United States Congress, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, and Governor of Georgia.

 

 

 

 

Major Speer's obituary appeared in The Atlanta Constitution on Dec. 11, 1898.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

 

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