It's worth the gamble to say that Kingston, Georgia has more historical
markers per capita than any town in the state. Like so many towns, her
history and fate are inextricably tied to the rise and fall of the railroad
as the main way people travel. The town is even named for a railroad financier,
John Pendleton King of Augusta, Georgia.
But for thousands of years before the train, Native Americans thrived in
the area. The Cherokee mined saltpeter, an ingredient in gunpowder, and
sold it to British and American buyers as late as the War of 1812. The
Land Lottery of 1832 brought settlers in, and many more followed after
the forced removal of the Indians in 1838.
A stage coach route preceded the railroad through Kingston, spawning commerce.
Hotels were built to accommodate travelers and tourists who came to enjoy
the nearby springs. Among those early stage coach travelers was one party
that would have an enduring influence on the region: Francis Bartow, Reverend
Charles Wallace Howard, William Henry Stiles and
According to Bartow County historian Lucy Cunyus, early Kingston had a
wicked reputation, but by 1852 was "improving in morals." In
1849 the Memphis Branch Railroad was opened connecting Rome with the newly
completed Western and Atlantic Railroad at Kingston. Thus, Kingston became
an important north-south and east-west nexus. A rail yard was built providing
a major employer, supplementing the booming cotton market and tourist
trade which supported four hotels.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Kingston became a hospital and supply
center because of the rail connections. The first "Wayside Home,"
or Confederate hospital, was established here in 1861; more than 10,000
sick and wounded troops passed through it. In 1864, after the Confederate
Army retreated, Union troops were attended here.
Kingston played a pivotal role in the Civil War espionage episode remembered
as The Great Locomotive Chase. On April 12, 1862 Union spies, known as
Andrews' Raiders, stole a steam engine called The General at Big Shanty,
and set out to destroy the W&A rail lines through northwest Georgia.
They were delayed for almost an hour by Kingston depot agent Uriah Stephens,
allowing the Confederate crew aboard the Yonah to come within 4 minutes
of catching the Raiders. Instead of trying to negotiate the complicated
Kingston rail yard, the Confederates took a locomotive owned by the Rome
Railroad and continued the chase, finally capturing the General near Ringgold.
Hollywood immortalized this event the 1920's silent movie "The
General," starring Buster Keaton and the 1957 Disney classic "The
Great Locomotive Chase," starring Fess Parker.
Ultimately, Kingston fell into the hands of General William T. Sherman
[US]. During the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman marched into Kingston on May
19, 1864 with two of his three armies expecting to fight the Confederates.
General Joe Johnston [CS] had tricked him, however, and was waiting just
to the east at Cassville. After Johnston's retreat from Cassville,
Sherman's army moved south from Kingston, for the first time leaving
Over the next several months, Union and Confederate cavalry met eight times
in the area. When General John B. Hood [CS] began his abortive Nashville
Campaign after the fall of Atlanta, Sherman headquartered in Kingston.
It was here that he solidified his plan to "March to the Sea."
Sherman requested permission to execute the plan and at Kingston, on November
2, 1864, he received permission from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant [US] to begin
his march "to make Georgia howl". On November 12th, 60,000 men
left northwest Georgia, emerging six weeks later in Savannah.
During the War, the women of the Kingston began a springtime rite of decorating
the graves of Confederate soldiers with flowers in the town's ever-swelling
cemetery. In the spring of 1865, the town was under military rule. When
the women requested permission from the military commander to continue
their tradition, they were told that they would have to decorate all the
soldiers' graves. By then, hundreds of Union soldiers lay in the hillside
as well. The women agreed, and thus "Decoration Day," the forerunner
of Memorial Day, was started. The Kingston Woman's Club continues
the ritual to this day. The annual Kingston Confederate Memorial Service
at the Kingston Confederate Cemetery is the oldest continuous memorial
service in the nation. Just a few weeks after the first Decoration Day,
the last contingent of Confederate troops east of the Mississippi were
surrendered at Kingston by General William Wofford [CS]. A native of
Cassville, Wofford's grave is in the Cassville Confederate Cemetery.
In 1911 Kingston suffered a major fire. Soon, the railroad was no longer
a primary mode of travel and the new automobile routes bypassed the town.
Once bustling, supposedly even wicked, Kingston slipped into sleep. Today
the town is a great reminder of the gentile south as people once again
find their way to Kingston. The Woman's History Club has an impressive
history museum in a park setting with tributes to the town's heritage
and veterans. Just a few miles from the Kingston stagecoach stop Godfrey
Barnsley made 160 years ago, Barnsley Resort now thrives as a world-class
destination. Each Spring, the Atlanta Steeplechase is held at its home
at Kingston Downs.
From Slavery to the White House
One of the most triumphant legacies known in Kingston is that of
Melvinia "Mattie" Shields McGruder. Mattie was born into slavery in South Carolina, and later bequeathed
to the Shields family where she became one of three slaves on a 200-acre
farm in Rex, Georgia. Following emancipation, Mattie worked briefly as
a farm laborer before moving to Kingston to be near other freed slaves
from her South Carolina birthplace. She became a midwife and cared for
many of Kingston's children. Her own son prospered as a business owner,
and his descendants moved north seeking advantageous job opportunities.
Mattie remained in Kingston where she was buried in 1938, but her legacy
continues across five generations all the way to the White House.