Last week we looked at the internal violence that tore North Central Georgia apart during the final years of the Civil War when bands of armed men stalked the coves, killing, burning, raping and stealing. The militias or banditti preserved the war in miniature for years after the surrender, marauding the defenseless and settling old scores among themselves; their work was done in silence and darkness and their ill-fame did not long outlive them. Most Confederate leaders, particularly General Lee, had counseled Southerners to lay down arms and take defeat like honorable men; while others, such as Nathan Forrest and Georgia’s John B. Gordon, took command of the terrorist arm of the Democratic Party known as the Ku Klux Klan.
Apart from Appalachian feuds, Klan terror, and the long war against the Lowry Band in the North Carolina swamps, former Confederates largely heeded the advice of their revered old commander. But at least one man returned from the Virginia battlefields with his taste for blood unslaked. In the spring of 1865 Manse Jolly came home to Anderson district, S.C., on the northeast Georgia line. Five of his six brothers lay dead in Virginia, federal troops patrolled the beloved landscape of his childhood, and everywhere the sight of the newly freed slaves infuriated him. Manse Jolly’s year with Wade Hampton’s calvary had only been practice. His real war was just beginning.
Many facts about Manse Jolly can be confirmed, but much information about him is legend, kernels of fact covered in romantic embellishment and worn smooth with retelling. The stories of many of his exploits carry more than a whiff of the fireside yarn.
Manson Sherrill Jolly was born in the Lebanon community, near Anderson, S.C., in 1840. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the infantry, but most of his former comrades remembered him as a calvary scout and a sharpshooter. One account claims that he was a deserter. Five of his brothers died in Confederate service, and the story goes that Manse Jolly swore to kill five Yankees for each one of them, surrender or no surrender.
Another account presents Jolly as a peaceful man just trying to make a crop and support his mother and sisters until goaded into violence. According to this version, a friend of Jolly’s complained that his house had been robbed by a freed slave. Jolly found a suspect and brutally flogged him to get a confession. The black man swore out a complaint with the federal colonel who sent two black soldiers to arrest Jolly. When they failed to return, he sent four white soldiers, who were also never seen again. Manse Jolly was soon seen riding one of their horses. A dead-or-alive reward was placed on his head, which eventually amounted to $10,000. Taking to the woods, he commenced all-out war against the the federal troops and the freed people under their protection.
The Manse Jolly legend dwells less on his murders than on his knack for taunting and escaping his enemies. Jolly was surprised in church one Sunday morning by a company of troops and made his escape by leaping onto the pulpit and diving out a window as the soldiers fired at him over the heads of the worshipers. Shortly thereafter, irate about a theft by a soldier (his horse in one account, his sister’s ring in another), he rode into downtown Anderson and at gunpoint commanded a federal officer to have the property returned. There was no question as to Manse Jolly’s audacity. Six feet four inches tall with bright red hair, he was hardly a figure to blend into a crowd, yet he preferred to operate in broad daylight, usually alone.
After several months of solitary murder, Jolly recruited a band of ex-Confederates to combine vengeance with profit, robbing federal supply wagons and cotton confiscated for taxes. For this rebel Robin Hood charity began and ended at home. Not even the most admiring accounts of career credit Jolly with having forwarded so much as a nickel or a pone of stale bread to a widow or orphan. He was said to have become moderately well-off from the sale of stolen horses and cotton.
In early October 1865, Jolly got word that federal troops were guarding a load of confiscated cotton at Brown’s Ferry on the Carolina side of the Savannah River six miles below Hartwell, Ga. On the night of Oct. 8, he set out on a mission that would do little to give him a good name in Georgia.
© 1995, John Ryan Seawright
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