Macon Civil War dance troupe.
Macon calls is self the heart of Georgia because it is near the geographic centre of the state. The city has a population of 150,000 people but the metropolitan area has 420,000. Macon sits on the fall line of the Ocmulgee River and like Augusta and elsewhere a small fort was built here, Fort Hawkins, for protection against the Indians in 1806-9. The fort was a major distribution centre for supplies in the Creek Indian War of 1813. The Creeks were forced to give up their lands. Fort Hawkins was decommissioned in 1828 and destroyed. The town of Macon was named and established in 1823. Many of the early local settlers had come from North Carolina and the town was named after Nathaniel Macon. Macon was a Congressman in Washington from 1791 and the Speaker of the House from 1801-7. He then served in the US Senate from 1815 until 1828. In the early years cotton boats came up the Ocmulgee from the coast to Macon. Later the railways supplanted the cotton boats once the railroad reached Macon in 1843. Macon grew on slave labour and cotton fields. It is in the so called Black Belt of Georgia an area of black soils excellent for cotton and a region which had a predominance of black American slaves. The Black Belt stretched across into Mississippi although it is often not more than 50 kms wide. So Macon was in a region of large cotton plantations. Macon’s biggest claim to historical importance was the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church’s college in 1836. It still exists and is called Wesleyan college. It was the first university in American to grant degrees to women.
When General William Sherman conducted his March to the Sea through Georgia in October 1863 he spared Macon as he had just burnt and destroyed nearby Milledgeville that we visit later. During the Civil War Macon had a prisoner of war camp for captured Union officers and the camp held up to 2,300 officers at any one time. The much larger camp was further away (60 miles) at Andersonville which is still within Macon County. 45,000 Union soldiers captured during the Civil War were held here. 13,000 died of starvation and disease – much caused by a vitamin C deficiency. The camp had a terrible reputation for crimes against humanity. It was an unnecessarily small and cramped camp and prisoners were shot if they approached the flimsy perimeter fence which was known as the “dead line.” Conditions were appalling and unsanitary. The camp was not liberated until May 1865. It is now an historic site with a military cemetery and museum and is just a couple of miles from Americus where the 39th President of the USA, Jimmy Carter lived. The Civil War also had a dramatic impact on Macon. The local newspaper reported after the War that “of the 23 companies which the city had furnished the Confederacy (in 1861), only enough men survived and were fit for duty to fill five companies by the end of the war. The human toll was high.”
Today Macon thrives as a major transportation and business centre with shopping malls, tourism and the largest single site industrial/employment site in Georgia- the Robins Airforce Base. It employs over 26,000 personnel with 5,000 residents living on the base. Robins Airforce Base provides repairs, equipment and logistic support for the American Airforce. It is one of three such bases that does that for worldwide US operations. The Georgia National Guard is also based in the city of Macon. We are visiting Macon during its International Cherry Blossom Festival. This ten day festival highlights the 300,000 Yoshino Cherry trees that are planted around the city in the parks, the universities and the streets. The festival brings together walks, free concerts and exhibitions and other activities in Central Park.