2017-07-12 / Front Page

Hall explores wealth of Civil War history in new book

The letters of Confederate Captain Stephen A. Corker (pictured on cover above) are examined in historical context by Hall, his great-great grandson, in the nonfiction title. The letters of Confederate Captain Stephen A. Corker (pictured on cover above) are examined in historical context by Hall, his great-great grandson, in the nonfiction title. (Editor's note:

Stephen A. Corker, the subject of a new book by Dublin author John C. Hall Jr., was a Burke County lawyer and farmer. His family started the First National Bank of Waynesboro in 1905 and was very prominent here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A family trust still owns land in Waynesboro, and one of Stephen A. Corker's great-great grandsons is United States Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

We are reprinting this article with the permission of the Dublin Courier Herald.)

Dublin's John C. Hall Jr. unpacks a treasure trove of history in his new book, "Above the High Water Mark - Stephen Alpheastus Corker: The Life and Letters of a Lawyer, Soldier, Farmer and Statesman."

John C. Hall Jr. John C. Hall Jr. The publication, his first, reviews Civil War-era letters to and from Stephen A. Corker, his great-great grandfather whose son became a prominent Dublin architect and, later, mayor.

The elder Corker, a Waynesboro lawyer and farmer, lived at the beginning stages of the Civil War. He would enlist to fight for the Confederate States in Georgia's 3rd regiment, eventually earning a battlefield promotion to captain of the unit's A company. Captured in the Battle of Gettysburg, he spent two years as a Federal prisoner-of-war before his release in 1865.

The letters he sent and received during that time period detail his time as a soldier and prisoner, then his experiences during reconstruction, including his return to private law practice and election to an abbreviated term in the U.S. House of Representatives, followed by stints as a local judge and state representative.

His son, Frank Corker, would rise to prominence in Dublin, where he built the downtown skyscraper, among other buildings, and the Northview Cemetery Mausoleum, also serving as mayor for a period of time in the late 1800s.

Captain Corker's pieces of correspondence stayed in the possession of his family for many years until they were donated to the University of Georgia's Russell Special Collections Library by the presentday Frank Corker, Hall's second cousin and a retired south Georgia physician.

Hall discovered these documents, which he assumed were "the letters" his mother referred to during his childhood, during a chat with his cousin shortly after moving to Dublin and purchasing the historic Hardy B. Smith House on Gaines Street, where he lives and runs his private accounting business.

In addition to storing away these century-old letters, UGA's Hargrett rare book and manuscript library had transcribed each of them and sent Corker Microsoft Word documents with the text, which he gladly shared.

Hall then set to poring through the contents, then only to satisfy his curiosity about his ancestor.

The documents, dating between 1859 and 1872, revealed a tremendous amount that he was excited to discover about his great-great grandfather, as well as the time period.

On the recommendation of friend and fellow historian Scott B. Thompson Sr., he decided to turn the knowledge he'd uncovered into a book.

"I couldn't believe it, the stuff that was in there," Hall said. "When I started reading these letters, I realized that this guy was involved in key parts of the war."

After four years of work, Hall released the book through Amazon's CreateSpace Independent Publishing on April 26 of this year, choosing the date specifi- cally because it was Confederate Memorial Day. He analyzes the text of the letters alongside reproductions of their originals, and also includes historical photos and copies of editions of "Harpers Weekly" during the time period.

The book sheds light on a "historical trilogy," as Hall calls it, of significant moments during and after the War Between the States.

The first, Corker's firsthand experiences on the war's bloodiest day, "Bloody Lane" at the Battle of Sharpsburg, where Corker had his sword shot in two and several men in his unit were killed.

Second, and perhaps most notable, is a blow-by-blow of the unit's movements at the Battle of Gettysburg, and the revelation that they may, in fact, have made the furthest advance of any Confederate troops in the war during combat at Cemetery Ridge.

"Everybody knows about Pickett's Charge," Hall said. "It's called 'The High Water Mark of the Confederacy.' That's actually not true. The high water mark of the Confederacy was the day before at Wright's Brigade Charge. Capt. Corker led the 3rd Georgia. There was the 48th the 22nd and the 2nd. In terms of the turning point of the war, high water mark, yes. But it's actually a term of distance, how far they went. Lee actually got the idea for Pickett's charge from what Wright's brigade did… They charged up the hill and captured Brown's Rhode Island artillery. The significance of that is there's some debate in the historical community that Wright's brigade did not break the Union line. Well here's a letter where Robert E. Lee details exactly where her husband was on top of the hill, amongst the enemy's cannons. So there's some historical significance here."

Hall goes on to explain how the brigade was unable to hold its position, due to the fact that supporting companies behind it to the left and right were too late to arrive with reinforcement, but cites evidence to challenge the consensus that Pickett's Charge the following day was indeed that figurative high water mark.

"This man was here and he served in prison with my ancestor," Hall said, alluding to an account by Col. Claiborne Snead of the 3rd regiment's accomplishment during its 1874 reunion. "He spells it out: No, Pickett's charge did not go as far as we did."

The third aspect relates to controversy surrounding Corker's election to the U.S. House of Representatives following Georgia's re-admission to the union. His opponent's challenge of the race's outcome produced extensive testimony that Hall includes highlights from in the book.

His research on the issue uncovered an inaccuracy connected to the issue in a report by the historian's office of the U.S. House which Hall was able to get corrected.

"I ended up getting the U.S. House Historian's Office to change their official publication so that my ancestor's record would be clear," Hall said. "That's one of the proudest moments for my family, to clean that record up."

Other of the book's numerous historical nuggets cover the first Union ship to be captured by the Confederate Navy, perspective from Corker (a slave-owner) on slavery, interesting facts about the handling of POW mail, origins of the word "Dixie" and the captain's various experiences during reconstruction in Georgia.

Hall sets out to challenge narrative in suggesting a degree of separation between the political antecedents of the war and the antecedents of the war and the motives of those fighting in it. He argues Confederate soldiers like Corker fought more out of pride in their homeland than in defense of institution of slavery, quoting a letter by Corker in 1862 that said he was "fighting for glory and honor and respect."

He also sheds light on the changing morale of Confederate troops and their view of the war as it progressed.

"The way the letters start off at the beginning of the war, there's a lot of patriotism," Hall said. "People start dying and the war is getting bloody, so his attitude changes in the letters. There's one letter that says 'another year of misery and dying.'"

The book is available on Amazon.

Hall is already working on a second book which, in a similar vein, will look into a different set of letters - these the documents his mother referred to - belonging to his great-greatgrandfather, a Union soldier with his own diverse set of Civil War experiences.

His dive into the original source material of this ancestor, like that of Corker, is something he hopes will be every bit as informative and interesting to those who study and enjoy Civil War history as it has been to him.

"This is why this history, I think, is so important," Hall said. "It's just another angle for historians."

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