Recently, I had the immense pleasure of doing a photo shoot at a historic mansion in Middle, GA. The concept of the photo shoot was acting as if I were the woman of the house during the time of the war.
We were also exploring what we might experience if my man were leaving for war when it was on our doorstep, or finally returning home to me from the ravages of battle. These pictures are an attempt to capture what might have been experienced or felt by those living through the siege of Macon.
The house of which I speak is the historic Cannonball House. It was built from 1852-1855 for Judge Asa Holt and his wife Mary Palmer Holt, and cost $7,000 to build (approximately $193,424 today). The Greek revival “Half house” was designed by the prominent Macon architect, Elam Alexander. At the time of its completion, the home consisted of a men’s parlor and a lady’s parlor, two bedrooms, a sitting area, and a hallway, with a brick kitchen behind the house where all meals were prepared and eaten. The servant’s quarters were in the same building on the second floor above the kitchen.
Judge Holt was a probate judge who served on the General Assembly of Georgia during the 1840s. He would not only own several plantations throughout the state, but was also a cotton broker in Savannah. With their main residence in Louisville, GA, the Holts would finally take possession of their home in Macon in 1855, using it as their winter residence three months out of the year.
After Mary’s death on January 1, 1862 from “dropsy of the chest” (now known as Congestive Heart Failure, for which there were very few treatments available at the time), Judge Holt would live in the house by himself until March 25th, 1862 when he would marry the 30-year-old spinster Miss Nora Burke, just eleven weeks later. Judge Holt was 72 at the time of the union. Nora was the younger sister of Methodist Reverend John W. Burke, owner of the Burke Publishing Company.
In July 1864, General George Stoneman was sent by General William T. Sherman to destroy Macon, GA. Macon was a strategic spot for Sherman’s forces to destroy because it was an industrial and key city for the Confederacy. Cannons, artillery armament, medicine, uniforms, weapons, and dental equipment were all being produced for the Confederacy in Macon, GA. Macon would also be the second largest hospital city in the Confederacy, hosting eleven primary hospitals and serving over 6,000 wounded and sick by this point of the war. A secondary mission of General Stoneman was to free the Federal prisoners from Camp Oglethorpe on the outskirts of the city, prior to swinging south to free the prisoners at Andersonville. All of this was unknown to Judge Holt as he was overseeing his plantation in Louisville, but Nora was in Macon.
Recent flooding had caused a rise in the Ocmulgee River, which flows just two blocks from the house. This flooding caused the river to become impassible due to the collapse of the bridge, and served to keep General Stoneman out of Macon! General Stoneman was not to be stopped. With Union troops camping on the Dunlap farm (now part of the Ocmulgee National Monument) just two miles from Macon, General Stoneman ordered his artillery to open fire on the city of Macon in the early hours of July 30th, 1864. Hotchkiss Shells rained down on Macon, effectively destroying what he could while being unable to enter the city. One of these shells would ricochet off the sidewalk in front of the Holt residence, careen into the house, hitting and shattering the third pillar in the front parlor, barrel through the front wall in the entrance hall and crash through the floor, unexploded. This would be the only residence to sustain damage in Macon during the War Between the States, thus earning it the later name the “Cannonball House.” The Holts would immediately have repairs done to the house after General Stoneman moved on, and no major structural damage was done other than the pillar which had to be replaced. Both Judge Holt and Nora would survive the war.
In May 1872, Judge Holt died, leaving Nora a widow. She would remarry to Charles Canning, a widower with two daughters, in 1874. Charles would move himself, his daughters and three grandchildren, and an invalid sister into the home with Nora.
During that time, the house underwent renovation to now maintain the two parlors that were original to the house, and would now have six bedrooms, the hall, and a dining room which was in the screened in porch as an addition to the back left side of the residence. Meals would still be prepared in the brick kitchen standing to the rear.
In 1904, Charles’ great granddaughter, Elizabeth Martin, was born in the home where she would live until her death in April 1971.
During the year 1962, her family all gone and Elizabeth alone remaining, Elizabeth was approached by members of the Sidney Lanier Chapter #25 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, inquiring about the purchase of her home. They wanted to acquire it for their chapter headquarters, as well as to open the home for tours. After deliberation, Elizabeth would sell the home to them in November 1962, as long as she could remain living in the home. The sale was completed under these conditions, and the Cannonball House would open as a historic museum in 1964.
Today the house has three bedrooms (one not open to the public) containing period furnishings from the Holt/Canning/Martin families, two parlors which contain the furnishings of the two oldest sororities – ADPi and Phi Mu, the entrance hall and stair case, a formal dining room with furnishings from the Sidney Lanier UDC and chairs possessing needlepoint seats of the State Seals from our great Union. Also in the house is a War between the States museum with original uniforms and artifacts, including weapons created just down the road at Griswoldville, GA, where a major skirmish would happen with General Stoneman’s troops in 1864, just to name a few! The brick kitchen still stands and shows artifacts of cooking and preserving food of the time, as well as spinning and other period arts. A gift shop is also on the premises where you may purchase research material or a souvenir! Today the Cannonball House continues as a historic home and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned and operated by “The Friends of the Cannonball House, Inc.” and is open Monday through Saturday for tours and rentals.
I hope you can see from the pictures taken here, the beauty of this house and the rich history on the premises, as well as in the town! If you are in the middle Georgia area, I highly recommend you stop and take advantage of this hidden treasure in our state!
Special thanks to Jessie Whitehead, docent and Guest Services Coordinator for the Cannonball House, for letting me pick her brain and bug her with lots of questions! For more information, please visit www.cannonballhouse.org, call the staff at 478-745-5982, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org! Be sure to visit and take a tour. It’s well worth your time. The Cannonball House is located at 856 Mulberry St., Macon, GA 31201.