Elijah Webb Chastain was born September 25, 1813 in Pickens County, South Carolina. His parents were Captain Benjamin and Rebekah Denton Chastain. Captain Benjamin Chastain moved to Georgia in 1821. He represented Habersham County in the Georgia state legislature beginning in 1826, and served a total of six years. He relocated to the Toccoa River about 1835. Benjamin was an Indian agent, and the Cherokee removal encampment called Fort Chastain was named for him.
Elijah moved to North Georgia with his parents to settle on the Cherokee lands. He married Clarissa Saxon Braselton in June of 1838. They had twelve children, two of whom, Benton Forsyth and Oscar Fitzallen, were Baptist ministers like their pioneer great-grandfather, John Chastain. Oscar married the prominent educator, Zenobia Addington. Benton's son, Judge Oscar F. Chastain, served in the Texas legislature.
Leadership qualities appeared early in Elijah's life. He was an accomplished speaker. When he was 21, he delivered a speech at a county-wide Fourth of July celebration in Ellijay which was printed in several papers (PCD, p. 182). He raised a company of volunteers in 1837 to fight in the Seminole War and was elected Captain. Then in 1838, at age 26, he was promoted to Colonel and to the command of a regiment.
In his book A Brief History of the Huguenots and Three Family Trees, James Garvin Chastain wrote:
In native endowment Col. Elijah Webb Chastain may not have been superior to his four brothers, but he had a most magnetic personality and soldierly bearing. He was a perfect blond, his flashing eagle eye being rather blue than gray. His aggressive nature drew him into the limelight, and his magnetism and his easy success kept him there.
He seems to reflect the sentiment of Judge S.A. Alsobrook's 1893 Tribute To Col. E.W. Chastain.
In personal appearance he was endowed with gifts long ways above the average. In his prime he weighed 170 pounds, with a height admirably in proportion. His features were of the most refined Grecian type, except his brow, which was rather massive for it was well developed, denoting intellect and firmness, his especial and leading characteristics. His eyes were blue rather than grey, but of that quick, expressive character that catches the attention of the beholder, causing him to lose sight of the color. Above all this there was peculiar magnetism about the man, that made him a natural leader of men.
Elijah was admitted to the bar in 1849 and practiced law in Blairsville, Georgia. When Fannin County was formed January 21, 1854, in response to a proposal by Elijah's father, state senator Benjamin F. Chastain, it was Elijah Webb who suggested the name Fannin to honor Georgia native James Walker Fannin Jr., a soldier in the Texas Revolution. Fannin and his 342 Brazos volunteers were captured and massacred at Fort Goliad, Texas on March 27, 1836; 141 of Fannin's men were Georgians.
All five of Benjamin's sons followed him into politics, with four serving in the Georgia House or Senate, but Elijah was the only one to hold national office. According to Hiram Parks Bell, Elijah was never defeated as a candidate for office. He served in the Georgia State Senate from 1840-1850, after which he was elected to two terms in the United States House of Representatives from 1851-1855, the first term (Thirty-second Congress) as a Unionist and the second term (Thirty-third Congress) as a Democrat. During his second term, he was chairman of the Committee on Militia. Three of his speeches in congress are somewhat well known:
In 1857 Elijah was appointed by Georgia's Governor Joseph E. Brown as state's attorney for the Western and Atlantic Railroad.
After Lincoln won the presidency, Elijah was a delegate to the Georgia Secession Convention in 1860 at Milledgeville, Georgia. The North Georgia area where he lived was primarily Union in sentiment (Judge Alsobrook says more than 90%), and many joined the Union army in East Tennessee which was predominantly Union. Elijah's first cousin, James Edward Chastain, who had recently moved to North Alabama, was very active in supporting the Union there. However, Elijah voted for secession. Judge Alsobrook explains:
His position was this: To stay in the Union as long as constitutional rights could be preserved, and protection to Southern property was assured, and whenever these were sufficiently endangered so as to bring about a serious apprehension of the overthrow of the one and interference with the other, he was for disruption at any cost.
Elijah Webb also served as a delegate at the follow up Convention of the People held in Milledgeville and Savannah January through March, 1861. He was very active in the proceedings and was appointed to several committees: the committee of seventeen to report an ordinance to assert the right, and fulfill the obligation of the State of Georgia to secede from the Union; the committee of twenty-four to apportion the Senatorial Districts; and the committee of three on publication and distribution of journals of the proceedings of the Convention.
In a communication to the Convention of the People, Governor Brown explains his reasons for appointing gentlemen as officers and uses Elijah Webb as an example:
It is true that I have appointed gentlemen who were not officers in the United States Army, to higher positions than I have given to some who were officers of the Army. Had I pursued a different course, and appointed no one from civil life, till I had given each Army officer a place; I must have excluded gentlemen of anything like high position, who had age and experience, from any place in the regiments, as they could not have accepted positions below the lowest grades of Army officers. As an instance, I appointed Gen. Charles J. Williams, of Muscogee, who served with distinction in the war with Mexico, is the present Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State, and a Brigadier General, to the position of Lieutenant Colonel of the first Regiment; and Col. E. W. Chastain, a member of this Convention, who has been a Representative in the Congress of the late United States, from this State, and who commanded a regiment in the Florida war, as Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Regiment. I certainly could not, with any degree of propriety, have tendered, either of these gentleman a place below a young gentleman recently graduated at West Point, who occupied the position of a Second Lieutenant only, in the United States Army.
Elijah served the Confederacy as Lieutenant Colonel in the First Regiment, Georgia Regulars from March 21, 1861 to June 18, 1861 when he resigned, and as a Colonel, he commanded the 8th Regiment of the Georgia State Troops from December 14, 1861 until April 16, 1862. He was in the field by the time of the Senate convention in late 1861. His officers presented a resolution, apparently with his favor, protesting the transfer of the services of Georgia volunteers to the Confederate army.
At a meeting of the officers of Col. E. W. Chastain's regiment of State Volunteers, on motion of Capt. John S. Fain the following preamble and resolutions were unanimously adopted:
WHEREAS, We have learned with regret that a resolution to transfer the Georgia State Volunteers to the service of the Confederate States has passed the Senate of the State of Georgia, and seems to meet with general favor in the House of Representatives:
Therefore Resolved, 1st. That we pledge our property, our lives, and our sacred honor to the maintenance of the rights, honor and cherished institutions of our beloved State and the Confederate States; notwithstanding, we most solemnly declare that should the General Assembly of the State of Georgia force such an alternative upon us, we will at once abandon the field and return to our homes.
Resolved, 2d. That we are freemen, and that the General Assembly, nor no other power on earth, has the right to transfer us to the Confederate States service, or any other service without our consent, and that no such authority ought to be exercised over a free people.
Resolved, 3d. That we are not the property of the Genereral Assembly of Georgia, to be sold and transferred from one owner to another like a promissory note, and that we hereby enter our solemn protest against any such sale.
Resolved, 4th. That a copy of this preamble and resolutions be forwarded to His Excellency Governor Brown, with a request that he lay the same before the General Assembly of the State of Georgia.
(Signed) JOHN H. CRAVEN, Pres't. E. B. MOORE, Secretary.
Elijah was on good terms with the Confederate governor of Georgia, Joseph E. Brown, and there are several extant letters between them, one of which is an appeal for guns and ammunition.
After the war, Elijah continued to practice law. His friend and fellow government official, Hiram Parks Bell, describes Elijah's successful practice both in his 1907 Memoirs and in his eulogy of Elijah. He also provides insight into the legal environment after the war.
On April 9, 1874, Elijah Webb Chastain was returning home with two Fannin County friends, Col. John B. Dickey and Senator John A. Jervis, when the three of them came to Holly Creek near Chatsworth in Murray County, Georgia (not Ellijay as first reported on April 16, 1874). The creek was quite swollen, and they went across separately on horseback. Elijah was second to go. Somehow, his horse was thrown off balance and went down, crushing Elijah against a large rock as it fell on him. His friends tried unsuccessfully to save him, but he was swept away. His body was found the next day about half a mile down stream. The Mountain Signal carried a preliminary report on April 16th, followed by a eulogy by Congressman Hiram Parks Bell on May 14. The eulogy preserves considerable detail of the life of Elijah Webb Chastain.
Elijah Webb Chastain is buried at the Toccoa Baptist Church in Morganton, Georgia. Established in October, 1839, the log-built Toccoa Baptist Church was first located across the road from the current building. Elijah Webb Chastain donated the property where the church currently stands in June, 1873 less than a year before he was buried in the church cemetery. The new church was built on the property around 1896.
Elijah's lineage is:
Thanks to Susan Slape-Hoysagk of the Pierre Chastain Family Association for the photo of Elijah Webb Chastain which we used for years, to Caleb G. Teffeteller who sent us a clearer copy in 2009, and to Karyl Lynn Chastain Beal for enhancing the current photo. Thanks also to Caleb G. Teffeteller for several documents on Elijah Webb Chastain.
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The Mountain Signal, (Lumpkin Co. GA) Thursday, April 16, 1874:
“It becomes our painful duty to chronicle the death of Col. E.W. Chastain, of Fannin County, caused by being drowned in Holly Creek, on Thursday the 9th of April, near Ellijay, Gilmer County, Ga. He had been off on business, accompanied by Col. Dickey and Senator Jervis, of Fannin County, his personal friends. They were all on horse-back, and in attempting to cross the ford, the creek being much swollen from recent rains, Mr. Jervis before, Col. Chastain in the center and Mr. Dickey behind. Mr. Jervis had just succeeded in getting across when he heard Mr. Dickey holler out to Col. Chastain to “rein his horse upstream.” Mr. Jervis looked around just in time to see Col. Chastain’s horse fall, having struck a large rock in the ford, and the water being very swift Col. Chastain was plunged into eternity almost in the twinkling of an eye. All efforts were made by his friends to render him assistance, but he was not seen anymore after he fell from his horse.
Senator Jervis at once dispatched the sad news to his friends, and the citizens round about the place was called together, and our informant thinks the body was recovered on Friday morning following. This sad fate of one of the leading spirits of N.E. Georgia will be deeply deplored by all who knew him. Col. Chastain was once a member of Congress from this district before the war, and has held many offices of trust and honor. He was Colonel of the first Georgia Regulars in 1861, and was stationed on Tybee Island, near Savannah.
We deeply sympathize with the family and friends of the deceased, and would earnestly commend them to Him who has promised to be a “Father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow.” Since writing the above, we learn from the Morganton mail rider that the body of Col. E.W. Chastain was found early on Friday morning about a half mile below where he was drowned, and the body was conveyed to his home in Fannin County, and was interred on Monday morning. We learn that the funeral was the most largely attended, by citizens, kindred and friends of any ever before in that country.”
The Mountain Signal, (Lumpkin Co. GA) Thursday, May 14, 1874:
“The Late Hon. E.W. Chastain.
Interesting Memorial and Biographical Sketch by the Hon. H.P. Bell.
Washington, D.C., April 27, 1874.
Editors Constitution. The family and some of the friends of the Hon. E.W. Chastain have written to me asking me to write his obituary and send it to the Constitution for publication. In compliance with this request, I have written the enclosed sketch, which is more of a biography than obituary. I trust you will do these friends of deceased, (and they are legion), as well as myself, the favor to publish it. I doubt not that it will be read by a great many of your readers with interest, not on account of the merit of the production, but from interest in the subject. I am respectfully your obedient servant, H.P. Bell.
Hon. Elijah W. Chastain.
The death of this distinguished citizen and estimable gentleman has created throughout the State, the most profound regret. It occurred on the 9th inst., and was peculiarly sad in its attendant circumstances. Returning from Dalton in company with the Hon. John B. Dickey and the Hon. John A. Jervis, where they had been on business pertaining to the contemplated Dalton and Morganton Railroad; in crossing Holly Creek, in Murray County, which was swollen, the ford being rocky and the current rapid, Col. Chastain’s horse stumbled and fell, precipitating him upon a large rock, and falling upon him, so crushed and disabled him that he could not escape, and thus he was drowned in the presence of his friends who were unable to render him any assistance.
He was born in the State of South Carolina, September 25th, 1814, but came to Georgia in early life. He married Miss. Clarissa Brazleton, of Jackson County, in 1838, and soon after settled on Toccoa River, in what was then Gilmer County, where he resided until his death. He filled with usefulness and distinction high positions in the military and civil service of the State. Elected a Captain in the war with the Seminole Indians in Florida, in 1837, and promoted to the command of a regiment in 1838, he served through that contest with honor and distinction. In 1840 he was elected to represent Gilmer County in the Senate and continued to represent the county until it was united with Murray in a senatorial district, which he also represented, serving in the Senate consecutively for the period of ten years. As a Senator, he exhibited high qualities for debate and legislation, and at once took his position among the leading minds of the State, rendering to the county signal service. In the fall of 1851 he was nominated for Congress, in a district (the Fifth) distinguished for its talent, and after a brilliant canvass, marked by intense excitement and enthusiasm, defeated his accomplished antagonist, the Hon. W.H. Stiles, by a large majority. Entering the House of Representatives in the calm between the agitation of 1850 and 1854, he made but one speech during the term. It was delivered March the 5th, 1852, on “The Union and Southern Rights Parties in Georgia.” He was re-elected to the 33rd Congress. It was during this session that the Kansas-Nebraska Act, under the leadership of Douglass in the Senate, and Stephens in the House, was passed. In the culmination of the excitement upon this subject, on the 20th of May, 1854, Col. Chastain delivered a very able speech, probably the ablest of his life. Belonging to the progressive school of statesmen, the detester of tyranny, and a worshiper of liberty, he favored the acquisition of Cuba, and made his last speech in Congress June 12th, 1854, upon that subject. The convention that nominated his successor unanimously adopted a resolution approving his official conduct as a representative of the people. After four years of public service, in exciting terms, involving many hundreds of votes on every variety of questions arising in the National Legislature, with each of these votes closely scrutinized by over a hundred thousand constituents, an unanimous judgement of approval is no ordinary compliment, and one that seldom falls to the lot of public servants. In 1857 he was appointed by Gov. Brown attorney for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which office I believe he resigned. He was chosen a delegate from Fannin County to the Convention in 1861. He believed honestly that secession was the only remedy for existing evils and apprehending dangers, and, true to his nature, without counting the cost or looking to consequences, he followed the convictions of his heart, and the dictates of his judgement, and ardently supported secession.
At the commencement of the late war he served as Lieutenant Colonel for some time of the 1st Regiment Georgia Regulars. I am not advised how long. This was his last official public service; but he never ceased to feel a deep interest in all matters affecting the public interest, whether of a political, material or moral character, and was always ready to make his contribution of means, labor or sacrifice for their advancement.
Like many other distinguished men, Col. Chastain did not possess the advantages of a liberal education, nor the adventitious aids of fortune, but in natural intellectual endowments he was perhaps inferior to no man in Georgia. In physical development, a model of perfect manhood, quick in apprehension, fluent in speech, felicitous in repartee, bitter in invective, graceful in manner, wise in council and fearless in action, modest as a maiden, and brave as Caesar, he was a born leader of men. He loved the gladiatorship of the political arena, and always left it a victor. He was never defeated when a candidate for office. Ardent in his attachments and thoroughly honest in his convictions, he infused into his friends his own zeal, and bound them to him with the earnestness of devotees. Although engaged in fierce party contests, and in office for a period covering nearly sixteen years, neither envy or malice ever dared to assail his official integrity or personal honor. If he was a zealous partisan, it was because he was an ardent patriot, believing the highest interest of the country was involved in the success of the principles of his party. He never surrendered to an enemy, nor betrayed, nor deserted a friend.
He was admitted to the bar in 1849. The owner of a large and valuable farm, and largely engaged in politics, the practice of his profession was more an incident than an object. Yet for a number of years he did an extensive and successful practice. More successful in the result of his cases, than productive of remuneration for his services, for he seemed to loose sight of his fee in his anxiety for victory. Indeed, he seldom asked a client for money, and if he did it was in such a good natured way that the client felt sure but any sort of excuse for non-payment would be received. A very large number of his fee notes became barred by the statute of limitations and were never paid. The poor especially always found in him a willing counselor and a zealous and an able advocate. He was distinguished at the bar for his courtesy to the bench and his professional brethren, and for his adelity to his client. He studied the science of government more than law. Politics seemed to be his native element. In what is known as the black letter of the law, his reading and research were not extensive. He discarded the pompous formularies and ignored the technical subtleties of the books. With him the law was not so much a grand system or science invested with the awful forms of a solemn antiquity like some ideal divinity, as it was the simple practical means of enforcing rights and redressing wrongs. And while others admired the gorgeous drapery with which the Goddess of Justice is clothed, he tore it away and approached the alter of her worship, charmed with the beauty of her naked simplicity. Still, with the love of the right and abhorrence of wrong, his accurate knowledge of men and his fine powers of advocacy, he was a formidable adversary in the Court House and especially so before the jury. He was more fruitful in legitimatere sources for the continuance of his cause, when unprepared for trial, than any member of the bar I ever saw. The professional reader will understand and appreciate the importance, frequently to their client, of a continuance, when the showing cannot be brought entirely up to the rule. His were not always ready, not always not prepared to make a strictly legal showing, yet his professional skill always compensated his client’s business. He moved the continuance and would insist with such earnestness, showing so many excuses for his client’s negligence, and appealing to the Court with such courtly grace and elegance, and bring his showing so nearly up to the rule, that it was impossible to resist him. Colonel Chastain leaves a widow and seven children in sorrow and bereavement, all of them, I believe, members, and some of them leading and most useful members of the Baptist Church, in whose creed he was a firm believer. Much and deeply as the community in which he lived lament his sad and untimely death, and greatly as he is beloved by that community, it was in the home circle where he is missed, that he was beloved with the warmest ardor and mourned with the bitterest anguish. I will not raise that veil, nor obscure the light of the vestal lamp that burns to his memory on that sacred shrine. I bring friendship’s last offering and drop upon his grave “the tribute of a tear.”
Note from Chastain Central: Hiram Parks Bell was a U. S. Congressman at the time he wrote this eulogy.
Col. Chastain, as he was familiarly known, was born in the year 1813 and was therefore cut off from the many literary advantages had by the youth of the present day. However, nature in its rich mental endowments more than made up for the lack of these attainments. Though not polished, his education was liberal and, with extensive reading and association with the foremost men of his day, he acquired the tack and knowledge which enabled him to fill with distinction and ability the many high trusts conferred upon him by the people and by the Governors of Georgia.
Whilst he loved his native State (South Carolina) well, he loved Georgia, where he had spent his manhood life, better and the regards he had for Georgia was always responded to by a generous people when he asked for position. And not infrequently these honors were thrust upon him without asking.
In personal appearance he was endowed with gifts long ways above the average. In his prime he weighed 170 pounds, with a height admirably in proportion. His features were of the most refined Grecian type, except his brow, which was rather massive for it was well developed, denoting intellect and firmness, his especial and leading characteristics. His eyes were blue rather than grey, but of that quick, expressive character that catches the attention of the beholder, causing him to lose sight of the color.
Above all this there was peculiar magnetism about the man, that made him a natural leader of men. This is well illustrated by an incident related to the writer by one of his old comrades who was with him in Florida, or Seminole War.
Col. Chastain, then quite a young man of probably some 23 or 24 years, had raised a company of that service and, upon rendezvousing at some point in Florida for the purpose of being mustered into service, and of electing regimental officers, was induced to run for Colonel. After much persuasion he finally accepted the race with many doubts of success as he only had a few days’ acquaintance with any of the companies except his own and, with becoming modesty, as his opponent was an elderly gentleman who had been in the service a long while and had received promotion in another regiment for gallant conduct. Owing to these circumstances the old soldier above referred to said Chastain’s friends, entertained but little hope of his success.
The regiment, being drawn up to hear the speeches of the different candidates, and Captain Chastain, being first, made his appearance elegantly mounted and delivered a short address. The informant said he was the most superb specimen of perfect manhood he ever saw. The regiment greeted his short, eloquent and pointed speech with wildest enthusiasm and then and there, upon the spot, he was elected Colonel by acclamation without a dissenting voice.
It must have been a proud moment for the young aspirant. The same soldier related another incident which showed his nerve. The regiment encountered an ambush in the Everglades. No Indians were to be seen, their presence was only indicated by the crack of a gun and puff of smoke quickly followed the report. Col. Chastain was dangerously conspicuous by reason of being mounted, and of his uniform. However, there he sat, encouraging his men and urging them to follow to where the little puffs of smoke were most frequent. “Ping!” and an almost fatally sped bullet had cut a swathe through his whiskers. Not a quaver of the voice, not the movement of a muscle showed that anything more than usual had happened. Onward he encouraged his men, until the Indians were routed and many killed and captured.
His father had settled in Habersham County, Georgia (now Stephens County) , so after leaving the service, the family including the Colonel, moved to then Gilmer County, Georgia. About this time he married the amiable and popular lady recently dead, and settled upon the farm which has been the home of his wife since his death and until her own a few days since.
At that early day at a comparatively small cost he secured in a body the most desirable tract of land on the Toccoa River, now Fannin County, which at his death was divided into good farms and which he willed to each of his eight surviving children, to whom it still belongs. I have related to show that although careless in money matters he left a good estate at his death.
It was here, among his new neighbors, he soon grew into a popularity that bore down all opposition. The positions of State Senator and Representative were always his for the taking and sometimes thrust upon him without solicitation on his part.
His fellow citizens, believing that his ability and ripe experience entitled him to a place in a broader field of action, elected him to Congress in the Fall of 1851.
He soon took a foremost place among the active workers of that august body and made himself conspicuous by delivering a able and eloquent speech in Congress in favor of the admission of Cuba as one of the States of the Union.
He was again elected to Congress in 1853, by an increased majority, and would have been elected again in 1855 had he run, as he had a constantly increasing popularity. At the nominating convention of the year, held at Calhoun, he had a good majority at every balloting---there the two-thirds rule prevailed, however, and as there were several in the race it seemed to be impossible to nominate anyone and a compromise candidate was selected by acclamation.
After his second term in Congress, Col. Chastain was not again in active politics until the stormy times of 1860. One of his temperament and former connections with public affairs could not have kept out of politics at this exciting period. In that year he ran for the convention which afterwards took Georgia out of the Union.
He was elected and voted for the ordinance of secession, for which act he was blamed by some of his constituents because they said he had been elected as a Union delegate.
Those censoring him did not thoroughly understand his position. To better understanding of the whole matter, it is necessary to go back and say a few words not immediately connected with the subject in hand, but had bearing upon its full comprehension.
At that time the copper mines at Ducktown, Tennessee, adjoining Fannin County, were experiencing their flushest days, among them a population of 1,500 or 2,000, were a good many foreigners, who held with the Union and were against slavery. East Tennessee was largely in sympathy with these sentiments. All of this had a great deal to do in molding public sentiment in North Georgia, and the absence of slaves strengthened the Union sentiments. At least four-fifths of the people believed that the war was solely for the purpose of protecting and perpetuating African slavery and felt that they had but little personal interest in the war. As an instance, there were only 125 slaves in Fannin County.
But to return to the subject. At the time of the election referred to, nine-tenths of the votes were for the Union. Ever a larger percentage than this, as an avowed Secessionist who ran got only thirteen votes.
There were four candidates. The Hon. W.C. Fain, a strong Unionist, who was one of the few who refused to sign the ordinance of secession after it was passed by a large majority, headed the ticket, and Col. Chastain came next, by a small majority over his remaining opponent
His position was this: To stay in the Union as long as constitutional rights could be preserved, and protection to Southern property was assured, and whenever these were sufficiently endangered so as to bring about a serious apprehension of the overthrow of the one and interference with the other, he was for disruption at any cost.
These qualifications came very near costing him his election. His popularity and confidence had in his judgment was all that saved him in a community who would have preferred on standing by the Union at all hazards.
He served acceptably in this position for but a short time when he resigned and was shortly afterwards appointed by Gov. Brown, Lieutenant Colonel of the First Georgia Regiment. On account of some disagreement with an officer of this regiment he resigned, and when he returned home he found the country in such confusion that he felt it his imperative duty to give his time and attention to their welfare.
For the present purpose it will only be necessary to say, that for reasons herein before given and other cause, outside of the native element dispond to high-handed and unlawful measures, there came from all quarters rogues and lawless cut-throats, whose depredations and outrages rendered it unsafe for any good citizen, Rebel of Union, to remain here, and all who were able to do so refugeed either North or South. Those attached to the first cause went South and those to the other found shelter and congenial associations North and East Tennessee within the Federal lines.
Col. Chastain, with his family refugeed South where he remained until after the war.
Many prominent men on either side were assassinated in this section of the State. Sometimes by pretended soldiers, and again by lawless mobs. Had he remained here his prominence, if nothing else, would have made him a certain mark for some of these unrestrained marauders.
When he returned to his home he found Fannin County in a worse condition, in some respects, than during the war. The population having been about equally divided in their preference for North and South had brought about individual disagreements hard to reconcile.
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-deserters are traversing every part of the country every night prissing as they term it every gun that can be found in the county-These rascals say openly that no secessionest shall keep a gun or any other kind of arms. They do not molest the tories-there is at least 300 of them in this county and along the border of North Carolina and they have since attacked the village of Murphy. These men say they have a full regiment under the command of one Goldman Bryson and are now arming themselves by taking the peoples guns-They were in two miles of Morganton night before last and carried off seven guns. They are operating in squads of 15 or 20 men and this way will soon have all of our guns. I have sent runners to the citizens requesting to place all their guns under my protection but I fear the citizens will refuse to let me have them. This is the only plan I can see to save any of the guns. Now you can see our condition, can I get arms for my calvary- I want enough for 60 to 70 men and in the meantime if you can furnish us with other troops, we want them and at once-
Aug. 5, 1863 from E.W. Chastain, Morganton
to Gov. Joseph E. Brown.
August 11, 1863
His Excellency, Joseph E. Brown
I wrote you a few days since, relation to the conduct of the deserters and bushwackers giving you the program of their actions up to that time. I called out my cavalry as far as they were armed. Capt. Kincade called out his infantry company and they are now stationed at the place. Both companies have actively engaged scouring the country but up to this time we have not been able to capture any of them.
Last night one hundred and twenty five of these disperadoes were within five miles of this place swearing they would come to the town and burn it. They were met by the sheriff and persuaded to disband. The sheriff has several relatives in the crowd and he therefore went boldly to work, and finally prevailed with them to desist.
We have no arms or any value, scarcely old rifles and a few single barreled shot guns and no ammunition, not two rounds a piece. We cannot muster more than fifty or sixty guns which I consider worthless. We must have arms and ammunition or this town will be burned and the country over run and perhaps many citizens massacred. They swear that no man who is a Southerns man in sentiment and action, will be permitted to keep a gun or any other weapon of defense. They are bold and reckless.
I repeat to you that we must have help, both in men and arms or our county will be over run. There are some of the Georgia deserters who have sent me word if I can obtain the consent of the War Department that they will join the company here for home defense, but they swear they will die before they return to the army. Can you procure the consent of the department. It would be better to quiet them in this way than to let them connect themselves with these North carolina desperadoes.
Under an order of Gen. Buckner of a recent date, I am informed that the names of all the deserters under his command have been stricken from the company rolls. It strikes me therefore that the war department might willingly, if applied to, give permission for them to join the companies for home defense, I must confess I have little confidence in them but they can be better controlled in this way, they can be dispersed all over the country.
If this meets with your approbation I trust you will immediately telegraph the war department and if they give their consent, write me immediately and I can quiet all the Georgians in this section. Since writing the foregoing, I learned that a large party of these scoundrels, after dispersing last night went back a few miles into the edge of Union County and took all the guns they could find in that section. They say they can muster eight hundred men. Every man in Cherokee, N. carolina who was enrolled for conscription have taken to the bush and if this is true, I doubt not that they can muster a large force. The Tennessee deserters and conscripts are also with them--many of them. And they are all sworn to defend one another, I am not scared but I confess that the times are any thing but pleasant to contemplate. I intend to hold this place if I can, but how it is to be done without arms or ammunition I must confess looks doubtful. The lives of all the prominent citizens are threatened and unless some relief is sent forthwith, they will doubtless execute their threat.
Now my Dear Sir, as you see how things stand and it is for you to take such course as you think the emergency requires. If you can arm the battalion composed of the companies from Gilmer and this county, we can successfully defend this section and drive the marauders from this country. Without help however we are destined to suffer.
I am as your friend and servant.
E. W. Chastain
P.S. I had omitted to say that the whole country is panic stricken.
That I cannot get them to turn out for their own defense. They are
afraid to move anyway. EWC.
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To Joseph E. Brown
from E.W. Chastain, Mulberry
My section of the state is now almost entirely overrun by robbers and tories. I propose the organization of a regiment of militia of Northeast Georiga for the purpose of protecting these counties that are now overrun- there are many men- who have gone home for the protection of their families and who are still loyal men. I have made application to Gen. Cobbb for leave to organize these men into companies-they are worthless to his army-I desire an order from the militia of Northeast Georgia. I propose organizing a regiment as cavalry and can mount them. Can they be armed by the state? Confer with Col. Dobbs upon this subject and address me at Carnesville, Georgia.
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At the 2006 Chastain Family reunion, Scott Ray brought us a very special treat. On Friday night, Scott presented us with an old, worn, leather carrying case. He opened it and pulled out a great treasure! It was the personal top hat once owned by Elijah Webb Chastain. Though showing wear, the top hat is in remarkably good shape. No doubt the protective case is responsible for much of the preservation. The top hat fits upside down into the form fitted case, where the hat remains except for special occasions.
Scott is a descendant of Elijah Webb, and the top hat has been in the possession of his family line since Elijah's death in 1874. When Elijah died of a tragic accident, his son, Judson Rucker "Bud" Chastain, was only sixteen years old, but he became head of the house, caring for his mother and younger siblings, and the hat became his. When Jason Rucker died in 1920, the hat remained in possession of his wife, Emma Greenwood Chastain. Emma lived her later years in the home of her daughter, Ophelia Vesta Chastain Ray and her husband Clark Ray. Their son, Scott Ray, grew up with grandmother Emma in the home. Emma designated the top hat to go to Scott, and he took possession of it in the mid 1950s. Scott is seen above wearing the top hat.
In August, 1954, shortly after Scott returned from military service and received the top hat there was, in nearby Blue Ridge, a celebration of the Fannin County centennial, with a parade that included a number of historical characters. Scott was asked to represent Elijah Webb Chastain in the parade, which he did by donning the appropriate costume and riding horseback wearing the authentic top hat. An article in the August 6, 1954 issue of the Atlanta Constitution reports:
Kin Learns To Ride Horse
To Portray Fannin Founder
By Bob Sibley
A 24-year old Atlantan is learning to ride horseback in order to portray his great-grandfather in the Fannin County centennial next week.
Scott Ray, released from the Army recently after 18 months with Counter-intelligence in Germany, agreed to learn to ride for his part in the pageant, "The Fannin Story."
The young Atlantan will have the role of E. W. Chastain, noted legislator, orator and pioneer in the Fannin County area.
"Horseback riding is all right," laughed Ray, "but I wouldn't like it as a steady diet."
100-year old hat
The fact that he couldn't ride didn't faze the Atlantan when he was asked to portray his great-grandfather in the Fannin celebration "I got a horse, went out near North Fulton Park and began practicing," he explained with a grin.
To add realism to his role, Ray will wear an imported top hat worn 100 years ago by Chastain at the celebration marking the founding of Fannin County...
Col. Chastain was instrumental along with Col. James Walker Fannin in the founding of the county. Chastain also founded Morganton, first town in the county, descendants said. (end of excerpt)
The lid of the storage case bears the words: E. W. Chastain, Georgia. The inside of the hat has an image of a building with columns and the words:
Scott speculates that though the top hat was manufactured in Paris, Elijah likely purchased it in Washington, DC during his tenure there as a congressman (1851-1855). It is unlikely that such a hat was available in Morgantown where Elijah lived. Another supporting fact is the designation Georgia on the outside of the storage case. There would be no need to mention Georgia unless the hat was used in a context outside Georgia, such as Washington, D.C. Elijah may also have worn the hat on trips to Charleston, South Carolina.
We are grateful to Scott for allowing us to see and photograph this artifact, which we did not even know existed. It is good to know that the top hat is in such careful and respectful hands.
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