Love, War, and General William Tecumseh Sherman

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Stilesboro, Georgia, home of the Stilesboro Chrysanthemum Show, is in Bartow County, Georgia. During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops came through Bartow County on their way to burn Atlanta and then burn a swath of Georgia on their March to the Sea.

Before the war, Sherman was a student at West Point. Sherman and a fellow cadet whose last name was Stovall became friends. Stovall was from Augusta, Georgia. In 1836, Stovall’s sister Cecelia came for a visit. Sherman fell in love with Cecelia and proposed to her. She responded with these words:

“Your eyes are so cold and cruel. I pity the man who ever becomes your foe. Ah, how you would crush an enemy.”

Sherman replied, “Even though you were my enemy, my dear, I would ever love and protect you.”

While Sherman and his troops marched through Georgia, they stopped in Bartow County and Stilesboro Academy became a stable for their horses. The present-day museum inside the academy displays these benches.

The Museum
Museum Inside Stilesboro Academy

Plaques like this one label three of them with this message: “Original Bench used by General Sherman’s army as feed troughs for their horses, May 1864.”

Feeding Troughs
Benches Used as Feed Troughs

A volunteer at the flower show pointed out the painted banner above the stage in the assembly room, telling me that though the academy walls have been painted through the years, the paint on the banner is original. Translated from the Latin, it reads: God and Country, 1859. Locals believe that these words kept Sherman and his troops from burning the school.

God and Country
God and Country, 1859 Banner in Stilesboro Academy

This facsimile of a painting of Sherman’s beloved Cecelia hangs in the academy’s museum.

Cecelia Stovall Shelman

Sometime after she refused Sherman’s proposal of marriage, Cecelia married Charles Shelman who lived in Bartow County. They built a beautiful mansion there. The mansion stood near the Etowah River. When Sherman and his troops crossed the river, they saw the mansion and the troops began removing valuables from the home, which the Shelmans had abandoned before the troops arrived.

At the gate was an elderly black man who had stayed behind. According to local tradition, the man stood mumbling to himself that he was glad Cecelia was not there to see the events of the day when General Sherman rode by. Sherman stopped and asked if the man was referring to the former Cecelia Stovall. The man answered that yes, he was speaking of Cecelia Stovall.

General Sherman ordered that his men return the looted belongings from the house, ordered that guards protect the home, and handed the elderly gentleman a note to give to Cecelia. It read:

You once said that I would crush an enemy and you pitied my foe. Do you recall my reply? Although many years have passed, my answer is the same. “I would ever shield and protect you.” That I have done. Forgive all else. I am only a soldier.

William T. Sherman

Cecelia Stovall Shelman’s home survived until it burned on New Year’s Day in 1911. Sherman’s note survived the fire.

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid.
Proverbs 30:18-19

I learned the facts within this blog post in the article, “The Softer Side of General Sherman: A Story of Enduring Fondness for Bartow County’s Cecelia Stovall Shelman” on the website of the Cartersville-Bartow County, Georgia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau ( I also copied the quotes by Cecelia Stovall and General Sherman from this article.



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  1. Well, she made the right choice. She saw the evil in his heart, no matter what came out of his mouth. Praying my children can have the same discernment.

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