The Reconstruction Wars:

Episode One: Augusta

by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


Author's Note: The following story is based on accounts of a real event from various newspapers.  Some scenes in this story have been dramatized with fictional accounts.  Whenever possible every attempt has been made to maintain the integrity of the events as they were reported. 


          When the Yankees won the war, they came in and occupied the city of Augusta. 

          We colored were finally free.  White and colored soldiers occupied the city.  Most of the soldiers who came kept law and order. We had a few outbreaks of violence during the Yankee occupation.   We had crimes of thieving, vagrancy, and citizens shooting firearms. There was a shootout between some white Union soldiers and some colored Union soldiers. Then three ex-Confederates decided that they wanted revenge for losing the war.


“Hey, you lover of coloreds.”


Captain Alex Heasley, walking past a couple of shacks, looked in the shadows of night.


“I am here Heasley.”


A man stood in the shadows.


“What do you want?” questioned Heasley to the man.


The man wearing a soiled Confederate uniform walked out of the shadows.


“We will make you pay for what you have done.”


“What have I done?” questioned Heasley.


“I know you been messing around with my mulatto mistress.”


“I didn’t know she was yours,” said Heasley.


“She is mine.”


“You own her?”


“You and your colored troops want these mulatto girls for yourself!”


After his answer came, a shot went through Heasly’s neck, knocking him to the ground. 


          The three men rushed onto him and knifed Captain Heasley, the leader of the colored 33rd regiment, in his prostrated body.  Captain Heasley’s hacked up body spilled blood on the ground.  Several people saw the murder and reported it to the local constable. 


          There was such an outcry; there was the danger of riots and burning the city if justice had not been done. Soon, the three men were taken to jail.  After a trial, two of the men walked away free, but one of them, the man responsible for Captain Heasley’s death, served fifteen years in prison.


Then for a while, the small city of Augusta saw some calm.  One night in Augusta’s lower market, on December 7, 1865, Thomas W. Olive, a white policeman, shot and killed Private Isam Simmons, a colored soldier, in the 136th infantry. Thomas W. Olive gave himself up and was charged as a murderer. 


The Judge for the army said,


“For the murder of Private Isam Simmons, Thomas W. Olive, how do you plea.”


“Not guilty, your honor.”


A commission was established to try the case.


On December 23rd, the new court handed down to Olive, a verdict of not guilty. Thomas W. Olive was released, a free man.  The trial of this white man showed all the colored in Augusta that even after the war, we remained beneath the whites. 


Now all was not right in Augusta.  Some of the white people resented the gains that we Negroes had made. The blue-clad Union soldiers, many of the colored, were former slaves. Many whites in Augusta felt a little bit uneasy with Negroes armed with rifles and armed with the power to enforce the new laws from the federal government. Not all the Yankee soldiers worked for the welfare of the people in Augusta. Some of them, including the colored soldiers, turned out to be thieves; they turned out to be bad men.


An incident that occurred sometime in the winter of 1865.


It was said that four colored soldiers came to the home of a white woman by the name of Elizabeth Freeman. The four men stood at Mrs. Freedman’s gate. She looked out her window and saw them.


Mrs. Freedman told me how one of the soldiers looked keenly at her water well. They asked one of her children for a drink of water.  The child nodded in approval. The men took it upon themselves to drink from a bucket of some well water. Mrs. Freeman came outside.


“Ma'am that is nice well you got there,” said one colored Yankee soldier.


The thin white lady, in a long tattered dress, trembled lightly.


“Boys, please use the gourd to drink out of, but not the bucket please.”


The soldiers did as Mrs. Freeman asked.


“How can I help you, boys?” 


Questioned the white woman in a seemingly condescending manner. 


“We are looking for the railroad, ma'am,” said a tall colored soldier with a faded blue uniform as he inspected her slightly muddy white feet.


Mrs. Freeman stepped back as the tall soldier came toward her.


“If you travel east for about half a mile you will see it.”


When a colored soldier ran toward her with his musket, Mathew, her sixteen-year-old son stood on the porch with a Colt pistol.


“Step back soldier,” said Mathew.


Seeing the boy’s weapon, the soldiers moved back and left her property.  Later, during the early dawn hours, eight colored soldiers came back to Mrs. Freeman’s homestead. 


“Mrs. Freeman. Mrs. Freeman come out so we can talk to you!”


The white woman heard the cock of a rifle.


“You boys are up to no good.  Please go away.”


A loud dog began to bark.  Then a gun went off.


“We ain’t going nowhere.  We aims to get in,” said one of the soldiers.


“You colored need to know your place,” said Mrs. Freeman.


Several heads peeped out of windows and saw that it was Mrs. Freeman’s dog.


“They are trying to break down the door!” shouted Mrs. Freeman.


Everyone in the Freeman’s house panicked as shots fired into the house.  The family and guest ran upstairs to the second floor.


 Willie Freeman, one of Mrs. Freeman’s sons, fired his gun.  The bullet struck one of the colored soldiers in his head. Another soldier carried his wounded companion away. 


Men from nearby came to Mrs. Freeman’s house with pistols or rifles in hand.  Women and children retreated to Mrs. Freedman’s attic for safety. 


Mrs. Freeman looked out of her window on the second floor and saw a few colored dressed in Union clothing and some colored without uniforms. 


“We know that you have money in there and we want it.”


Mrs. Freemen shot back a claim to her potential attackers.


“You coloreds are always causing trouble,” said the woman.


Then a kid’s voice cried out from the second floor.


“Whites used to be boss but by God, we are on top and are going to stay there."


The colored men broke down the door and entered the house.


Mrs. Freeman, her family, and her guests could hear the movement and sounds of boots moving around and objects being toppled over.  Then they heard the movement of ten or more boots climbing up the stairway, towards the room where the family huddled. 


“We’re coming in!” shouted one of the colored men.


They broke the door down at the foot of the stairs. When they rushed up the stairs, Willie Freeman, the son of Mrs. Freeman, shot the first man dead. But the other colored men continued up the stairs.  Men on the top floor opened fire, and two more colored men fell to their deaths. Throughout the night colored soldiers tried every means to get into the house. Some tried to break through the roof.  Still, others tried to burn down the house. The Freeman’s could see Colored men with torches coming toward the house as dawn came. 


Before the colored men could overtake the house, Colonel Thomas Root arrived with an army of loyal colored troops that pushed back the renegade Union soldiers from Mrs. Freeman’s House.  None of these colored soldiers of the 136th Infantry who caused the calamity at the Freeman home, were ever arrested.



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