The little village of Irwinton in Wilkinson County had a bad history of fires in the 19th century. The courthouse at Irwinton first burned in 1828, and in 1854 both the Baptist and Methodist churches were burned as well as the courthouse. Later Sherman burned the courthouse for the third time on his March to the Sea sometime between November 23rd and 26th of 1864. The Wilkinson courthouse was one of four burned by Sherman’s troops. The others were Washington County (Sandersville), Bulloch County (Statesboro) and Butts County (Jackson). Incredibly, the Wilkinson County courthouse burned again in 1924. Unfortunately, fires were all too common in the 1800’s but the little town of Irwinton has more than paid its dues. One of the by-products of the 1854 fire was the Union church you see above.
After the fires of 1854, a number of citizens came up with the idea that a common church that could be shared among Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists would offer the best solution for the town. Thus the Union church was incorporated by the Georgia general assembly in 1854 and called the Irwinton Free Church, now called Union Church. William O. Beall deeded one acre to the church and the building was completed in 1856. The rotation called for the Methodist Episcopals to use the church the first and third week of each month, the Presbyterians the second week and the Missionary Baptists the fourth week.
Specifically the legislation stated ‘The Methodist Episcopal denomination shall be entitled to have, use, and control said Church for the first and third weeks in each and every month, reckoning from Friday morning before the first and third Sabbaths therein; the Presbyterians to have, use, and control said Church the second week in each and every month, reckoning as aforesaid; and the Missionary Baptists to have, use, and control said Church the fourth week in each and every month, reckoning in like manner as the Methodists and Presbyterians; and the rights secured in this section to the several denominations mentioned shall be perpetual and inviolable, except by a vote of the Trustees, with the consent of all the denominations interested. And be it further enacted, That each denomination aforesaid shall have power and authority to organize and maintain their respective societies, their government, forms and rituals, respectively, during the time they are entitled to the use and control of said Church as aforesaid’.
Even though the town and the courthouse were razed by the 15th and 20th Corps during the March to the Sea, Wilkinson county was actually opposed to secession right up until it happened. She then proceeded to answer the call aggressively and paid the price. According to the records 34% of the 685 Volunteer Regiment Soldiers from Wilkinson County died in the Civil War. In the Irwinton cemetery and on this website is the grave of John Lindsey who served for the duration of the war and was wounded twice. He was home on furlough when Sherman came calling. According to local newspaper article, ‘ A few soldiers who had been disabled by wounds were at home at the time. Among these were John W. Lindsey, later Pension Commissioner of Georgia, who had been wounded in Virginia and was partly recovered. He with several others rode out along the Ridge Road to reconnoiter. Just as they came to the bend of the road just west of the Lingo farm they spied the federal cavalry regiment coming at a gallop and only a short distance away. The Yankees saw them at the same time and opened a hot fire upon them……………. A few hours later from one of the hills near Red Level Church they watched the flames as the town was burned’. Fortunately the church was spared and over time, the survivors of the war drifted back home to the church communities they grew up in and started life anew in a land that had been desolated by the war. This story was duplicated all over Georgia and the churches they came home to provided some badly needed spiritual comfort.