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Confederate prisoners long journey home
04.24 echoes
William Washington Metzger - photo by Photo submitted

William Washington Metzger was born April 25, 1831, on a farm near the small village of Clyo, which lies a short distance from the Savannah River. His life was a happy life, being reared in a family having a great sense of humor.

When he grew into manhood, his neighbors and friends as well as his family loved him for his jovial disposition and respected him for his honesty and integrity. He married Miss Marion D. Exley on Feb. 10, 1858.

In December 1861, he hired a surveyor to survey and measure off two acres and a rod of land that he was giving a group of Lutherans to build a church on. Seven years later he joined this church (Laurel Hill Lutheran near Clyo) which was in the year of 1868.

When the War between the States became a reality, like the other brave men of the South, William Washington Metzger felt the call of duty, although it was not easy to do. He mounted his horse and rode off, leaving his wife, three small girls and his mother to join the Georgia Cavalry (Chatham County). He was placed in Company B, 21st Battalion as a private. He saw action for a period of time and in the spring of 1864, he was given leave to come home for a short visit with his family.

Soon after his return to his post of duty, his wife Marion became aware of the fact that she was to have another child, which added greatly to her physical and her mental anguish in those trying times. However, the worst was yet to come — her husband was taken prisoner, and she no longer heard a word from him. He was a prisoner in New York for 13 months. He said that he was a man who did not require much food, or he never could have lived through the ordeal of hunger.

As Union Gen. William Sherman marched through Georgia to the sea, he started back up the coastline. When he got to the Savannah River there was a freshet and the water was too swift and dangerous to cross, so they made camp near the Metzger home.

During their stay in the Clyo community, Mrs. Metzger knew that the time had come for her child to be born. Soon the Yankees learned what was taking place, and a doctor from the camp was sent into her home to deliver the baby, which was another girl. Since there were not the necessary things on hand to take care of the situation, the supplies were brought in from the army camp outfit, including the safety pins to dress the baby and mother.  

The doctor was very kind to her and some soldiers were placed around her home to guard it, and to keep the soldiers from looting and frightening her, like they were at every other home in the community.

It had been so long since the war ended, the family began to wonder if William was dead or not. He was one of the last ones to get out of prison, and he had such a long walk, it took him a long time to get home.

He often told of the hardships endured on his long and weary trek home, how hard it was to get food, because the Northern people were bitter and would not give him a bite. He told of crossing the state of Pennsylvania without a mouthful except raw turnips that he pulled from patches along the way.

When he got on down in the South, the people were glad to hand out food to him and would also give him a ride if they happened along with means of transportation.  

At last he reached Effingham County, but it began to get dark and he was too weary to go home, so he stopped at the home of Capt. James Bird and spent the night. The next day Capt. Bird carried him home to his family.  

The morning of his arrival, his mother was sitting on the porch and when she looked up and saw him coming, she said, “My God, it’s Willie,” and then fainted away. When his family came out to meet him he said, “Don’t get close to me for I am full of lice, and am not fit to touch.”

He asked his wife if there were any clothes or shoes he could put on.  She told him that she had saved them for him and quickly got them out for him. A wash tub of hot water was placed in the smokehouse where he took a hot bath and put on the clean clothes. Then, he burned the rags that he had pulled off before going in the house with his family, which included the child he had not seen.

It was not easy for a soldier to come back home and adjust to civilian life, and he was no exception. It was said that for a while after his return home, he did not know where to start or what to do, there was so much to be done, and not being strong enough for hard work, he would go out in the yard and look around, and just stand gazing into space.

However, he soon set out to get food for his family. He went fishing and caught lots of them, for the streams were full of fish. He would salt and smoke them to be able to save them, so they would not spoil before they could use them.

After he was home one night, he dreamed that a goose had laid a big white egg in his horse’s drinking trough, and the very next day he got word that a friend of his had his horse up around Augusta and was sending it home if he could come to meet it. So he started out on the Augusta Stage Coach Road that ran from Savannah to Augusta, following close to the Savannah River. Somewhere along the way he met them and rode the horse home. This was a lifesaver to him, for now he could begin to live and work for his family again.

Down through the years there were more children, making a total of nine, seven girls and two boys. His wife Marion died Feb. 20, 1898, leaving him with children still at home. He lived with them until they all married. 

His last years were spent with his youngest son, Walter Metzger. He lived to be 78 years old and was in fairly good health until he was stricken with Spanish Influenza, which proved fatal. He died on Jan. 30, 1919.

Because the influenza had reached an epidemic stage, they were not allowed to carry his body in the church for services, so a burial service was held at the graveside (Laurel Hill Church Cemetery). He was laid to rest beside his wife who had been a true and faithful companion to him, one who had shared all of his sorrows, as well as his joys.

This sketch was taken from the files of Historic Effingham Society. It was written by Mrs. Guy (Thelma Wilson) Exley for the Effingham County Hussars Chapter of the UDC in May 1964. William Washington Metzger was her husband’s maternal grandfather. Sunday, the Effingham County Hussars United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 2285 invites everyone to attend its annual Confederate Memorial Service in Guyton City Cemetery at 4 p.m.

This column is compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or info to share, please call her at 754-6681 or email: