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 Murray County Museum  

William Cast Groves

William Cast Groves was born in Murray County, December 12, 1849, just 17 years after the county was created. The Cherokees had been forcibly removed from the area only 11 years before he was born.

He was the third of eight children born to Nelson W. and Frances (Adams) Groves, who used the post office at Rock Creek. His mother was known as "Frankie."

The Census of 1860 lists this couple's children: James J. age 15; Catherine 13; William 11; Nancy 9; John 7; Jane 5; Cicero C. 2; and George N. age 1.

Since Nelson and Francis Groves also appeared in the 1850 Census but not the Census of 1840, this probably means that they came to Murray County in the 1840s.

The 1860 Census also indicates that Nelson had been born in North Carolina, Frankie in South Carolina, and all of their children in Georgia. The Census of 1870 reported that both of Nelson's parents had been foreign born.

This supports the oral family history that Nelson's father, along with two brothers, came from England to North Carolina. There they parted, one brother going to Virginia, the other to New York, and Nelson coming to Murray County, Georgia. Although they are thought to have exchanged a few letters, they reportedly never saw each other again.

William Cast Groves was born into a Murray County that still included present-day Whitfield County and part of present-day Gordon County. Dalton and Calhoun were then within Murray County.

His parents must have allowed William to do pretty much as he wanted, because he and two buddies decided, when he was either 12 or 13 years old, that they wanted to go to Texas. They could only do that by walking. At that time the War Between the States had already been raging for a couple of years to they had to pass through some dangerous territory.

They had to stop at homes along their route and ask for food, a practice not uncommon at that time. They took turns, one boy approached the house to talk with the occupants, while two remained some distance away, so as not to appear to be a threat.

One Sunday, it was William's turn to ask for food, and he dreaded this particular encounter more than most because he saw numerous well-dressed people on the porch and milling around the yard. When he reached the yard a man smiled and asked what he wanted. William explained their walk and requested food for the three of them. The man smiled and said, "Young man, this is your lucky day. We are gathered for a family reunion and there's way more food than we will eat. Tell your buddies to come on up, wash your hands, and you can eat all you can hold."

William Groves told that story throughout his life, often saying that was the most unforgettable meal of his life. In ordinary life daughter Frankie said his favorite food was country ham.

Although no one seems to recall where in Texas the three youngsters went, nor why they undertook such a journey, William was back in Murray County by the summer of 1864.

Contrary to previously published details about his Civil War enlistment, according to information that William C. Groves entered on military forms in his own handwriting, he enlisted in the 3rd Confederate Cavalry at Spring Place, Georgia, on July 15, 1864. He was 14 years old at the time of enlistment.

Although William's father, Nelson Groves, also enlisted in the same military unit, his enlistment date is unknown. The unit's roster listed the father's name correctly but William was listed as Graves.

This unit consisted of men considered too old or infirm to endure the rigors of combat, and men too young to enlist in regular military units. They remained in the immediate area to safeguard the home-front. The soldiers continued to live with their respective families in Murray County, gathering for military purposes as summoned.

Word reached William in late February 1865 that he was to report to the Methodist Church at Spring Place for a scheduled company meeting. Astride his horse, William arrived a few minutes earlier than his comrades. As he neared the church he saw three other men wearing Confederate uniforms. As he got closer he realized that he recognized none of them. He must have been shocked when one of the men drew his pistol and shot William in the lower abdomen, knocking him to the ground. As the shooter prepared to fire again, one of his comrades pushed his arm aside and told him not to kill William because he recognized him as one of the Grove boys.

This comment later led to speculation that at least one of the three strangers, obviously Union soldiers wearing Confederate uniforms, might have been a Murray man who had joined the Union Army. Such behind-the-lines actions were fairly commonplace at that time.

Because William was bleeding so badly that his life clearly was in danger, the three decided to remain with him till other members of his unit arrived to attend to his wounds. William remembered that they had talked to him, trying to keep him conscious. As soon as his shooters saw other soldiers approaching, they took William's horse and rode swiftly away.

His arriving comrades saw William on the ground and rushed to his aid. William's father arrived almost immediately and the soldiers took the wounded man home to be treated for his gunshot wound. The wound was serious enough that William had to walk with crutches for months.

Even after the war ended in April 1965, William still required crutches to get around. Eventually the wound healed and he could walk normally. The bullet was never removed from his body.

William Cast Groves married Sarah E. Duncan on March 4, 1869. Census records for 1870 lists their household consisting of only a man and a woman, with no children.

In 1890 the county built a new, two-story, brick jail at Spring Place. This was a combination jail and home for the Sheriff. After being elected Murray County Sheriff, Groves and his family lived there for six years.

While he served as sheriff Groves would have taken prisoners to and from the nearby courthouse for court appearances. He would have used the courthouse's north door because there was a stairway just inside that door that opened directly into the front of the second floor courtroom. The public used a stairway in the southwest corner of the building to reach the courtroom's public entrance at the south end of the room, thus keeping citizens separated from the prisoners.

Because he was sheriff at the time, he surely witnessed the worst fire ever at Spring Place, the fire of 1899 that burned to death Dr. Bagwell, his three children, and housekeeper.

In reporting that a Negro had been killed at the L & N Railroad camp at Cohutta Springs in 1904, The Murray News reported that someone had telephoned the sheriff in Spring Place to tell him of the incident. The paper stated that he, and a posse of four others, rushed to Cohutta Springs to investigate.

Getting your name in the Atlanta Journal was a heady thing at the turn of the century. That newspaper gave lengthy coverage, August 30, 1905, to a story detailing that the Murray County Sheriff had returned Mrs. Lee from Chattanooga to Spring Place to stand trial on charges of killing her husband. The article called the sheriff by name just once--they called him Graves instead of Groves.

As unimaginable as it seems, this Civil War veteran bought and drove his first automobile in 1926! He purchased it from Seth Gregory, in Chatsworth, for $400. It was a 1927 Whippet that his daughter Frankie remembered as being "about the prettiest blue I ever saw on a car." Frankie said that her father's was the "economy" version, with roll down curtains instead of glass windows.

She said that her father bought the car specifically to have reliable transportation to take her mother to Atlanta's Baptist Hospital, seeking treatment for her cancer. Doctors there told them that the cancer was so advanced that they could do nothing.

When asked what became of the Whippet, Frankie replied that when her brother, Bill, got old enough to drive, her dad gave it to him, and he wore it out. Her father bought his second car, a 1935 Ford, from Carl Groves.

This man's life began when the American flag had 30 stars. When he died the flag contained 48 stars. He lived while 17 men held the office of President of the United States.

William Cast Groves was the last Confederate veteran in Murray County when he died at his Ramhurst home, January 18, 1942. His obituary listed four sons: W. G. Groves, of Ramhurst; Billy Groves of Ramhurst; Tom Groves, of Dalton; and Dennis J. Groves, of Atlanta. His four daughters: Mrs. Ed Cox, of Chatsworth; Mrs. Mary Jenkins, of Chatsworth; Mrs. W. C. Leonard, of Chatsworth; and Frankie Groves, of Ramhurst. The obituary misidentifed the first-named son; his initials were W. C., same as his father.

For the record, William Cast Groves was married four times. He married Sarah Duncan March 4, 1869. They had 8 children. She died August 24, 1913 and was buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery. Next he married Ollie J. (Terry) Strawn, March 14, 1915. They had no children. His third marriage was to Nancy (Holland) Morris, March 7, 1919. They had two children. Nancy died March 30, 1928 and was buried in Ramsey Cemetery. His fourth marriage was to Nephja M. Mullinax, August 29, 1929. They were still married when William died.

As unimaginable as it might seem, William Cast Groves' last-born daughter, Frankie Groves Woods, is still alive (in 2010). She holds the distinction of being Murray County's last surviving child of a Confederate veteran. Frankie patiently answered countless questions during several interviews as this report was being researched.

Frankie remembers her daddy as a deeply religious man. She said that he always knelt beside his bed for a lengthy prayer before turning in each night. She remembers that he always said grace before every meal. He was a serious student of the Bible and the pages in his she described as "well worn."

When asked how her father courted and won the hand of her much younger mother, Frankie explained: " He was a very handsome man, with beautiful white hair, dressed in a crisp, white shirt and a blue serge suit, driving a buggy pulled by a big red horse. She simply could not resist."

Frankie remembers that she always picked enough "scrap cotton" left in the fields after the crop had been harvested, to buy a Christmas present for her dad. Back then most Murray families ordered their gifts from Sears Roebuck catalogs. She once ordered for her dad a huge, 5-pound box of candy for her dad; she said that she was extremely disappointed in the candy she got.

Although her dad did not smoke cigarettes, he enjoyed smoking a pipe. So a tin of Prince Albert tobacco was always a safe gift for him.

Another year she order from Sears a denim jacket for her dad. She is certain that the gift he most cherished was a Bible she ordered from Sears. He read from it every day. When he died Frankie inherited the Bible and a family friend had a new cover put on it because the original cover was so badly worn. To this day it remains one of Frankie's most important links to her dad.


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