Thursday, December 29, 2022

Treasure in Chennault, Georgia

While visiting Washington, Georgia, Sarah (my heritage travel partner) and I traveled northeast to the area known as Chennault.  Our purpose was to trace the route used by Jefferson Davis as he fled from Virginia.  Little did we know that Chennault had significance beyond Davis’s passing.

Chennault takes its name from the family who lived and planted there.  A plantation house at the corner of Elberton Road (GA 79) and Graball Road (GA 44) once belonged to Dionysius “Nish” Chennault, a 300-pound Methodist minister who was also a planter. 

While the house has had wings added to the side and rear over the years, it is listed on the National Register for its architectural as well as social significance.  Built shortly after 1850, it is a five-bay, two-story, late Greek Revival frame weatherboard house with high pitched gabled roof, a full width two-story portico and two central chimneys, serving eight interior fireplaces.  The photo below shows the house in 1976 – the year of its nomination.

Chennault Plantation House c. 1976

Part of its architectural significance is its relationship with three other houses – all within six miles.  The houses are of remarkably similar style suggesting a single master builder, and all were nominated to the National Register.  Part of its social significance is from Jefferson Davis and other Confederate officials passing nearby on the morning of May 3, 1865.

The Chennault property also has the unique significance of witnessing two raids on the Confederate treasure.  The treasure had two parts – specie and jewels belonging to the Confederate government and precious metals belonging to the Bank of Richmond. 

The wagons carrying the treasure – some called it a treasure train – traveled to Georgia with and behind the fleeing Davis party.  On May 4, 1865, at Chennault, unpaid Confederate troops demanded immediate payment from the Secretary of War General Breckenridge.  Breckenridge acquiesced with later ratification by President Davis.  The remainder of the Confederate treasury along with the precious metals belonging to the Bank of Richmond continued on to be held at the Bank of Georgia in Washington.  

Twenty days later, on the night of May 24, 1865, Union troops were not-so-secretly returning the Bank of Richmond metals to the north. They camped at Chennault for the night. Confederate raiders, some say Tennesseans, attacked as night fell.  Much of the bank’s gold and silver was carried off, though bank employees recovered about $40,000 that had been dropped in the dark the next day.

Local legends say the name of route GA 44 near Chennault is a result of this raid.  Graball Road was where you would “grab all the treasure you can.”

Some say parts of both treasures are still missing.  Some is said to be buried at Danville, Virginia, some buried at Chennault, and some moved to other locations.  Entire books have been written and reality TV episodes produced on the whereabouts of the lost treasure.  One TV mini-series even searched the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The pastoral Chennault house today belies its exciting history.

Chennault House 2022
Carroll, J. Frank; Confederate Treasure in Danville (1996)
Davis, Burke; The Long Surrender (1985)
Williams, Vinnie; Legends surround old homes named to national register;
       Augusta Chronicle-Herald (September 5, 1976)
Willingham, Robert M. Jr.; The History of Wilkes County, Georgia (2002)

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