CAPTAIN OLIVER HARDY
Heir to an important Columbia County plantation of 13 acres and nine slaves, Oliver Hardy had few choices to make in the late 1850s. He had already started helping his father Samuel on the plantation, as “overseer”, but political forces were rumbling and coming to a head, and volunteer armies were being gathered all over the South in preparation for the inevitable conflict.
In 1861 Captain Joshua Boyd began recruiting in Columbia County, almost exclusively among the plantations, and formed a new Company within the 16th Georgia Regiment, known as Ramsey’s Volunteers. The official designation was Company K.
There was a feeling that the unrest in the nation threatened the prosperity of the South, and the very way of life, since within the new political mood, slavery was becoming less palatable. Importation had already been outlawed, and it was implied that slave labour was being allowed to run its course.
Encouraged by his father, Oliver Hardy volunteered for enlistment, as did George and Edwin C. Magruder, sons of the local plantation tycoon, George Milton Magruder.
Disagreement, skulduggery and subterfuge turned into conflict and bloody warfare, and Capt. Robert E. Lee’s ambitious adventures started to take their toll. Oliver Hardy was up to the task, and quickly became one of the most decorated heroes of the South. He was soon made up to Captain, even though young and inexperienced.
Fighting intensified in 1862, leading to all-out conflagration at Harper’s Ferry, and in September the Battle of Sharpsburg was at full thunder on the Potomac border between Virginia and Maryland.
The bloodiest day of the entire Civil War was on September 17, at Antietam Creek, when 23,000 warriors fell. More than 40,000 more were injured, including Capt. Oliver Hardy, whose injuries were serious enough for him to be returned home, never to see further action.
Oliver Hardy served out the war – and for some time afterwards – as a recruiting sergeant in Georgia, whilst taking over the plantation from his ageing father. (The 1880 census lists Samuel as being 73 years of age.) Both Magruder boys had been killed in the war.
General Sherman’s “scorched earth” policy in the South had not reached Columbia County to any great extent, but by the end of the war, the Hardy plantation was moribund, and had lost most of its value.
Hardy realised that the days of slave labour were numbered, and bought into a retail business as a precaution. He sold what was left of the plantation when he married Mary Emma Norvell Tant in 1890.
Ten months after the birth of his child – Norvell – Oliver Hardy died suddenly on November 22 1892. The Confederate Survivors Association paid tribute to him thus:
“Oliver Hardy of the 16th Georgia Regiment, found always faithful at the drumbeat. This man followed the flag and fought the battles of his brave regiment on the historic fields of Virginia. He was a man of great endurance, and having survived the war for 25 years, died suddenly in the twinkling of an eye.”
A Black Iron Cross marker – the Association’s highest posthumous honour – adorns his grave.