Ball’s Ferry, Wilkinson County

A ferry on the Oconee River at the border of Washington and Wilkinson counties was first established by Revolutionary War veteran and Wilkinson County pioneer John Ball some time before 1816.

On Nov. 24, 1864, the 1st Alabama Cavalry reached Ball´s Ferry to secure it for the passage of the Left Wing (15th and 17th Corps) of Gen. Sherman´s army, which had left Atlanta on Nov. 15th on its infamous March to the Sea. Finding the boat on the east bank, guarded by Confederate pickets, the cavalrymen moved up stream, crossed on rafts, and dislodged the pickets, but developed a larger force approaching the ferry and were forced to recross the river under fire.  On the 25th, the head of the 15th Corps (Osterhaus), which had marched via Irwinton and Myrtle Spring Church, and that of the 17th Corps (Blair), which had followed the railroad from Gordon to Toomsboro, destroying it enroute, arrived. They found the defenders well entrenched on the east bank, with skirmishers up and down the stream. Osterhaus´ infantry and the 12th Wisconsin Battery engaged them in front while Blair´s infantry crossed upstream and worked through the swamps to their rear. Their position turned, the Confederates withdrew without serious loss.  Pontoon bridges were laid by the 1st Michigan Engineers and, by noon on the 26th, the troops were crossing. The 15th Corps moved to Irwin´s Crossroads, the 17th Corps to the forks of the Oconee-Irwins roads. By noon on the 27th, the last of the trains had crossed and the bridges were being taken up and loaded in their wagons.

Local citizens had long lobbied for a bridge but Governor Eugene Talmadge was vehemently opposed to the idea. On 31 March 1939, thanks to the foresight of Governor E. D. Rivers a modern bridge spanning over 1680 feet of the river and floodplain below was dedicated and the ferry dismantled.

Ball’s Ferry has a nice boat landing and open picnic area, easily accessible via a dirt road located beside the historic marker on the Wilkinson County side of the river.



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