The Civil War in Georgia Commemorating 150 years Civil War Georgia Sesquicentennial

John Wisdom

Georgia's Paul Revere

John Wisdom, Georgia's Paul Revere
Photo of John Wisdom, Georgia's Paul Revere

John Wisdom was a former resident of Rome, Ga., who operated a ferry across the Coosa River at Gadsden, Ala., and transported Confederate mail on contract to and from Rome. He became known as "Georgia's Paul Revere" because of his heroic ride to warn Rome of impending attack by Union forces in May 1863.

On the morning of May 2, 1863, Wisdom had crossed the river on his ferry to take a sack of corn in his buggy to a grist mill six miles from Gadsden. He returned to find his ferry sunk and a wooden bridge over Black Creek burning in the distance. Three men shouted to him from across the river that the town had been raided by Union troops on their way to Rome.

Neither they nor Wisdom apparently knew that General Nathan Bedford Forrest was close behind the enemy force. Wisdom immediately set off to warn Rome, driving the buggy 22 miles to Gnatville, Ala., where the horse gave out. There, the widow Nancy Hanks gave him the only transport she had, a lame pony, only under the provision that Wisdom would not ride him more than five miles. True to his promise, Wisdom hobbled on to Goshen, Ala., five miles away. From there, Wisdom changed mounts four more times before reaching his mother's home and the town of Rome.

Upon reaching Rome, Wisdom alerted George S. Black, the militia commander, and then went through town at Black's request "rousing people of his acquaintance." At about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 3, he went to his mother's home in Rome and went to bed, probably exhausted and not wanting to hear the uproar he caused. Romans scurried out of bed, lit their lamps, and worked feverishly to expect the Yankee forces by daybreak.

A historical marker at the intersection of Broad Street and Myrtle Street in Rome commemorates John Wisdom's honorable efforts. According to the marker, as a result of Wisdom's warning, "the bridge over the Oostanaula River was fortified and made ready for burning as a last resort. Widsom's warning and the plans for defense played a big part in the surrender of Col. Streight with 1,500 men to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest with only 425 men."

Listen to a dramatic recreation of the events of Wisdom's ride on Rome's website.