Museum in the Moonlight: 2 Worlds,1 Night

Kristen King
Kristen King

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s historic march and the Scarbrough House’s testament to this transformative event, Ships of the Sea Museum present, “Museum in the Moonlight: 2 Worlds,1 Night.” Featuring harpist Kristen King from the New Arts Ensemble playing classical music in the Museum, and Civil War activities in the gardens. “Creative Catering’s” famous shrimp and grits will be available for purchase (at 1860’s prices) along with a side of hard-tack.

On the evening of December 20, 1864, Savannah City Alderman John O’Byrne met with Mayor Arnold and his fellow city officials to consider their options. Sherman’s federals were at the door. It was decided that in order to save the city, it must be surrendered. The mayor and aldermen would head to the front, west of the city, to formally yield to the Union forces.

Meanwhile, Hardee’s Confederate Army was arranging to evacuate Savannah. By 10:00 pm Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws was preparing to march a division down West Broad Street to a floating pontoon bridge stretched across the river. No doubt John O’Byrne’s mother, Margaret O’Byrne, watched the procession from her home on the evacuation route. Margaret O’Byrne was the wealthiest widow in Savannah, as evidenced by the resplendent mansion she occupied, built originally in 1819 for one of Savannah’s merchant princes: William Scarbrough.

As the city officials were preparing to leave for the front, the mayor and a group of aldermen became separated from each other due to heavy darkness and rains. A group of aldermen consisting of John O’Byrne, Robert Lachlison, and Christopher C. Casey pushed on until they ran into Union pickets who escorted them to General John Geary with the Twentieth Corps of Slocum’s division. O’Byrne and his fellow aldermen acted as guides, leading Geary back to Mayor Arnold.

At dawn, on the 21st of December, 1864, Geary’s division marched into Savannah on the same road the Confederates had used to escape, past the same stately house that had witnessed the withdrawal.

Margaret O’Byrne had purchased the Scarbrough house in 1851. She resided in the home with her extended family, including daughterin law Josephine O’Byrne. Margaret’s son Dominick was so enamored of Josephine that for a wedding present he gave her a golden harp costing more than $1,000.00. The mansion was soon filled with music.

Following Sherman’s occupation of Savannah the O’Byrnes sought solace in the Scarbrough house, until the evening of January 27, 1865. On that night, munitions stored at the Confederate arsenal exploded and set West Broad Street ablaze. The O’Byrnes fled their mansion with few possessions other than the treasured golden harp. Having witnessed so much devastation from the front steps of their home, including the retreat of Confederate troops and the capture of Savannah, this final blow was too much to endure. They vowed never to return.

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