To learn more
The Bell Research Center, inside the historic Cumming schoolhouse at 101 School St., is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (678) 455-7216 or visit www.bellresearchcenter.com.
The personal papers of a well-known Civil War colonel recently returned to their owner’s native north Georgia.
Frank Clark, a curator of the Bell Research Center at the historic Cumming schoolhouse, said the center was able to secure funding through grants and various donations to purchase the collection from a rare documents dealer in Virginia.
Featuring nearly 100 articles from the life of Col. Lovick Pierce Thomas Jr., the collection was welcomed to the center with a reception Feb. 10.
Clark said the event drew about 150 people.
“The reception went really, really well,” he said. “A lot of people said it was more than they expected and we were just so glad that they came out.”
Clark said it was exciting to be able to return the document collection to north Georgia since Thomas grew up in Gwinnett County and later made his home in Atlanta.
In 1856, he set up a mercantile business on the Lawrenceville town square.
At the beginning of the Civil War, he organized the “Gwinnett Beauregards” and was elected captain. His company was part of the 42nd Georgia in Stovall’s Brigade, along with companies from DeKalb, Fulton, Milton, Newton and Walton counties.
Thomas was promoted from captain to colonel during the war and took command of the regiment at Resaca in northwest Georgia.
After the war, Thomas moved to Atlanta and became a leading figure in civic and veterans affairs.
Clark said he served as sheriff of Fulton County, a member of the city council and as commander of the Atlanta United Confederate Veterans.
Thomas was married twice and had 12 children. He died in 1910 at age 75 and is buried in the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
Clark said two of Thomas’ daughters collected the documents from his life into scrapbooks.
“This is the very first one, and it’s all his important papers from his life until 1900,” Clark said, noting that another of the estimated three scrapbooks is housed at the Atlanta History Center.
“This is the primary book.”
Clark said the documents, many of which have been separated from the scrapbook pages to preserve them, offer a unique glimpse into history.
“You have to just kind of reach into them a little bit and see what the emotions going on with these papers were,” he said.
Clark said he was moved by one of the letters in the collection that Thomas received from some of the men who served under him in the war.
“Two days after the surrender, 22 of the officers who were under him got together and wrote this letter that said basically, ‘With everything in turmoil right now, we don’t know if we’ll see you again and we just had to write this letter to tell you what your leadership meant to us,’” Clark said. “‘You were hard, but you were fair and there’s nobody we would rather serve under.’
“And to me, to go through that trauma and two days later say, ‘OK guys we’ve got to get together and write this letter … that’s something.’”
Clark said the entire Thomas collection has been photocopied and transcribed into folders, which can be viewed anytime during the center’s hours.
“The great thing about it is that we have it to a point that, although it’s great to see the originals, as far as research is concerned, it’s not necessary,” Clark said. “I’m working on an index now, so it’s far easier to use the new materials than the old.”
The original documents are also available for viewing. However, Clark said, an appointment should be made in advance to view those.
Clark encouraged anyone interested in learned more about the 1800s to come visit the collection, which he said gives historical insight rarely seen.
“We’re extremely interested in pursuing true history, and this is a great example of it because you’re not just reading somebody who wrote about something 150 years after it occurred,” he said. “You’re looking at what was important to somebody who was there.”