Along with the farmers market, shops and spots to eat, the East Atlanta neighborhood off Flat Shoals Road has another draw for visitors this weekend. It will be hosting a two-day commemoration of the Battle of Atlanta, the Civil War clash that that took place inside its borders. To mark the battle’s 149th anniversary, community organizers have put together a weekend of reenactors, historians and tour guides to relate the story of the Battle of Atlanta. And as she has done for the last four years, Ina Evans will be on the program to bridge the gap to the past.
As the granddaughter of a Civil War veteran, Evans, 78, is herself a piece of living history. The Lithonia resident first started sharing her family’s story with “battle” visitors after meeting with organizer Henry Bryant, who convinced her that she had a story to tell.
“My grandfather, Peter Vertrees, died nine years before I was born,” said Evans. “But I was crazy about my grandmother and spent a lot of time with her. She used to sit on her front porch and tell me so much about him.”
The story Evans learned was as sweeping as an epic novel. It began with her grandfather’s birth in rural Tennessee to a white mother and black father. His mother gave him up to a wealthy white family with assurances that he would not be raised a slave. When war broke out, a white uncle recruited him into the Confederate Army as his personal cook and bodyguard.
“A black Confederate isn’t something you hear about all the time,” said Evans. “But that was what he was.”
Vertrees survived the war and went on to become a minister, founding six churches in the countryside beyond Nashville - five of which still stand. By the time he died in the 1920s, he was well into his 80s.
A few years ago, a white cousin Evans didn’t know existed tracked her down and confirmed the stories she’d heard about her grandfather. “It turns out he was the family historian, and he had found the records of my grandfather’s service,” she said.
This Saturday, Evans will be on hand while a volunteer reenactor poses as her grandfather and relates what he did during the war.
“He makes my grandfather look good,” said Evans with a laugh. “He wears a uniform and does such a good job that I just stand by and watch.”
At the end of the presentation, Evans will be invited to tell her own history that includes moving with her family to Mississippi, meeting her husband at school and moving to Chicago for several years before relocating to Atlanta. From there, Evans’ life is peppered with familiar names from the state’s political history.
“I was very active in the state Democratic party and worked in the governor’s office for Jimmy Carter,” said Evans. “I then went to Washington with him. I was also on the Atlanta Board of Education for 14 years and worked at the DeKalb County jail. So I’ve seen a lot of Atlanta history, too.”
Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, call 770-744-3042 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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