John James Augustus Sharp was not only sharp in name. In fact, he left a lasting legacy of intelligence and education in Cherokee and surrounding counties. Born in South Carolina in March 1828, John was one of 14 children. At the age of 27, he and two of his brothers, Joseph and White Sharp, moved to Cherokee County. Finding a convenient crossroads in what we today know as Waleska, they opened a store, a cotton gin and a tobacco factory, and settled down. Six years later, the South seceded from the Union, and the three siblings joined the Confederate Army.
John was an intelligent man, well-read, and he possessed a large library. So, it comes as little surprise he was able to raise a company of men, known as the 23rd Georgia, and enter the Civil War at the rank of captain. The group was annexed to Colquitt’s Brigade, joining the army of Northern Virginia, and John and his men saw action in several battles, including Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg and Antietam.
Antietam stands as having the single bloodiest day in the war, with 23,000 men killed or wounded, and it was there the Georgia 23rd took heavy losses. The commander of the regiment, Col. William P. Barclay, was killed, and Lt. Col. Emory Best assumed command, with John also rising through the ranks. In 1863, at Chancellorsville, while serving as the rear guard of Stonewall Jackson’s retreating column, they found themselves horrendously outnumbered by an attacking Union infantry. And, all but a handful of men were captured, including John.
Best was one of the few not captured, and he was later court-martialed for dereliction of duty. John, however, found himself the fortunate recipient of a prisoner exchange 20 days later, and rejoined his regiment. He was seriously wounded at Bentonville, North Carolina, in March 1865. So, he was not on hand a month later when his men, along with the rest of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s army, surrendered at Durham Station.
John, who left the war with the rank of lieutenant colonel, survived some of the bloodiest battles between the states, as well as being captured by the enemy and a very serious wound just before the war ended. He returned home to find his wife of only a few years had not survived, and to a Cherokee County that was in a very bad economic condition (as was most of the South by war’s end).
By most accounts, John was intelligent, hardworking and fair. He twice served in the Georgia state legislature. In 1868, he remarried, and by the mid-1870s, he was editor of a Canton newspaper called The Cherokee Georgian. When Waleska received a state charter in 1889, John served as the town’s first mayor.
John and his brothers took an active role in the moral development of the young men living in their area, helping to start a Sunday school. He also saw to the education of many local young men and women, lending them books from his sizable collection. His love of learning and book collection served his community in a way that continues to this day. In 1883, John and his brother-in-law, Augustus M. Reinhardt, petitioned the North Georgia Methodist Conference to provide a teacher and a preacher for the children of Cherokee County. Then, they opened a one-room schoolhouse on Cartersville Street, called Reinhardt Normal College, which we today know as Reinhardt University. John died Oct. 16, 1896, having changed this county forever.
– The Wanderer has been a resident of Cherokee County for nearly 20 years, and constantly is learning about his community on daily walks, which totaled a little more than 2,000 miles in 2022. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.