Gum Branch community was the home of Redding Miles Groover, who was born Feb. 19, 1860, to Charles and Rebecca Groover. He was the fifth child in a family of 10 brothers and sisters. Redding’s father joined the Confederate Army when Redding was about 1 year old and was commissioned a second lieutenant soon thereafter.
This is a story told by Russell Groover, author of “Tales of Grandpa and Gum Branch, 1997.” I have permission from Russell to share the story about Russell’s grandfather, Redding. A summarized version appears here. Russell spent much of his first seven years with his grandfather on his farm in Gum Branch.
Scenes from the last year of the terrible war stayed deeply imprinted in the mind of Redding even though he only was 4 years old. He remembered the Union Army raiding the farm and cleaning out the smokehouse, even loading all the seed and cattle feed into the wagons. The soldiers took bets as they shot all the yard chickens. He helplessly watched as three soldiers dragged his older sister into the woods as she screamed and fought. She returned the next day ashamed for anyone to look at her. He recalled a sergeant returning after the troops left, giving the family back one ham and apologizing, saying, “This is war.”
Redding’s father Charles came back after witnessing the treaty signed at the Appomattox Courthouse to find his family living off wild plants and any animals that they could snare. Also, his 15-year-old daughter was pregnant by a rapist.
The “fore day riders” were another threat to the people. Charles took his family to a clearing in the swamp and stayed there until the farmers rounded up the band of thieves. Charles took Redding with him from farm to farm, trying to find enough seed to plant a crop. He only could pay with a handshake. Redding was assigned, at 7 years of age, the job of providing the family with wildlife for food. At the age of 13, Redding found his father dead at the age of 44, leaving behind a wife and 10 children ranging in ages from 1 to 24.
Redding found a job shoveling sawdust at a nearby sawmill and worked hard. A timber buyer from the Dunn-Levi Lumber Company saw him and offered him a job as a woods rider or timber cruiser and gave him a mule to ride. By watching carefully and asking a lot of questions, Redding learned a trade that he followed most of his life.
Gum Branch Baptist Church was the heart of the community. It started in the mid 1800’s on land donated by Mr. Long for the church and cemetery. People went to church every Sunday even though the preacher only came on two Sundays. This was a great place for boys to meet girls.
The Zorn family was educated and first generation in this country from Germany. They didn’t exactly fit in. They gave the impression that they were better than anyone else. This attitude challenged Redding. The daughter — Mary Mozell Zorn, called Molly by Redding — was a frail, sassy girl about his age. He loved to say things to her to make her mad. They said she used to be a shy girl until a bolt of lightning struck and a ball of fire came through the schoolhouse door and went out the window. Mary was knocked unconscious and lay on the floor with her black dress smoldering. The teacher sent a boy on a mule to Hinesville to fetch the doctor and another to the farm for Mr. Zorn. It was several weeks before the burn on Mary’s side was healed, and she turned into a sassy, bitter person. She grew to be a beautiful person, but her attitude kept suitors away — until Redding came along. Their courtship lasted about a year, with all their meetings being at Gum Branch Church or in the formal living room of the Zorn farm.
Redding was nervous as he asked for Molly’s hand. Mr. Zorn looked at him with much displeasure, and with the authority only he could muster, he said, “Redding, Molly will be marrying well below her station if she marries a Groover. We come from a well-bred and educated family. You are an ignorant farm boy who doesn’t have a thing, much less a future, and you won’t ever be able to support her.”
Redding felt a burning inside and fire flashed in his eyes as he rose from his chair, putting a visible fear in James Zorn’s heart.
“Molly will be cared for and never go hungry. I will be back next Saturday for your answer,” he said between clenched teeth.
The wedding reception was held at the Zorn farm with wagons and carriages from Gum Branch and Providence. Long tables under the oaks held every special dish imaginable.
The wagon was loaded with Molly’s belongings, and she and Redding left for what Molly thought was the Groover farm. Long ago, most newlyweds moved into their parents’ home and lived until they could afford to build their own. The mule turned onto a small path off the main road.
“Where are you taking me?” Molly asked, alarmed.
“I got a surprise for you. I bought the old Todd place awhile back and fixed it up so you would have a home of your own to start with,” Redding proudly said.
The little log cabin came into sight, and the mule quickened his pace.
“Sure is an ugly little place. I know that roof probably leaks. The pump looks to be about 50 feet out in the back yard; ours was right on the back porch. I imagine you got rats as big as squirrels all in the house,” Molly said sarcastically.
The remarks cut Redding to the bone after he had spent months making the rundown log house livable, splitting shingles by firelight and making a two-day trip all the way to Savannah to buy glass for the windows. Molly continued to find fault about the wood being too wet to cook with and the smell from the new stove while Redding unhitched the mule and unloaded the wagon.
“Where do you think you are going to sleep?” Molly said sharply. “You shore ain’t gonna sleep in the same bed with me!”
After two weeks, things only had gotten worse, and the marriage had not been consummated.
“Get your things together, Molly.”
“And where do you think you are taking me?” she responded curtly.
“Back to your mammy. I took you for a wife, but you ain’t one. I’ll just have to find me another one somewhere else.”
The trip to the Zorn farm was slow and solemn.
Mrs. Zorn met them on the porch and asked how the newlyweds were doing. She invited them in for supper as it was almost ready.
“I can’t stay, Mrs. Zorn. I, uh … Molly ain’t gonna make a wife for anybody, so I brung her back to you.”
“Molly, what in the world is wrong with you?”
“He actually tried to lay in the same bed as me,” she answered, “and I remember what the Bible says about things like that.”
As Redding drove off, Mrs. Zorn wrung her hands and moaned, “What is everybody at church going to say?”
Two weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Zorn returned Molly and her luggage to Redding’s little log cabin, where their marriage became valid. The little place Redding bought turned out to be poor farmland. It took all he could make at the sawmill and cruising local timber to buy food and clothes for their growing family. He missed two mortgage payments, and the bank called for his loan to be paid in full, which was impossible. Most of the banks were owned by Northerners who loved to grab all the farmland they could get their hands on. After the foreclosure, the “kindhearted” banker would allow the previous owner to stay on as a sharecropper until the farm could be sold for a high profit.
Redding would not stay and farm his own land that he had made payments on for 10 years. He heard about 72 acres with a small shanty on them that was coming up for sale. Ten acres were cleared for farming, and there was enough timber that Redding could use for turpentine farming. He could make a go of it with help from his family and his brothers.
With a lot of haggling, a deal was made. The down payment would be $5 in cash, a brood sow and his prized rifle — and $5 a month for the next 12 months. Molly wasn’t a bit happy about leaving the little house she had complained about so much and moving into the shanty. And she let it be well known again. Redding, with the help of his brothers, cut logs and expanded the front porch. Soon, the shanty blossomed into a pretty decent-looking log cabin.
On Redding’s 72nd birthday, it seemed that Molly was still a sassy woman. After the birthday dinner, when everyone was sitting on the front porch and Redding was sitting by himself in the swing, Molly said in a scolding tone, “Redd’n, you shore made a mess at dinner when you spilled yore ice tea. Poor Ila (his spinster daughter who was the family servant) has too much to do already without havin’ to clean up behind you. If’n yore too old to hold yore glass, you aught to quit drinking at the table.”
Russell Groover vividly remembers the cold December night in 1943. Grandpa Redding was sick, and Dr. Middleton from Ludowici came out to the farm, accomplished what he could and left. A short time later, with Russell’s mother at Redding’s bedside, he died at the age of 83. For Russell, it would never be the same without his Grandpa beside him, as they together explored the wonders of life and nature.