In 1735, while trying to increase the trade in Georgia, General James Oglethorpe started a trade route from the port city of Savannah to Augusta. This new trade route was made along an old Indian trail that began in Cherokee Nation of the North Carolina mountains and ran along the Savannah River to the coast, near Skidaway Island. The portions of this trail that followed the Savannah River on the Georgia side and crossed Ebenezer Creek would come to be called Old Augusta Road and provided a key connected between Savannah, Georgia and its neighbor city of Augusta, Georgia approximately 130 miles away.
This trail was used long before Oglethorpe established it as an official trade route. Hernando DeSoto pushed down this trail with his army on their way to Florida. It was also used by many migratory Indians who traveled while trading with English and French settlers. When Oglethorpe decided to use this route, it was widened to make room for horses and stagecoaches that would be carrying passengers, their baggage, freight, goods, and mail between Savannah and Augusta. The path passed through the trade post at Mount Pleasant (located in northern Effingham County), and then down to Old Ebenezer. At this point it joined the path made by Salzburgers that traveled from Ebenezer to Savannah. As the traffic on this road increased, so did the communities along it, including New Ebenezer, which saw a large growth in population and commerce before the end of the Trustee period in Georgia.
In certain areas of the trail, the river ran only a few feet away. In other areas, it was miles from the banks. The Savannah River flood plains played a large role in the location of the road, and it had to be extended from the river in some lower areas.
During the American Revolution, the road was used by Red and Blue coats as they ran after each other in hopes of winning access to ports along the Southern coast. After the Revolution, the road continued to be used for trade. The road was used as a tool in war again when William Tecumseh Sherman lead his campaign to the sea. He devastated the homes and communities along it, and he was joined by many slaves that had run from plantations in hopes of joining the Union Army and being freed.
This was the route and creek crossing that the Union General Jeff C. Davis used as he followed General Sherman on his March to the Sea, and committed the atrocity known as the Betrayal at Ebenezer. During the Civil War, many freed slaves, filled with fear and having no home to return to, would often follow union armies on their march. On December 9th of 1864, General Davis crossed the swollen Ebenezer Creek at Old Augusta Road, using quickly erected pontoons. With the Confederate Army on his heels, and the freed slaves consuming his limited supplies, General Davis commanded his troops to remove the pontoons, stranding the refugees between the icy creek and the approaching soldiers. Many drowned trying to cross the creek, and more still were slain by the Confederates. The public outcry following this event led to President Lincoln approving Sherman’s Special Field Order Number 15, which confiscated over 400,000 acres of coastal property and redistributed it to former slaves in 40-acre tracts.
The original path of Old Augusta Road is hard to find today, but reports show that some portions of it ran along current roads named: Clyo-Shawnee Road, Old Dixie Highway, Shawnee-Egypt Road, Stagecoach and Old River Road. Currently, a small stretch of road near New Ebenezer is still called Old Augusta Road. Another unconnected road to the south is called Old Augusta and starts near the border of Effingham County and Chatham County and ends at Rincon-Stillwell Road.