Published February 11, 2015
Three communities joining forces for May 9 Chasing Jefferson Davis Marathon
Courtsey The Herald Leader

WILCOX COUNTY MAGISTRATE JUDGE SHAWN Rhodes, County Mgr. Paula Jones-Ball and EMS Dir. Andrew Coccaro are pictured at the state historic marker noting that Jefferson Davis spent the night in Abbeville while fleeing from Union troops. He was captured outside Irwinville on May 10, 1865. The distance he traveled from  Abbeville to the site where he was captured is almost exactly 26.2 miles — hence the upcoming marathon, jointly sponsored by Wilcox and Irwin counties and the City of Fitzgerald.
Early on the morning of May 10, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured at his camp outside Irwinville by a detachment of the Fourth Michigan Calvary who had pursued him into the heart of the Deep South. Davis had spent the evening of May 8, in Abbeville.

This spring, on May 9, marathon runners are invited to follow Davis’ historic route through farm land and pine woods and parts of three south Georgia counties in the first-ever Chasing Jefferson Davis Marathon. The Civil War Sesquicentennial event commemorates this closing event of the war that divided America from 1861-1865. The marathon is a joint effort of Wilcox and Irwin counties and the City of Fitzgerald.

How do you start a marathon running event from scratch? “I’m not sure I know,” says Wilcox County Magistrate Judge Shawn Rhodes. “It’s going  to be interesting to pull it off.”

But he and officials from Irwin County, along with Fitzgerald Tourism Dir. Alesia Davis, are learning fast.

(The Chasing Jefferson Davis marathon is just one of several commemorative events planned in Fitzgerald that weekend. See the story on front page for more information about others.)

The idea was born at a regional tourism meeting in August or September, Shawn says. “We were discussing Jefferson Davis’s last night [before his capture near Irwinville] being spent in Abbeville, and we got to thinking about how far he had traveled the next day to the capture site. The distance was shockingly close to 26.2 miles.”

The marathon course will follow “fairly closely” the route of that historic journey at the close of the Civil War.

“The route has been tweaked a little, but it is almost exactly 26.2 miles,” Shawn says. Roughly five miles of the course will be over dirt roads. The route is fairly equally divided among the three counties participating in the event.

Runners have been consulted and the event is expected to receive USA Track & Field certification, making it a qualifying event for other marathons.

“We’re trying to get the course certified now,” Shawn says. “The process is complicated by the dirt roads. But the measurer is confident that it will be certified.”

Organizers are also working with CSX about the timing of trains on race day as the route crosses the railroad tracks.

Uniquely, runners in this marathon will be arbitrarily assigned to one of two teams, Blue or Gray, and receive Tshirts of the appropriate color. Along with official race results, a team winner will be announced at the end of the event.

The connection to Georgia’s history and the Sesquicentennial gives the event “just enough of a hook to make it interesting,” Shawn says. He hopes that it will attract the attention and interest of outsiders and will be a “rising tide that raises all ships” for the three counties.

A native of Pitts, Shawn is in the unlikely position of being an acting tourism director in a city that has no tourism office, but he appears to be off to a great start. He is coordinating with Harveys and with Premium Waters of Douglas to provide bananas and bottled water for the water stops that will be located every two miles along the route.

And there’s something special about the choice of Premium Waters. “It’s local water, from Poor Robin Springs,” Shawn explains. Older residents may remember swimming at Poor Robin Springs, a blue spring located just north of the Abbeville city limits.

The route marathon will start from the old school in Abbeville and follow lightly traveled state and county roads from there to, of course, Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site. Irwin County organizers are planning more activities there — look for more details about those in the coming weeks. Because it will be a pointto-point run instead of a circular route, shuttles will take runners back to their cars in Abbeville as they complete marathon.

Sheriff’s departments and EMS in all three counties will be responsible for traffic control and first aid along the route in their respective counties. Volunteers will be needed to maintain the water stations along the route, and Shawn is hoping that 4-H’ers in each community will participate along the route through their counties.

Fitzgerald restaurants, motels and gas stations are likely to be the big benefactors from the marathon. (For restaurant owners — marathon runners typically bulk up on carbohydrates the night before a race.) Business owners who would like to offer a discount package, or a hotel- restaurant package, can contact Alesia Davis at 426-5033 for assistance.

Tiered Chasing Jefferson Davis sponsorships are also available, each with associated perks. Contact Shawn at (229) 467-2458.

The registration fee is $65 prior to April 1, when it goes up to $75. There will be awards for all participants, along with T-shirts and other goodies. Registration may be done online at People have already started signing up for Chasing Jefferson Davis.

The next planning meeting will be held in Fitzgerald, at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18, at Cirillo’s on South Main. “Everybody with an interest in the marathon is invited to attend,” Shawn says. He would especially like to see restaurant and lodging owners represented. Those who would like to grab lunch are advised to come in a little before 1. The meeting  ill last only an hour.

At least one Fitzgerald resident is already training to run the race. Organizers are hoping that the marathon will become an annual event.