A massive white oak once stood outside of New Holland, Georgia. It sat on the edge of a swamp and remained relatively isolated for several centuries. The old oak tree was a strange place. It was haunted by the ghosts of twelve slaughtered men. Legends said that decades after the crime occurred, people passing the old tree still heard the doomed men’s pleas for life and cries for mercy. Sobs, the rattle of chains, and groans of agony were all that remained of the tragedy that occurred there.
The story of Benjamin and Robert Jordan has essentially been lost to time, and if Howard Thompson hadn’t offered the legend to a reporter over a century ago, it would remain so. Thompson was 10-years-old when the Jordans took their vengeance out on the region. He was an elderly man by the time his words were recorded.
Bob and Ben Jordan were originally cousins from Pickens County. They enlisted and fought during the Civil War as so many young men did. From all known information, they were just as law-abiding as their neighbors were. Unfortunately, that was about to change. It was a new world by the time the boys returned home, but perhaps the worst changes happened during their absence.
While they were away in battle, a group of merciless barbarians targeted Bob’s home. No once could establish if they were bushwhackers, deserters, or guerilla Union soldiers. When the Jordans returned, they found both Bob’s sister and his wife had been brutally raped. As if that weren’t enough, the same group had taken Bob’s 70-year-old father. He was tortured and dragged for 60 miles until little remained of him.
It was a tipping point for Bob and Ben Jordan. Suddenly, all deserters, bushwhackers, and drifters became subject to their selection. They became recruiting officers, but it is not known if this was coincidence or if they volunteered to unleash their vengeance.
The two arrested 26 men in Gilmer County alone. Two of those escaped on the way to the Gainesville jail, but the Jordans didn’t pursue them. They incarcerated the remaining 24. The following morning, 12 were selected out of the group. They were chained together and marched to the ancient white oak. They were made to assume a firing squad position.
Bob Jordan picked off one man at a time with a pistol. Several men fell to their knees in prayer, several begged for their lives, but their pleas did no good. Among the group of suspected culprits was a frail 15-year-old boy. A large man beside him had to help him stand. The bodies were all burned after they were shot and buried in a shallow grave near the tree.
This was not the end for the Jordans. Bob kept a diary of men he killed, which listed both the names and the dates they were shot. As his crimes and infamy grew, the authorities took interest and began pursuit. He happened to drop the book while fleeing the police. It contained over 125 names. After this, it was said he didn’t document his crimes any further.
Their activities eventually drifted completely from vengeance to continuous flight from law enforcement. The men decided to separate to help avoid capture. A frail man eventually shot Bob Jordan in Florida. Ben Jordan was stabbed to death in Texas.
The Federal authorities heard of the murder at the old oak tree and had the mass grave exhumed. They took the bodies to the National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This cemetery is now known as the Chattanooga National Cemetery.