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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson @ Georgia Tech

Tigers look to railroad Jackets in Atlanta for first time since 2003

Clemson CB Justin Miller celebrating the Tigers’ 39-3 swatting of the Yellow Jackets in 2003

Our Clemson University Tigers and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Yellow Jackets have a long and storied history of gridiron competition, much of which the Historical Eye of the Tiger has previously chronicled here and here. The Jackets boast a commanding 51-28-2 record against the Tigers in a series that dates to 1898, just the second year of Tiger football. Only nineteen of those contests have been played on Clemson’s home turf, (where the Tigers hold the edge at 13-6-0) however, as the Jackets didn’t make their first trip to Tigertown until 1974 (21-17 Tigers). Prior to that, all but two games were played in Atlanta, where Tech enjoys a lop-sided 44-13-2 advantage. Just three of the all-time meetings occurred at neutral sites, the first-ever meeting in Augusta in 1898 (23-0 Tigers), the second meeting the following year in Greenville, SC (41-5 Tigers), and the 2009 ACC Championship bout in Tampa, FL (39-34 Yellow Jackets). As a result of this long and geographically skewed football history, no team has beaten the Tigers more than the Yellow Jackets, and the last Tiger victory on Historic Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium came in 2003 (39-3).

Current Clemson OC Tony Elliot after a touchdown against GT in 2003

The historical ties that bind are many: both schools were founded in the late nineteenth century (Tech—1885; Clemson—1889); both were all-male until the 1950s (Tech—1952; Clemson—1955); both desegregated in the early 1960s (Tech—1961; Clemson—1963); both have renowned engineering and architecture programs, and both have traditionally strong athletic departments and traditions, including famous fights songs (Tech—Ramblin’ Wreck; Clemson—Tiger Rag) and stadium entrances (Tech—The Ramblin’ Wreck; Clemson—The Hill & Howard’s Rock). How, then, have these two schools with these common historical traits arrived at such divergent, and contentious, relations in the modern day? When digging deeper into the historical record, the roots of resentment between Clemson and Tech lie buried in the nineteenth century development of upstate South Carolina and North Georgia.

General Andrew “The Wizard Owl” Pickens (b. 1739 - d. 1817), nickname owing to his prominent role in conflicts and negotiations with SC Cherokees, who gave him the moniker as a measure of their respect. Also, what a “beak” the man had...

The geographic area around what is now Clemson, SC and that surrounding what we now know as metropolitan Atlanta both originally fell within Cherokee territory (though much of what is now Metro-Atlanta also belonged to the Creek Nation), and violence between British colonists and these Native American tribes eventually forced the cessation of both areas by Native Americans to white authorities (the Cherokee War of 1759-1760 in SC, the turmoil surrounding the War of 1812 and later Cherokee Removal in the 1830s in GA). Led by Cherokee-fighter (and peacemaker)-turned Revolutionary War General Andrew “The Wizard Owl” Pickens, the Pendleton District was formed in 1790 as part of the new state of South Carolina, one of the original thirteen states in the fledgling United States of America. The Pendleton District quickly became a commercial center for a burgeoning planation economy in the region, with many wealthy South Carolina families establishing working plantations and summer vacation homes both well into the early nineteenth century. One of those families was the Calhouns, and in 1825 South Carolina’s most famous (and infamous) statesman, John Caldwell Calhoun, built his Fort Hill Plantation in the heart of what would later become the Clemson University campus. The town of Calhoun, SC developed in conjunction with Fort Hill, and was situated adjacent to the plantation proper, where much of the current downtown Clemson resides. The town’s name would officially change from Calhoun to Clemson in 1943.

John Caldwell Calhoun (b. 1782 - d. 1850), prominent South Carolina politician and political theorist whose Fort Hill Plantation formed the heart of what would later become Clemson University. And of course there’s the neck beard...

Down in North Georgia, meanwhile, things developed more slowly. In the midst of the forced Cherokee Removal and resultant “Trail of Tears” to “Indian Territory” in what’s now Oklahoma, the city of Atlanta set down its first roots in 1836 as the aptly named “Terminus” due to its location being selected for the terminal depot on the Western & Atlantic railroad line, designed to connect the port of Savannah, GA to the American Midwest. From that point forward, as the development of railroads throughout the South gained steam, the relative positions of Pendleton-Calhoun-Fort Hill and Atlanta began to shift. Railroad development in the upstate of South Carolina shifted focus away from the plantation district around Pendleton toward Anderson and Greenville to the north, while a growing number of rail lines within the state of Georgia and throughout the South converged in the growing town that was redubbed “Atlanta” in 1842 and officially incorporated as such in 1847.

As a transportation hub, Atlanta quickly developed as an industrial and commercial center that far outpaced the more rural and agricultural rhythms prevailing in and around Pendleton. But despite this disparity of purpose, both Atlanta and Pendleton pursued their respective notions of progress with vigor. It was also in the 1840s that one Thomas Green Clemson of Philadelphia moved into his father-in-law’s Fort Hill estate, began advocating for mechanical and agricultural improvement and education in the nearby Pendleton Farmer’s Society. This sowed the first seeds that eventually would flower, after long and arduous political cultivation, into Clemson College.

Thomas Green Clemson (b. 1807 - d. 1888), founder of Clemson College (now Clemson University)

The Civil War fundamentally altered the entire American nation as an unprecedented experience of physical carnage through the war itself, as well as a tumultuous time of economic, political, and social dissension and upheaval. Both upstate South Carolina and North Georgia emerged from this crucible in altered form. Atlanta had been a focal point of the Union military effort due to its status as a vital railroad hub and valuable military-industrial output. The Atlanta Campaign undertaken by Union General William T. Sherman eventually culminated in his army’s capture of Atlanta in early September of 1864. While much of the city would be destroyed as a result of both Confederate and Union military operations during the campaign, it would also be quickly rebuilt, and would become a beacon of an emerging postwar “New South Creed” that prioritized economic development toward greater agricultural diversification and industrial development. Noted Atlanta journalist and economic visionary Henry Grady became the face of this “New South” agenda, one result of which was the establishment of the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1885. These motives also consumed the attention of Thomas Green Clemson as he returned from service to the Confederate government (as a mining engineer) to the upstate. As early as 1866 he began ruminating and pontificating on his desire for an “institution of higher learning” in South Carolina dedicated to a practical education in agriculture and the sciences. That early vision, built upon ideas already percolating before the war and reinforced in the face of postwar economic recessions, eventually manifested itself in the founding of Clemson College in 1889.

Clemson College (1889), Cadets drilling on Bowman Field sometime in the early twentieth century
Tiger Pregame Show

As both Georgia Tech and Clemson College developed through their early years, their respective historical contexts shone through. Tech focused its scholastic endeavors increasingly on engineering and architecture, while Clemson, committed to these pursuits as well, retained a greater emphasis upon agricultural sciences. Both experienced hills and valleys in their adolescent institutional growth through the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth century, but both schools became essential fixtures in the educational and economic landscapes of their respective states. As if by fate, the two places connected in this complex history, were tangibly linked via the railroads that had played such a prominent role in shaping their respective destinies. In 1916 the Southern Railway erected its Clemson Depot to service its New York & New Orleans Limited passenger train. That railroad tradition persists into the present as the famous Southern Crescent, which is part of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor.

1950s ad for the Southern Railway’s “Crescent” passenger line from New York to New Orleans, which after 1916 included stops at both Clemson and Atlanta

Let us hope that the 2016 gridiron Tigers can take a page out of this long history and ride their more recent momentum to victory in Atlanta tonight.

Billy Joe Shave “Georgia on a Fast Train”

The Tigers high-speed offensive attack is poised to run Ted Roof’s defense out on a rail, while Brent Venables defense will march through Paul Johnson’s outmoded offense like Sherman through Georgia.

Old Crow Medicine Show, “While We Were Marching Through Georgia”