The platform of the Republican party was ostensibly the preservation of the Union, and the exclusion of slavery from the territories and new states; but there was a strong sentiment in the north that slavery should be abolished, and it became evident that the northern people were determined to carry out their views, at any cost, even to war and bloodshed. The tide of feeling was growing stronger every day. The southern states were greatly alarmed at the situation, and the only thing they could do was to withdraw or secede from the Union, in order to manage their own affairs under their own laws. South Carolina was the first to secede, doing so on December 20, 1860.
At the time Hart County was created there existed, and had existed for many years prior, differences of opinion upon several questions of national character, prominent among others was the institution of slavery. The attitude of the people of the North was that of abolition of the slaves and they entertained the hope that slavery was in a state of extinction, while the attitude of the people of the South was to foster, perpetuate and extend the institution into new territory as time and necessity demanded. Several efforts were made to compromise and settle the question between the two sections, but as the years passed the question became more unsettled. Secession of the southern states from the Union had been advocated for quite a while. Finally, on December 20, 1860, the State of South Carolina took the initiative and passed an ordinance of secession formally dissolving the Union between that state and the United States of America. Georgia followed the example of her sister state, and on January 19, 1861, passed the ordinance of secession, being the fifth state to secede.
Governor Brown had the Legislature call a convention to decide what was best for Georgia to do. This convention assembled January 16, 1861, and was composed of the best and ablest men in the state. Secession was bitterly opposed by many of the best and most conservative statesmen — among them Alexander Stephens, Herschel V. Johnson and Benjamin Hill. These men were firm in their convictions of the right to secede, but did not deem it the proper remedy. They desired a convention of all the southern states so as to take joint and co-operative action. On January 19, 1861, a vote was taken and resulted in favor of secession. Georgia came out of the Union as an independent and sovereign state. Immediately there was the wildest excitement throughout the state. Troops were organized; speeches made, bonfires burned, and men, women and children were enthusiastic in their determination to resist northern oppression and interference, to the bitter end.
A full account of the various meetings held by the people of Hart County with reference to the question of secession are hereinafter given, reciting the proceedings had, the election of delegates from Hart County to the Secession Convention, a copy of the Ordinance of Secession as passed at the Convention held at Milledgeville, which was then the capital of the State.
Political Meeting in Hart County.Hartwell, December 4, 1860.According to previous notice, the citizens of Hart County met today at the court house en masse, for the purpose of nominating suitable candidates to represent Hart County in the State Convention, to be held in Milledgeville on the 16th of January, 1861.
In motion of P. E. Devant, Esq., Joel Towers was called to the chair, and John H. Skelton, Esq., was requested to act as secretary. The chair then announced the convention ready for action.
On motion of P. E. Devant, Esq., James E. Skelton and R. S. Hill were announced as candidates and that they be nominated by acclamation.
Col. William R. Poole moved the following as a substitute for Mr. Devant’s motion: that there be three delegates appointed by each militia district to meet immediately for the purpose of selecting two suitable candidates, and report their names to the convention. After a short absence, the committee returned and through their chairman, H. F. Chandler, reported the names of James E. Skelton, Esq., and Col. R. S. Hill as suitable candidates to represent the people of Hart County in the State Convention.
On motion of P. E. Devant, Esq., the report of the committee was adopted unanimously by the convention.
Col. William R. Poole then offered the following resolution:Resolved, that we pledge ourselves to stand to and abide the action of the State Convention, which resolution was unanimously adopted.
On motion, the proceedings of this convention be published in the Southern Banner, Athens, Ga., the True Democrat and Constitutionalist, Augusta, Ga.
On motion, the convention then adjourned.
JOEL TOWERS, Chairman.
JOHN H. SKELTQN, EsQ., Secretary.
On the 16th day of January, 1861, the State Convention convened in Milledgeville, and the Ordinance of Secession was adopted by a vote of 208 to 89, after which the vote was made unanimous. The delegates from Hart County both voted for the Ordinance and also signed the same.
Copy of the Ordinance
"The Ordinance of Secession as Signed
To dissolve the Union between the State of Georgia and the other States united with her under a compact of Government entitled the Constitution of the United States of America.
"We, the people of the State of Georgia, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the Ordinance adopted by the people of the State of Georgia, in Convention, on the second day of January, in the year of our Lord, seventeen hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America, was assented to, ratifying and adopted; and also all acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying and adopting amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated.
"We do further declare and ordain, that the Union now subsisting between the State of Georgia and the other States under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Georgia is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong to a free and independent State.”
At this time the state was in an exceedingly prosperous condition. The taxable property amounted in value to $650,000,000. The population was 1,057,000, of which 462,000 were negroes or slaves. Business was flourishing, and the people were entirely unprepared for the great and terrible changes that the war was destined to make in their condition.
When South Carolina seceded, Governor Brown saw that matters were assuming a critical aspect and at once ordered Colonel Lawton of Savannah, to seize Fort Pulaski, at the mouth of the Savannah River. The fort was taken possession of January 3, 1861, and immediately put in good order. So this fort was seized before the state of Georgia seceded; but the governor dared not wait till after Georgia had withdrawn from the Union, for fear the Federal authorities would strengthen the fort and make it very difficult to capture it.
As soon as the state seceded, Governor Brown, with that energy and decision of character that have always marked him, at once seized the arsenal at Augusta, which was full of military stores belonging to the United States government, and in charge of Captain Elzey, of the United States army, with eighty soldiers. Captain Elzey at first declined to surrender, but seeing that he could not resist the 800 Augusta troops ordered against him, finally marched out with his men and Governor Brown took possession on January 23, 1861.
These were the first instances of hostility or of resistance to the United States government, and to Governor Brown belongs the honor of taking the first bold and effective step in support of the policy determined upon by his state. The Georgia members of Congress resigned and came home.
On February 4, 1861, the states that had seceded called a convention at Montgomery, Alabama. Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Alabama were represented. The convention elected Howell Cobb as presiding officer. Jefferson Davis was elected President, and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, Vice-President, of the new association of states, called the Confederate States of America. Davis was formally inaugurated on February 4, 1861, and on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln took his seat as President of the United States.
President Davis's first act was to send a committee of three men — Crawford of Georgia, Forsyth of Alabama, and Roman of Louisiana — to the Federal government at Washington city to try and make a peaceful settlement, but they could do nothing. Virginia tried to have the trouble peacefully adjusted, and even called a peace convention at Washington, and thirteen states sent delegates ; but nothing was accomplished, and the war clouds grew darker and darker.
The states that had seceded followed Georgia's lead and had taken possession of all the forts and arsenals in their limits, except Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Confederate companies, regiments and brigades had been organized, and General Beauregard was in command. He called on Major Anderson, the United States officer in command of Fort Sumter, to give up the fort. This Major Anderson refused to do. The Confederate cannon then began to bombard the fort, which surrendered after hard fighting. The attack on the fort caused the greatest excitement everywhere, and Lincoln at once made a call for 75,000 troops to put down the "rebellion."
Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina quickly seceded and joined the Confederate states. But the odds were heavily against them. There were only 9,000,000 people in the seceded states, against 22,000,000 in the northern and western states. The North had everything— foundries, factories, ships, men — the South had practically nothing except land and slaves — the latter a source of constant apprehension and anxiety. Both sides were doing their utmost, and bringing soldiers to the chief seat of war, which was, naturally, in Virginia, near the boundary between the two sections. The Confederate government was transferred from Montgomery to Richmond, and the war began in earnest.
The first great battle was that of Manassas, Virginia, on July 21, 1861. The Federals, or "Yankees," as the Southern people called them, were utterly defeated, losing 3000 men and many cannon, guns and other equipment. The Confederate loss was 2000 men, among them many brave officers. Georgia lost General Francis Bartow, for whom the name of Cass County was changed to Bartow County. After the battle both sides renewed and more troops were sent forward, and the fighting continued. 2. In the fall of 1861 Judge E. A. Nisbet was nominated for governor, but Governor Brown was elected by a handsome majority. Ben Hill and Robert Toombs were elected senators to the Confederate Congress. But Mr. Toombs declined and went into the army as a brigadier-general and Dr. John W. Lewis was appointed senator by Governor Brown. At the close of 1861 Georgia had sent fifty regiments of soldiers to the army. The state had responded promptly to all demands made by the Confederate government, and the war spirit was stronger than ever among the people. During the year 1861 the Confederates were generally victorious, and the future looked full of hope and promise for the success and final independence of the Confederate states in spite of the heavy odds against them.
But the Federal government now began to more clearly realize the magnitude of the contest and made preparations for war upon a scale not before contemplated. New armies were sent into the field, not only into Virginia, but into Kentucky and Tennessee, and southern ports and navigable rivers were swarming with their war vessels and gun boats wherever they could get an entrance. The ports were blockaded. Little by little the Federal armies encircled the Confederacy, until it was shut in by land and sea. The Federal government was recruiting its armies with men from Europe, while the Southern states were unable to add a single man to their forces except from the native southern population. When a Federal soldier was killed there were dozens to take his place, but the loss of a Confederate soldier meant one man less for the Confederate service.
Within less than one year after the war began the Federal armies numbered over 800,000 men, while the Confederates could muster less than 300,000. The great disparity in numbers began to be felt. The Federals took Kentucky and Tennessee. Fort Pulaski was captured. New Orleans and Memphis fell in Federal hands. The Confederate Congress made a desperate effort to strengthen their armies. The “Conscript” act was passed, which compelled all sound men between eighteen and thirty-five years of age to enlist in the army. Governor Brown strongly opposed the law and had a controversy with President Davis on the subject, but the law went into effect and the governor honored every call made upon him.
General Lee had been placed in command of the Confederate army in Virginia, and during the year 1862 defeated the Federals in some great battles. By the end of 1862 Georgia had sent 75,000 men to the Confederate armies, and had organized a home force, known as the state guards, of about 9000 men. The general results of this year were in favor of the Federals. The Confederates were slowly exhausting their men and their resources, while the Federals were growing stronger.
There was on both sides a great deal of opposition to the war, but it availed nothing. The war party was the stronger and those who desired peace were not looked upon with favor. On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all the slaves in the Confederate states were free from that date. But their freedom was not really accomplished till the Confederate armies had surrendered. Georgia had, up to this time, been almost entirely free from Federal forces on her soil. But in May, 1863, Colonel Straight made a raid with 1500 cavalry into North Georgia to destroy the Confederate arsenal and cannon foundry at Rome. He was followed by General Forrest, with only 450 men, and finally surrendered to Forrest just before reaching Rome.
Fort McAllister, at the mouth of the Ogeechee River, had been attacked by Federal gunboats, but they were driven away. On September 20, 1863, the battle of Chickamauga was fought on Georgia soil, in Walker County, and was a victory for the Confederates, but at a very heavy loss of soldiers. General Lee had defeated Hooker's army in Virginia, but General Meade soon afterwards defeated General Lee at Gettysburg. Then Vicksburg, in Mississippi, was taken by the Federals and Bragg was defeated at Missionary Ridge. So, that the year was generally one of disaster and defeat to the Confederate cause. The greatly superior numbers and equipment of the Federals began to count heavily against the South.
Governor Brown had already served three terms as governor, and in October, 1863, was again elected, with scarcely any opposition. At the same time Georgia sent M. H. Blandford, Julian Hartridge, Clifford Anderson, V. E. Smith, Warren Akin, H. P. Bell, James M. Smith, George N. Lester, J. H. Echols and I. T. Shewmake, as her representatives to the Confederate Congress.
In April, 1863, John B. Gordon was made a Brigadier General, and in September, General Howell Cobb was placed in command of the state guards. General A. R. Lawton was appointed Quartermaster-General of the Confederate army. The year 1864 opened in gloom and darkness for the Confederate states. General Bragg had just before been defeated at Missionary Ridge, and his army was encamped near Dalton, Georgia, resting and recruiting for the coming campaign. The Federals now had two immense armies in the field—one in Virginia, the other in and around Chattanooga— besides smaller armies in other localities.
The first battle of this year was fought near Olustee, Florida. General (afterwards governor) Colquitt commanded the Confederates and completely defeated the Federals. General Bragg resigned the command of the army at Dalton and General Hardee succeeded him. But General Joseph E. Johnston soon succeeded General Hardee. About the same time General Sherman took command of the Federal army at Chattanooga and began to prepare for his march towards Atlanta, along the line of the Western and Atlantic railroad. General Grant was commanding the Federal army in Virginia and was pushing on towards Richmond. The Confederacy was being slowly but surely crushed between these mighty armies.
Early in May, 1864, Sherman began his march with nearly 100,000 men. Johnston had only 43,000, and dared not risk a general battle as long as he could possibly avoid it. He was therefore compelled to retreat from time to time, fighting as he marched, until the whole distance from Chattanooga to Atlanta, along the line of the Western and Atlantic railroad, was marked by bloody battles and dead men. The principal engagements were at Ringgold, Rocky Face, Dalton, Resaca, New Hope Church, Allatoona, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta and the series of battles around Atlanta. The Confederates were generally successful in these fights, but could not replace their lost men, so that every victory weakened them and served only to postpone the final crash.
It was almost one continued fight from May 4 to July 9, when Johnston had been forced back to the Chattahoochee River, only seven miles from Atlanta, and had gotten his army safely across. The Confederates had lost 9500 men, the Federals more than 40,000. The Confederate authorities at Richmond had become much alarmed at Johnston's continued retreat, and had insisted on his fighting a general battle, which Johnston dared not do, as his force was much smaller than Sherman's. He was therefore relieved from the command on July 17, and was succeeded by General Hood, who was a brave and gallant soldier, but not the equal of General Johnston in the handling of a large army.
General Hood immediately began the fighting. Only two days after he took command he fought a bloody battle and was defeated. On the next day he again attacked the enemy, but after a severe battle gained no advantage. In this fight General John M. Brown, a brother to the governor, was dangerously wounded and afterwards died. On July 28, Hood again attacked Sherman, but was repulsed. On August 5 a part of Sherman's army attacked Hood, but were in turn repulsed.
In the meantime Sherman's cavalry, under Generals Stoneman and McCook, had been sent around Atlanta, towards Macon. Governor Brown and General Howell Cobb drove them off from Macon, and they were afterwards captured by General Alfred Iverson. Sherman's batteries were continually shelling Atlanta. All the citizens who were able to get away had gone, but there were still several thousand people in the city, who had to avoid the shells as best they could, by living in cellars and holes dug in the hill-sides and railroad cuts.
The Federal army steadily gained ground and pushed its way around the west side of Atlanta. At Jonesboro' General Hood fought a hard battle, but was forced to give way, and so Atlanta fell into Sherman's hands. Sherman's first order was that the citizens should leave Atlanta, and about 1700 of them were driven away from their homes.
General Hood, finding that he could not cope with Sherman in open battle, started his army toward Chattanooga and Nashville, hoping by so doing he would force Sherman to follow him, and thereby relieve Georgia and get Sherman's army back into Tennessee. But Sherman sent General Thomas to follow Hood, while he himself remained in Atlanta and began to prepare for his march to Savannah. His army so outnumbered Hood's that he could easily divide it, and he knew that General Thomas would be heavily reinforced in Tennessee. On his march toward Chattanooga, General Hood attacked Allatoona, near Cartersville, to capture and destroy some of Sherman's supplies, but after a desperate battle the Federals were left in possession of the fort, and Hood's forces resumed their march. At Franklin, Tennessee, his army was badly defeated.
In November, 1864, Sherman left Atlanta with 60,000 men and started toward Savannah. His army was scarcely molested, as all of 'Georgia's regular troops were in Virginia and Tennessee and the state militias were utterly unable to offer any resistance.
The track of Sherman's troops was one broad trail of fire, plunder, robbery and destruction. Nothing was left. If a cyclone of fire had rushed along the country the ruin and desolation could not have been more complete. The rules of civilized warfare were utterly disregarded. Helpless women and children were shown no consideration. Along a belt of country thirty to forty miles wide, extending from Chattanooga to the Atlantic Ocean, he spared neither towns, cities, nor habitations ; he seized all the stock — horses, mules, cows, hogs, chickens, and everything that would support or feed the helpless women and children ; he destroyed beautiful villages and homes, leaving nothing but crumbling walls and tottering chimneys ; his foreign-born, mercenary soldiers insulted and robbed the helpless and feeble ; they broke up the tombs and monuments to the dead in our cemeteries. Sherman's excuse for all this, as given in his own Memoirs^ is, that he found the best way to stop the war was to make it horrible; and he did it. 3. Governor Brown was at Milledgeville and the Legislature was in session. On November 23, 1864, the governor was notified that Sherman had left Atlanta with his army. The books and papers of the state were hastily packed up and stored away in a place of safety. Sherman passed through Milledgeville and reached Savannah on December 10, 1864. General Hardee was in command of the city with only 10,000 Confederate troops. Knowing that he was helpless against the Federal army, he made no resistance, but carried his forces across the river into South Carolina. Sherman took Savannah, and this completed his march of destruction from one extremity of the state to the other, from Chattanooga to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Governor called the Legislature together at Macon in February, 1865, where they transacted such business as they could. But the war had terribly crippled the state, and all that could be done was to try to encourage the people, and to make provision for those who had lost their property and their protectors and had become dependent on the state for their daily bread. Sherman left Savannah on January 19, 1865, marched into South Carolina, burning and robbing as he went, and on arriving at Columbia burned that city to the ground.
In the meantime Grant was gradually wearing away General Lee's army. After a week of severe fighting, Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. General Johnston had been trying to check Sherman in South Carolina, but when Lee surrendered there was no longer any hope, and so Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26, 1865. Thus ended the greatest and most destructive war of the century.
President Davis left Richmond and started to Texas, but was captured in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10, by some Federal cavalry that were hunting him. He was imprisoned two years in Fortress Monroe, but was at length released without trial. Alexander H. Stephens was also arrested and put in prison, but was soon released. General Toombs escaped to England to avoid arrest, but after some years returned to Georgia and was not molested. Governor Brown was arrested, but was paroled and went to his home in Milledgeville. But he was soon re-arrested, carried to Washington city, and placed in prison. He was released in a few days by Andrew Johnson, who had become President of the United States after Lincoln was assassinated.
Ben Hill and Howell Cobb were arrested, but soon released. The state was now under Federal military rule. Garrisons were posted at the principal towns and the Federal general, Wilson, was in command of all. Governor Brown called upon the Legislature to assemble, but General Wilson forbade it; so Governor Brown resigned his office as governor of the state, first publishing an address to the people in which he advised them to be patient, to support the Constitution of the United States, and to use every effort to get back into the Union as speedily as possible.
Georgia had done her full duty during the war. She had sent into the field 120,000 soldiers, or 20,000 more than her voting population at the commencement of the war. In property she had lost about $500,000,000, or more than three-fourths of her entire wealth. She had lost much more heavily than any other Southern state, not only actually, but proportionately.
The state had incurred a debt of $25,000,000 to carry on the war. Her loss in slaves alone was $272,000,000. Her lands had depreciated one-half in value. One-fourth of her railroad mileage was destroyed.
Georgians have good reasons to be proud of the state's record. She freely gave her all to the Confederate cause, and no troops ever fought and suffered with more heroism and patience. No defeat was ever more crushing or more humiliating, and yet no people ever went more bravely to work to rebuild their fortunes and to repair the ruin of war. Peace was declared, but it was not the peace that a generous foe should give to a thoroughly conquered enemy.
The state was under military rule. The regular state government was deposed, and in June, 1865, James Johnson, of Columbus, Georgia, was appointed provisional governor of Georgia, by the President of the United States. Governor Johnson at once called a convention to meet in October, 1865.
But the military were in power; citizens were arrested and imprisoned on the slightest provocation, and often without any cause whatever. The people were oppressed and made to feel that they were conquered and at the mercy of the conquerors. The amnesty oath was demanded of all citizens, and the people generally had to subscribe to its terms before they could feel safe to pursue their various callings. Adventurers, "carpet baggers" and malignant men came in droves, and by their meanness and petty exactions made the situation infinitely worse. Instead of trying to cultivate good will and to restore the confidence of the people in the United States government, the very opposite course was persistently followed, and bitterness and hatred on both sides were the natural fruits.
This was known as the "Reconstruction Period," and the people were so galled and oppressed by these overbearing tyrants that to this day the “Reconstruction Period " is regarded with almost as much horror as the war itself.
The convention met in October, 1865. Herschel Y. Johnson was elected President, The session lasted two weeks. The ordinance of secession was repealed, slavery was declared abolished, the debt to carry on the war was repudiated, and a new constitution was adopted. It was ordered that an election for governor and congressmen be held the next November; at which time Charles J. Jenkins was elected governor without opposition. The following gentlemen were elected as congressmen, but were never permitted to take their seats, Solomon Cohen, Philip Cook, Hugh Buchanan, E. G. Cabaniss, James D. Matthews, J. H. Christy and W. T. Wofford.
The Legislature assembled on December 4, 1865. Governor Johnson's message informed that body that he would continue in office as provisional governor until otherwise instructed by the President of the United States.