1861 - Jan - Mar

Creation of the Confederate States of America

by Jim Burran


            February 4, 1861, fell on a Monday.  On that day, delegates from six lower south states congregated at the capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a national government that would be known as the Confederate States of America.  Distinguished representatives were in attendance from South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Only Texas was missing from those that had seceded from the United States in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election, but the Texas delegates would be along just as soon as that state’s secession vote was confirmed.  In the meantime, there was much to do and little time in which to do it.  This new government, everyone agreed, needed to be in operation prior to Lincoln’s March 4 inauguration.

            From the beginning of the secession crisis back in November, those leading the charge out of the Union assumed that a unifying government would need to be created.  South Carolina’s secession convention had suggested Montgomery as the proposed location for this effort, in part because South Carolina fire-eater William B. Rhett considered himself the best choice for president of the new nation and counted on the support of his fellow fire-eater from Alabama, William L. Yancey.  Others, not fully aware of Rhett’s ambitions, agreed that Montgomery would serve as a good central gathering place.

            As time for the opening gavel approached, just over 40 delegates were on hand.  Most had taken rooms at the Exchange Hotel, one of just two such establishments in town and much preferred over Montgomery Hall, its less prosperous counterpart.  Both hotels were described by their new guests as filthy, insect-ridden, and overly expensive.  Georgia delegate Thomas R. R. Cobb even complained about the “great uniformity” of the mealtime fare.  In a letter home, Cobb reserved special disdain for “what is considered here the greatest delicacy called ‘Ambrosia,’ which is nothing more than sliced oranges and grated cocoanut.”

            Notwithstanding their lack of creature comforts, or maybe because of it, the convention turned out to be a model of efficiency.  On February 4 the delegates elected Howell Cobb, Thomas’s brother, as president of the convention.  Howell Cobb was described as a “fat, round-faced, jolly looking fellow,” and proved an able administrator.  That same day a committee of twelve members began working on a provisional constitution which was ready for adoption on February 8.  Patterned after the United States Constitution, this Confederate document, together with the permanent version that replaced it on March 11, mirrored the original of 1787 with several notable exceptions.  The most significant of these was found in the preamble.  Instead of “we the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,” the Confederate preamble began with “we, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character,” thus affirming from the outset the principle of states’ rights. 

            Elsewhere, the Confederate Constitution protected the institution of slavery, limited the president to a single six year term, provided the president with the power of an item veto when considering congressional legislation, streamlined the judicial system, and included a number of other minor changes that gave the document its special character. 

            Having completed its new constitution, the Montgomery Convention quickly turned to the matter of selecting a president and vice-president.  In addition to Robert B. Rhett, other hopefuls included Howell Cobb, William L. Yancey, and Robert Toombs.  In each case, however, reservations arose.  The one name that generated broad and consistent support was that of Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.  Davis was a West Point graduate who had distinguished himself in the Mexican War of 1846-1848.  Since then, he had served ably as a US senator and, during the Franklin Pierce administration, as secretary of war.  On top of that, Davis looked like a president.  Accordingly, on February 9 Davis was unanimously elected president of the Confederate States of America, along with Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as vice-president.  In contrast to the tall, statesmanlike president, Stephens was described as “a little sallow, dried-up looking fellow.”

            Since the vice-president elect was serving as one of the Montgomery Convention delegates and thus conveniently on hand, the convention swore him in on February 11.  In the meantime, word was sent by telegraph to Jefferson Davis’s plantation near Vicksburg with the news that he had been chosen to lead the fledgling nation.  Since there existed no direct rail line to Montgomery, Davis was obliged to make a five-day trip that took him from Jackson to Memphis, Chattanooga, and Atlanta before arriving on the 16th.  During the course of his journey, the new president delivered 25 short speeches at various stops along the way.  One of those occasions is believed to have taken place at Tunnel Hill.

            On February 18, a cold, blustery day, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated at Montgomery, which by this time had been chosen as the capital of the Confederacy.  Amidst great pageantry, the president-elect was delivered to the capitol building in a carriage drawn by six magnificent iron-gray horses driven “by that veteran ‘whip’ Prof. Snow.”  During his address, Davis employed images from the American Revolution, noting that the South had “merely asserted a right which the Declaration of Independence of 1776 had defined to be inalienable.”  Privately, however, in a letter to his wife Varina, he admitted the enormity of what surely lay ahead.  “We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by powerful opposition, but I do not despond and will not shrink from the task imposed upon me.”  Indeed, Davis would need a vast reservoir of fortitude over the next four years. 

Sources:  Emory M. Thomas, The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865 (New York, 1979); E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge, 1950); William J. Cooper, Jr., Jefferson Davis, American (New York, 2000).

          
Alabama State Capitol


 

Georgia Secedes from the Union

Jim Burran and Marvin Sowder

 

         On November 7, 1860, the Georgia General Assembly convened at the state capitol in Milledgeville.  That same day brought news that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president of the United States.  Having anticipated this unpleasant possibility, Governor Joseph E. Brown was ready with a special message to the legislature.  In it he stopped short of asking for an ordinance of secession, but described in lurid detail what would happen following Lincoln’s March 4 inauguration.  “So soon as the Government shall have passed into Black Republican hands,” he warned, “a hungry swarm of abolition emissaries must be imported among us as office holders to eat out our substance, insult us with their arrogance, corrupt our slaves, and engender discontent among them. . . .”

            Over the next ten days, prominent members of the General Assembly addressed the question of whether to introduce a bill calling for a secession convention.  Pro-secession advocates included Robert Toombs, Francis R. Bartow, and Thomas R. R. Cobb, among others.  Their language was incendiary.  Toombs, for example, proclaimed that “they [Republicans] declare their purpose to war against slavery until there shall not be a slave in America, and until the African is elevated to a social and political equality with the white man.”  By contrast, those in the cooperationist camp, most notably Alexander H. Stephens, Herschel V. Johnson, and Benjamin H. Hill, preached a more moderate message imploring the General Assembly not to act until after Lincoln’s March 4 inauguration.  Stephens, for example told the assembly: “In my judgement, the election of no man, constitutionally chosen to that high office, is sufficient cause for any State to separate from the Union.”   But on November 20, as this series of speeches drew to an end, the legislature passed a bill scheduling a secession convention for January 16, 1861, with county-level election of delegates to be held on January 2.

            With just over one million inhabitants, Georgia was the most populous of the Lower South states.  Approximately 56 percent of its population was white, and the remaining 44 percent were black—almost all of them slaves.  Despite the large slave numbers, however, only 37 percent of adult whites actually owned slaves.  And those owning 10 or more slaves were concentrated in the cotton-producing areas of Middle, Southwest, and Coastal Georgia.  Thus almost two-thirds of the white population had no direct investment in either the state’s plantation economy or in slavery.  As a result, the decision over secession could not be easily predicted.

            January 2 was a stormy and disagreeable day across the state, producing a smaller turnout than expected.  In each county, white male voters slogged to their polling locations and cast an estimated 84,500 votes statewide.  At stake was the selection of 301 delegates to the January 16 secession convention.  Of these, Whitfield County was allocated three.  When the convention assembled in Milledgeville, Whitfield County was represented by Dickinson L. Taliaferro, John M. Jackson, and Francis A. Thomas.  Each of these individuals came from different backgrounds and circumstances, but all three were by 1860 respected citizens of the Dalton area.

            Dickinson Taliaferro was born in North Carolina in 1808.  He married in 1827, and in 1846 he brought his family of eight to a farm in what would become Whitfield County.  Taliaferro prospered at farming and in 1857 won election as a state representative in the General Assembly, where he served for one term.  At the secession convention he was one of two Whitfield County delegates who voted against immediate secession, thus categorizing himself as a cooperationist.  Once Georgia seceded, however, Taliaferro remained loyal to his home state and raised a company of Confederate soldiers known as the “Whitfield Defenders,” in which he served for a time at the rank of captain.  This unit became Company D of the 60th Georgia Volunteer Infantry.  Following his military service, Taliaferro returned to his farm where he lived out the rest of his days.  He died in 1889 and is buried next to his wife in the family cemetery.

            The second delegate, John M. Jackson, was born in 1828 and hailed from Elbert County.  After marrying in 1855, Jackson and his bride relocated to Dalton where he opened a law office on King Street.  Like Dickinson Taliaferro, Jackson voted against immediate secession at the January 16 convention in Milledgeville.  Also like Taliaferro, once Georgia voted to secede Jackson came home and raised a company of Confederate soldiers known as the “Fitzgerald Rifles” with Jackson as its captain.  This unit eventually became Company B of the 34th Georgia Volunteer Infantry and saw action with the Army of Tennessee.  In March 1863 Jackson was promoted to the rank of major, but shortly thereafter took leave of absence to serve for a brief time as a senator in the General Assembly.  Returning to military service later that year, Jackson remained with the 34th until killed in action at the Battle of Jonesboro on August 31, 1864.  He was buried on the field of battle.  His wife, Amelia, died in 1912 and is buried in West Hill Cemetery.

            Francis A. Thomas, the third delegate, was the only one to vote in favor of immediate secession.  Born in Hancock County in 1816, Thomas received a medical education and became a physician.  By 1860, Thomas, together with his wife and five children, had settled on a farm east of Dalton.  Although he had no record of military service, his farm produced large quantities of hay, corn, oats, and other commodities which he sold to the Confederate Quartermaster in Dalton during 1862 and 1863.  By 1864 he had relocated to Hancock County.  After the war Thomas moved his family to California where he continued to practice medicine.  By 1880 they were back in Hancock County, where he died in 1898.  He and his wife are at rest in the Sparta Cemetery.

            As Taliaferro, Jackson, and Thomas took their places at the secession convention on January 16, they were joined by practically every important political leader in the state:  Stephens, Toombs, Johnson, Hill, Bartow, Cobb, and a host of others.  Governor Brown served as an honorary delegate.  Commissioners from the states that had already seceded—South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida—were also on hand as spectators and exhorters.  By this time Brown had already ordered the seizure of Fort Pulaski, the Federal military installation guarding Savannah.  Secession was in the air.

            On January 19 Eugenius A. Nisbet, a delegate from Macon and former Georgia Supreme Court justice, introduced the resolution calling for an ordinance of secession.  The first vote reflected the divided convictions of those assembled, 166 in favor and 130 opposed.    Secessionist fire-eaters then went to work.  The next day two more ballots were taken, each of which edged closer to secession.  Following the second of these January 20 votes, which showed a 208-89 decision in favor of disunion, a final unanimous vote was engineered by the convention leadership as a display of unity.  A handful of delegates declined to participate.

            So now it was done.  On the heels of the secession ordinance, the Georgia convention, acting as a de facto legislature, appropriated $1 million to raise troops and procure implements of war.  And on February 4, representatives from Georgia took part in a convention of seceded states, now numbering seven, at Montgomery, Alabama, in which the Confederate States of America was brought to life.

Georgia State Capitol

Sources:  Kenneth Coleman, ed., A History of Georgia (Athens, Ga., 1991); William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds., Secession Debated:  Georgia’s Showdown in 1860 (New York, 1992); Michael P. Johnson Toward a Patriarchal Republic:  The Secession of Georgia (Baton Rouge, 1977).

 

Georgians in Confederate Service: Alexander Stephens

Jim Burran 

 

            Jefferson Davis was installed as president of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861, amidst great pomp and ceremony at the capital city of Montgomery, Alabama.  Because of the urgency confronting the fledgling nation, Davis lost no time in appointing his cabinet, establishing a working relationship with the leadership of Congress, organizing a military force, and cultivating his new vice-president.  Davis faced the challenge of selecting the most dedicated and capable individuals available for leadership positions while balancing the government with representation from each of the Confederate states.  Of the Georgians chosen to serve in the new national government, Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens of Crawfordville was easily the most visible.

Born in 1812, Stephens was orphaned at the age of 14.  A variety of chronic illnesses stunted his physical development and gave him an undersized, sickly appearance in adulthood.  Stephens compensated by means of a keen intellect.  Graduating from Franklin College (later the University of Georgia) in 1832, he was admitted to the bar in 1834 and two years later won election to the Georgia General Assembly as a member of the Whig Party.  A lifelong bachelor, Stephens focused his energies on building a distinguished political career and in 1842 was elected to the US House of Representatives where he remained until 1859.

            During the years leading up to the secession crisis, Stephens defended the institution of slavery as well as the principle of states’ rights, but he was not a proponent of immediate secession.  Like many other southerners who regarded themselves as co-operationists, Stephens saw no compelling reason for the slaveholding states to leave the Union based solely upon Abraham Lincoln’s election as president of the United States.   When Georgia seceded in January 1861, however, he remained loyal to his native state.

            The following month organizers of the new Confederate national government elected Stephens to the office of vice-president.  Initially, President Davis and Vice-President Stephens worked closely together, but by mid-1862 signs of division appeared when it became obvious to Stephens that Davis was trying to strengthen the national government at the expense of state sovereignty.  Indeed, as time progressed Davis was forced to consolidate as much power as possible into the Confederate government just to keep the war effort alive in the face of diminishing resources.  This proved too much for Stephens.  Labeling Davis’s actions as “tyrannical,” the vice-president exiled himself to Crawfordville where he spent most of the remaining two years of the Civil War.   By war’s end Stephens was both disenchanted and frustrated.

            Following the collapse of the Confederacy in 1865, Stephens spent several months in Federal prison before being released by President Andrew Johnson.  He then devoted himself to writing A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States, published in 1870, which amounted to a justification of the Lost Cause.  When Reconstruction ended in 1877 Stephens returned to the US House of Representatives where he served until being elected governor of Georgia in 1882.  He died in office on March 4, 1883.

 

Sources:  Thomas E. Schott, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia:  A Biography (Baton Rouge, 1988); Georgia Humanities Council, New Georgia Encyclopedia (www.georgiaencyclopedia.org)


Alexander Stephens
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Georgians in Confederate Service: Benjamin Hill and Robert Toombs

 

Jim Burran 

 

            As the new Confederate national government took shape during the spring of 1861, President Jefferson Davis faced the task of establishing a smooth relationship with the first Confederate Congress as well as appointing a brand-new cabinet.  There was much to do on many fronts even as Davis strove mightily to avoid armed conflict with the United States.  In these efforts he counted on assistance from Vice-President Alexander Stephens, the most prominent Georgian in the new government.  But Davis also depended on other Georgians to launch his administration.  Chief among these were Benjamin Hill and Robert Toombs.

            Over the course of the Confederacy’s brief life, 267 men served in its Congress.  Of these, only 27 served continuously from 1861 to 1865, and one of them was Benjamin Hill.  Born in 1823, Hill grew up in Jasper County.  Graduating from Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in 1843, Hill was soon thereafter admitted to the bar and opened his law practice in LaGrange.  From 1851 to 1852 he served in the Georgia General Assembly and continued to dabble in local and state politics from then until 1857, when he ran for governor.  In that election Hill was defeated by Joseph E. Brown, setting off a personal feud that would last for years.

            As the secession crisis approached, Hill emerged as one of Georgia’s leading “co-operationists.”  Like Alexander Stephens, Hill and other moderates did not think that immediate secession was justifiable simply because of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president of the United States.  Instead, they counseled co-operation with the new administration until Lincoln’s intentions concerning slavery became clear.  Yet when Georgia seceded in January 1861, Hill and most of the other co-operationists reluctantly went along with their native state.  Accepting a seat in the Confederate  Congress, Hill continued to serve as a senator for the balance of the war.  During these years Hill became a member of President Davis’s inner circle, eventually achieving the role of trusted confidential advisor.  Unlike Stephens, Hill understood the need for a strong national government in a time of crisis.

            Following the war Hill resumed an active role in politics and in 1875 won election to the US House of Representatives.  Two years later he was appointed to the Senate, where he remained until his death in 1882.

            Robert Toombs hailed from Wilkes County.  Born in 1810, Toombs entered Franklin College at the age of 14 but left before graduating because of a disciplinary matter involving a card game.  He completed his education at the University of Virginia and returned to his home state before beginning the practice of law.  Toombs was elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1836, to the US House of Representatives in 1844, and to the Senate in 1852.  By 1860 he had gravitated toward secession as the only way to protect slavery, and resigned from his Senate seat when Georgia seceded.

            Well known for his overbearing and sometimes abrasive personality, Toombs had by 1861 earned a number of enemies.   Although he cherished the notion of serving as president of the Confederate States of America, Toombs had accumulated too much political baggage.  As a consolation prize, Jefferson Davis named him secretary of state.  Unfortunately, it was soon apparent that the person and the position were not a good match.  After failing to secure diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy from either Britain or France, both of which adopted a wait-and-see attitude, Toombs resigned in frustration on July 21, 1861, only five months into the job.

            Thinking a military career would be more to his liking, Toombs secured an appointment at the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate army.  Serving as a brigade commander in James Longstreet’s corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, he was once again undone when his promotion to the rank of major general was denied.  An embittered Toombs resigned in protest on March 4, 1863, and went home to Washington, Georgia.  After the war Toombs fled to Cuba and then to France, returning to the US in 1867.  He never requested a pardon from Congress and thus never regained his American citizenship.  Toombs did, however, restore his law practice and played a major role in Georgia’s 1877 constitutional convention.  He died in 1885.

 

Sources:  Charles Edgeworth Jones, Georgia in the War, 1861-1865 (Atlanta, 1909); William Y. Thompson, Robert Toombs of Georgia (Baton Rouge, 1966); E. Merton Coulter, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865 (Baton Rouge, 1950); Emory M. Thomas, The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865 (New York, 1979); Georgia Humanities Council, New Georgia Encyclopedia (www.georgiaencyclopedia.org)

                                                       

  Robert Toombs                                                                             Benjamin Hill

  

GEORGIANS IN CONFEDERATE SERVICE:  THE GENERALS

By Jim Burran 

            Of the Georgians who supported the Confederate cause, the most noteworthy were not political figures like Alexander H. Stephens and Benjamin H. Hill.  They were  military officers like William J. Hardee and John B. Gordon.  During the Civil War, some 120,000 Georgians took up arms for the Confederacy.  From this number, 43 rose to the rank of general.  Some of the 43 were West Point graduates with previous military experience.  Others were political appointees or persons without military training who rose through the ranks on their own.  Regardless of their backgrounds, fate and chance played a role in their wartime careers.  A few achieved distinction during and after the war, some died heroically on the field of battle, and others faded into oblivion.

            There existed four grades for general officers in Confederate military service.

Brigadier generals typically commanded brigades.  A brigade was made up of several regiments.  Next in line were major generals, who were responsible for divisions.  A division consisted of two or more brigades.  Lieutenant generals were usually responsible for a corps, which was comprised of three to five divisions.  At the top of the pyramid stood the full general, that rare bird in charge of an entire army.

            Of the Confederate generals appointed from Georgia, only William J. Hardee rose to the rank of lieutenant general.  Hardee had compiled a distinguished military record in the US Army during the 1840s and 1850s, and in Confederate service the Camden County native catapulted to corps command in the Army of Tennessee before the end of 1862.  When in November 1863 Braxton Bragg was relieved as commander of this army, Hardee was offered the job.  For reasons that he did not fully explain then or later, Hardee declined the appointment and remained in command of his corps.

            Nine Georgians became major generals at some point during the Civil War.  Several of these achieved legendary status.  Most noteworthy were John B. Gordon, Joseph Wheeler, William H. T. Walker, Howell Cobb, and Lafayette McLaws.  Owing to a variety of circumstances, the others have largely been forgotten.  This list includes David R. Jones, Ambrose R. Wright, Pierce M. B. Young, and David E. Twiggs.  Of Georgia’s generals, Augusta native Joe Wheeler achieved the singular distinction of serving as a major general of volunteers in the US Army during the Spanish-American War of 1898.  While fighting in Cuba, Wheeler commanded a cavalry division that included Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders.”

            Georgia’s remaining 33 Confederate generals, about 77 percent of the total, were brigadiers.  Like their higher ranking brethren, each was cast into a unique set of circumstances.  Space does not permit a biographical sketch of each, so selected examples will illustrate their various fortunes.

            One of the most distinguished records among this group was compiled by Edward P. Alexander.  Born in Washington, Georgia, and educated at West Point, Alexander is best remembered as James Longstreet’s chief of artillery.  Responsible for organizing the cannonade preceding Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, Alexander remained with Longstreet for the duration of the war.

            The hand of fate was not as kind to Bryan M. Thomas.  Born in Milledgeville, Thomas graduated from West Point.  From the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, Thomas rose rapidly through the ranks but by 1863 found himself in a backwater post in Alabama.  Later in charge of a brigade defending Mobile, Thomas suffered the ultimate indignity when on April 9, 1865, in one of the last engagements of the war, his outmanned forces defending Fort Blakely were overrun and he was captured.  After the war Thomas settled in Dalton and became superintendent of schools.  He is buried in West Hill Cemetery.

            Perhaps the most star-crossed of Georgia’s brigadiers was Claudius C. Wilson, a native of Effingham County.  A lawyer by training, Wilson entered the Confederate army as a captain but soon won promotion to colonel.  In 1863 his regiment was sent to the defense of Vicksburg not long before its surrender.  Paroled, Wilson was sent to Georgia in time for the Battle of Chickamauga, in which he commanded a brigade under William H. T. Walker.  For meritorious conduct in that engagement, he was promoted to brigadier general on November 16, 1863.  Eleven days later, Wilson died from camp fever.


 
Hardee and Wheeler

Sources:  Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray:  Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge, 1959); Charles Edgeworth Jones, Georgia in the War, 1861-1865:  A Compendium of Georgia Participants (Atlanta, 1909).

LIST OF GEORGIA GENERALS IN CONFEDERATE SERVICE

 

LIEUTENANT GENERAL

 

William J. Hardee

 

MAJOR GENERAL

 

Howell Cobb

John B. Gordon

David R. Jones

Lafayette McLaws

David E. Twiggs

William H. T. Walker

Joseph Wheeler

Ambrose R. Wright

Pierce M. B. Young

 

BRIGADIER GENERAL

 

Edward P. Alexander

George T. Anderson

Robert H. Anderson

Henry L. Benning

William R. Boggs

William M. Browne

Goode Bryan

Thomas R. R. Cobb

Alfred H. Colquitt

Philip Cook

Alfred Cumming

George Doles

Dudley M. DuBose

Clement A. Evans

William M. Gardner

Lucius J. Gartrell

Victor J. B. Girardey

Henry R. Jackson

John K. Jackson

Alexander R. Lawton

Hugh W. Mercer

Paul J. Semmes

James P. Simms

William D. Smith

G. Moxley Sorrel

Isaac M. St. John

Marcellus A. Stovall

Bryan M. Thomas

Edward L. Thomas

Robert Toombs

Claudius C. Wilson

William T. Wofford

Gilbert J. Wright

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