Civil War in Georgia: Overview
Georgia's agricultural output was critical to the Confederate war effort, and because Georgia was a transportation and industrial center for the Confederacy, both sides struggled for control of the state. Some of the most important battles of the war were fought on Georgia soil, including Chickamauga, Resaca, and Kennesaw Mountain, while the battles of Peachtree Creek, Bald Hill (Atlanta), Ezra Church, and Jonesboro were significant turning points during the Atlanta campaign of 1864. Perhaps most important, one can argue that the Civil War's outcome was decided in Georgia with the Atlanta campaign and U.S. president Abraham Lincoln's subsequent reelection.
Georgians' Road to War
When Lincoln's election to the presidency triggered the secession crisis in the winter of 1860-61, most Georgians initially hoped for yet another sectional compromise. The Georgia legislature, however, following a directive from Governor Joseph E. Brown, appropriated $1 million for military expenses and called for the election of delegates to a state convention to discuss secession. The majority of Georgia's political leaders at this point, including Francis S. Bartow, Henry L. Benning, Governor Brown, Howell Cobb, Thomas R. R. Cobb, Wilson Lumpkin, Eugenius A. Nisbet, and Robert Toombs, advocated secession. Their efforts focused on exciting white southerners' fears of slave insurrection and abolition, which could potentially lead to black equality and intermarriage.
The War Begins
By the war's second year, the Union also targeted Georgia's railroads. In April 1862 Union spy James J. Andrews led twenty saboteurs in a daring raid. In Big Shanty (present-day Kennesaw, in Cobb County) they seized the General locomotive and steamed northward. Western and Atlantic Railroad officials pursued them and, after a nearly ninety-mile chase, caught the Andrews gang near Ringgold before they could significantly damage the rail line. Confederate soldiers captured most of the saboteurs, and Andrews and seven of his raiders were hanged as spies in Atlanta. A year later, a Union cavalry force under Colonel Abel D. Streight attempted to cut the Western and Atlantic rail line near Rome, but Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest captured the Union force before it could do any real damage.
Georgians Battling Richmond
Despite attacks from pro-Davis nationalists, Brown remained popular and won a fourth straight term as governor in 1863. But Brown was not the only Georgia statesman battling the Davis administration. Vice President Stephens spent much of his time at his home in Georgia denouncing Davis's despotism. Toombs had quickly become bored as secretary of state and left to command a military brigade in Virginia, but he soon resigned and spent the rest of the war also denouncing the Davis administration. Even moderate Herschel V. Johnson joined the critics of the Richmond government. These men did much to hinder Confederate efforts and inflame anti-Davis sentiment.
Home Front Mobilization
Financing the war was another struggle for the Brown administration. Like the rest of the Confederacy, Georgia tried to pay for the war with bonds and treasury notes instead of taxes. This led to massive inflation as paper money poured into the economy and the price of necessities soared beyond the reach of the masses. By early 1864 in Atlanta, for example, firewood sold for $80 a cord, corn for $10 a bushel, and flour for $120 a barrel; by contrast a Confederate private received $11 a month.
Social and Military Upheavals
The war also challenged slavery and the plight of African Americans. Slavery broke down during the war, with slaves using the absence of white males to secure better working and living conditions. While most slaves remained on farms and plantations, many served the war effort of both sides as cooks, teamsters, servants, and laborers. Moreover, as Union forces penetrated the state, many slaves ran away to seek their freedom with the advancing Northern troops. Overwhelmed by the influx of freedpeople, Union forces set up "contraband" camps to provide food and shelter. In 1862 Union authorities began to authorize black enlistment, and many black recruits emerged on the coast and in northwest Georgia.
Adding to the chaos of the home front was the growing presence of Confederate deserters who, after 1863, hid in remote areas of the state, from the mountains in the north to the swamps and piney woods in the southeast. Equally harsh, Confederate and Unionist guerrillas of north Georgia made a hellish existence for many civilians. Georgia's Appalachian counties had long been a stronghold for Unionists, and as the war continued to turn against the Confederacy, these areas became ever more hostile toward the Confederate government. War weariness led to other forms of dissent from Georgia civilians, who by late in the war joined with more ideologically committed Unionists to resist government-imposed conscription, impressment, and taxes-in-kind.
Union Military Incursion
The first full-scale military operations began in Georgia took place in the late summer of 1863. In September a Union army under Major General William S. Rosecrans captured Chattanooga, Tennessee, and swept into Georgia. Later that month, Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg defeated Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga and followed the retreating Union troops back to Chattanooga. The situation eventually led Lincoln to remove Rosecrans and appoint Ulysses S. Grant as commander of all Union forces in the western theater. Using reinforcements, Grant shattered Bragg's forces at Missionary Ridge, sending them fleeing to Dalton in north Georgia.
Using his superior numbers to outflank the Confederate defenses of Dalton, Sherman began a long series of flanking maneuvers designed to bypass Johnston's fortified positions. Only once, at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, did the Union troops attempt a large-scale frontal assault. Its failure led to a return to the war of maneuver. By July Sherman had pushed Johnston to Peachtree Creek at the outskirts of Atlanta. An anxious President Davis replaced Johnston with General John B. Hood. An aggressive commander, Hood attacked Sherman repeatedly during the battles of Peachtree Creek, Bald Hill (Atlanta), and Ezra Church. Although the attacks failed to destroy the Union troops, they did stymie Sherman's advance.
After evacuating Atlanta, Hood's army marched north into Tennessee, hoping to disrupt Sherman's supply lines and draw him away from Georgia. Sherman briefly followed but then swung back to Atlanta after sending Major General George H. Thomas northward with sufficient forces to crush Hood's army near Nashville, Tennessee, by the end of the year. Meanwhile, in mid-November, Sherman launched his March to the Sea. Having destroyed Atlanta's capacity as a rail and industrial center, Sherman and 60,000 men marched southeastward against token opposition, cutting a sixty-mile-wide swath through Georgia to Savannah. Along the way, rail lines, bridges,
On December 21, 1864, Union forces finally reached Savannah. Triumphantly, Sherman telegraphed Lincoln: "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton." In February 1865 Sherman moved northward out of the state to crush resistance in the Carolinas.
The War's End
Jefferson Davis held the last meeting of the shadow government at Washington in Wilkes County. On May 10 Wilson's forces captured him at Irwinville. The long war had finally ended, and the emancipation of the slaves was completed in 1865. Although Georgians realized that the nation would remain united and that slavery had ended, other questions remained to be answered as they sought to build a new Georgia from the rubble of the old.
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F. N. Boney, Rebel Georgia (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997).
Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Albert E. Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992).
William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds., Secession Debated: Georgia's Showdown in 1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Joseph T. Glatthaar, The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns (New York: New York University Press, 1985).
Richard J. Lenz, The Civil War in Georgia: An Illustrated Traveler's Guide (Watkinsville, Ga.: Infinity Press, 1995).
Richard M. McMurry, Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
Clarence L. Mohr, On the Threshold of Freedom: Masters and Slaves in Civil War Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986).
Jonathan Dean Sarris, A Separate Civil War: Communities in Conflict in the Mountain South (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2006).
Mark A. Weitz, A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
Mark V. Wetherington, Plain Folk's Fight: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005).
David Williams, Teresa Crisp Williams, and David Carlson, Plain Folk in a Rich Man's War: Class and Dissent in Confederate Georgia (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002).
John D. Fowler, Dalton State College
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