Saturday, August 17, 2013

Georgia in the Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Georgia had a free population of 595,088 and an additional slave population of 462,198. 
Approximately 100,000 Georgians served in the Confederate Army, and, during the course of the conflict, the state suffered 18,253 killed and several thousands more wounded. A compilation made from the official rosters of the Confederate Armies as they stood at various battles, and at various dates covering the entire period of the war, shows that Georgia kept the following number of organizations in almost continuous service in the field: 68 regiments, and 17 battalions of infantry; 11 regiments, and 2 battalions of cavalry; 1 regiment, and 1 battalion of partisan rangers; 2 battalions of heavy artillery; and 28 batteries of light artillery. 
Thinking the state safe from invasion, the Confederates built several small munitions factories in Georgia, and it constructed prisons which later detained tens of thousands of Union prisoners. Their largest prisoner of war camp, at Andersonville, proved a death camp because of severe lack of supplies, food, water, and medicine. In early 1861, Georgia joined the Confederacy and became a major theater of the Civil War. Major battles took place at Chickamauga, Kennesaw Mountain, and Atlanta. In December 1864, a large swath of the state from Atlanta to Savannah was destroyed during General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea.
By summer 1861 the tight Union naval blockade virtually shut down the export of cotton and the import of manufactured items. Foods that normally came by rail from the North never arrived. The governor and legislature pleaded with planters to grow less cotton and more food. They refused, because at first they thought the Yankees would not or could not fight. Then they saw cotton prices in Europe were soaring and they expected Europe to soon intervene and break the blockade. The legislature imposed cotton quotas and made it a crime to grow an excess, but the food shortages only worsened, especially in the towns. Poor women took matters in their own hands in more than two dozen episodes across the state when they raided stores and captured supply wagons to obtain such necessities as bacon, corn, flour, and cotton yarn. As conditions at home worsened late in the war, more soldiers came to realize their duty to protect their homes meant they had to desert and return home.
Georgia soil was relatively free from the baptism of fire until late 1863. A total of nearly 550 battles and skirmishes occurred within the state, with the majority in the last two years of the conflict. The first major battle in Georgia was a Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863—it was the last major Confederate victory in the west. In 1864, Union General William T. Sherman's armies invaded Georgia as part of the Atlanta Campaign. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston fought a series of battles, the largest being the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, trying to delay Union armies for as long as possible as he retreated toward Atlanta. Johnston's replacement, Gen. John Bell Hood, attempted several unsuccessful counterattacks at the Battle of Peachtree Creek and the Battle of Atlanta, but Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864.
In November, Sherman stripped his army of non-essentials, and burned Atlanta and left it to the Confederates. He began what was later named Sherman's March to the Sea, living off the land while burning plantations, wrecking railroads, and killing the livestock. Thousands of escaped slaves followed him as he entered Savannah on December 22. After the loss of Atlanta, the governor withdrew the state's militia from the Confederate forces to harvest crops for the state and the army.
Sherman's March was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy in terms of economics and psychology. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million (about $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars) in destruction, about one fifth of which "inured to our advantage" while the "remainder is simple waste and destruction." His army wrecked 300 miles of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, and 13,000 head of cattle. It confiscated 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of fodder, and destroyed uncounted cotton gins and mills.

Sherman's campaign of total war extended to Georgia civilians. In July 1864, during the
Atlanta Campaign, General Sherman ordered approximately 400 Roswell mill workers, mostly women, arrested as traitors and shipped as prisoners to the North with their children. There is little evidence that more than a few of the women ever returned home. In December 1864, Sherman captured Savannah and in January 1865 he began his Campaign of the Carolinas. However, there were still several small fights in Georgia after his departure. On April 16, 1865, the Battle of Columbus was fought on the Georgia-Alabama border. In 1935 the state legislature officially declared this engagement as the "last battle of the War Between the States."

The memory of Sherman's March became iconic and central to the memory of "The Lost Cause." The crisis was the setting for Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and the subsequent 1939 film. Most important were many "salvation stories" that tell not what Yankee soldiers destroyed, but what was saved by the quick thinking and crafty women on the home front, or perhaps was saved by Northerners' appreciation of the beauty of homes and the charm of Southern women.
The war left most of Georgia devastated, with many war dead and wounded, and the state's economy in shambles. All slaves were emancipated in 1865, and Reconstruction started immediately after the hostilities ceased. The state remained poor and destitute well into the twentieth century. Georgia did not re-enter the Union until June 15, 1870, more than two years after South Carolina was readmitted. Georgia was the last of the Confederate States to re-enter the Union.
After the war, Georgians endured a period of economic hardship. Reconstruction was a period of military occupation and biracial Radical republican rule that attempted to bring about equal rights to the freed slaves (Freedmen) and institute economic initiatives. The end of Reconstruction and return of white domination of the legislature marked the beginning of the Jim Crow era, in which whites imposed second-class legal, social and economic status on blacks. Continue to Georgia Civil War History.

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