Chapter 1:

  • The legislature of 1860
  • -- convention provided for-occupation of Fort Pulaski -- the secession convention -- seizure of the Augusta arsenal and Oglethorpe barracks.

Quickly following the day of the national election of 1860, the returns made it evident to all that Abraham Lincoln would be the next president of the United States. The Republican party, whose candidate he was, had originated in 1856 as a strictly sectional party, and among other hurtful policies had made war on the slave property of the South. Now that it had become strong enough to elect a President by the vote of Northern States alone, its success aroused the fears, as well as the indignation, of the Southern people. In many of the counties of Georgia public meetings were held and resolutions were adopted urging the legislature, about to meet, to provide for the defense of the State against the aggression to be feared from the sectional party that, after the 4th of March, 1861, would hold the reins of government.

The legislature met early in November, 1860. Influenced by apprehension of impending peril, Gov. Joseph E. Brown recommended that it should authorize commercial reprisal to meet the nullification by Northern States of the national fugitive slave law; the calling of a convention of the people, and the appropriation of $1,000,000 for defense. A convention of military companies, presided over by John W. Anderson, assembled at Milledgeville, November 10, 1860, and adopted a resolution to the effect that, ‘Georgia can no longer remain in the Union consistently with her safety and best interest.’ [4] This convention of soldiers also favored the appropriation of $1,000,000 for military purposes recommended by the governor, and supported their action by the tender of their services. The legislature also promptly responded to the governor's recommendations by creating the office of adjutant-general of the State, to which position Henry C. Wayne was appointed; authorizing the acceptance of 10,000 troops by the governor, and the purchase of 1,000 Maynard rifles and carbines for coast defense; appropriating the great sum recommended for military purposes, and providing for an election on the first Wednesday of January, 1861, of delegates to a convention which should determine the course of the State in the emergency. The call for this convention was prefaced by the words: ‘Whereas, The present crisis in our national affairs, in the judgment of the general assembly, demands resistance; and Whereas, It is the privilege and right of the sovereign people to determine upon the mode, measure and time of such resistance.’

Notwithstanding these warlike preparations, there was in many sections of the State a strong sentiment against disunion. The vote for presidential candidates in Georgia is a fair criterion of the sentiment in the State prior to the election of Mr. Lincoln. There were three electoral tickets: One for Breckinridge and Lane, one for Bell and Everett, one for Douglas and Johnson, but none for Lincoln and Hamlin. The vote stood as follows: Breckinridge and Lane, 51,893; Bell and Everett, 42,855; Douglas and Johnson, 11,580. As the Breckinridge ticket was favored by the most pronounced Southern rights men, the vote in Georgia showed a small majority against immediate secession by separate State action. But the election of Mr. Lincoln by a purely sectional vote set the current toward secession, causing the tide of disunion sentiment to rise with steadily increasing volume, and strengthening the views and fears of those who could see relief only by withdrawing from a union which [5] had fallen under the control of a party favoring a policy so antagonistic to the rights and interests of the South. Yet even at this stage there was a small minority who resolutely strove to stem the swelling tide. A speech was made by Alexander H. Stephens before the legislature, firmly opposing immediate disunion; while, on the other hand, Howell Cobb, in a letter apparently invincible in logic, demanded immediate secession. Herschel V. Johnson and Benjamin H. Hill stood by Stephens.

The momentous news that the convention of South Carolina had adopted an ordinance of secession from the United States, telegraphed to the important cities and towns of Georgia on the afternoon of December 20, 1860, added impetus to the universal excitement, and to the enthusiasm of those who favored immediate secession. Popular approval of this decisive step was manifested in all the large cities and towns by the firing of cannon, the ringing of bells, and bonfires. The volunteer companies of the State that had been organized under acts of the legislature began to offer their services to the governor, and many new companies were formed even in December, 1860.

As the convention was to meet January 16, 1861, all acts savoring of State independence would normally have been postponed until after the result of its deliberations should be announced. But in the latter part of December the fears of the people of Georgia were aroused by the action of the United States garrison of Fort Moultrie in abandoning that exposed position and taking possession of Fort Sumter, where, isolated from land approach and nearer the open sea, reinforcements and provisions might be expected and resistance made to the demand of the State for the relinquishment of its territory. On the Georgia coast there were two United States forts, Jackson and Pulaski, near Savannah. One of these, Fort Pulaski, was situated (similarly to Sumter) at the mouth of the Savannah river, on Tybee Roads. [6] It could be supplied with troops and munitions from the sea with little risk, and once properly manned and equipped would, in the judgment of military experts, be practically impregnable. A few months later the chief engineer of the United States army expressed the opinion that ‘the work could not be reduced in a month's firing with any-number of manageable calibers.’ The fort was of brick, with five faces, casemated on all sides, and surrounded by a ditch filled with water. The massive walls, seven and a half feet thick, rose twenty-five feet above high water, mounting one tier of guns in casemates and one in barbette. The gorge face was covered by a demi-lune of good relief, arranged for one tier of guns in barbette, and was also provided with a ditch. The marshy formation, Cockspur island, on which Pulaski stood, was surrounded by broad channels of deep water, and the only near approach to it, on ground of tolerable firmness, was along a narrow strip of shifting sand on Tybee island.

The people of Savannah, familiar with the situation, thought they were menaced by a danger as great as that of Sumter to Charleston; that even a few days' delay might permit this isolated fort to be made effective in closing the main seaport of Georgia, and that once strongly manned, it would be impossible to reduce it with ordnance such as could soon be obtained by the State. Capt. William H. C. Whiting, of the United States army engineers, who had an office in Savannah at that time, was absent at Fort Clinch, on the St. Mary's, and Ordnance-Sergeant Walker with a fort keeper was in charge at the works; only twenty guns were in the fort and the supply of ammunition was meager. Governor Brown, being advised of the situation at Savannah, and of the probability that Pulaski and Jackson would be seized by the people, visited the city, and after consultation with the citizens took the appropriate step of ordering an immediate occupation. The earnest spirit of the citizens of [7] Savannah was manifested on the night of January 1st, by a number of persons dressed in citizens' clothes but armed with muskets and revolvers, who boarded the revenue cutter J. C. Dobbin and announced that they had come in force, largely outnumbering the crew, to take the vessel in the name of Georgia. The commander surrendered promptly and the Palmetto flag was raised and saluted. The leader in this affair was C. A. Greiner, who went north later, and was arrested at Philadelphia, April 29th, on the charge of having committed treason in this act and in participating in the seizure of Fort Pulaski.

On January 2, 1861, as commander-in-chief of the Georgia militia, Governor Brown issued an order to Col. A. R. Lawton, commanding the First volunteer regiment of Georgia, at Savannah, which opens with these words, deserving quotation as ably stating the reasons and justification for the occupation of Fort Pulaski:

Sir: In view of the fact that the government at Washington has, as we are informed upon high authority, decided on the policy of coercing a seceded State back into the Union, and it is believed now has a movement on foot to reinforce Fort Sumter at Charleston, and to occupy with Federal troops the Southern forts, including Fort Pulaski in this State, which, if done, would give the Federal government in any contest great advantage over the people of this State; to the end, therefore, that this stronghold, which commands also the entrance into Georgia, may not be occupied by any hostile force until the convention of the State of Georgia, which is to meet on the 16th inst., has decided on the policy which Georgia will adopt in this emergency, you are ordered to take possession of Fort Pulaski as by public order herewith, and to hold it against all persons, to be abandoned only under orders from me or under compulsion by an overwhelming hostile force.

There was an enthusiastic rivalry among the militia companies at Savannah for the honor of this service. Colonel Lawton selected details from the Chatham artillery, [8] under Capt. Joseph S. Cleghorn, an officer who was also charged by the governor with all matters relating to ordnance; from the Savannah Guards, Capt. John Screven, and from the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, Capt. Francis S. Bartow, whose brilliant eloquence had been devoted to the cause of separation. This force, numbering 134 men, was carried by boat to Cockspur island on the morning of the 3d, and the occupation was effected without resistance from the few men in the works, who were allowed to continue in their quarters without duress. The militia under Colonel Lawton immediately hoisted a State flag—a red lone star on a white ground—which they greeted with a salute, and then set to work putting the fort in order, mounting the guns, and preparing ammunition. The Savannah ladies furnished the cartridge bags, as well as dainty additions to the rations of the soldiers, in which acceptable service they took pride.

On January 6th Captain Whiting, a North Carolinian who afterward held the rank of major-general in the Confederate States service, having been notified of the movement of the State troops, returned to Savannah, and on the next day reported to his chief, General Totten, at Washington:

This morning I proceeded to Fort Pulaski, which I found occupied by Georgia troops, commanded by Colonel Lawton. I was received with great civility, and informed by him that he held possession of all the government property for the present, by order of the governor of the State, and intended to preserve it from loss or damage. He requested a return of the public property, both ordnance and engineer, which I have given as existing January 1st. . . . I have directed Ordnance-Sergeant Walker to report at Oglethorpe barracks until further orders. The fort keeper I have discharged. . . . . It is necessary to inform you that the telegraph is in the hands of the State authorities, and no message of a military or political character is allowed to be sent or delivered except by permission of the governor. . . . As to the Savannah [9] river improvement, no interference with the property belonging to the appropriation has been attempted, nor is any at present anticipated. I have therefore directed the discharge of all employes except a watchman. Fort Jackson remains as heretofore.

This occupation of Fort Pulaski was celebrated with great fervor by the people of Savannah, and public meetings held at various other places expressed a warm approval. The State convention, meeting two weeks later, by resolution sustained the governor in his ‘energetic and patriotic conduct,’ and requested him to retain possession of the fort until the relations of Georgia and the Federal government should be determined. Having telegraphed advices of what he had done to the governors of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, Governor Brown soon had the satisfaction of receiving the endorsement of similar action on their part.

On the day following the occupation of Fort Pulaski, the officers of the volunteer companies of Macon, Capts. R. A. Smith, E. Fitzgerald, T. M. Parker, L. M. Lamar, E. Smith and Lieut. W. H. Ross, telegraphed the governor, asking if he would ‘sanction the movement of Georgia volunteers going to the aid of South Carolina;’ but this generous impulse was very properly checked, pending the action of the State convention.

By act of the legislature, a sovereign convention had been summoned to meet at Milledgeville on January 6, 1861, to decide upon the action to be taken by the State of Georgia. Among the delegates were some of the ablest men that Georgia has produced. Immediate secession was advocated by Thomas R. R. Cobb, Francis S. Bartow and Robert Toombs, while Alexander H. Stephens, Benjamin H. Hill and Herschel V. Johnson used all their influence for delay until there could be a congress of the Southern States to take united action. But all parties pledged Georgia to resist any effort at coercion of a sovereign State. On the 9th of January, 1861, [10] the ordinance of secession was adopted, and the president of the convention, ex-Gov. George W. Crawford, briefly and impressively announced that the State of Georgia was now free, sovereign and independent. As soon as the result was announced to the great throng assembled outside, the people applauded, the cannon thundered a salute, and that night Milledgeville was brilliantly illuminated. Similar demonstrations occurred in all the large towns and cities of the State.

Having resumed its original position as a sovereign, independent republic, Georgia began preparing for the maintenance of independence by force of arms. The presence of troops of the United States within the State's borders became inadmissible because they were a menace to its freedom. The United States property within the State was a question for settlement between the governments, but soldiers in arms, subject to the orders of the United States, must be withdrawn.

The arsenal, situated near Augusta, consisting of a group of buildings on the summits of salubrious sand-hills, contained a battery of artillery, 20,000 stand of muskets, and a large quantity of munitions, guarded by a company of United States troops under command of Capt. Arnold Elzey, of Maryland. The occupation of this arsenal was necessary. The sentiment favoring the seizure was increased by the arrival, on January 10th, of an ordnance detachment, which had been ordered by Col. H. K. Craig, chief of ordnance at Washington, to report at that place after it had been ejected from the Charleston arsenal by the State authorities of South Carolina. Captain Elzey, in his report to Washington of the transfer, said:

This movement on the part of Colonel Craig I believe to be wholly unauthorized by the war department. It was injudicious and impolitic, added much to the excitement in Augusta, and was very nigh producing serious difficulties in this quarter, the people believing it to be [11] a reinforcement to my command. I had no previous knowledge of it whatever.

On January 23d, Governor Brown, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, Hon. Henry R. Jackson, who had experienced military life as a colonel of a Georgia regiment in Mexico, and Col. William Phillips, visited Captain Elzey and made a verbal request that he withdraw his command from the State. Upon that officer's refusal, Col. Alfred Cumming, commanding the Augusta battalion of militia, was ordered to put his force in readiness for action to support the governor's demand.

An official report succinctly describing an event of great importance at that period of the State's history, was made by Captain Elzey to Col. Samuel Cooper, adjutant-general of the United States army, but soon to be the adjutant-general of the Confederacy:

Sir: In compliance with your letter of this date, I have the honor to submit the following complete report of the surrender of the United States arsenal at Augusta, Ga.:

On the morning of the 23d of January I received from the governor of Georgia, then in Augusta, backed by a superior force of State troops numbering some 600 or 700, a verbal demand of the arsenal, which I refused. Shortly after came through his aide-de-camp a written demand in the following terms, the substance of which was telegraphed by me to the war department, to wit: Sir: I am instructed by his excellency Governor Brown to say to you that, Georgia having seceded from the United States of America and resumed exclusive sovereignty over her soil, it has become his duty to require you to withdraw the troops under your command, at the earliest practicable moment, from the limits of the State. He proposes to take possession of the arsenal, and to receipt for all public property under your charge, which will be accounted for on adjustment between the State of Georgia and the United States of America. He begs to refer you to the fact that the retention of your troops upon the soil of Georgia after remonstrance, is under the laws of nations an act of hostility, and he claims that the State is not only at peace but anxious to cultivate the most amicable relations with the United States government. I am further instructed to say that an answer will be expected by to-morrow morning at 9 o'clock.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Henry R. Jackson, Aide-de-Camp, etc.


About 1 o'clock on the night of the 23d of January, I received from the war department the following reply to my telegram:

Capt. Arnold Elzey, Second Artillery, Commanding Augusta Arsenal, Georgia:
The governor of Georgia has assumed against your post and the United States an attitude of war. His summons is harsh and peremptory. It is not expected that your defense shall be desperate. If forced to surrender by violence or starvation, you will stipulate for honorable terms and a free passage by water with your company to New York.

J. Holt, Secretary of War.

To have resisted such a force, then ready to attack me, with my knowledge of large reinforcements at Savannah and Atlanta ready to come up by rail at a moment's warning, would have been desperation in my weak position. I therefore directed my adjutant to address and convey the following note in reply to the governor's demand:

Headquarters Augusta Arsenal, January 24, 1861.
Col. H. R. Jackson, Aide-de-Camp:
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I am directed by Captain Elzey, commanding this post, to say, in reply to the demands of the governor of Georgia, made through you yesterday, requesting him to withdraw his command beyond the limits of the State, he begs to request an interview with his excellency the governor, for the purpose of negotiating honorable terms of surrender at as early an hour this morning as practicable.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. P. Jones, Lieutenant Second Artillery, Post Adjutant.

About 10 o'clock of the same morning the governor, accompanied by his staff and Brigadier-General Harris, commanding the troops, rode up to my quarters, and were received by me, when the following honorable terms were agreed upon and executed:

His excellency the governor of Georgia, having demanded the United States arsenal at Augusta, commanded by Capt. Arnold Elzey, Second artillery, United States army, the following terms are agreed upon, to wit:

(1) The flag to be saluted and lowered by the United States troops. (2) The company to be marched out with military honors and to retain its arms and company property. (3) The officers and soldiers to occupy quarters until removed beyond the limits of the State, and to have the use of the post transportation to and from the city and in the neighborhood, and the privilege of obtaining [13] supplies from the city. (4) The public property to be receipted for by the State authorities, and accounted for upon adjustment between the State of Georgia and the United States of America. (5) The troops to have unobstructed passage through and out of the State by water, to New York, via Savannah.

Joseph E. Brown, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the State of Georgia. Arnold Elzey, Captain Second Artillery, Commanding Augusta Arsenal.

On January 23d, when Captain Elzey's answer remained in doubt, some 8000 volunteers of the city were put under arms, and others came in from the country. The Augusta volunteers engaged in the capture of the arsenal consisted of the following companies: Oglethorpe Infantry, Clinch Rifles, Irish Volunteers, Montgomery Guards, two companies of minute men (one of which became the Walker Light Infantry), Washington Artillery and Richmond Hussars. The ranks of these companies had been swelled by young men eager to serve their country, until they averaged 100 men each. They were splendidly equipped and thoroughly drilled. In addition to these there were about 200 mounted men from Burke county and a company of infantry from Edgefield district, South Carolina. Brigadier-General Harris was in chief command, aided by Brig.-Gen. Charles J. Williams, of Columbus; and Lieut.-Col. Alfred Cumming was in immediate command of the armed force, consisting of the Augusta battalion, Companies A and B of the minute men, and the militia. No hostile demonstration was to be made until the 24th, and it was then happily obviated by the reasonable action of Captain Elzey. In the conference which fixed the terms of the withdrawal, the governor was accompanied by Generals Williams and Harris, Col. W. H. T. Walker, and his aides, Colonels Jackson and Phil. lips, all of whom joined the governor in assurances of their esteem of Captain Elzey, and a desire that the [14] unhappy difficulties which had arisen might be adjusted without hostilities. Walker, a comrade of Elzey in the Federal service, seized the latter's hand and assured him that he had done all that could be required of a brave man. Elzey, overcome by the situation that presaged the breaking up of the old army, and the deadly conflict of former friends, could only reply by silently throwing his arm around his comrade, while tears filled the eyes of those who witnessed the scene. Walker began here an honorable career in the Confederate cause, became a major-general, was distinguished for his reckless daring, and finally gave his life in the great battle on the hills of Atlanta. Elzey also entered the Confederate service as soon as circumstances permitted, and was one of the most distinguished representatives of Maryland in the army of Northern Virginia. His cool and intrepid action on the field of First Manassas won for him the rank of brigadier-general and the title of ‘the Blucher of the day’ from the lips of President Davis. Under Jackson he achieved additional renown and was promoted major-general, but wounds received before Richmond in 1862 deprived the cause of his further active service in the field.

After a salute of thirty-three guns the stars and stripes fluttered down the garrison staff, and none of the officers observed this with exultation, but rather with sorrow that it must be. Colonel Jackson offered this toast, as they gathered before parting: ‘The flag of stars and stripes—may it never be disgraced, while it floats over a true Southern patriot.’ A few hours later General Harris, with twelve men of the Washington artillery and a squad of the Oglethorpe Infantry, took possession of the arsenal and raised the lone-star flag of Georgia. Salutes were fired, one gun for the sovereignty of Georgia, five for the States already seceded, and fifteen for the prospective sisterhood of the South. By this timely act of the State authorities, 22,000 small-arms, 2 howitzers, 2 cannon, and much ammunition came into their possession. [15]

A day or two later, Col. A. R. Lawton, in command at Savannah, under instructions from the governor demanded possession of the Oglethorpe barracks, through Lieut. W. S. Bassinger. Ordnance-Sergeant Burt, in charge in the absence of Captain Whiting, ‘refused to recognize Colonel Lawton's authority, or to allow Lieutenant Bassinger to interfere with the barracks or public property,’ but had no force to sustain his action, and on the 26th, Bassinger, with the assistance of the city police, fastened up the public store-room and took possession of the barracks. Sergeant Burt consistently maintained his position by refusing to have any official communication with Lieutenant Bassinger. Upon Captain Whiting's return, January 28th, Colonel Lawton addressed him the following letter:

Sir: I am instructed by the governor and commander-in-chief of the State of Georgia to take possession of Oglethorpe barracks, in the name of the State of Georgia, and in your absence from this city possession has been taken. The occupants will not be disturbed at present, and you will please consider yourself at liberty to occupy, with your employes, such apartments as are necessary for your convenience while you are closing up your business here. The steamer Ida and appurtenances have also been taken possession of under the same authority. This, I believe, includes all the property held by you in the State of Georgia, as military engineer of the United States, but does not include any lighthouse property. You have already been notified, informally, that Forts Pulaski and Jackson had been occupied by the troops of the State of Georgia under my command.

Another famous incident of this first month of 1861 was the seizure at New York, probably on the orders of the governor of that State, of thirty-eight boxes of muskets, purchased by the firm of D. C. Hodgkins & Sons, Macon, for shipment by the steamer Monticello to Savannah. After a sharp remonstrance, which was unheeded, Governor Brown directed Colonel Lawton to order out sufficient military force and seize and hold, [16] subject to his order, every ship then in the harbor of Savannah, belonging to citizens of New York. ‘When the property of which our citizens have been robbed is returned to them,’ wrote the governor, ‘then the ships will be delivered to the citizens of New York who own them.’ Under this order Colonel Lawton, February 8th, put detachments of the Phoenix Riflemen, under command of Capt. George Gordon, in charge of five merchant vessels. Three days later the guns were ordered released, but delay in forwarding led to the governor's directing a renewal of reprisals. Three more vessels were taken in hand by Colonel Lawton, two of which were advertised for sale, when information was received that the guns were on the way, whereupon they were released. This incident was brought to a close after the State had united with the Confederate States, and the fact that Governor Brown retained the matter in his own hands is a striking illustration of the vigorous way in which Georgia put into effect the principle of State sovereignty.

The convention, prior to the adjournment on January 29th to meet in March at Savannah, authorized the equipment of two regiments, to be either all infantry, or artil-lety and infantry, as the governor should decide. The organization of these regiments had not been completed when active hostilities began, and the companies formed were consolidated in one regiment, and turned over to the Confederate States government with the title of the First regiment Georgia regulars. Of this regiment, Charles J. Williams was commissioned colonel, March 5, 1861. The First regulars served for some time in Virginia in Toombs', then in Gen. George T. Ander-son's brigade, and after Fredericksburg, were on duty most of the time in the department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. They fought in the brigade of George P. Harrison at Olustee, later at Charleston; under Col. Richard A. Wayne were in Maj.-Gen. L. [17] McLaws' division of Hardee's command at Savannah, November 20, 1864, and participated in the campaign of the Carolinas in 1865 in Harrison's brigade, in the division commanded, first by McLaws, and at the time of Johnston's surrender, by Maj.-Gen. E. S. Walthall. The first colonel of the regiment, C. J. Williams, died in the early part of 1862. [18]

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