Biography of the Honorable Robert A. Toombs

TOOMBS, Robert Augustus, statesman, was born in Wilkes county, Ga., July 2, 1810; son of Maj. Robert and Catherine (Huling) Toombs; grandson of Gabriel and Ann Toombs, and great grandson of William Toombs, who came to Virginia from England about 1650.

Gabriel Toombs, a soldier under Braddock, in 1755, died in 1801, leaving a widow, two sons, Robert and Dawson Gabriel, and four daughters.

Maj. Robert Toombs commanded a Virginia regiment during the Revolution, rendering conspicuous service in Georgia against the British. He was awarded a grant of 3000 acres of land in Wilkes county in 1783, as a distinguished soldier of the Virginia line. When he came to Georgia to take possession of this grant, he settled on Beaverdam Creek, five miles from the court house in Washington.

He had previously married Miss Sanders of Columbia county, who died childless, and after her death he visited his old home in Virginia, where he married, secondly, Miss Catlett, who bore him one son, and soon after died. He married, thirdly, Catherine Huling of Virginia, a devoted Methodist of Welsh ancestry, and by this marriage five children were reared: Sarah (Mrs. Pope), James, killed by accident while hunting; Augustus, Robert Augustus, and Gabriel.

Major Robert Toombs died in 1815, having made Thomas W. Cobb of Greensboro, Ga., guardian of his son, Robert Augustus.

He was prepared for college by Welcome Fanning, who kept an "old field school," and by the Rev. Alexander Webster, adjunct professor in the University of Georgia. He matriculated at the University of Georgia in 1824, but not being willing to submit to the strict discipline that governed the students, he asked for a discharge, and it was granted. He then entered Union college, New York, from which he was graduated in 1828; studied law at the University of Virginia for one term, 1829-30, and although non-age, was admitted to the bar, March 18, 1830, by permission of the state legislature.

He was married in November. 1830, to Julia A. DuBose, and in 1880 they celebrated their golden wedding, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren being present.

Mr. Toombs' progress at the bar was slow, and it was several years before his ability as an attorney and counsellor was recognized, while his popularity as an orator was immediate. He commanded a company in the Creek war in 1836; was a representative in the Georgia legislature, 1837-40 and 1841-44, serving as chairman of the committee on the judiciary, banking and state of the republic committees. He dropped from his name the "Augustus" as "superfluous lumber" in 1840 and was thereafter known as Robert Toombs. He was the Whig candidate for speaker of the house in 1842; a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1844; a representative from the eighth district of Georgia in the 29th-32d congresses, 1845-53, and U.S. senator, 1853-61.

He was an uncompromising advocate of the rights of states in the Federal union and of upholding their constitutional rights, not only in the state, but in the territory belonging to the United States up to the time such territory was admitted as states, when the people of these new states became the governing power under the constitution; supporting his views with great oratorical power.

On Jan. 7, 1861, he made his last speech in the United States senate, and announced his withdrawal from that body, from which He was formally expelled in March, 1861. He was a member of the state sovereignty convention that assembled in Milledgeville, Jan. 16, 1861, and on the 17th, with 207 other delegates, he voted for secession, 89 delegates voting against the ordinance, making Georgia the fifth state to secede. The ordinance was signed, January 31, by all the members of the convention in the open air on the capitol grounds, only six delegates signing it under protest.

Senator Toombs was unanimously selected as the first deputy at large from Georgia to the provisional congress at Montgomery, the address to the people being written by him. Forty-two delegates from six seceded states met at Montgomery, Feb. 4, 1861, and Robert Toombs appeared to be the choice of the convention for Provisional President, but four states announced their agreement upon Jefferson Davis, who was not present, and when Mr. Davis's name was placed in nomination, Mr. Toombs promptly seconded the motion, and also presented the name of Mr. Stephens for Vice-President.

By this action he destroyed his chances for the candidacy before the people at the special election following the establishment of a permanent government under the Confederate States constitution, into which instrument were incorporated various changes suggested by him; that congress should grant no extra compensation to any contractor after the service was rendered; that the principal officer in each executive department should be granted a seat upon the floor of either house for the purpose of debate, but with no vote, and that the payment of bounties and government aid for internal improvements should be prohibited.

He was made chairman of the finance committee of the Provisional congress and the secretary of state in President Davis's cabinet. He emphatically opposed the proposed attack on the U.S. forts in Charleston harbor, as a movement fatal to the Confederacy, and in his intercourse with the governments of Europe, proved his statesmanship by placing the Confederate States in a favorable position before the eyes of commercial Europe, and by gabbing the assistance of the maritime powers in the building of a much needed navy, which practically destroyed for the time all commerce under the United States flag.

Tiring of the routine of the state department, but retaining his seat in the Confederate congress, he resigned his portfolio, and on July 21, 1861, joined the Confederate army as brigadier-general; commanded the 1st brigade, 1st division, Army of Northern Virginia, and reported to the victorious commanders, Johnston and Beauregard, at Manassas.

In January 1862, the general assembly of Georgia elected him a Confederate States senator, with Benjamin H. Hill as his colleague. He commanded his brigade in Magruder's division during the campaign on the Peninsula, and a division made up of his own and Semmes's brigades, during the siege of Yorktown.

At the battle of Malvern Mill, his brigade lost one third of its entire number of men, and the disaster led to a personal controversy between Gen. D. H. Hill, commanding the 1st division, and General Toombs. This in turn resulted in his arrest, by order of President Davis, on Aug. 18, 1862, and he rejoined his brigade, then in D.R. Jones's division, Longstreet's corps, on the battlefield of Manassas, Aug. 29, 1862. His gallantry in guarding the bridge on Antietam Creek, with 400 men, was an incident of the battle of Sharpsburg, Sept. 15, 1862, that received special mention in General Lee's report, and the highest commendation from Generals Longstreet, Jones and Garrett. He received severe wounds in this engagement, and was invalided at home in Georgia, rejoining his command in the spring of 1863, but in March resigned his commission in the army, without receiving recognition from President Davis for his services at Sharpsburg by promotion to major-general, which the reports of his superior officers on the field, and the request of a member of the cabinet, failed to secure.

He returned to Georgia, offered his services to Governor Brown, and was made an adjutant and inspector-general of Gen. G.W. Smith's division, Georgia militia, taking part in the battles before Atlanta, and the siege of that city under General Hood, the siege of Savannah, December, 1864, and in the battle of Pocotaligo, S.C., Jan. 14, 1865.

He was named by the United States authorities with Jefferson Davis, Alexander H. Stephens, Howell Cobb and John Slidell, as responsible for the war of the Rebellion, and Secretary Stanton issued specific orders for the arrest of Davis, Stephens and Toombs. Davis was arrested at Irwinville, Ga., May 10; Stephens at his home in Crawfordville, May 12, and on May 14, the U.S. soldiers appeared at Mr. Toombs' home in Washington, Ga., and demanded his appearance. He, however, escaped to Elbert county, where he was in the bands of friends, thence to Habersham, and back through Elbert, Wilkes, Hancock, Washington, Wilkinson, Twiggs, Houston and Macon counties into Alabama, to Mobile, thence by boat to New Orleans and by steam to Havana and Europe, reaching Paris, France, early in July, 1865, where Mrs. Toombs joined him in July, 1866, but returned to the United States in December of that year, owing to the death of their only daughter, the wife of Gen. Dudley M. DuBose.

General Toombs returned to Canada in January, 1867, and called on President Johnson, in Washington, on his way home.

He was never restored to citizenship in the United States, as he refused to petition congress for pardon. He practised law in Washington, Ga., in partnership with his son-in-law, General Dubose, and acquired a considerable fortune. He was a delegate to the state constitutional convention of 1877; was made chairman of the committee on legislation, and of the final committee on revision, and when the convention lacked funds to continue its sessions, he declared that if Georgia would not pay her debts, he would, and at once placed the needed funds in the hands of the president of the convention. The constitution, framed by that convention, was adopted by the people of Georgia, at the election in December, 1877.

He pronounced a eulogium at the funeral of his lifelong friend, Alexander M. Stephens. His wife died at Clarksville, Ga., in September, 1883. [See: "Life of Robert Toombs," by Pleasant A. Stovall (1892).] He died at his home in Washington, Ga., Dec. 18, 1885.

The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Volume X. Rossiter Johnson, ed., Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904.

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