WAR BETWEEN THE STATES AND RECONSTRUCTION
With the rest of the South, Washington was being swept toward war. The town in 1860 was the center of a plantation section
that had grown prosperous through tobacco and cotton. About
two-thirds of its 2,200 inhabitants were Negroes. In such a community it was natural that slavery and secession should be stirring
issues, and the town went wild on the night of January 19, 1861,
when messengers brought the news of Georgia's secession. Bells
were rung, guns were fired, and the singing, shouting throngs
pressed about the courthouse to raise a new Confederate emblem,
a blue flag with a single five-pointed star.
In The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, ELIZA FRANCES
ANDREWS describes how this flag was made by her and her sister-in-law, secretly because her father, JUDGE GARNETT ANDREWS, was
an unflinching upholder of the Union. Later, when a flag had
been selected to represent all the Confederate states. MISS ANDREWS' flag was used to line a blanket for a soldier.
Months before secession the local military units had begun to
prepare for fighting. One troop was reorganized in 1860 into the
IRVIN GUARDS, named for its captain, ISAIAH TUCKER IRVIN, who
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was killed the same year in a steamboat explosion off the Texas
coast. This unit left Washington in June, 1861, to be mustered
into service at Richmond as COMPANY A, 9TH GEORGIA REGIMENT,
GENERAL BARTON's Brigade. During the entire war these men
fought under three successive leaders, GIDEON G. NORMAN, JOHN
LANE, and JOHN T. WINGFIELD. After the Battle of Manassas the
company was transferred to the artillery and became known as
IRVIN ARTILLERY, or COMPANY C, CUTT'S BATTALION. When GENERAL
ROBERT E. LEE surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the
IRVIN ARTILLERY was ordered to bury its large guns and report to
GENERAL JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON at Lincolnton, North Carolina. Although these instructions were carefully followed, the men of this
company maintained that they never actually surrendered.
As in the Revolution, there was sharp conflict with established
ties on the question of breaking with the Union. GARNETT ANDREWS, JR.,
the son of a steadfast Unionist, was the first man in
Wilkes County to enter the Confederate army. Serving for the
full duration of the war, he was wounded while campaigning
in North Carolina. PORTER ALEXANDER, who resigned his commission in the United States Army, had a distinguished career
with the Confederate signal service and later became brigadier
general of artillery.
ROBERT TOOMBS was led by his secessionist convictions to sacrifice a still more distinguished position—that of United States
Senator. When the Convention of Southern States at Montgomery, Alabama, failed to elect him to the Presidency, he reluctantly
accepted the post of Secretary of State under JEFFERSON DAVIS.
During his brief period of service he differed so strongly with his
superior on financial matters that he soon resigned and requested
military assignment. As a brigadier general he distinguished
himself at Antietam, Virginia, but when his service did not result
in promotion he resigned and returned to his home in Washington, where he continued to utter forcible objections to DAVIS'
A number of Washington men served with GENERAL JOHN B.
GORDON's Raccoon Roughs. A story is told of T. W. BELL, a wiry,
red-haired young man of Wilkes County who acted as one of
GORDON's scouts. Going out one day to reconnoitre, he discovered
nine Union soldiers in a field. The young man, keeping himself
well hidden by bushes, sharply commanded them to halt, moving
at intervals to different positions and changing his voice each
time. The nine men, thinking themselves outnumbered, gave up
their arms, and Bell led them into camp, explaining laconically,
"I surrounded 'em."
No battles were fought within a hundred miles of Washington,
but the distress of war-time was felt to the fullest by the non-
combatants who stayed at home. At the time of Sherman's march
through Georgia many Wilkes County citizens hid their silver,
and those from neighboring counties drove their cattle for refuge
into the thick forests along Kettle Creek. Food, clothing, and
articles of all kinds became very scarce. The old Wilkes Republican, which became the Washington Independent in 1860, had
barely enough newsprint folio to publish a small edition. Somehow, though, it was maintained throughout the war, and only
in 1865 did the paper go out of business and then because former
readers could not afford to keep up their subscriptions. Ingenious
makeshifts were substituted for commonly used articles. Cane
syrup granules were used for sugar, parched wheat and ground
sweet potatoes for coffee, sassafras brew for tea, and various herbs
and roots for medicines. The dirt beneath old smokehouses was
dug up and leached to extract the old salt. Despite these hardships, life frequently went on at a merry pace, for the town was
periodically filled with refugees whom their hosts valiantly entertained even though party refreshments were almost unprocurable.
After the surrender of GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE on April 9 and
that of GENERAL JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON on April 26, Wilkes County
became a thoroughfare for returning soldiers, ragged and starv
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ing. Because of the mountain barrier to the west and because
many of the railroads had been destroyed, the men from the
Southeastern and South Central States were forced to follow the
old post roads established by the early settlers in Colonial days.
First came some of the Confederate officers with their staffs, then
many paroled Confederate soldiers, then the Federal soldiers to
take possession of the state, and finally the sick and wounded
from the hospitals and prisons. Many tramped over the hot and
dusty roads, while others came on horseback. At Washington
those who could afford railroad fare were able to obtain transportation on the Georgia Branch Railroad. The train on this
short line kept no schedule during these confused days but continually shuttled back and forth between Washington and Barnett,
where connection was made with the main system. Horses,
which during the war had been at a premium, were no longer
needed, and their value rapidly declined. These animals were
sold for as little as $2.50 and sometimes for even less.
Near the beginning of this long procession just before the dissolution of the Confederate States of America came MRS. JEFFERSON
DAVIS, who stopped for a few days with her children before going
farther south. The Confederate President himself arrived on
May 4, preceded by scouts who were watchful for pursuing Federal troops. By this time the President's cabinet had begun to
break up. JUDAH P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of State, had left DAVIS
only a short time before the party reached Washington, and upon
arrival STEPHEN R. MALLORY, Secretary of the Navy, took leave to
attend the wants of his family after depositing his official papers
with JUDGE GARNETT ANDREWS, the Union sympathizer.
Accompanying the President from Richmond were not only
the members of his cabinet but also a bodyguard, a brigade of
GENERAL JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE, Secretary of War, and a store of
gold and silver specie and gold bullion. This treasure, packed
in money belts, shot bags, and castiron chests and guarded by
two hundred men, consisted of $300,000 belonging to the Confed-
crate Treasury and about an equal amount owned by Virginia
and Louisiana banks. After crossing the Savannah River into
Georgia the procession halted a few miles from Washington.
DAVIS commanded GENERAL BRECKINRIDGE to remain there and pay
his soldiers with the silver specie; so late into the night, soldiers
crowded around a camp fire to get their share of the treasure.
Between $108,000 and $110,000 was disbursed, each man receiving
about $32. GENERAL BASIL W. DUKE, charged with guarding the
money, has told in his account of this long trek that the residue
of the treasure was taken into Washington the following day
and delivered to M. H. CLARK, acting Confederate Treasurer.
During his brief visit DAVIS and most of his cabinet members
were lodged in the old Georgia Branch Bank Building, and here
on May 5 they convened for their last conference. Among the
fourteen officials in attendance were GENERAL BRAXTON BRAGG,
military adviser; C. E. THORNBURN, naval purchasing agent; I. M.
ST. JOHN, commissary general; A. R. LAWTON, quartermaster general; JOHN H. REAGAN, postmaster general; and BURTON HARRISON,
the President's private secretary. At this meeting the last Confederate papers were signed and the government was officially
dissolved. The final official act, drawn by Breckinridge and
signed by ST. JOHN, ordered MAJOR RAPHAEL J. MOSES, of the commissary department, to arrange with some Federal official to
provide Confederate troops and hospitals with necessary food
and medicine. BRECKINRIDGE, by this time in Washington, ordered
the treasurer to give him $30,000 for this purpose and $10,000 for
the quartermaster's department. The last official writing was an
order for Moses to pay this latter appropriation and a receipt for
When the Federal commander, GENERAL EMORY UPTON, passed
close by on his way to receive the surrender of the arsenal
in Augusta, DAVIS resolved to flee at once. Accompanied by
COLONEL F. R. LUBBOCK, COLONEL JOHN TAYLOR WOOD, and COLONEL
WILLIAM PRESTON JOHNSTON, several minor officers, and an escort
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of ten soldiers, he left on horseback shortly after the cabinet meeting. JOHN H. REAGAN, postmaster-general, remained in the city
to oversee the further paying off of the troops, but he soon left to
overtake DAVIS. Immediately after the departure the greater portion of the soldiers were given a formal discharge.
Many stories have been told as to what happened to the remaining gold of the treasure. One related that the portion belonging
to the Virginia banks was packed to be returned to Richmond
but that on the way back it was pilfered near the Savannah River
by a group of Confederate officers and discharged soldiers. As
soon as the officers learned that the treasure was private property,
their part was returned to the bank officers who had come with it
from the old Confederate capital. The Northern soldiers, sent to
take possession of the conquered land, considered it Federal property and on June 4 seized $100,000 of the amount from the Washington bank and arrested the bank officers for misappropriation
of funds. While trying to recover the portion stolen by the discharged soldiers, they made many arrests and succeeded in getting
only part of the store. For many years Wilkes County citizens
talked of buried treasure. The remaining part of that which belonged to the Confederacy was captured with DAVIS on May 10
at Irwinville. During 1866 and 1867 Richmond and New Orleans
banks put in a claim to the Federal government for this gold
bullion, but since it could not be identified the claims were not
recognized. Before the proceedings were over, the gold was made
ROBERT TOOMBS, who was at home when DAVIS arrived, opened
his house to several of the subordinate officials. A few days after
the flight of the presidential party, a troop of Federal soldiers was
sent to his house to arrest him, but he escaped by way of New
Orleans to Havana. His wife and family were turned out of
the house by Federal soldiers but later were permitted to return.
Afterward MRS. TOOMBS joined her husband in Cuba, and the
two left immediately for England.
The hungry, ragged soldiers from the demobilized armies were
fed by citizens from their own scanty store. The Federal garrison
quartered here aroused such antagonism that clashes with the
homecoming men of IRVIN'S ARTILLERY were averted only with difficulty. Public safety fluctuated with the changing command of
the Federal garrison, for some of the officers were temperate
and just, even when insulted by hot-tempered Confederates,
while others were cruelly intent upon heaping humiliation on the
helpless people. Some men of the town cut down the flagpole in
the square to forestall raising the national emblem, but this move
was countered by the placing of a large flag across the street
where passersby must go under it. The oath of allegiance to the
Union was made a condition of receiving marriage licenses and
other official documents.
Emancipated Negroes crowded into town in the hope of receiving aid from the Freedmen's Bureau and listened to the
missionaries of that organization who rode about town in carriages with escorts of Negro troops. Under the influence of these
men they founded their own society, the Sons of Benevolence, and
became so bold that it was dangerous for ladies to go into town.
Many Negroes, unable to find houses, lived in tents and under
brush arbors, feeding upon supplies stolen from their former
masters. Families buried their silver at dead of night; conversation was guarded lest the servants carry tales to the conquerors.
When Federal soldiers and Negroes celebrated the Fourth of
July together with loud cannon salutes, the Confederates took no
part but joined the IRVIN ARTILLERY in a demonstration of their
own two days later.
The impoverished condition of Wilkes was shown by the report
of the grand jury in September, 1865, that the county treasury
contained only $3.85 in worthless Confederate notes. The common school board of the county showed a balance of $481.40 in
similar specie. Burdened already with a great debt, the officials
borrowed money to meet current bills and repair public buildings.
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Private concerns and individuals were in a similar predicament,
for creditors began suing and foreclosing.
Racial conflict caused crimes ranging from simple larceny to
murder. Washington and Wilkes County citizens pressed the
state legislature to pass a concealed weapon measure and a strong
prohibition law to curb this lawlessness. A powerful influence
toward order was the Ku Klux Klan, which spread terror among
the Negroes, with white robes and occasional violent punishments
by night. In June, 1868, state-wide interest was aroused by the
trial of Robert and Luke Arnold, Negroes, for the murder of
Thomas Thaxton. Robert, who confessed to killing him because
of the mistaken belief that he was the man who had "ku-kluxed"
them, was given the death penalty while his brother was sentenced to life imprisonment. A company of United States infantry came to preserve order at the execution as well as to assist
the Negro tax collector in collecting revenues and to investigate
reported actions of the Klan. For some months Wilkes County
became a military subdistrict with headquarters at Barnett for
the trials of suspected persons by a military commission, but the
troops finally withdrew when their efforts "failed to unearth a
By 1868 the white people of Washington were beginning to
regain control of local affairs. Although a Negro was elected to
the legislature in that year, his companion representative from
Wilkes County was RICHARD BRADFORD, a white Democrat. In
this year there was a faint stir of educational revival when DR.
THOMAS J. BECK opened a new school at Mount Pleasant called
Burdett's Academy. Advertisements in the new Washington
Gazette showed that commercial enterprises also were awakening.
I. D. FLOYD was making mattresses at his cabinet shop, while
W. L. KEOHL made coffins and did undertaking in addition to
operating a lumber yard in connection with his furniture store.
Although livestock shows prior to this time had been held, the
custom of having annual county fairs was not begun until 1869.
The outstanding event of this first fair was an address by ROBERT
TOOMBS, who had returned two years before, unmolested though
he had not signed the oath of allegiance to the United States.
In the following year Wilkes County founded the Agricultural
Fair Joint Stock Company with a capital of $5,000 and reorganized the Wilkes County Agricultural Club. When the stock company offered for sale fifty shares at a hundred dollars a share
TOOMBS immediately purchased eighteen of them.
Despite political discord and military demonstrations, it was
evident that business and agricultural conditions were better by
1870, when census figures rated Wilkes County population at
11,796 and Washington residents at 1,506. The number of business firms had increased from 24 to 48 during the past decade,
and the capital stock of these enterprises had grown from $41,300
to $58,905. Although wages averaged only $2.92 a week, the
earners once more were paid in standard currency. The plantation owners had been unable to maintain their large holdings
without slave labor and had found it expedient to break up their
land into smaller units. Consequently the number of farms increased from 393 in 1860 to 513 in 1870. It is evident that many
of the former slaves found employment on these farms, for in
1870 there were 2,316 hands working in agriculture.
Other evidences of prosperity were the facts that railroads received increased patronage and that many business men and
farmers were buying buggies and carriages. Railroads, which
had been gaining in popularity, were so well patronized in 1870
that the old stagecoach line from Washington to Abbeville, South
Carolina, was abandoned. The two local firms selling vehicles
were rushed with business: Lorenzo Smith made carriages, and
Bohler and Bigbee, whose advertisements picture a smart phaeton,
received orders for various types of conveyances.
Early in the 1870's some of the Washington citizens began to
align themselves with the newly formed group that advocated
reconciliation with the North and increased industrialism, for
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their own section. In this agricultural community, however,
there was a far greater number who believed that the foremost
political necessity was the protection of the farmers' interests, and
this group found a ready spokesman in ROBERT TOOMBS, ageing
but still dynamic. Although he was in no position to dictate
terms, the town and county as a whole supported TOOMBS and
his policy of co-operation between Democrats of the South and
West. On August 8 he addressed the Georgia State Agricultural
Society at Rome on "The Best Policy for Developing the Interests
of the State." Other Wilkes County delegates were T. S. HUNTER,
JAMES R. DUBOSE, and WILLIAM H. JORDAN. Soon after this
meeting the society appointed SAMUEL BARNETT, another Washington man, to make addresses on agricultural subjects in nine other
Probably it was TOOMBS' stand on the attitude of the South that
caused him to be debarred from the benefits of the Amnesty Bill,
passed May 28, 1872, which permitted many disfranchised Southerners to hold office. In blistering epithet he expressed his scorn
for the Southern men who were reaping benefits from the Northern capital that was pouring into various experimental enterprises in the newly industrialized South. As a result he was
almost drawn into a duel with the equally hot-tempered JOSEPH
E. BROWN, Georgia's war-time governor. Though legally shut
out of political office, TOOMBS seemed to grow even stronger in
his influence; he remained to the last a powerful personage to
lead the "unreconstructed rebels."
A Unionist of equally sincere convictions was JUDGE GARNETT
ANDREWS, who died in 1872. Although he had been aligned with
an unpopular minority, he had won universal respect by his unremitting efforts during Reconstruction to make peace between
the citizens and their conquerors. Andrews, who had been judge
of the superior court for almost a quarter of a century, had also
become known as the author of a quaint little book, "Reminiscences of an Old Time Georgia Lawyer."
The State Legislature expanded the banking facilities of Washington by incorporating the Merchants' and Planters' Bank in
1872. Other evidences of recovery were seen in the establishment of a telegraph line from Washington to Barnett. One of
the most important occasions of the time was the fourth annual
county fair sponsored for the second time by the Wilkes County
Farmers' and Mechanics' Club and held for four days early in
November, 1872. Public gatherings of these years usually featured
the newly formed brass band.
With the rest of the state, the town and county soon began to
take a bolder stand against the carpetbaggers who had seized
control shortly after the war. On August 24, 1874, a mass meeting in the courthouse expressed its approval of the State Legislature for declaring fraudulent certain bonds that had been issued
under the Reconstruction governor, RUFUS B. BULLOCK. The meeting not only recommended non-redemption of these bonds but
urged that a new state constitution be drafted on grounds that the
document then in use had not been made by representatives of the
state's legal voters. By this time the heavy expense of rehabilitating county and municipal affairs had been met and the treasury
showed a balance of $1,500.
The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for two of the
principal religious and educational advances of the decade; in
1876 the St. Joseph's Home for Boys was founded by FATHER JAMES
M. O'BRIEN and in the following year the St. Joseph's Female
Academy was established under the direction of the St. Joseph
Catholic Sisters. The girls' school was well attended until 1912,
when it was burned. The sisters then moved it to Augusta, calling
it Mount St. Joseph School for Girls. In 1877 a public library was
established, many books were donated, and the services of an
efficient librarian, Milton Arnold, were secured. Another cultural asset was a flourishing dramatic club.
The people of Washington-Wilkes had a personal sense of triumph when they received the tidings that the new state constitu-
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tion, adopted in 1877, had been formulated under the guidance of
ROBERT TOOMBS. The doughty old Confederate declared that he
had, in effect, "locked the State Treasury and thrown away the
key" in order to prevent grafting by scalawags and carpetbaggers.
When the State Legislature failed to appropriate sufficient funds
to meet expenses of the constitutional convention, Toombs advanced $25,000 of his personal funds and promised to increase
this amount to $100,000 if necessary. The people felt that the
era of radical rule had ended and that the Democratic Party could
now take hold in full power.
Workers of the Writers' Program of the WPA of GA, The Story of Washington-Wilkes
(Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1941) pgs. 55-66
Transcribed by Keith Giddeon. All text is as found in the book, except the deletion of most hyphens
on line breaks, and several instances of italics being deleted.
Read Part VI - Close of the Century