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The Story of Washington-Wilkes - part V - War Between the States and Reconstruction

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' policies.

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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-

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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 the amount.

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 into coins.

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.

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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 single ku-klux."

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.

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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 Georgia towns.

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."

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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.

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