Civil War Dissent
The Civil War (1861-65) home front in Georgia, far from reflecting unity in a common cause, was rife with conflict and dissent. Though the state was largely spared the impact of invading armies until late in the war, social and economic divisions set Georgians against one another in ever worsening internal conflicts that undermined support for the Confederacy well before the war's end.
Secession and War
With Georgia out of the Union, opposition to secession continued. Officials in Pickens County flew the U.S. flag over the courthouse for weeks after secession, and some private citizens did the same. One Unionist, James Aiken, informed Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown by letter in February 1861 that he and other residents of Dade and Walker counties adamantly opposed secession.
Opposition to secession waned after the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1861. By the following month approximately 18,000 Georgians had joined the Confederate army, ready to defend the South against Union forces. The most pressing problem for the new recruits was a shortage of food, due in part to the lack of railroads throughout the South but mainly to agricultural practices that favored the cultivation of cotton over food crops.
Cotton and Starvation
On the brink of starvation, women around the state began rioting for food in early 1863. In Columbus a mob of about 65 armed women raided the stores of speculators on Broad Street. Such "bread riots," as they were known, also occurred that spring in Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, and Milledgeville, and the following year in Savannah nearly 100 women raided stores on
Thousands of petitions describing this desperate situation and begging for relief flooded into Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, from women all across the South. A letter dated September 8, 1863, from soldiers' wives in Miller County, is typical of these pleas: "Our crops is limited and so short. . . . We can seldom find [bacon] for none has got but those that are exempt from service . . . and they have no humane feeling nor patriotic principles. . . . I tell you that without some great and speedy alterating in the conducting of affairs in this our little nation God will frown on it and that speedily."
Desertion, Draft, and Resistance
Soldiers' wives wrote of their distress to their husbands as well, and before the first year of the war had ended thousands of Georgia troops abandoned ranks in answer to their families' calls. Replacing these deserters was difficult, and attempts by the Confederate Congress to institute a military draft met with much resistance, especially among the working class who did not qualify for exemption by owning twenty or more slaves. Governor Brown, though opposed to the Confederate draft, created his own conscription in order to build up the Georgia militia, but again the wealthy were easily able to avoid service, creating animosity among the poorer classes.
Although many deserters returned home to help their families, others took refuge in the mountains of north Georgia and the wiregrass region of south Georgia. One officer called the state's southern region "one of the greatest dens for Tories and deserters from our army in the world." These "tory" (anti-Confederate) or "layout" gangs engaged in raids and battles in order to survive and resist arrest. One such group formed a battalion called the Volunteer Force of the United
African Americans in Georgia also found means of resistance, particularly in their attempts to secure freedom from enslavement. Rebellion attempts involving both black and white Georgians were put down in Calhoun County in 1862 and in Brooks County in 1865. Thousands of blacks joined the forces of Union general William T. Sherman during the March to the Sea in 1864, and many found refuge on the state's coastal islands.
A Rich Man's War
On April 5, 1865, only days before the Confederacy's collapse, an Early County newspaper, the Early County News, published an editorial that reflected a common feeling on the Georgia home front. "This has been 'a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.' It is true that there are a few wealthy men in the army, but nine tenths of them hold positions, always get out of the way when they think a fight is coming on, and treat the privates like dogs. . . . There seems to be no chance to get this class to carry muskets." Such attitudes had long since undermined support for the Confederacy and have led many scholars to conclude that internal dissent, as much as the invading armies, was a significant, perhaps decisive, factor in the war's outcome.
Thomas Conn Bryan, Confederate Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1953).
David Carlson, "The 'Loanly Runagee': Draft Evaders in Confederate South Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 84 (winter 2000): 589-615.
Mary A. DeCredico, Patriotism for Profit: Georgia's Urban Entrepreneurs and the Confederate War Effort (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
Michael P. Johnson, Toward a Patriarchal Republic: The Secession of Georgia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977).
Albert Burton Moore, Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy (1924; reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996).
Georgia Lee Tatum, Disloyalty in the Confederacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1934).
Mark A. Weitz, A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
David Williams, Rich Man's War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998).
Teresa Crisp Williams and David Williams, "'The Women Rising': Cotton, Class, and Confederate Georgia's Rioting Women," Georgia Historical Quarterly 86 (spring 2002): 49-83.
David Williams, Valdosta State University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.