Alfred H. Colquitt, an active secessionist and brigade commander in the Civil War (1861-65), was a prominent political leader in his home state until his death. During his long career, the veteran officer was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, as well as the governor of Georgia.
Alfred Holt Colquitt was born in Walton County on April 20, 1824. In his youth Colquitt was educated at a local school in Monroe and eventually attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), from which he graduated in 1844. Two years later Colquitt became a member of the Georgia bar and began practicing law in Monroe. His legal career was interrupted by service in the Mexican War (1846-48), during which he rose to the rank of major. Upon his return from the conflict, Colquitt began a political career and in 1853 was elected a U.S. representative to Congress. He did not run for reelection in 1854 but, at the end of his term in 1855, returned home to Georgia, where he was elected to the state legislature in 1859.
On the eve of the Civil War, Colquitt was actively involved in the secession movement. He served as an elector for John C. Breckinridge, a southern rights Democrat, during the 1860 presidential election, and in 1861 his support for states’ rights won him a seat at the Georgia Secession Convention. Colquitt immediately joined the Confederate army when Georgia left the Union in January 1861.
Colquitt began his Confederate service as a captain but was quickly elected colonel of the Sixth Georgia Infantry in May 1861. After service in defense of Richmond, Virginia, during the spring and summer of 1862, he was appointed brigadier general on September 1, 1862. Colquitt commanded a brigade of Georgians throughout most of the battles in the eastern theater, from Antietam in Maryland in September 1862 through Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863. Colquitt’s service in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia garnered him the sobriquet “the rock of South Mountain” because his brigade stalwartly repelled an attack from the Union army at South Mountain in Maryland on September 14, 1862. After unsatisfactory service during Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous flank attack on the Union army at Chancellorsville, Colquitt was sent first to North Carolina and ultimately to South Carolina for much of 1863 and 1864. He participated in the defense of Charleston, South Carolina, during the long siege of that city.
On February 20, 1864, anxious to atone for what was perceived as poor service at Chancellorsville, Colquitt commanded the forces that won the Battle of Olustee in Florida. He was called “the hero of Olustee” for the victory that secured Florida and prevented a Union invasion of his home state. Colquitt returned to Virginia with his brigade for the Petersburg Campaign and helped prevent the seizure of the city in 1864. Late in the war, Colquitt was again transferred to North Carolina. In January 1865 he commanded at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, but could not prevent its surrender. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of major general.
After the war Colquitt resumed his active political career. He ardently opposed Republican Reconstruction policies in the South and served as Georgia governor from 1876 through 1882. During his public service after the Civil War, Colquitt, along with John B. Gordon and Joseph E. Brown, formed what was known as the Bourbon Triumvirate, a term used to describe the restoration of the prewar planter class to political power in the state. Nonetheless, the term did not accurately reflect the policies supported by Colquitt or the other two men, who all sought to develop Georgia into an industrialized state with an efficient railroad transportation system.
As governor, Colquitt was involved in speculation deals with Gordon in two railroad systems, a textile mill, a fertilizer factory, and coal mines. Despite his pedigree as one of Georgia’s most propertied planters and a member of the antebellum aristocracy, Colquitt clearly advocated for industry and economic change in the South after the Civil War. Wracked by financial impropriety and a convict-lease scandal, Colquitt’s first term as governor saw the loss of several major figures, including the comptroller general of the state, the state treasurer, and the commissioner of agriculture. Nevertheless, Colquitt sought and won reelection under a new Georgia constitution in 1880. He served another two years as governor and left office in 1882.
In 1883 Colquitt ran as a Democrat and won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Colquitt was chairman of the powerful committee that oversaw the post office and post roads during the fifty-third Congress. He was reelected to the Senate in 1888 and continued to serve until his death on March 26, 1894. Colquitt is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon.