The lines were being drawn. Abraham Lincoln had been elected the 16th President of the United States. Whatever concessions, whatever favor the South might have found under the Administration of James Buchanan, they knew it was quickly drawing to a close as the March Inauguration of the Republican from Illinois fast approached. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama had already seceded from the Union. They would not suffer a man who would deprive them of their slaves. To them slavery was more than an economic institution, though their prosperity could not long stand without it, it was a moral one as well. Yet these four states that had since left were not the only states that relied on brutal subjugation for financial security and stability and soon, they knew other states would join their cause.
On January 19th, 1861 Georgia would be the fifth state to hear that call, declaring, “that the union now existing between the State of Georgia and other States under the name of the United States of America is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Georgia is in full possession and exercise of all those rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.” They knew who the enemy was, Abraham Lincoln, and the Republican Party. “We know their treachery; we know the shallow pretenses under which they daily disregard its plainest obligations. If we submit to them it will be our fault and not theirs…” they would declare in their Declaration of Cause.
The truth was that it was no surprise. The 39 year old Governor Joseph Brown, who would serve as the state’s chief magistrate during the entirety of the Civil War, would see the writing on the wall almost as soon as the 1860 Election drew to a close. “Submission to the administration of Mr. Lincoln will result in the final abolition of slavery. If we fail to resist now, we will never again have the strength to resist…” he would reflect in an open letter. Had it been up to him and him alone Georgia would have likely left the Union first as he became a leading advocate for secession. Yet, even as he and others pushed for open defiance and separation from the Union, they believed it was not only their right but that they would be able to do so peaceably, with little resistance, writing, “The President in his late message, while he denies our Constitutional right to secede, admits that the General Government has no Constitutional right to coerce us back into the Union, if we do secede. Secession is not likely, therefore, to involve us in war. Submission may. When the other States around us secede, if we remain in the Union, thousands of our people will leave the State, and it is feared that the standard of revolution and rebellion may be raised among us, which would at once involve us in civil war among ourselves. If we must fight, in the name of all that is sacred, let us fight our common enemy, and not fight each other.” Yet even as fourth State admitted into the Union prepared to become the fifth to leave it, the hopes of a peaceful separation were quickly evaporating as tensions quickly escalated and shots were being fired before war was even declared.
Not all of Georgia was convinced though. Much of the Northern portion of the State, which bordered North Carolina, and the ever-divided Tennessee, found themselves opposed to leaving the Union. 5,000 from the State would leave their homes to fight for the Union, knowing perhaps that if the war was lost, they would not have a home to return to. Rabun County in the North East portion of the state, refused to declare loyalty to the Confederacy, operating as if they had never left the Union. In Fannin County Confederate guerillas would line up and execute Georgians they caught trying to enlist in the Union Army. It was not the only tragedy pro-Union factions in Georgia would face as they were brutally cut down, slaughtered for their loyalty to the Government and the Constitution that their state had helped to form only a few generations prior.
In the end one had to wonder if Georgia and Governor Brown began to feel as they traded one master for another. Even as they found themselves in the ranks of the Confederacy, the dream was, in his mind, greater than the reality. He would find himself often in open conflict with the new Federal Government and President Jefferson Davis. Even as he brought his state in the looser confederation he couldn’t help but feel as if his state’s rights were being violated by conscription, impressment of goods and by the taking of Georgia soldiers out of the state. It wouldn’t matter anyways. The state that was largely left to be until 1863 wood soon come into the sights of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman. His Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea was about to unleash hell on the state in a scorched earth campaign that would bring the state to its knees.