As the war ended for North Georgians from late 1863 to May, 1865, a new, different reality began to set in. No longer did soldiers fight, people fought. They fought hunger. They fought crop failure. They fought each other. And they fought Congress. For while most people think that there was one Reconstruction, there were actually two reconstructions and three Reconstructions.
Atlanta Depot, after Shermans departure
Destruction from the Atlanta Campaign, The March to the Sea, and the initial portion of the Nashville Campaign required North Georgia's physical reconstruction. Loss to the federals required a dramatic political reconstruction. And of course, there was Presidential Reconstruction and Congressional Reconstruction(s) whose events are inextricably woven in the fabric of this time.
With the federal occupation forces in Atlanta late in 1864, little could be done to stop their advance. Shortly after the surrender of the future state capitol, Gov. Joseph E. Brown withdrew the Georgia Militia from the combined Confederate forces to harvest crops. William Tecumseh Sherman communicated a peace offer to Brown three times, using 3 separate men to be sure Brown heard the offer. Surrender the state and Sherman's Army will stay on the roads and pay for food needed for the March to the Sea. Brown considered the offer and apparently only rejected it when Jefferson Davis personally pointed out that 50 years ago no less of a general than Napoleon was soundly defeated in a similar situation, outside the gates of Moscow.
The stage was set for the rape of the Georgia heartland. Unlike his Russian counterparts, Brown would not destroy the land before the federals came as the Russians did. And unlike his French counterparts, Sherman enjoyed a mild Georgia fall, not a brutal Russian winter. Unauthorized pillaging was commonplace along the route in spite of orders to the contrary. Furthermore food was plentiful enough that the soldiers would leave what they could not eat the previous day and pillage for more the next. By the time they reached Savannah Union soldiers cut a swathe 50 miles wide across Georgia, taking livestock and grain that would have been used to feed much of the state that winter, destroying railroad track along the way.
North Georgia, at best, was war torn. The near-anarchy conditions that had been contained to northeast Georgia spread throughout the region. Bands of Confederate soldiers roamed freely, taking what they needed (or pleased). Former slaves struggled to cope with an entirely new life. Georgians tried to make sense of a society run amok. Food shortages were widespread and the Federal overseers were corrupt.
North Georgia faced its own darkest days. First task at hand for politicians across the state was the de-institutionalization of slavery. When the Northern States abolished slavery in the 1700's the legislatures where given plenty of time to rewrite the laws. Georgia had just over a year to rewrite hundreds of state regulations and thousands of county and city regulations that mentioned slavery. Politicians set about the task. Additionally, laws governing blacks were instituted, similar to those in northern states. The right to marry and recognition of slave marriages and children prior to the Civil War was granted. Testimony was recognized, at least on paper. However, voting was not accorded in these first black codes, but then only six northern states had given them this right.
North Georgians, in general, were glad to see the end of slavery. From the diary of Sarah Ann Cromer comes this entry on November 8, 1865--Today our Bet goes free. This year all the slaves go free. Thank God for it for I believe it was wrong to enslave them. Sarah had moved from South Carolina to Franklin County, Georgia, and her feelings were a good representation of the beliefs of many people in North Georgia at the time. There would be a dramatic change in the feelings towards ex-slaves before the end of the next decade.
I do not consider Reconstruction over until 1952 when the ICC removed the punitive discriminatory freight rates from Georgia commerce
Physical reconstruction was not as easy. The inferior courts in larger cities handled food rationing. Destroyed towns had to be rebuilt or salvaged, as in the case of Etowah, so thoroughly ravaged that the only sensible thing to do was to take what could be moved and go somewhere else. Typically two camps would form outside the cities on opposite sides, one black and one white. People in these camps lived in constant danger. Large cities, like Atlanta and Rome, had the Freedman's Bureau to help many blacks. In smaller towns they turned to each other. Large plantations and farms needed help to bring in the crops. Richer farming states in the South would attract unemployed blacks with higher wages, but not enough to alleviate the problems. Those who worked would share what little they had with others
An incredible loss of wealth had occurred in the state. Not only had the slaves been freed, but successive years of crop failure after the war almost entirely destroyed the land. Financial institutions had not fared well at the end of the war, since Confederate currency and bonds were worthless. It has been said that there was not one bank operating north of Cobb County in the state. In order to raise crops, farmers had to borrow seed from the general store, plant, harvest, and hope to have enough many to pay the seed and materials at the end of the season.
Picture of an immature cotton boll
Owners of the general stores began to control much of what
was planted. Cotton, a high profit item, was forced on many farmers who had formerly only raised cracked products such as wheat and corn("cracker" was a derogatory term applied to these poor farmers from before the American Revolution.) A crop-lien system developed and helped evolve the agricultural market in North Georgia towards a single crop economy(cotton). This caused a repetitive boom-bust cycle ending in near destruction of the economy by the boll weevil 50 years later.
At the time slaves viewed Abraham Lincoln as their emancipator. Clara Barton, the American Florence Nightingale, reported that black slaves she had seen at the Andersonville prison camp thought they were slaves again because Lincoln had been assassinated. Granted the right to vote by the Radical Republicans in Congress, blacks almost ensured the election of members of the Republican ticket. The Democrats responded by forming a group that was known by a variety of names including the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan performed a number of "duties" in North Georgia. They took a vigilante approach, against blacks and whites, to much of the lawlessness they witnessed. This brought them some respect.
However, a majority of their work was as "enforcers" for the Democratic Party. People who might decide to vote Republican were warned to reconsider in a number of ways.
Conditions began to get better for most North Georgians in the early 1870's, but a brief panic caused economic distress. By 1874 a railbuilding program began to have a positive affect on much of North Georgia. As more and more of the restrictive policies of the North were lifted the South began to come alive economically, however, much of North Georgia remained agricultural.
Anti-black sentiment was growing popular in the area. Although many North Georgians had been anti-slavery, blacks now posed a economic threat, especially to poorer white agricultural workers and farmers. Later in the century, and well into the next, treatment of blacks, in general, was worse than treatment slaves before the war. As Northern Armies left the South "Jim Crow" laws became popular. These allowed for separation of the races in almost all communal activities, resulting in second-class citizenship for some.
Georgia History Articles about North Georgia history and the state in general. This section is currently being developed. For more information on Georgia History, please see The Civil War in Georgia