Battle of Ringgold Gap

The Civil War in Georgia

Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 led to the calamitous conflict known as the Civil War. Following other Southern states, delegates to Georgia’s convention to consider secession convened in its capital city of Milledgeville in January 1861. After spirited debate, delegates voted 208 to 89 to leave the Union.

Far from the war’s early fighting, and being one of the new Confederacy’s largest states, Georgia’s primary initial war contributions were its men and materials. Some 130,000 Georgians served in the Confederate military, while manufacturing facilities were quickly constructed or expanded in several cities with rail service, including Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Rome. The state’s relatively remote location from the conflict was ideal.

The war reached Georgia in April 1862, with the Federal capture of Fort Pulaski near its largest city and seaport, Savannah. Fort Pulaski’s surrender, caused by rifled artillery bombardment, ended the era of masonry coastal defenses.

The following day one of the war’s most storied episodes occurred through northwest Georgia. After stealing the locomotive “General” in Big Shanty (Kennesaw), the Great Locomotive Chase (a.k.a. Andrew’s Raid) covered ninety miles northward past Ringgold. Its legend prompted two future Hollywood films and a U.S. Supreme Court decision (over ownership of the General). Many of the raiders became the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. The raid itself failed, with several raiders hanged as spies.

September 1863 witnessed the first major fighting in Georgia, culminating in the horrific Battle of Chickamauga. Yet 1864 was the war’s decisive year. In May a new Federal commander, William T. Sherman, began a four-month campaign to capture Atlanta. Outnumbered Confederates under Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood vainly attempted to halt Sherman’s advance. Atlanta’s fall assured President Lincoln’s re-election and ultimate Union victory.

As the war dragged on, the number of prisoners mounted. Andersonville in southwest Georgia was selected for a new stockade. Dwindling Confederate resources and overcrowding quickly became acute problems. Nearly 13,000 Federal prisoners died from malnutrition and disease. Today Andersonville honors all American prisoners-of-wars from every American conflict.

The war came to a devastating end in Georgia with Sherman’s March to the Sea in late 1864, and Wilson’s Raid in April 1865. Leaving a burning Atlanta in mid-November Sherman’s army swept across Georgia, destroying everything of possible use to the Confederacy. The indiscriminate Federal foraging resulted in their hatred by many Georgians for generations. Sherman’s march ended in mid-December with Savannah’s capture.

The following April the war’s largest cavalry campaign swept into Georgia at Columbus and elsewhere, then quickly captured Macon, again laying waste to Georgia’s war-making capacity in its wake. The next month elements of James Wilson’s cavalry captured President Jefferson Davis near Irwinville, officially bringing an end to the Confederacy.

What began in 1861 with excitement and hope ended in 1865 with 11,000+ Georgians killed, many thousands more wounded, and economic devastation. Yet nearly 500,000 African-American slaves in Georgia were emancipated, beginning their long road to full civil rights. The Civil War was Georgia’s most momentous chapter.