Georgia during Reconstruction

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At the end of the American Civil War, the devastation and disruption in the state of Georgia were dramatic. Wartime damage, the inability to maintain a labor force without slavery, and miserable weather had a disastrous effect on agricultural production. The state's chief cash crop, cotton, fell from a high of more than 700,000 bales in 1860 to less than 50,000 in 1865, while harvests of corn and wheat were also meager.[1] The state government subsidized construction of numerous new railroad lines. White farmers turned to cotton as a cash crop, often using commercial fertilizers to make up for the poor soils they owned. The coastal rice plantations never recovered from the war.

Bartow County was representative of the postwar difficulties. Property destruction and the deaths of a third of the soldiers caused financial and social crises; recovery was delayed by repeated crop failures. The Freedmen's Bureau agents were unable to give blacks the help they needed.[2]

Wartime Reconstruction or "Forty acres and a mule"[edit]

At the beginning of Reconstruction, Georgia had over 460,000 Freedmen.[3] In January 1865, in Savannah, William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 authorizing federal authorities to confiscate 'abandoned' plantation lands in the Sea Islands, whose owners had fled with the advance of his army, and redistribute them to former slaves. Redistributing 400,000 acres (1,600 km²) in coastal Georgia and South Carolina to 40,000 freed slaves in forty-acre plots, this order was intended to provide for the thousands of escaped slaves who had been following his army during his March to the Sea.[4] Shortly after Sherman issued his order, Congressional leaders convinced President Lincoln to establish the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in March 1865. The Freedmen's Bureau, as it came to be called, was authorized to give legal title for 40-acre (160,000 m2) plots of land to freedmen and white Southern Unionists. Tunis Campbell, a free Northern black missionary, was appointed to supervise land claims and resettlement in Georgia. Over the objections of Freedmen's Bureau chief General Oliver O. Howard, President Andrew Johnson revoked Sherman's directive in the fall of 1865, after the war had ended, returning these lands to the planters who had previously owned them.

Presidential Reconstruction[edit]

On Georgia's farms and plantations, wartime destruction, the inability to maintain a labor force without slavery, and miserable weather had a disastrous effect on agricultural production. The states chief money crop, cotton, fell from a high of more than 700,000 bales in 1860 to less than 50,000 in 1865, while harvests of corn and wheat were also meager.[1] After the war, new railroad lines and commercial fertilizers increased cotton production in Georgia's upcountry, but the coastal rice plantations never recovered from the war.

Many emancipated slaves flocked to towns, where they encountered overcrowding and shortages of food, large numbers dying of epidemic diseases. The Freedmens Bureau returned much black labor to the field, mediating a contract-labor system between white landowners and their black workers, usually their former slaves. Taking advantage of educational opportunities available for the first time, within a year, at least 8,000 former slaves were attending schools in Georgia, established with northern philanthropy.[5]

In mid-June 1865, Andrew Johnson appointed as provisional governor his friend and fellow Unionist, James Johnson, a Columbus lawyer who sat out the war. Delegates to a constitutional convention, meeting in Milledgeville in October, abolished slavery, repealed the Ordinance of Secession, and repudiated the Confederacy debt. The General Assembly, while alone among ex-Confederate states in refraining from enacting a harsh Black Code, assumed newly freed slaves would enjoy only the limited freedom of the prewar period's 'free persons of color,' and enacted a constitutional amendment outlawing interracial marriage. On November 15, 1865, Georgia elected a new governor, congressmen, and state legislators. Voters repudiated most Unionist candidates, electing to office many ex-Confederates, although several of these-including the new governor, former Whig Charles J. Jenkins-initially opposed secession. The new state legislator created a political firestorm in Washington by electing to the Senate Alexander Stephens and Herschel Johnson, respectively, Vice-President and Senator of the Confederacy. Neither Stephens, Johnson nor any of Georgia's House delegation were allowed to take their seats.

Congressional Reconstruction[edit]

Andrew Johnson's decision in August 1866 to restore the former Confederate states to the Union was criticized by the Radical Republicans in Congress, who, in March 1867, passed the First Reconstruction Act, placing the South under military occupation. Georgia, along with Alabama and Florida, became part of the Third Military District, under the command of General John Pope. Radical Republicans also passed an ironclad oath which prevented ex-Confederates from voting or holding office, replacing them with a coalition of Freedmen, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags, mostly former Whigs who had opposed secession.

A Harper's Magazine political cartoon alleging Klan and White League opposition to Reconstruction

As directed by Congress, General John Pope registered Georgia's eligible white and black voters, 95,214 and 93,457 respectively.[1] From October 29 through November 2, 1867, elections were held for delegates to a new constitutional convention, held in Atlanta rather than the state capital of Milledgeville, to prevent the interference of the ex-Confederates. In January 1868, after Georgia's first elected governor after the end of the war, Charles Jenkins, refused to authorize state funds for the racially integrated state constitutional convention, his government was dissolved by Pope's successor General George Meade and replaced by a military governor. This coup galvanized white resistance to the Reconstruction, fueling the growth of the Ku Klux Klan. Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest visited Atlanta several times in early 1868 to help set up the organization. In Georgia, the Klan was led by John Brown Gordon, a charismatic General in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Freedmen's Bureau agents reported 336 cases of murder or assault with intent to kill against freedmen across the state from January 1 through November 15 of 1868.[6]

In July 1868, Georgia was readmitted to the Union, the newly elected General Assembly ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and a Republican governor, New York native Rufus Bullock, was inaugurated. The states Democrats-including former Confederate leaders Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb-denounced the policies of the Reconstruction in a mass-rally in Atlanta described as the largest in the states history. The principal target of the rally, Joseph E. Brown, Georgia's Governor under the Confederacy, who became a Republican and a delegate to the Chicago convention that had nominated Union general Ulysses S. Grant for president, declared that the state's constitution did not allow blacks to hold office. In September, white Republicans joined with the Democrats in expelling the three black senators and twenty-five black representatives in the lower house from the General Assembly (see E.C. Woolley, The Reconstruction of Georgia p. 94). A week later in the southwest Georgia town of Camilla, white residents attacked a black Republican rally, killing twelve people.

These developments led to calls for Georgia's return to military rule, which increased after Georgia was one of only two ex-Confederate states to vote against Grant in the Presidential election of 1868. The expelled black legislators, led by Tunis Campbell and Henry McNeill Turner, lobbied for federal intervention in Washington. In March 1869 Governor Bullock, hoping to prolong Reconstruction, "engineered" the defeat of the Fifteenth Amendment. The same month the U.S. Congress once again barred Georgia's representatives from their seats, causing military rule to resume in December 1869. In January 1870, Gen. Alfred H. Terry, the final commanding general of the Third District, purged the General Assembly's ex-Confederates, replaced them with the Republican runners-up, and reinstated the expelled black legislators, creating a large Republican majority in the legislature.

Amos T. Akerman[edit]

During the tenure of Amos T. Akerman (1821–1880) as Attorney General of the United States from 1870 to 1871, thousands of indictments were brought against Klansmen in an effort to enforce the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871.

As U.S. Attorney General Amos T. Akerman set up a justice system that vigorously prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan.

Akerman, though born in the North, moved to Georgia after college and owned slaves; he fought for the Confederacy and became a Scalawag during Reconstruction, speaking out for civil rights for blacks. As U.S. Attorney General under President Grant, he became the first ex-Confederate to reach the cabinet. Akerman was unafraid of the Klan and committed to protecting the lives and civil rights of Blacks. To bolster Akerman's investigation, President Grant sent in Secret Service agents from the Justice Department to infiltrate the Klan to gather evidence for prosecution. The investigations revealed that many whites actively participated in Klan activities. With this evidence, Grant issued a Presidential proclamation to disarm and remove the Klan's notorious white robe and hood disguises. When the Klan ignored the proclamation, Grant was able to send in Federal troops in nine South Carolina counties to put down the violent activities of the Klan. Grant teamed Akerman up with another reformer in 1870, a native Kentuckian, the first Solicitor General Benjamin Bristow, and the duo went on to prosecute thousands of Klan members and brought a brief quiet period of two years in the turbulent Reconstruction era.[7]

End of Reconstruction[edit]

Georgia Democrats despised the 'Carpetbagger' administration of Rufus Bullock, accusing two of his friends, Foster Blodgett, superintendent of the state's Western and Atlantic Railroad, and Hannibal I. Kimball, owner of the Atlanta opera house where the state legislature met, of embezzling state funds. His efforts to prolong military rule caused considerable divisions in the states party, while black politicians complained that they did not receive an adequate share of patronage. In February 1870 the newly constituted legislature ratified the Fifteenth Amendment and chose new Senators to send to Washington. On July 15, Georgia became the last former Confederate state readmitted into the Union. The Democrats subsequently won commanding majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Governor Rufus Bullock fled the state in order to avoid impeachment. With the voting restrictions against former Confederates removed, Democrat and ex-Confederate Colonel James Milton Smith was elected to complete Bullock's term. By January 1872 Georgia was fully under the control of the Redeemers, the state's resurgent white conservative Democrats.

The so-called Redeemers used terrorism to strengthen their rule. The expelled African American legislators were particular targets for their violence. African American legislator Abram Colby was pulled out of his home by a mob and given 100 lashes with a whip. His colleague Abram Turner was murdered. Other African American lawmakers were threatened and attacked.[8]


  1. ^ a b c "Reconstruction in Georgia", New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  2. ^ Keith S. Hébert, "The Bitter Trial of Defeat and Emancipation: Reconstruction in Bartow County, Georgia, 1865-1872," Georgia Historical Quarterly (2008) 92#1 pp 65-92
  3. ^ New Georgia Encyclopedia: Reconstruction in Georgia
  4. ^ New Georgia Encyclopedia: Sherman's Field Order No. 15
  5. ^ New Georgia Encyclopedia: Freedmen's Education during Reconstruction
  6. ^ New Georgia Encyclopedia: Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era
  7. ^ Trelease, White Terror (1971)
  8. ^ See Drago p. 146 (in sources below) for details.

Georgia was re-admitted to the Union twice

Further reading[edit]

  • Cimbala, Paul A. Under the Guardianship of the Nation: The Freedmen's Bureau and the Reconstruction of Georgia, 1865-1870 (1998)
    • Smith, John David. "'The Work it Did Not Do Because it Could Not': Georgia and the 'New' Freedmen's Bureau Historiography," Georgia Historical Quarterly (1998) 82#2 pp 331-349; review essay of Cimbala (1998)
  • Drago, Edmund L. (1992). Black Politicians and Reconstruction in Georgia: A Splendid Failure. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
  • Farmer-Kaiser, Mary. "'Are they not in some sorts vagrants?': Gender and the Efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau to Combat Vagrancy in the Reconstruction South," Georgia Historical Quarterly (2004) 88#1 pp 25-49.
  • Hahn Steven. The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890. Oxford University Press, 1983.
  • Hamilton, Peter Joseph. The Reconstruction Period] (1906), full length history of era; Dunning School approach; 570 pp; ch 12 on Georgia online
  • Hébert, Keith S. "The Bitter Trial of Defeat and Emancipation: Reconstruction in Bartow County, Georgia, 1865-1872," Georgia Historical Quarterly (2008) 92#1 pp 65-92.
  • Hogan, Richard. "Resisting Redemption," Social Science History (2011) 35#2 133-166. statistical analysis of votes in 1876
  • Inscoe, John C. (2011). The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion. University of Georgia Press.
  • Nathans, Elizabeth Studley. Losing the Peace: Georgia Republicans and Reconstruction, 1865-1871 (1969)
  • Reidy; Joseph P. From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800–1880 (University of North Carolina Press, 1992) online
  • Rogers, Jr., William Warren. A Scalawag in Georgia: Richard Whiteley and the Politics of Reconstruction (2008)
  • Schott, Thomas E. Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia: A Biography. LSU Press, 1988.
  • Thompson, C. Mildred. Reconstruction In Georgia: Economic, Social, Political 1865-1872 (19i5; 2010 reprint) excerpt and text search; full text online free
  • Thompson, William Y. Robert Toombs of Georgia. LSU Press, 1966.
  • Wallenstein; Peter. From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia (University of North Carolina Press, 1987) online edition
  • Wetherington, Mark V. Plain Folk's Fight: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia (University of North Carolina Press, 2005) 383 pp. online review by Frank Byrne
  • Wooley, Edwin C. (1901). The Reconstruction of Georgia. NY: Columbia University Press., from the Dunning School


  • Davis, Robert Scott. "New Ideas from New Sources: Modern Research in Reconstruction, 1865-1876," Georgia Historical Quarterly (2009) 93#3 pp 291-306.
  • Smith, John David. "'The Work it Did Not Do Because it Could Not': Georgia and the 'New' Freedmen's Bureau Historiography," Georgia Historical Quarterly (1998) 82#2 pp 331-349; review essay of Cimbala

Primary sources[edit]