Georgia's Role During the Civil War

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Throughout the 1850's a division in the country between North and South widened. However, in spite of the rising rhetoric, the state of Georgia was far from becoming a "war machine." In Marietta, the Georgia Military Institute went to the state for funds only three times between 1852 and 1863. Throughout the state, railroads were being built up for economic reasons, not reasons of war. Atlanta was concerned about fighting equipment for its newly formed fire department, not for some secret military unit. Life went on "as usual" until the 1860 Presidential campaign.

Most Southerners favored John C. Breckinridge as President of the United States; but Abraham Lincoln won the election with 39.7 percent of the popular vote Lincoln was anti-secession and most states in the far south had banded together to secede. South Carolina had already seceded during James Buchanan's term. However, Georgia, the second largest state east of the Mississippi, was deeply divided over the issue of secession. Because it had the best railroad system in the south and was centrally located, Georgia was pivotal in the idea of an independent south. The issue went to the polls on January 2, 1861. The final vote was 42,744 in favor of cooperation and 41,717 in favor of immediate secession.

On January16, delegates poured into Miledgeville to attend the "Secession Convention." Most believed that Georgia would stay in the Union. The pro-Union movement was led by Alexander Hamilton Stephens, who later became Vice President of the Confederacy. The secessionists were led by former Governor and Speaker of the House, Howell Cobb, who had previously been pro-Union. The elected delegates cast a test vote on January 18 and a secession vote on January 19. The results of both were strongly pro-secession. Georgia joined the Confederacy. What had begun when South Carolina had seceded a month earlier was now complete. The deep South was united in the fight against the North.

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