As the war ended for North Georgians from late 1863 to April, 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.
The Civil War ends
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 Brown withdrew the Georgia Militia from the combined Confederate forces to harvest crops. 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 troops 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 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.
A long task begins
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 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.
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.
The Democratic Party and the Klan
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.
Light at the end of the tunnel
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.
Up from slavery..to segregation
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.
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