Hiram Parks Bell:  Conditions after the War---Lawyers

 

The following is Chapter 8 from H.P. Bell’s Men and Things, published 1907:

 

            “The reconstruction regime packed the judiciary, as far as possible, with judges in sympathy with their policy.  That policy had greatly demoralized the public sentiment.  This was especially true in certain sections of the state.  The people of the mountain region of the state were opposed to secession.  They lived remote from cities and railroads, owned few slaves, made an honest living by hard labor, and distilled their corn and fruit without revenue.  They did not care whether slavery was established or prohibited in the territories; the government was beneficent to them.  They honored its founders, loved its traditions, and were proud of its flag.  Their delegates in the convention were nearly unanimous in opposing secession.  Several of their delegates declined to sign the ordinance after it was adopted.  These people had bright intellects, strong convictions and high prejudices.  They were true and faithful in their friendships, bitter and relentless in their enmities, generous in hospitality, and full of resources in the execution of their purposes.  When the war came they were divided.  Most of them joined the Confederate, but some in the Union army; and many sought to avoid service in either.  During the war, Home Guards, representing both sides---under the pretext of protecting---plundered the people. When the war ended, and the men returned home with four years’ training in the nursing and indulgence of passion, it will be readily perceived that collisions and conflicts were inevitable.  The influence of reconstruction principles, practices and ethics, superadded to the partisan prejudices and passions engendered by the war, left the people in a state of demoralization that found expression in disorganization and crime. Men appeared at public gatherings and superior courts with uniforms and army or navy pistols buckled around them, looking daggers at those supposed to be or to have been enemies, and anxious for an excuse or an opportunity for revenge.  The Union element felt that they had triumphed in war, and seemed to exult in the oppressions of reconstruction, relying on those in power to protect them in whatever line of conduct they saw proper to adopt or pursue.  Inoffensive men were shot down unceremoniously in open daylight, at the supper table, at night, or from ambush while at work in the field.  A conviction for murder could not be secured.  Judges, solicitors, and jurymen were of the party temporarily in power.  William P. Milton, at Ellijay, while sitting at supper at his home, was shot through a window and killed.  Worly sneaked up behind William Ellington and shot him in the back.  Hately rode into town in open daylight and shot James G. Inlow through the head as he sat on the sidewalk, killing him instantly.  Near ‘White Path,’ Bartley Pinson, while plowing in his field, was shot from ambush and fell dead in his tracks; and not one of the criminals was convicted.  At Morganton, James Morris, a kindhearted old gentleman over seventy years of age, was aroused about midnight by the screams of a woman in distress and walked across the public square to the house of Spencer Pruitt, ordinary of the county, whence the cry of distress proceeded.  He stepped into the house and asked: ‘In the name of God, what does this mean?’  Whereupon Pruitt, a very large, strong man---who was shamefully abusing his wife---seized Morris and held him until he made his two boys stab him to death.  The next day Pruitt pointed to the boys and said:  ‘There are the brave chaps who stabbed the d___ old rascal to death.’  Pruitt and his boys were indicted.  He escaped and was never tried.  The boys were tried, of course, before a Republican judge, prosecuted by a Republican solicitor-general, and a Republican jury.  James R. Brown and I were employed to aid the prosecution, which we did, to the utmost of our ability.  Unknown to us and the court, Pruitt’s friends had armed themselves and formed a conspiracy to kill Brown and myself in the courthouse as soon as a verdict of guilty was returned.  Samuel Ralston was informed of it, armed a number of his friends, and notified the leader of the conspiracy that he and his crowd were under observation, and the first motion toward violence they made would cost them their lives.  The defense was that they were under fourteen years of age and acted in obedience to the order of their father.  They were acquitted.  Later, Duke Palmer, a lawyer living in Cleveland, was returning home from Towns Superior Court and was shot in the back by an assassin concealed in the bushes on the roadside.  It so happened that he and I occupied the same room at the hotel in Hiawassee.  He was a brave man and of superior intellect.  The night before he was killed, he gave me an account of his life and especially his adventures in Mexico, which were both thrilling and romantic.  We sat up until midnight in conversation.  The next morning he bade me ‘goodbye,’ seeming cheerful and happy---little dreaming of the tragic fate awaiting him.  That afternoon at 2 o’clock I organized an inquest over his dead body, as it lay on the road, covered with dust and blood.  The assassin was concealed behind a stump about ten paces from the road.  A party was indicted and tried in Towns Superior Court, but acquitted.  These cases are mentioned as a sample of many others---as illustrating the disorganized state of society, growing out of the secession and reconstruction of the State.

            “The courts in the counties of Gilmer, Fannin, Union, and Towns were held in May and October.  The soft balmy zephyrs, the murmur of sparkling waterfalls and the fragrance of roses, azalias and laurel blooms in May; and the variegated hues of extensive and magnificent forests, and the brisk, healthful breezes of October, were delightful beyond the power of expression.  Environment, with these charms and beauties of nature, ought to mollify the malignity of hate; and purify and etherealize the spirit of love; and doubtless it did.  The spirit and discussions of the bar had a most favorable influence in allaying party animosities.  The lawyers were a jolly, noble set of fellows, full of good humor, and from envy, perfectly free.  The lawyers who practiced in the mountain counties of the Blue Ridge Circuit were: Geo. D. Rice, James R. Brown, William P. Price, C.D. Phillips, C.J. Wellborn, Wier Boyd, Marshall L. Smith, E.W. Chastain, J.E. Alsabrook, W.H. Simmons, J.A. Jervis, and James Butts, Democrats; and John S. Fain, John A. Wimpy, W.T. Crane, W.T. Day, Samuel C. Johnson, James M. Bishop, Republicans.  These men fought like tigers over their cases in the courthouse, but when the intellectual combat was ended---being personal friends---their social intercourse with each other and with the people was of the kindliest and most pleasant character.  Their conduct, prompted by a high sense of obligation to the public, did much to restore a better state of feeling among the people.  They were greatly aided by a class of substantial citizens of each of the parties, who stood for the right and against the wrong; who had wisdom enough to see the folly of the strife, and patriotism sufficient to endeavor to stop it.  When the war cases were disposed of in the courts, an honest Democratic administration of the state government inaugurated, and capable Democratic judges placed on the bench, peace was restored and the wrongs and passions of these stormy and turbulent times relegated to the historian.  Most of these men---either before or after the time of which I write---held high office.  Chastain and Price were representatives in Congress; Rice, Brown, and Wellborn, judges of the Superior Court; and Smith, judge of the city court of Gainesville.  Phillips, Johnson, Bishop, Wellborn and Greer, solicitors-general.  Eight of them were State Senators.  Three, Rice, Chastain, and Day, were members of the Secession Convention.  Seven of these men, Rice, Chastain, Alsobrook, Fain, Johnson, Boyd, and Bishop, have crossed the silent river.  They lived in a time of peace and through the storms of war.  They each did their duty as they understood it.  Honor to their memory and peace to their ashes!

            “Rice was a very able lawyer, deeply read in the law, devoting his entire attention to its study and practice.  He prepared his cases thoroughly, briefed the questions of the law and fact---both leading and collateral---elaborately, and therefore entered upon the trial well equipped.  When he went upon the bench of the Western Circuit, he turned over to me five cases in Lumpkin Superior Court.  They were so well prepared that I found it easy to win all of them.

            “Brown was a superb lawyer and practitioner.  It was delightful to be associated with him in a case.  He studied and practiced law as a scientific system, devised for the enforcement of human rights, in conformity to certain established rules.  He seized with promptness the controlling questions in the case, fortified his position with authority and logic, and usually carried the strong points of his adversary by assault.

            “Chastain was admitted to the bar without reading law, in middle life.  He possessed a fine intellect, handsome person, and was brave as Roland.  He was a born politician, and the leader of his section.  He was Representative and Senator in the State Legislature and twice a Representative in Congress.  He was intensely Southern.  His friends were devoted to him, and his enemies respected and feared him.  He was a fluent speaker, knew men, and was formidable before juries.

            “Price was a good lawyer, but it seemed to me that he never enjoyed the disputes and contentions of the courthouse.  As a lawyer, he was open, manly, and fair.  In his practice, he sought the triumph of the truth and the right.  He rendered invaluable service to the State as a member of the Legislature in reconstruction time.  As a member of Congress, he secured the mint at Dahlonega, from the government, and the establishment of the North Georgia Agricultural College, a service that merits the gratitude of the people and enshrines him in their affection.  He is a cultured, courtly, Christian gentleman.

            “Boyd was unique, admitted to the bar past middle life, while Clerk of the Superior Court of Lumpkin County, he was more familiar with the forms of practice than the principles of jurisprudence.  He had never had the slightest conception that his client could possibly be in the wrong or his adversary in the right.  He was intensely ardent in his convictions, absolutely honest; saw a case or legal principle only from his standpoint, and never dreamed that any other view was admissible or any modification possible.  His view of the settlement or compromise of a case was to demand a bonus for taking all he claimed.  His antagonist might therefore rely upon a fight to the bitter end.  His character, earnestness, and honesty made him a power before a jury that knew him.

            “Smith was a jurist, not an advocate.  He was a close student with a clear, incisive intellect; and reveled in the complex and abstruse subtleties of metaphysics.  If he had lived in the time of Aristotle, the Greeks would have voted him an Apotheosis as the divinity of technicalities.  He saw---clear as a sunbeam---defects and objections to pleadings, proof, and everything the other side did, alleged or said.  His style was cold, clear, and conversational.  He was perfectly conscientious.  While he enjoyed winning a case on its merits, he was charmed and delighted to triumph on a technicality.  As associate counsel, in consultation, as you would state the strong points of your case, he would suggest a thousand questions that might arise in your case and was equally fruitful in suggesting difficulties in the adversary’s way.  Occasionally he made points of inestimable value.  It was always much more safe to have him with you than against you.

            “Philips, unlike Smith, cared nothing for technicalities.  He was a rather loose pleader.  His mind quick in action, his person imposing, his humor exuberant, his invective withering---all taken together made him an advocate of decided power.  His speech in the prosecution of Rogers for murder in Fannin Superior Court, the presiding judge (Lester) thought was the finest he ever heard.

            “Wellborn was a good lawyer, of finely balanced mind and character.  His pleading neat, he presented his proofs clearly and sought the triumph of right and justice in the administration of the law.”