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Hiram Parks Bell:  Secession


The following is Chapter 10 from Hiram Parks Bell’s Men and Things, published 1907:


            “The Secession Convention at Milledgeville adjourned January 29th to meet in Savannah upon the call of the president.  On February 9th  I reached Nashville, as Commissioner of Georgia to the State of Tennessee.  That state, at an election, though recently held, had refused to call a convention to consider the grievances of which the southern States complain, by a popular majority of 10,000 votes.

            “The Legislature was not in session.  The only means I, therefore, had of official communication with the authorities was with the Governor of the State.  That chivalric, patriotic, sterling statesman, Isham G. Harris was governor.  The Ordinance of Secession, together with the reasons for its adoption, were officially and formally presented to him in the executive office, and the co-operation of Tennessee, with the seceded states, in the formation of the Southern Confederacy, invited.  Gov. Harris was in thorough and hearty sympathy with the movement, but surrounded with great obstacles.  The people had refused to call a convention to consider the matter; the legislature was not in session; the border states peace conference was in session in Washington, and a condition of apprehensive uncertainty and alarm reigned supreme.  The Governor could only await the logic of events and conform his action to their results. 

            “While I was in Nashville, Gen. Leslie Combs of Kentucky addressed an immense concourse of people at night in the public square.  His speech was an eloquent and impassioned appeal for the Union.  Pending its delivery, the mayor of the city read a fake telegram from Washington, stating that Lewis T. Wigfall of Texas had killed Andrew Johnson in a duel.  The excitement of the multitude defies description.  My report of this mission appears in the journal of the Convention.

            “On my return from Nashville, I met at Chattanooga, Jefferson Davis, with his party, on his way to Montgomery to assume the presidency of the Confederacy.  The crowds at the different railway stations to Atlanta were numerous and enthusiastic.  Though the night was far advanced, at Dalton, upon the vociferous and continued demand of the crowd, he came out of the car and made a short and thrilling speech. 

            “By proclamation of President G. W. Crawford, the Convention reassembled on March 7th at Savannah; and after ratifying the permanent constitution of the Confederate States, revising the constitution of the State, and the passage of such ordinances as were necessary to adjust the State to its new relations and provide for such exigencies as the changed order of things might create, adjourned sine die on March 23, 1861.

            “There followed a restless, feverish state of the public mind.  Secession orators and leaders assured the people ‘That we were in the midst of the most remarkable revolution in history---remarkable because peaceful.’  The intuition of the common people taught them better.  The coming event had ‘cast its shadow before.’  They had no doubt but that war would result and were far from being a unit in favor of the policy of secession, until the fire upon Sumter and the proclamation of President Lincoln calling for 75,000 men to suppress the insurrection dispelled the peace delusion and united the southern people  from ‘many as the billows, to one as the sea’ in defense of their firesides, their altars, and their homes.

            “Lincoln’s proclamation determined the course of Virginia and Tennessee; and they joined the Southern sisterhood.  Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston resigned their commissions in the United States Army and tendered their stainless blades to the land of their nativity and allegiance.  The latter was at San Francisco, California at the time and made his way in midsummer across the desert to Texas, the state of his adoption and his love.  His escort was 30 brave young men (some of them army officers), who had formed the resolution to cast their fortunes with the South without any knowledge of his purpose to do so.  They were only too glad to be joined by such a comrade.  They ran the gauntlet of a cordon of Federal garrisons from Los Angeles to Fort Fillmore, infested with hostile Indians, robbers, and marauders, under a temperature that was burning and a thirst consuming, for a distance of fifteen hundred miles, moving mostly during the night, requiring six weeks time, and accomplished the march without serious mishap or adventure.

            The brave people of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland, writhing in the crucifixion of a conflict between the sentiments of love for the Union and hatred of oppression, stood for the neutrality of their respective states until the policy and power of the Federal Government bound them in the chains of slavery and trampled them in the dust and blood of despotism, and secured from the border states 250,000 of the best troops in the Union Army.  It was then too late to correct the mistake.  The States of Kentucky and Missouri then had democratic administrations, and if these great states had united with the Confederacy at the beginning, the final result might, and probably would, have been different.

            “The promptness with which Maj. Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter intensified the enthusiasm of the excitable and impulsive and increased the delusion that the conflict would be short and successful.  Among the young men, especially, there was a restless rush to enter the military service.  The unreflecting esteemed it a sort of holiday recreation and hungered and thirsted for the excitement of the fray.  People of thoughtfulness, familiar with history, and so understood the character of the American people, knew better.  It is due to this class of young men who entered the service early, unburdened with families and business obligations and relations, to say that they developed into the finest soldiers the world ever saw.  Trained by discipline to subordination, thrilled by the impulse of an ardent patriotism, led by soldiers like Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, Stonewall Jackson, and Bedford N. Forest, they were invincible to any antagonist but death.  The author joined the first company of volunteers raised in the County of Forsyth, but a large mass-meeting of the people requested him, by resolution---unanimously adopted---to withdraw from the company and remain at home for the present, to aid in raising troops and in making provision for the families of such as might need assistance, with which resolution he complied.

            “The Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861, was a brilliant triumph of the Confederates and gratifying to Southern pride and complimentary to valor; but it increased the delusion under which the Southern people labored as to the continuance and result of the war.  The masses of them knew nothing of Gen. Scott’s plan to overwhelm the Confederacy with three grand armies, one to move against Richmond, another down the Mississippi River, and the third to bisect the Confederacy diagonally from Louisville via the L. and N. Railway to the sea.  Nor did they know of the vast efforts and resources employed for the organization and equipment of these immense armies; nor were they fully aroused to a sense of their danger until the disasters of Forts Henry and Donelson; and the retreat of Albert Sidney Johnston from Bowling Green to the south bank of the Tennessee River brought them to a realization of their peril.

            “The year 1861 was fruitful in local strife in the border states and elaborate preparation for the fearful struggle to follow.  This was the first general election under the revised constitution by which the senators were reduced to forty-four in number.  The counties of Cherokee, Forsyth, and Milton formed the Thirty-ninth District.  The Legislature met in November.  It was the first General Assembly after the secession of the states and the formation of the Confederacy.  All classes, professions, and avocations in the state were represented by typical men---men of high personal character, eminent ability, and unselfish patriotism.  Warren Akin was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.  On its roll of members appears the names Elbridge G. Cabaniss, Thomas M. Norwood, George N. Lester, Thomas G. Lawson, George T. Barnes, Osborne L. Smith, Milton A. Candler, and many others of merit and ability.  The Senate was organized by the election of that accomplished and scholarly gentleman, John Billups, President, and James M. Mobley, Secretary.  The agriculturalists had superb representatives in the Senate in William M. Brown, William M. Hill, Timothy Furlow, Richard Lane, and Samuel Y. Jamison; the bar in James L. Seward, Miles W. Lewis, William Gibson, George Gordon, A.J. Hansell, James P. Simmons, Samuel D. Killen, and Weir Boyd; medicine in Drs. Winn and Beasley; and scholarship in Joseph H. Echols.  The Senate was a body of very able and patriotic men, animated with the single purpose of faithfully discharging their duty to the state in the hour of existing and impending national calamity.  They were distinguished for their ability and moderation, their wisdom and patriotism, their courtesy in official and social relations, and vigor and fairness in debate, and unselfish devotion to the public interest.  This Legislature sought, as far as possible, to husband the resources of the State, mitigate the burdens of her people, and strengthen the arm of the Confederate government.

            “So far as he is informed, the writer is the only survivor of that body of patriotic public servants.  The personal friendship and delightful association with these Senators has always been, and continues to be, a most pleasant memory to him.”