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Joy reigned in early days of Civil War

POSTED: April 17, 2011 1:53 a.m.

A few days before the Civil War broke out with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor April 12, 1861, mini-civil wars erupted now and then, even in Gainesville.

Secession of states from the Union wasn't unanimous among Southerners. Though a war between the South and the North seemed inevitable, there remained those who were anti-secession and therefore, anti-war.

The Southern Banner newspaper in Athens referred to an article in Gainesville's Air Line Eagle at the time on a controversy over the Confederate flag. Seems some in Hall County didn't yet recognize the Confederate flag and protested when it was raised over the drill room of the Gainesville Light Infantry.

Said the Banner, "We thought that those of our friends who profess dissatisfaction at the new order of things were of the opinion that the largest liberty of speech and action should be allowed in reference to recent events, and we respectfully submit they ought to practice what they preach. If their countrymen belonging to the company in question desired to display the flag to which they are bound by oath to be loyal and true, we see no earthly reason why anyone should object."

While there remained some dissension over the South's headlong plunge toward conflict with the federal government, appeals for unity and encouragement for Confederate troops began to sound as raucous as a Rebel yell on a battlefield.

The man whose family said he fired the first cannon shot for the Confederacy, Cooper Bennett Scott, is buried in Gainesville's Alta Vista Cemetery, having moved here with his family in 1883. Whoever shot that cannon set off celebrations throughout the South.

After word reached Northeast Georgia of the surrender of Fort Sumter, the Athens newspaper devoted a whole front page to the beginning of the war. "The War Begun," a headline shouted. "Fort Sumter Surrendered."

The Charleston Courier happily yet solemnly reported the scene in its city when Confederate cannon fired on the federal fort: "On no gala occasion have we ever seen nearly so large a number of our ladies on our Battery as graced the breezy walk on this eventful morning. There they stood with palpitating hearts and pallid faces watching the white smoke as it rose in wreaths upon the soft twilight air and breathing out fervent prayers for those gallant kinfolk at the gun.

"Oh what a conflict raged in those heaving bosoms between love for husbands and sons and love for our common mother, whose insulted honor and imperiled safety had called her faithful children to the ensanguined field."

In Montgomery, Ala., capital of the Confederacy, residents roused President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of War L.P. Walker out of the Exchange Hotel and serenaded them. Amid a seven-gun salute, Davis boldly predicted that after the Confederate flag flew over Fort Sumter, he would raise it over Washington within 90 days.

Large crowds of people congregated on the streets when news reached their towns, especially in New Orleans. "The city is feverishly excited about the war news," its newspaper reported.

The South's Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard promised 25,000 men in Washington within 10 days as Southerners joyously celebrated the beginning of the conflict. President Abraham Lincoln would soon be their prisoner, they predicted.

Companies of Confederate volunteers mustered around North Georgia. Banks County's regiment marched under Capt. D.G. Chandler, 1st Lt. W.W. Charlton and 2nd Lt. Robert Allan.
Some newspaper advertisers saw profit in the war. One business offered 3,000 pairs of "Negro shoes" for $1.50 a pair. Another store urged readers to "Lay in Your Supplies." Another advertised military uniforms for sale.

The price of cotton had risen to 12« cents a pound, "the highest in years," despite the beginning of a war.

Another businessman, noting the blockade of Southern ports, offered a recipe for "war coffee." Mix one spoonful of coffee and one spoonful of toasted corn meal with water and boil well, he advised.

"Try it and see if we can't get along comfortably even while our ports are blocked. It is very pleasant, but not strong enough to make you drunk."

The intoxicating bliss that prevailed those first few days in the spring of 1861, however, soon faded into a painful four years that produced primarily hardship and heartache in both South and North.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 



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