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She helped a Civil War vet during the war, he endorsed her for governor
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

A Hall County Civil War veteran took the unprecedented step in 1876 to endorse a woman for governor of Georgia.

That was almost a half century before women could vote, much less hold public office.

But the veteran, Pvt. J.H. Reed of Co. D, 27th Georgia, explained his reason for wanting Mrs. A.H. Colquitt for governor. During the siege of Petersburg, food and other provisions were scarce for the Confederates. So Reed slipped out of camp and harvested a few ears of corn from a nearby farm.

His mouth watered, he said, on the way back to camp, looking forward to making some soup of that corn for himself and his fellow soldiers. However, a guard caught him before he got back into camp and escorted him to the headquarters of Gen. A.H. Colquitt for punishment.

The general was absent, but Mrs. Colquitt was there and heard out the private’s story. So impressed with how he had evaded the guard and sympathetic to him, she signed a pass allowing Reed to return to camp with his corn and without punishment.

Twelve years later, he remembered the good deed by Mrs. Colquitt, who had saved his bacon and his corn, and suggested she would make a good governor. Knowing she could not hold office, Reed then deferred to her choice for governor, naturally, her husband, A.H. Colquitt.

Colquitt won the Democratic nomination and defeated Republican Jonathon Norcross to become the state’s 49th governor. Colquitt also served as a U.S. representative and senator. Colquitt County and Colquitt, Georgia, are named for his father, W.T. Colquitt, also a U.S. senator and representative.

This year is the 100th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote.

Optimism after war

In those days the South still recovering from the Civil War, Hall Countians showed some optimism about the future. Here is one person’s assessment of Gainesville’s outlook:

“From a small village, Gainesville has rapidly risen to the rank of a city or commercial centre, and from sources soon to be developed, she will increase by double her population. It is said by the thoughtless that her people are wicked. Nothing could be further from the truth. Her municipal record will compare with any city in the world, and give lie to the slander. Look at her teachers and clergymen of all denominations and you observe perfect harmony and cooperation in elevating the rising generation in the scale of being, without regard to creeds and church ordinances. With such a society and such a matchless climate, we anticipate a large increase in population, who will receive a hearty welcome.”

What city was like

Some notes from the Gainesville Eagle, 1875:

“How is it that doctors live here and do so well is a problem as Gainesville is perhaps as healthy a place to live as any on the globe.”

“Gainesville has perhaps more dogs and less use for them than any place in Georgia.”

“The LaGrange Reporter insists that that city has the prettiest women in the state. That might be so if Gainesville was not in the state.”

A grand jury in that year reported “the morals of the county are improving.” Members said they saw less drinking during the court term than any previous term.

Illegal liquor stills were being destroyed on a regular basis. “Soothing syrup” was the term being applied to corn whiskey. Later nicknames included “moonshine” and “white lightning.”

“Gainesville has never complained of a scarcity of loafers,” the Eagle declared in 1876.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326; vardeman1956@att.net.

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