As Georgia and other Southern states contemplated secession from the Union in 1860, they scheduled conventions to decide the issue.
Sentiment was so high for Georgia to secede, many wanted to beat South Carolina to the punch. Georgia's convention was held in January 1861. Delegates from various counties were categorized as either "cooperationists," who wanted to delay secession, or "secessionists," who wanted to immediately withdraw.
All three Hall County delegates, Philip M. Byrd, Ephraim M. Johnson and Davis Whelchel, voted against immediate secession, along with others from North Georgia counties. They included W.R. Bell of Banks County, Alfred Webb and R.H. Pierce Sr., Dawson County; Benjamin Hamilton and W.M. Martin, Lumpkin County; and Elijah Fletcher Starr of White County. All three Gwinnett delegates also voted against immediate secession, along with many from the mountain counties.
S.W. Pruitt of Banks, R.C. Ketchum and Singleton Sisk from Habersham and Isaac Bowen of White County voted for immediate secession. Lumpkin's Martin had proposed the matter be placed before a popular vote of the people, but his suggestion failed by a large majority.
The secession issue passed the convention 208-89 before raucous packed galleries in the capitol at Milledgeville. The convention deliberated behind closed doors much of the time because of outbursts by people in the galleries who defied a ban on applause.When all was said and done, all the delegates signed the document declaring Georgia no longer a part of the United States.
After South Carolina seceded first, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi left the Union before Georgia. As other Southern states fell in line, a name for the new "nation" had to be decided. Confederate States of America wasn't even on some lists. Some suggested "Washington States" in honor of George Washington and even wanted Feb. 22, his birthday, designated as the official date of secession. "The sacred dust of Washington reposes on Southern soil," one supporter wrote, "and in his name is a tower of strength, a moral force, which cannot fail to uphold the just cause in which it is invoked."
Other suggestions included Southern League, United South, Cotton States and Southern Union.
As enthusiasm built for the Confederacy and the inevitable Civil War, Southerners wanted to adopt their own "national air" or anthem. "Dixie" came to mind first, but there was support for adopting an Americanized or Southern version of the French national anthem, "The Marsellaise." Its lyrics seemed to reflect the sentiment expressed in "Dixie" and captured the essence of the resistance to the federal government.
"Dixie" is traced to blackface minstrels, and its lyrics have changed over the years. Some say even the word "Dixie" originated in the North.
Wrote the Waynesboro News: "In objecting to the adoption of ‘The Marsellaise,' we submit in its place the Southern Melody of ‘Dixie,' is of and is peculiarly suited to us. The popularity it has attained speaks of its merits. It is appropriate to the entire South and nowhere else. ‘Dixie' is the old-time name for and conveys the Negro idea of Heaven."
"Dixie" is said to have been a favorite song of President Abraham Lincoln, who had it played after the South's Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered.
Winfield Scott, a Southerner who decided to remain in the Union army, was a hero to many Americans and Southerners because of his gallant service in previous wars. He was the first Army officer to attain the rank of lieutenant general since George Washington. He helped persuade and force the Cherokee Indians out of North Georgia on the tragic "Trail of Tears" to Indian Territory out West.
Despite his lofty status, Scott was burned in effigy at the University of Virginia in January 1861 because he stayed in the Union Army. Virginia students cheered for secession and called Scott a "would-be dictator and despot."
Virginian Gen. Robert E. Lee, who later commanded the Confederate Army, had turned down an offer from Scott to be his field commander. Scott was ineffective in early battles of the Civil War and resigned in the first year.
Lake Winfield Scott, built in Union County by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Depression, bears his name.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.