Often lost in the high level interpretation of the Civil War is the wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes throughout the south with respect to secession and the Confederacy as a whole. It defies any short treatment, and is subject to the context of place and time. And even lengthy treatments are discussions of fine shadings among the colors. As the war drew to a close, a significant number of southerners were simply willing to accept the situation and move on. One ready example of such reached Major-General William T. Sherman’s desk around this time 150 years ago.
Around Christmas 1864, a group of citizens from Liberty and Tattnall Counties met and passed these resolutions:
When dominant political factions become so corrupt as to prefer the destruction of the General Government to their own overthrow as mere parties, and in support of such preference set at defiance the authority of such General Government, and finally actually inaugurate a war for the destruction of the same, we deem it the right and duty of all men living in the country where such parties are formed, who desire to continue loyal to their Government, to resist if possible all attempts to make them take up arms against the same; but if not able to make an open resistance, then we deem it not at all dishonorable to evade stealthily such unnatural, unlawful, and treasonable measures, nor do we deem it dishonorable to aid in the same or any other manner the open defenders of our cause.
Be it therefore resolved, That we, the undersigned citizens of Liberty and Tattnall Counties and the State of Georgia, either deserted from the army of the so-called Confederate States at home, in violation of the conscript law thereof, or by reason of our old age, will never aid in carrying on this wicked rebellion against our Government.
Resolved, That we will band together, under the leadership of some suitable person, in order that we may better defend our lives and our property against the execution of barbarous threats and orders uttered and issued against us by rebel leaders.
Resolved, That the occupation of Georgia by the Federal army is in accordance with our wishes, and that we will render any assistance in our power to said army that may [be] asked.
Resolved, That we are opposed to the principle of secession, and look upon all who support said principle as traitors to our Government.
Resolved, That hereafter, as heretofore, we will recognize the Constitution of the United States, and that alone, as the supreme law of our land, to which, though temporarily suspended here, we steadily look for that protection which, as American citizens, we are entitled to enjoy.
Resolved, That two members of this meeting be appointed to proceed as soon as practicable with a copy of these resolutions to the nearest Federal camp.
We do solemnly swear that we will not divulge to any one at all not present at this meeting anything connected therewith, or transpired thereat, without the full consent and approbation of the chairman thereof, so help me God.
Be it resolved, That the penalty will be death for any person who reveals any part of the above obligation or resolution or proceeding of this meeting that has been transacted, or may hereafter be transacted at any subsequent.
The following-named persons will act to form resolutions for this meeting to be governed by: P. J. Standfield, A. J. Pagett, Asa Barnett, J. E. Beasly, Jno. S. Long.
The record does not show individual names, other than those nominated to represent, or the numbers. Of those representatives, the names include planters and middle-class merchants. As indicated in the resolutions, these men had supported the Confederacy in one way or another during the preceding years.
To this resolution, Sherman responded on December 28, 1864:
Gentlemen: I have a copy of the resolutions adopted by you. They are surely strong enough and patriotic enough. I will aid you all possible, and do all in my power to encourage you and defend you in your course. I do think we have been at war long enough for truth to reveal itself. We are fellow-countrymen and bound by every principle of honor and honesty to maintain and defend the Union given us by Washington, and that is all I aim at, and the moment Georgia resumes her place in the Union and sends Representatives to Congress she is at once at peace, and all the laws both national and State are revived. If you will stay at home quietly, and call back your sons and neighbors to resume their peaceful pursuits, I will promise you ammunition to protect yourselves and property. If rebel soldiers do any of you violence I will retaliate, and if you will bring your produce to Savannah I will cause it to be protected in transitu, and allow it to be sold in market to the highest bidder, and our commissary will buy your cattle, hogs, sheep, &c. It would be well to form a league, and adopt some common certificate, so that our officers and soldiers may distinguish between you and open rebels. I will be glad to confer with any of your people, and will do all that is fair to encourage you to recover the peace and prosperity you enjoyed before the war.
Sherman must have felt some satisfaction with this exchange. An objective of his campaign through Georgia was to convince citizens of the Confederacy that the war was a losing proposition. He hoped they would abandon the Confederacy. The resolutions from Liberty and Tattnall Counties in late December of 1864 seemed to confirm that strategy was successful.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 44, Serial 92, pages 827-8.)