Current Project

Cornerstone of the Confederacy: Slavery and Power in Civil War Georgia

My current book project, Cornerstone of the Confederacy: Slavery and Power in Civil War Georgia, investigates the political, cultural, and social experience of black and white Georgians before and during the United States Civil War.  Though Georgia was the fifth state to secede from the Union (January 19, 1861), it exhibited a striking streak of independence from her sister slave states.  When most other slave states had become solidly Democratic by the 1850s, Georgia’s leaders remained stubbornly loyal to the defunct Whig Party; when most Deep South states rushed to secession, Georgians were deeply divided; while most rebel states ardently supported the Confederate government and the administration of Jefferson Davis, Georgians offered open opposition and undermined the war effort.  Governor Joseph Brown was an especially painful thorn in President Davis’s side, as the independent-minded executive withheld troops and supplies from Confederate forces.  Moreover, the Vice President of the Confederacy was Georgian Alexander Stephens, who spent most of the war not at the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia, but at home in Georgia writing poison-pen letters attacking Davis and his policies.  Why was Georgia so different from the other slave states?  Why was it such a problem for the Confederacy?  Few historians have tackled these issues, and much of the existing scholarship is either flawed or incomplete.  My book will answer these questions, as well as explore Georgia’s unique flavor of states’ rights ideology that resulted in such actions.  Moreover, the answers to these questions will contribute to larger discussions of state-building in the greater Atlantic World and the nature of late slave societies.

Likewise, my examination of enslaved Georgians will add to broader debates about the process of emancipation and contested meanings of freedom.  Recent scholarship has shown that enslaved people exerted tremendous pressure on national governments to enact policy, but little work has been done on specific states and local interactions.  Georgia is a special case given that it did not experience the terrors and upheaval of war until rather late.  While Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana were early sites of battles and conflict, it was not until 1864 that Georgia suffered a major invasion (US troops, led by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, moving south from Tennessee).  What did that mean for enslaved Georgians?  What role did they play in the state’s reaction to invasion?  What pressures did they exert on local communities and the state government?  These questions, too, will be answered by my book, as I place Georgia in expansive historical context.

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