Christmas – a season of jollity, delights, and feelings of goodwill toward one’s fellow man. For Christmas of 1860, however, the atmosphere over the United States was charged with antagonism, the air filled with gathering storm clouds which in a few short months would lead to war. Neither side had any idea of the ferocity of the whirlwind that was about to be unleashed.
The population of Georgia looked toward the holiday and the coming of the New Year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. All eyes turned toward South Carolina, as delegates in Columbia debated the momentous issue of secession. On December 20, the Carolinians would sign their Ordinance of Secession, leading the way as the Southern states departed the United States.
In communities across the state, citizens from all walks of life, who in a few short months would be marching in the ranks of the First Georgia Volunteer Infantry, tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the face of the building tempest. James Newton Ramsey, who would become the colonel of the regiment, was practicing law along with his partner Albert R. Lamar, working out of an office over a bank in Columbus. James O. Clarke of Augusta, future lieutenant colonel, was listed in the 1860 census as a “master mason.” In Atlanta, George Harvey Thompson, son of prominent citizen and hotel owner Dr. Joseph Thompson, worked as a clerk. A graduate of the Georgia Military Academy and captain of the Gate City Guards, George Harvey would accept a captaincy in Governor Joseph E. Brown’s State Army prior to being elected as major of the First Georgia.
Newspapers were filled with editorials and letters from leading citizens railing against northern abolitionists and arguing for the necessity of separation from the Union. Even advertisements hinted at preparations for war. The Christmas day edition of the Columbus Enquirer contained an advertisement for J. W. Pease’s Bookstore, offering training manuals such as Scott’s, Hardee’s and McComb’s Tactics, a book on cavalry tactics, and another on bayonet exercises.
Christmas, 1860 – a time of joy – and of anxiety.
To each and all who have followed this blog from its beginning, and to all who come across it during their searches on the web, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!