The Yankee Rump Session of the Georgia Legislature

    A week into Sherman’s March to the Sea, the 20th Army Corps captured the most important political objective of the campaign: the Georgia state capitol at Milledgeville. Milledgeville was the fifth Confederate state capitol captured by Union forces during the Civil War: Nashville, Baton Rouge, Jackson, and Little Rock having preceded it in 1862 and 1863. Besides being the seat of power of Governor Joseph Brown, Milledgeville also was home of the state arsenal and General Sherman wanted those arms in the hands of his soldiers.

    On November 23, 1864, about 200 officers from the 20th Army Corps marched into the Georgia State Capitol where the assembly, many of the participants who had been active in state and local governments back North, staged a sham assembly of the Georgia Legislature. Alcohol provided the subtext for the proceedings. Today's post features accounts from two officers who witnessed the event: Captain Moses Summer of the 149th New York and Captain Alfred E. Lee of the 82nd Ohio. Both officers were serving as brigade staff at the time and offer interesting perspectives on the event. Captain Summers' sets the stage by describing the first week of the army on the march and its arrival in Milledgeville; Captain Lee will pick up where Summers leaves off to give his own view of the raucous proceedings.


    Captain Summers' account appears courtesy of the New Your State Military History and Veterans' Museum while Captain Lee's account originally saw publication in the January 13, 1865, edition of the Delaware Gazette


The Georgia State Capitol Building was taken by Federal troops of the 20th Army Corps on November 22, 1864. The following day, more than 200 officers of the corps staged a sham session of the Georgia Legislature in which the state's ordinance of secession was debated then repealed. The meeting broke up when other Federal officers barged in and facetiously claimed the Yankees were coming. The assembly broke out in bedlam and left the building; soldiers quickly looted the building, tossing priceless law volumes into the streets and walking out with piles of worthless Georgia currency that were used in "high-stakes" poker games. Alcohol flowed freely during the Federal army's stay in Milledgeville.  


Captain Moses Summer, 149th New York Volunteers 

OUR GRAND MARCH.

    The army left Atlanta in two columns. The right passing directly south towards Macon, and the left taking a southeasterly course in the general direction of Augusta. Neither of the points mentioned, however, were included in the original program, as it was to be presumed both Macon and Augusta would be occupied and defended, and our facilities for taking care of the wounded were not sufficient to warrant the risk of any encounter that might tend to increase the burdens upon the wagon train.

    The right wing therefore left Macon on its right, and passed directly round in the direction of Millen, (where the Union prisoners were confined) and the left wing, under Gen. Slocum, passed through Milledgeville, the Capital of the State, and leaving Augusta on the left also pressed forward towards Millen, where the two wings were to form a junction, and pass together down the peninsula, formed by the Ogeechee and Savannah rivers, to Savannah and the seaboard. The first few days of our march was over a rolling country not particularly noted for its fertility, but the roads were pretty fair, and we made excellent time, besides supplying ourselves with forage for men and animals.

    The roads still continued good, and the country became more fertile, affording abundant supplies of every kind; and several handsome villages were passed, proving that Middle Georgia is not only a fertile section of country, but the people are enterprising and intelligent. Madison, Georgia, is one of the finest villages I have ever seen, and Eatonton, Social Circle, and other small places on the route gave evidence of taste and enterprise on the part of their inhabitants.

    As we approached the southern part of the State the country became flatter and swampier, and our road lay for miles through sandy pine plains, covered with towering pitch-pine trees, without underbrush. The trees are of a very resinous quality and torches of dry pine blaze like tar-barrels, affording us light and assisting us materially on our night marches through the swamps. On more than one occasion our army resembled a procession of "Wide Awakes," as the troops marched or lined each side of the road through the swamps, each man having a blazing pine torch, for the purpose of lighting the wagon train on its route.

    Notwithstanding the forbidding appearance of the country in the immediate vicinity of the road our foraging parties continued to find abundant supplies of food for men and animals, and when we halted in front of Savannah we had several days' supplies of forage, including sweet potatoes, bacon and fresh meat for the men, and corn and rice straw for the animals. On our route the Georgia Central railroad leading from Savannah to Macon, and the Charleston and Savannah road, together with the road leading to Augusta, and several branches were effectually destroyed.

    We passed through Milledgeville, the Capital of Georgia, occupying the place, and capturing a large quantity of small arms and munitions of war in the Arsenal and Capitol Buildings. The Penitentiary (which was empty—the prisoners having been sent off to defend Macon) was burned, and the Arsenal building was also destroyed, but I understand the State House was left uninjured.

Burning the Georgia Penitentiary on November 22, 1864. 

    General Henry Slocum and Staff made their quarters in the principal Hotel in the town, which was rather an unpretending affair, for a State Capital, and the troops and wagon trains encamped near the boundaries of the place. I had no opportunity of examining the town carefully, but to me it seemed like a small village, of not more than 6,000 inhabitants, and possessing no residences or even public buildings of extraordinary beauty, or interest. Even the State House, where the assembled wisdom of Georgia, meet to hatch treason and foster rebellion, is a very common place affair, and the building dignified with the title of Arsenal, located only a few steps from the Capitol, was an inferior structure, not much better than many of our northern barns.

    The Arsenal contained a large number of "Georgia Pikes," a formidable weapon, provided the troops ever approached near enough to use them, but as harmless as an Irishman's shillelagh in an ordinary battle. They consist of a long staff, with a rough spear head, and to be effective the contending armies must be within ten feet of each other. A large number of roughly made swords, fashioned like large butcher knives, were also found in the Arsenal, together with a quantity of holsters, belts, and other accoutrements, all of which were either distributed to our troops or destroyed with the buildings.

Colonel James S. Robinson of the 82nd Ohio, the former editor of the Hardin Republican newspaper in his hometown of Kenton, Ohio, was chosen to be speaker of the rump session of the Georgia legislature. Robinson led a brigade of the 20th Army Corps with such ability that he was commissioned brigadier at the end of the March to the Sea. 

    During our brief sojourn in Milledgeville, some of the choice spirits of the army resolved to organize the Georgia Legislature and hold a sham session of that august body. Accordingly, a crowd of brass buttoned officers assembled in the Hall of Representatives and organized with all due propriety by the selection of the following officers:

Speaker—Colonel James S. Robinson, 82nd Ohio

Clerk—Lieutenant Colonel James C. Rogers, 123rd New York

Sergeant-at-Arms—Capt. William W. Moseley [former 149th New York]

Pages—Major Eugene W. Guindon [2nd New Jersey], Maj. J. S. Crumb

Lieut. English, and Mr. Davis.

    A committee on Federal Relations—consisting of Lieutenant Colonel Hezekiah Watkins of [143rd] N. Y., Colonel Cameron, of N. J., Colonel Samuel M. Zulich, of [29th] Pennsylvania, Col. David Thomson, of [82nd] Ohio, Colonel William Cogswell, of [2nd] Massaschusetts, and Colonel Ewing of Tennessee, was also appointed, and after a brief absence made a decidedly rich and racy report.

Major Eugene W. Guidon, formerly of the 2nd New Jersey Volunteers, served as a page during the rump session. 

    I did not obtain a copy, but the reporter of the Herald, who was present, was furnished with the original, and will doubtless incorporate it in­to his report, where such of your readers as are interested can find it. Speeches were made by Colonel Henry A. Barnum; Colonel James Robinson, General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, Colonel Benedict, and others, whose names I did not ascertain, and witty remarks and laughable burlesques on Georgia manners and Southern debates were indulged in. All present enjoyed the momentary relaxation from duty. I made a brief sketch of the proceedings at the time, but on looking it over I find it too long for incorporation into a letter, and the keenest witticisms lose their force, unless all the attending circumstances and remarks which called them out, are also given.

M. S.

Federal soldiers rejoice as the Stars and Stripes are raised over the Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville, Georgia. 

Captain Alfred E. Lee, Co. E, 82nd Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry

On the 23rd about 200 of us convened in the State House and organized a loyal legislature. Colonel Robinson commanding our brigade was chosen chairman. A clerk was then appointed and a committee on Federal Relations announced. This committee retired and prepared a report. In the meantime, there was considerable noisy debate and bunkum speech making. An ardent secessionist, Colonel Henry A. Barnum made several blood-thirsty speeches in which he played well the part of Southern orator. The worthy colonel was well provided with pistols, bowie knives, and something in a little zinc flask with wickerwork on the outside. It was observable that the zinc flask went quite frequently to the colonel’s lips, at which times he took occasion to make sly winks at the sundry knowing conferees. What all this meant the writer does not pretend to know but leaves the matter to the sophisticated.

Colonel Henry A Barnum of the 149th New York "made several blood-thirsty speeches in which he played the part of Southern orator," Captain Lee recalled. Colonel Barnum was lucky to be alive, having been wounded four times during his service and captured once.  

          During the interval of debate certain verdant looking members from distant counties were duly sworn in as loyal sardines. The swearing was done in genuine Southern style with a cocked pistol at the head of the swearer. In due time the committee reported. The resolutions offered chiefly related to the Ordinance of Secession, of which a genuine copy was read. It was proposed that said Ordinance be forever repealed, abolished, and utterly abrogated. It was recommended that Governor Brown and his Rebel legislature ‘scratch gravel’ to a ‘considerable extent.’ These with other resolutions of similar import and containing certain emphatic expletives which is not proper to repeat were offered for adoption.

The secession corner, always garrulous, objected and moved that the committee and their resolutions be pitched out of the window. After considerable noisy debate, the question was put upon the adoption of the resolutions and was carried by an ‘aye’ so thunderous as to leave no doubt of their adoption. Here, General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick made his appearance in the lobby and was welcomed to the Speaker’s desk amid uproarious applause.

Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick addressed the assembly intoxicated if eloquent. Judson "by God" Kilpatrick may not have been much of a horse soldier, but he gave a highly engaging speech in this instance.  


General H. Judson Kilpatrick entered the chamber to the uproars of the crowd and proceeded to speak about his success in raiding plantation cellars. It goes without saying that General Kilpatrick had been imbibing heavily. “Though I am very modest man that never blows his own horn, like other gentlemen whom I could name, I must honestly tell you that I am Old Harry on raids. My men, too, have strongly imbibed the spirit. I must confess that my fellows are very inquisitive. If perchance they discover a deserted cellar, believing it was kindly left for their use by the considerate owner, they take charge of it. It sometimes happens, too, that they take after the plate and other little matters. Coming to my own particular raid, it was one of the handsomest and most brilliant affairs of the war.”

          Taking advantage of this episode, the writer withdrew from the assemblage and ascended the cupola of the building in order to get a good view of the capital of Georgia. It is a dingy, sleepy, Rip Van Winkle sort of an old town, with grass-grown streets and fairly represents the spirit of Southern civilization. The most prominent buildings are the State House and prison, the latter of which is now in ruins. The principal dwellings are of that pompous style of architecture which consists in making the greatest possible amount of show at the least possible expense. Around the town (for it is not a city) extends a range of hills too soon lost in dense groves of pines to be picturesque or beautiful. The whole landscape is tame and would require an erratic pencil to make an attractive picture. I came down from my lofty station thinking of the magnificent view from the capitol dome at Columbus and reflecting upon the suggestive contrast between that and my present surroundings.


 

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