Fire-eating Georgians were determined to push their state out of the Union. In a speech to the state legislature Henry Benning, an associate justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, warned that Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans were determined to abolish slavery, which was “one of the dirtiest evils of which the mind can conceive.” If they succeeded, “a war between whites and blacks will spontaneously break out—a war of extermination!”
Benning declared: “Men of Georgia, it is our business to save ourselves… And if nothing else will save us but going out of the Union, we must go out of the Union, however much we deplore it.” Having heard enough speeches, the legislators approved a request from Governor Joseph E. Brown to raise $1 million to defend the state in 1861. They also mandated that a special election take place on January 2 for delegates to a secession convention, slated to start two weeks later.
In Atlanta, secession flags replaced U.S. flags over many prominent buildings. There a free black man named Joseph H. Ribero was convicted of trying to incite a slave uprising. He had been heard telling slaves that they would be freed if Lincoln became president. Ribero was tried and convicted by a jury of 12 slave owners, he was whipped and his head shaved, and he was deported to the North along with his wife and two children.
Governor Brown asked Georgians to observe November 28 as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Brown spent the day “invoking the people of the State to meet at their respective places of worship, and unite in humble prayer to Almighty God for wisdom and strength to meet the crisis through which we are called to pass.” An Atlanta resident noted that “most of the stores were closed and as the weather was wet and unpleasant very little business would have been done anyhow. We had a prayer meeting at our church between nine and eleven o’clock and prayers were offered for our country and the Union, but (choir director) Dick Branham made a secession prayer.”
By this time, the secession wave had moved south into sparsely populated Florida. There U.S. Navy Lieutenant T.A. Craven reported to Washington that the “deplorable condition of affairs in the Southern States” had compelled him to send landing parties to secure Fort Taylor at Key West and Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas. According to Craven, Federal forces were needed to protect these installations from “bands of lawless men.”
To the west, a special session of the Mississippi legislature approved an election to be held on December 29 for delegates to a secession convention to start on January 7. In Louisiana, Governor Thomas O. Moore called for the legislature to gather on December 10. At the First Presbyterian Church on Lafayette Square in New Orleans, Benjamin M. Palmer delivered a sermon arguing that not only had slavery been sanctioned by the Bible, but it was essential to the economic and social structure of the South as well. He declared southerners were being forced out of “our once happy and united confederacy” because “the abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic.” Consequently, “Nothing is now left us but secession.” Up to 30,000 printed versions of this sermon were quickly circulated, and New Orleans, which had once been a Unionist trading center, soon became a hotbed of secession.
Texas Governor Sam Houston went against the popular southern stance by opposing secession. Refusing to call the legislature into special session so it could consider leaving the Union, he urged a popular vote on the question instead. Prominent Texans led by Attorney General George M. Flournoy, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Oran M. Roberts, and Texas Ranger John “R.I.P.” Ford bypassed Houston (and possibly the law) to issue their own call for a state convention to start on January 28.
Secession was taking hold in the upper South as well. In North Carolina, citizens assembled at a meeting in Wilmington and unanimously supported secession. A secessionist meeting also took place in Norfolk, Virginia, where a “corps” of minutemen was formed and participants gave “three cheers for the man that hung John Brown.”
In Maryland, the “Southern Volunteers” raised a pro-South Carolina secession flag over the Liberty Fire Company at the corner of Fayette and Liberty streets in Baltimore. However, the sentiment was not unanimous, as several onlookers “groaned and hissed” at the sight of the banner. Provost Marshal Henry Naill reported, “The Palmetto flag was run up at the Liberty Engine House… but the Citizens would not stand so extreme a move, and the friends of the ‘Lone Star’ determined to haul in the secession emblem. Baltimore is Union to the core.”
- Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
- Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Rable, George C., God’s Almost Chosen Peoples. Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2010.
- Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation. HarperCollins e-books, Kindle Edition, 1976.