"Fiery Robert Toombs was spark for South"
by Brent Hughes
Special to The Washington Times--4/8/95
Shortly after the Confederacy was organized, Secretary of State
Robert Toombs dispatched commissioners to Washington to see Secretary
of State William Seward. Their mission was to establish diplomatic
relations with the United States.
A Seward aide quietly explained that the secretary could not see
them because President Lincoln had already determined that there
was no nation called the Confederate States of America. There were
some states of the Union in temporary rebellion, but that was all.
After three days the commissioners returned to Montgomery, Ala.,
which served as the capital of the Confederacy at that time, and
told Toombs that they could "smell war coming." Toombs
passed this on to President Jefferson Davis but advised him to be
patient while other attempts at recognition were made.
Davis and his advisors were restless. Finally, a vote was taken,
and Gen. P.T.G. Beauregard was ordered to evict the Union soldiers
from Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.--and the long
bloody war began.
Records indicate that Toombs and the other influential Southerners
had believed that the United States and the Confederacy could go
their separate ways peacefully.
On May 21, 1861, the Confederate Congress adjourned to meet again
on July 20, 1861, in the new capital at Richmond. Toombs was already
fed up with Davis and his supporters who refused to agree that the
Confederacy should ship every bale of cotton it could find to Europe
for arms. He was outraged when Davis ordered an embargo on all shipments
of cotton to England and France to pressure those governments into
recognizing the Confederacy.
On July 21, Toombs resigned his Cabinet post and accepted commission
in the Confederate army. He rushed to join Gen. Joseph Johnston
at Manassas, where the first battle had left Rebel soldiers grumbling
about not being allowed to capture Washington and end the war. Toombs
told the men they were right.
The soldiers suggested that Toombs go back to Richmond and take
over as secretary of war, an idea Toombs rejected by saying, "I
would not be Mr. Davis' chief clerk." He told his wife, "His
secretary of war can never be anything else."
Toombs continued to rattle governmental cages and was finally arrested
for insubordination. Robert E. Lee intervened and sent Toombs to
Maryland, where he was wounded at Sharpsburg. He was sent back to
Virginia to recover and think about his future.
Apparently Toombs concluded that the Confederacy was doomed because
of poor leadership. Therefore, he would return to Georgia and work
to have the state secede from the Confederacy and go it alone as
a separate nation.
In March 1863, he resigned his commission and went home to join
Alexander Stephens as close advisers to Gov. Joseph Brown. It was
an odd group. Stephens has been elected the Confederacy's vice president,
become disgusted with the Richmond government and returned home.
Toombs shared his disgust.
Brown was pure Georgian and fought Davis at every turn. But he
built so many factories that the Union considered Georgia the "arsenal
of the Confederacy," which had to be destroyed in order to
end the war.
Sherman's march to the sea accomplished that, leaving much of the
state in ruins. Fortunately for Toombs, Sherman's army bypassed
his huge plantation and left the family fortune more or less intact.
In April 1865, Brown and Toombs were dining together when news
came that Lee had surrendered. A few days later Lincoln was assassinated.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent Union troops to arrest Jefferson
Davis, Alexander Stephens, Judah P. Benjamin, Robert Toombs, and
several other prominent Confederates as conspirators in Lincoln's
Davis and Stephens were captured, but Benjamin and Toombs outwitted
their pursuers. Toombs retreated into the wilds of Georgia, where
Yankee soldiers had no desire to go. He simply holed up with friends
Toombs then received word that Joseph Brown had "turned Republican."
Toombs never forgave him. In the fall of 1865, Toombs headed for
Alabama, where he took a boat to New Orleans. On Nov. 4 he was in
Cuba on his way to Europe.
In July 1866, Toombs was living comfortably in Paris. One day Mrs.
Toombs received letter from her husband that directed her to sell
the plantation and join him in France. The couple enjoyed a year
in Europe while they waited for things to settle down at home.
In 1867, the couple sailed for Cuba and New Orleans, then up the
Mississippi and on to Canada for a long visit with friends. As tensions
relaxed they went to Washington. There Toombs visited Sen. Oliver
Morton, who expressed surprise that Toombs had not applied for parole
as had thousands of others. Morton suggested that Toombs petition
Congress for a pardon.
Toombs glowered and in a loud voice said, "Pardon for what?
I have not pardoned you all yet!"
As time passed, paroles and pardons were forgotten and Mr. and
Mrs. Toombs returned to Georgia. The state was in chaos, with the
courts in the hands of hostile and unqualified outsiders. Outraged,
Toombs waded in and struck fear into judges whom he lectured on
the fine points of the law. He won case after case in the Georgia
Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Toombs kept hammering away, and gradually the people reclaimed
their state. By 1872 Toombs and Stephens were again the two most
powerful men in Georgia.
In December 1877, as a new constitution was adopted, Toombs abundant
energy began to wane. In March on 1883, he wept at the funeral of
his dear friend Stephens, then later that year he lost his wife.
On Dec. 15, 1885, Robert Toombs died and was buried in Washington,
His grave is marked only by a monument that bears only his name.
Friends thought there should have been additional lettering such
as "I still have not pardoned them."
Brent Hughes is a free-lance writer in Inman, S.C.