The Civil War in Georgia, An Illustrated Travelers Guide
Nothing happened in Fitzgerald during the Civil War because the town didn't exist, but what happened here after the War makes it unusual, and a Civil War site. Fitzgerald has one of the most unique founding stories in the history of the U.S. A historical marker titled "Fitzgerald, The Colony City," tells the story well: Founded at Swan in 1895 by Mr. Philander H. Fitzgerald, lawyer, veteran and publisher of the American Tribune of Indianapolis, as a soldier's colony in the South. Fitzgerald was settled by Union veterans who, tired of Northern winters, flocked from 38 states and two territories to this benign and fertile land which, only 30 years before, had been deep in enemy territory. In the early 90s, devastating droughts had impoverished the farmers of the Mid-West and Georgians had sent trainloads of food to relieve their plight. Impressed, Mr. Fitzgerald conceived his plan and formed the American Tribune Soldiers Colony Company, (non-profit). Despite offers from neighboring states, the Company chose this site, acquired 50,000 acres of land, and laid out a town. By December, 5,000 colonists had arrived. The next fall, the schools opened with 501 pupils, the first in Georgia to offer free tuition and texts and a nine-month term. On Dec. 2, 1896, Fitzgerald was incorporated and elected officials took charge. With principal streets named to honor the great leaders of both armies, and with Confederate veterans joining their former enemies in this unique community endeavor, Fitzgerald has symbolized through the years an enduring unity born of that unfailing respect which brave men hold for each other. The town has always been progressive and pro-development, and it quickly grew, building businesses and a 1,200 seat opera house.
The idea of unity was evident among the colonists not only in their street names but in other ways as well. The town was maybe the only one in the U.S. which observed two memorial days, Confederate and Union. When the town built a four-story, 150 room hotel the largest wooden structure in the state at that time they named it the Lee-Grant. When Fitzgerald carved out of the frontier a county for itself, it named it Ben Hill for the famous Civil War orator and Confederate.
The aptly named Blue & Gray Museum tells the story of Fitzgerald and has an excellent collection of Civil War artifacts, including a Medal of Honor; the Confederate Flag used to drape the coffin of Georgia's last surviving Confederate veteran, a Fitzgerald resident; and a mortar and pestle of Jefferson Davis' doctor, captured with him in nearby Irwinville. Be sure to tour the town and see if you can guess which Civil War generals were honored in the Yank-Reb City. At 608 West Suwannee, is Gen. William J. Bush's home, the last survivor of the 125,000 Georgians who fought for the south. He died in 1952 at the age of 107.