Washington is one of Georgia's historic gems, a town filled with many architectural treasures which capture the feel of antebellum Georgia. It was one of Georgia's original counties, and the first successful cotton gin was perfected and set up by Eli Whitney in Wilkes County in 1795 at Mount Pleasant Plantation, altering the history of the South, which became the home of King Cotton, plantations and slaves. (The first cotton mill in Georgia was erected in Wilkes County in 1811.) Washington was the terminus of a spur off the Georgia Railroad between Augusta and Atlanta, connecting it to the rest of the South. During the Civil War, a fleeing Jefferson Davis had his last cabinet meeting here, and Washington is the home of "Unreconstructed Rebel" and Confederate secretary of state Robert Toombs. The mystery of the Confederate treasure has its roots here, and treasure hunters continue to search the countryside for the buried treasure which was last sheltered in the town of Washington. Brig. Gen. Edward Porter Alexander, commander of Alexander's Battalion of Artillery, was born here on May 26, 1835. At Gettysburg, his 75 guns prepared the way for Pickett's Charge. This was the hometown of Eliza Francis Andrews, author of The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, one of the best memoirs of the period. Two Confederate generals, Dudley M. DuBose and Toombs, are buried in Rest Haven Cemetery located on GA 44 east of town. Washington claims to be the first city in the nation to be incorporated in the name of George Washington in 1780.
Robert Augustus Toombs was one of the most colorful figures of the Civil War and one of the South's most impassioned and daring orators. Born in Wilkes County on July 2, 1810, Toombs attended Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) but was expelled because of a college prank. (See Robert Toombs Oak pg. 72.) He eventually finished school at the University of Virginia, was admitted to the bar, and returned to Washington to practice law. Elected to the state legislature from 1837 to 1844, he then served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1845 to 1853, and then was elected to the U.S. Senate from 1853 to 1861, resigning at the outbreak of the War. Early in his Washington, D.C. career, Toombs was a moderate, consistently supporting compromise measures, but he turned into a "fire-eating" secessionist when the Crittenden Compromise in 1860 failed. Toombs ran for the presidency of the Confederacy, narrowly losing to Davis, and served briefly and unhappily as secretary of state until he resigned this position to join the C.S. Army in July 1861 as brigadier general. Toombs' brigade served in the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia, where he was injured at Sharpsburg, Maryland when a portion of his brigade stopped two charges of the Union Ninth Corps at the famed Burnside Bridge over Antietam Creek. Unhappy with the South's defensive strategy, Toombs resigned his command in March 1863, and returned to Georgia to serve as adjutant and inspector general under Gen. G.W. Smith in the Georgia State Militia and in the defenses of Atlanta and Savannah. Toombs was one of the five men that the Federal government wanted punished after the War, so to avoid capture by Union troops in 1865, he fled to Cuba, France, England and Canada, returning to Georgia two years later in 1867. He refused to take the hated "Oath of Allegiance" to the U.S. and declared himself an "Unreconstructed Rebel." Said Toombs in 1880, "I am not loyal to the existing government of the United States and do not wish to be suspected of loyalty." He was a power in Georgia politics but never held political office due to his refusal to take the oath. He died in Washington on Dec. 15, 1885 and is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery. The Robert Toombs State Historic Site features Toombs' antebellum home with period furnishings and Civil War artifacts.
This is the best place to start your Civil War tour of Washington/Wilkes County. Exhibits in this Federal style house, built circa 1835, feature the Confederacy and Reconstruction as well as local history. Valuable Confederate relics, including the camp chest of Jefferson Davis, original photos, signed documents, and Gen. Robert Toomb's uniform, are found here. Material on the last cabinet meeting of the Confederacy is available, and the house has one floor furnished with furniture of the grade period, circa 1830.
A visitor's guide to Washington/Wilkes County is available at the museum, and it will lead you to more than 50 sites worth visiting, including the following historic homes with Civil War significance: Holly Court, a combination of two homes, one built in 1807 and the other in the 1840s, located at 301 S. Alexander Ave., was where Mrs. Jefferson Davis and her two children spent a few days awaiting the arrival of Jefferson Davis after the fall of Richmond; the Campbell-Jordan House, East Liberty St., was the home of two distinguished Georgians, one Duncan G. Campbell who drafted the treaty resulting in the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia on the Trail of Tears, and his son John Archibald Campbell, who was an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1853 to 1861, when he resigned to become assistant secretary of war for the Confederacy; the Gilbert-Alexander House, circa 1808, on Alexander Drive, is one of the oldest brick structures north of Augusta and where C.S. Brig. Gen. E.P. Alexander lived; and the County Courthouse, U.S. 78, was built on the site of the Heard House, the scene of the last cabinet meeting of the Confederate government. A historical marker tells the story of Jefferson Davis' desire to continue fighting the War. A piece of the Heard House's wrought iron balcony is incorporated into the design of the Osborne Bounds-Barnett House on Spring Street.
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