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scarcely less fiery or fateful, ' walked the forum like an en)peror and
confronted the commune with the majesty of a God.' " He gloried in
the whirlwind and caught his inspiration from the storm. As though
born to kindle a conflagration, he inflamed by his wonderful power
of speech and swayed by his electric fire. Like unto a Scythian
archer scouring the plain, he traversed the field of argument and

Brigadier-General Robert Toombs. 299

invective, and, at full speed, discharged his deadliest arrows. In for-
ensic battle the wheela of his war- chariot, sympathizing with the
ardent and resistless valor of him who guided them, grew incandes-

Demosthenes, mingling the thunders of his eloquence with the
roar of the ^gean; Cicero, his eyes fixed on the capitol, wielding
at will the fierce democracy and inspiring all hearts with a love of
freedom and an admiration for the triumphs of the Roman race; Otis,
kindling a patriotic flame wherein the " Writs of Assistance" were
wholly consumed ; Warren, inscribing upon the banners of the sons of
liberty, " Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God ; " Henry, the
" incarnation of Revolutionary zeal," ringing the alarum bell and
giving the signal to a continent ; the impassioned Barre, defending,
even within the shadow of the throne, the claims of the oppressed —
were not more forcible in utterance, magnetic in action, or majestic
in mien than Robert Toombs when contending for the privilege of
free speech, or proclaiming the rights of the South, as he compre-
hended them. The latter were paramount in his esteem. To their
assertion was his supreme devotion pledged, his best effort directed.
Bold, even to temerity, in his assertions ; in tone and manner em-
phatic, to the verge of menace ; by sudden bursts, savoring almost of
inspiration, essaying at critical moments to decide the fate of great
questions ; iconoclastic sometimes in his suggestions — he was, never-
theless, always true to the principles of exalted statesmanship, and
loyal in the last degree to the best interests of the South as he forecast
them. Mighty was his influence in precipitating the Confederate
revolution. Most potent were his persuasions in inducing Georgia
to secede from the Union. It was his boast that he would live and
die an uncompromising opponent of the unconstitutional acts and
assumed authority ot the General Government.

Upon his return from Washington, Mr. Toombs took his seat in
the Secession Convention of Georgia, where he freely participated
in its deliberations, and acted a conspicuous part.

As a delegate to the Confederate Congress, which assembled at
Montgomery, Alabama, on the 4th of February, 1861, and as the
chairman of the committee from Georgia, he was largely instru-
mental in framing the Constitution of the Confederate States. Upon
the inauguration of the Hon. Jefferson Davis as President of the
Southern Confederacy, the port-folio of State was tendered to, and,
after some hesitation on his part, was accepted by Mr. Toombs. He
was content to discharge the duties of this office only during the

300 Southern Historical Society Papers.

formative period of the government. Hie restless spirit and active
intellect could not long brook the tedium of bureau affairs, or rest
satisfied with the small engagements then incident to that position.
In the following July he relinquished the port-folio of a department,
the records of which he facetiously remarked " he carried in his
hat," and accepted service in the field with the rank of Brigadier-
General. His brigade was composed of the Second, Fifteenth, Sev-
enteenth, and Twentieth regiments, Georgia infantry, and the First
regiment of Georgia regulars. It formed a part of Longstreet's
corps. Army of Northern Virginia.

To his imperious spirit, unused to subjection and unaccustomed
to brook the suggestions and commands of others, the discipline
and exactions of a m.ilitary life were most irksome, and sometimes
the orders emanating from those superior in rank very distasteful.
In open defiance of well known army regulations he did not hesitate,
on more than one occasion, to criticise, publicly and severely, mili-
tary movements and instructions which did not commend themselves
to his approbation. To such an extent did this show of insubordi-
nation obtain that he was suspended from the command of his brigade
to await the determination of charges preferred. He resumed his
command, however, at the memorable battle of Second Manassas,
and at Sharpsburg held the bridge with the courage and pertinacity
of a modern Horatius. In the latter engagement he was wounded.
In both battles he behaved with conspicuous gallantry, and received
the commendation of General Lee.

On the 4th of iMarch, 1863, he resigned his commission in the
army and returned to Georgia. General Toombs was not in accord
with President Davis's administration of public affairs, nor did he
acquiesce in the propriety of some of the most important enactments
oi the Confederate Congress. Although his affections, his hopes,
and his aspirations were wholly enlisted in the Southern cause — al-
though he stood prepared to render every assistance in his power —
he reserved aiid exercised the right of passing upon men and meas-
ures, and of gainsaying the qualifications of the one and the expedi-
ency of the other, where they did not challenge his personal sanction.
This attitude did not conduce to general harmony. Without hesita-
tion he claimed and enforced the dangerous privilege of denouncing
publicly what he disapproved, and of freely deriding that which his
judgment did not countenance. Such conduct in one of his acknowl-
edged ability and wide-spread influence would have been more toler-
able in a period of peace; but when a new-born nation, confronting

Brigadier-General Robert Toombs. 301

difficulties the most overwhelming, and struggling against odds
without parallel in the history of modern wars, was engaged in a
death grapple for life — when all, repressing personal prefereaces,
and refraining from harsh criticism, should have been intent upon
makmg the best of the situation, and rendering full service in the
common cause, his attitude, to say the least, appeared obstructive of
unity. It was characteristic of General Toombs to measure men and
laws by his own standard of character, excellence and propriety. Be-
yond question that standard was bold, advanced, colossal; but in its
application it was sometimes dangerous, above the common appre-
hension, and suggestive of rule or ruin. If the order or enactment,
no matter how august the source from which it originated, or how
potent the authority by which it was promulgated, did not coincide
with his views of right or necessity, he did not scruple openly to
criticise, to condemn, or to disobey. He was largely a law unto him-
self, and in some instances did violence to the expectation which,
under circumstances then existent, might well have been formed with
regard to the judgment and conservative action of one possessing
his grand powers and overshadowing gifts. At the outset of the
Confederate revolution he apparently underestimated the determi-
nation, the martial spirit, and the r'esources of the North. So intent
was he upon the unification of the Southern States, so eager was he
for the immediate success of Confederate arms, that he did not re-
frain from denouncing the leaders upon whom, by any possibility,
the blame of hesitation, mistake or defeat could be cast. He was
an avowed enemy of West Point, and ridiculed the idea, so generally
entertained, of the superiority of the officers of the regular army.
Of President Davis's ability to fill the exalted station to which he
had been elected, General Toombs did not cherish a favorable opinion.
The conscript act — ^the suspension of the writ of habeas corptis—r&gw-
lations restricting the planting of cotton— laws governing the im-
pressment of animals and the collection of supplies for the army —
and some orders of the Executive and enactments of Congress — he
pronounced ill-advised if not unconstitutional, and lent no helping
hand for their enforcement. The consequence of all this was, that
this distinguished Georgian, who occupied so prominent a place in
the public esteem, who was so richly endowed, and who had been so
instrumental in precipitating hostilities between the sections, did not,
be Ho flagrante, in the advice given, in the support extended, and in
the services rendered to the Confederate government, fulfill the gen-
eral expectation.

302 Southern Historical Society Papers.

Upon retiring from the Army of Northern Virginia he took service
with the State forces of Georgia, and retained his connection with
them until the close of the war.

Eluding the pursuit of a body of Federal soldiery detached to
compass his arrest when Confederate affairs were iyi extremis, he fled
from his home and succeeded in making his escape to Cuba and
thence to Europe. Upon the restoration of the privilege of the writ
of habeas corpus within the States lately in arms against the General
Government, he returned to Georgia and resumed, with undiminished
power and marked success, the practice of his profession. The angry
billows of civil war were rocking themselves to rest. After the
great storm there came a calm. Hate was giving place to reason, and
no attempt was subsequently made to execute the order for his

The last political service rendered by General Toombs was per-
formed by him as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1877,
which was presided over by our venerable fellow-citizen, ex- Governor
Charles J. Jenkins. In framing the present Constitution of Georgia,
General Toombs exerted an almost overshadowing influence. The
suggestion and the adoption of its leading and, in the opinion of
some, its questionable features, are to be referred to his thought and
persuasive eloquence.

His last public utterance, we believe, was heard when, with tearful
eye, trembling voice, and feeble gesture, he pronounced, in the Hall
of Representatives at. Atlanta, a funeral oration over the dead body
of his life long friend. Governor Alexander H. Stephens. For some
time prior to his demise. General Toombs had been but the shadow
of his former great self. The death of a noble wife, to whom he
was devotedly attached, proved an affliction too grievous for his de-
clining years. The light went out of his home and gladness no longer
dwelt in the chambers of his heart. Impaired vision deprived him of
the ability either to read or to write except at intervals and with diffi-
culty. His idols broken, his companions departed, his ambition
blighted, his physical and intellectual forces abated, he lingered
almost alone in a later generation which knew him not in his prime.
His splendid person, months agone, suffered impairment at the ad-
vance of age and the multiplication of sorrows, and the commanding
presence gave place to the bent form and the unsteady gait of the
feeble old man. His intellect, too, formerly so authoritative, massive,
and captivating, became uncertain in its action. To the last, how-
ever, he continued to denounce the reconstruction measures of Con-

Brigadier-General Robert Toombs. 303

gress, and proclaimed himself an " unpardoned, unreconstructed, and
unrepentant Rebel."

In the morning, at high noon, and even beyond the meridian of
his manhood he was intellectually the peer of the most gifted, and
towered Atlas-like above the common range. His genius was con-
spicuous. His powers of oratory were overmastering. His mental
operations were quick as lightning, and, like the lightning, they were
dazzling in their brilliancy and resistless in their play. Remarkable
were his conversational gifts, and most searching his analyses of
character and event. In hospitality he was generous, and in his do-
mestic relations tender and true. The highest flights of fancy, the
profoundest depths of pathos, the broadest range of bitirtg sarcasm
and withering invective, generalizations of the boldest character, and
arguments the most logical, were equally at his command. As a
lawyer, he was powerful; as an advocate, well nigh resistless. He
was a close student, and deeply versed in the laws, state-craft, and
political history of this Commonwealth and nation. In all his gladi-
atorial combats, whether at the bar, upon the hustings, or in legisla-
tive halls, we recall no instance in which he met his over match.
Even during his years of decadence there were occasions when the
almost extinct volcano glowed again with its wonted fires ; when the
ivy-mantled keep of the crumbling castle resumed its pristine defi-
ance with deep-toned cujverin and ponderous mace ; when, amid the
colossal fragments of the tottering temple, men recognized the un-
subdued spirit of Samson Agonistes.

In the demise of this distinguished Georgian we chronicle the
departure of another noted Confederate, and this Comrnonwealth
mourns the loss of a son whose fame for half a hundred years was
intimately associated with her aspirations and her glory. He was
the survivor of that famous companionship which included such
eminent personages as Crawford, Cobb, Johnson, Jenkins, Hill, and
Stephens. While during his long and prominent career General
Toombs was courted, admired, and honored, while in the stations he
filled he was renowned for the brilliancy of his intellectual efforts, the
intrepidity of his actions, the honesty of his purposes, and for loyalty
to his section, while his remarkable sayings, epigrammatical utter-
ances, caustic satires, and eloquent speeches will be repeated, it
would seem that he has bequeathed few lasting monuments. Among
his legacies will, we fear, be found few substantial contributions to
knowledge. Scant are the tokens of labor which will perpetuate his

304 Southern Historical Society Papers.

name and minister to the edification of future generations. Trusting
largely to the spoken word, which too often dies with the listener, he
will live mainly as a tradition.

Natural gifts so superior as those which he possessed, and oppor-
tunities so famous as those which he enjoyed, should have borne
fruit more abundant and yielded a harvest less insubstantial. By
permanent record of grand thoughts and great ideas, he should have
commended his memory more surely to the comprehension of the
coming age, so that there might be no lack of " historic proof to
verify the reputation of his power."

Enjoying a present fame as a legislator, a statesman, a counsellor,
an advocafe, an orator, a Confederate chieftain, a defender of the
South, and a lover of this Commonwealth, towering among the high-
est and brightest of the land, this illustrious Georgian is also remem-
bered as a leader not always wise and conservative in his views, as a
mighty tribune of the people sometimes dethroning images where
he erected none better in their places.

Thus are we reminded that the children of men, be they of high
or low estate, be they rich or poor, be they intellectually great or of
the common measure,

"Are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

Although this is true, let us remember, my comrades, it is not all
of death to die ; that the actions of the just are not wholly swallowed
up in the oblivion of the tomb ; that there are virtuous memories,
which, at least for a season, are not coffined with our bones ; and,
thus persuaded, may we, one and all, heed the injunction of the great
American poet —

" So live, that when thy summons comes to join
Ttie innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death.
Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night,
.Scourged to his dungeon, but sustain'd and sooth 'd
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one that draws the drapery of his couch
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Fortification and Siege of Port Hudson. 305

Fortification and Siege of Port Hudson— Compiled by the Association of
Defenders of Port Hudson; M. J. Smith, President; James Freret, Sec-

The village of Port Hudson is situated on a north and south bluff
on the east, or left bank of the Mississippi river, about eighty feet
above low water, and about thirty miles above Baton Rouge.

About two miles above, the river, from a southward course, turns
about due east, directly against the village and against the bluff, by
which it is suddenly turned south again for about five miles. It then
curves again towards the east, dividing into two branches, which form
Prophet's Island.

The village was built just at the angle formed by the sudden turn
of the river above noted. The bluff extended a few hundred yards
above the angle, and then went down to a ravine, beyond which was
a steep, narrow ridge, cut vertically on the west.

A short distance beyond is Sandy creek, crossed by a bridge, from
which a road lead under the knoll and bluff to the angle of the river.

Westward from this road, and north of the river, was a marsh, ex-
tending to the southward branch of the river first above noted.

Thomson's creek flowed through this marsh to the river.

About a mile and a half below the village, the bluff was cut by a
ravine about three hundred yards wide, which came down in a south-
westerly direction, with ramifications towards the village in the rear.

Eastwardly from the village, the plateau extended into extensive
fields, from which roads ran to Jackson, Clinton, Bayou Sara and
Baton Rouge.

To the north, the ground became suddenly very much broken,
densely wooded, and almost impassable, for a few hundred yards, to
Sandy creek, a branch of Thomson's creek.

A railroad, in very bad working order, ran from Port Hudson to
Clinton, thirty-three miles northeast.

The following account is compiled from —

ist. Official report of Colonel Steedman, First Alabama regiment,
commanding left wing of defences.

2d. Official report of General Miles, Miles's Legion, commanding
right wing.

3d. Two official reports of Colonel Marshall J. Smith, command-
ing heavy artillery.

4th. Narration of the Siege, published by Lieutenant Wright in
the New Orleans Weekly True Delta, September 5, 1863.

306 Southern Historical Society Papers.

5th. Narration of James Francis Fitts in The Galaxy for Septem-
ber, 1866 — "A June Day at Port Hudson." (Federal.)
6th. Orville J. Victor's History of the War. (Federal.)
7th. Report (official) of Fred. Y. Dabney, First Lieutenant-Engi
neer Confederate States Navy, Chief Engineer at Port Hudson.


The occupation of Port Hudson had been determined on in July,
1862, and the attack by General Breckenridge on Baton Rouge, early
in the succeeding month, was a preliminary step. Brigadier- General
Ruggles was left to commence the work of fortifying the ground.
The Essex, an iron-clad gun-boat, being in the river above, heavy
guns could not be brought down by boats. The plan of detached
works was the one decided upon, and the first lunette was thrown up
on the Baton Rouge road, four miles below Port Hudson.

This line would have been eight miles in length, and, according to
military rule, would have required for its defence a force of 28,000
men, with a reserve of 7,000, making a garrison of 35,000 strong,
with at least seventy pieces of artillery. It is not surprising, there-
fore, that this system was soon abandoned as impracticable.


A change of commanders placed Brigadier-General H. N. R. Beal
in charge of Port Hudson. A different system of defence was decided
upon, and the work commenced. This was a continuous indented
or angular line of parapet and ditch, on a more contracted scope. A
line was surveyed, commencing about two miles and a half below
Port Hudson, describing a slight curve to a point on Sandy creek, a
mile back of the town. For about three-quarters of a mile from the
river the line crossed a broken series of ridges, plateaus and ravines,
taking advantage of high ground in some places and in others ex-
tending down a deep declivity ; for the next mile and a quarter it
traversed Gibbon's and Slaughter's fields, where a wide, level plain
seemed formed on purpose for a battlefield ; another quarter of a
mile carried it through deep and irregular gullies, and for three quar-
ters of a mile more it led through fields and on hills to a deep gorge,
in the bottom of which lay Sandy creek. Thence to the river was
about a mile and a half.

This was a line four miles and a half long, which, according to all

Fortification and Siege of Port Hudson. 307

military writers, required filteen thousand men to hold, with a reserve
of from three to five thousand.

Work was commenced and Hngered on through the summer and
fall ; the breastworks thrown up were the smallest and weakest
allowed in engineering, made in the roughest manner, and reveted
with fence rails.

A small force of negroes was kept at work on the line in a desul-
tory manner for several months, and then the soldiers were called to
help. When General Banks threatened an attack, about the loth of
March, the work was still unfinished. Some little activity now be-
came manifest, so that when the siege really commenced, in May, the
line had reached the broken ground to the north, at the Clinton road.


Soon after the occupation of Port Hudson the gloomy looking
Essex floated down opposite to us, and went up the river again.

The water batteries were then in process of excavation.

The Essex next got ready to go down, and taking the Anglo-
American on her starboard side, ran past at four o'clock in the
morning. Besides a few field pieces, we opened on her with two
42-pounders and a 20 pounder Parrott which had just arrived, though
without expectation of injuring the ironclad. She replied to our
fire, killing one of our horses, and our guns ceased firing as she passed
out of their respective range.


During the fall and winter, heavy guns for the river defence occa-
sionally arrived, and they were severally placed in position. A three
pit battery was constructed at the water's edge, and two other bat-
teries dug at a height of from fifty to sixty feet, being below the top
of the biufi".

General Gardner took command on the 27th of December, and
immediately ordered changes, particularly as regarded subjects of
engineering skill. The whole system of the river defence was altered
so as to cluster the heaviest guns together, and bring them all within
a more contracted scope, which enabled them to deliver a more con-
centrated fire, as well as to support each other with more effect.
Evidences of awakened energy were seen on every side, and the
spirit of the troops never was at a higher pitch.

A week before General Gardner came to Port Hudson, Banks's

308 Southern Historical Society Papers.

army had landed at Baton Rouge, re-occupying and fortifying the


During the months of January and February troops arrived in
considerable number. Three brigades were formed; one given to
General Beall, composed principally of troops from his own State
(Arkansas), and the other commands were assumed by Brigadier-
Generals S. B. Maxey and John Gregg, of Texas. In March an-
other brigade arrived commanded by Brigadier-General Rust The
enemy finally exhibited signs of activity, and about the loth of
March it became known that General Banks would make a demon-
stration of some kind. He did move out of Baton Rouge on the
1 2th and approached us with his whole force. It was confidently
expected that he would attack us with some vigor, and our dispo-
sitions were according made on the 13th.

General Gregg held the right of our line of intrenchments, Gen-
eral Maxey the centre and General Beall the left. General Rust's
brigade was in advance.

On the afternoon and during the night of the 14th, Rust's brigade,
in the woods before our lines, felt the enemy's advance and tried,
but in vain, to draw him on.

General Rust sent in requesting permission to make his way around
Banks's right flank and rear, while the balance of the troops sallied
forth and attacked in front. This permission was refused; in the
hope of drawing the enemy into an assault.

Meanwhile the fleet moved up as follows :


Port Hudson, Louisiana, March 15th, 1863.

To Major- General Frank Gardner:

General, — Yesterday morning the Federal fleet consisting

Online LibrarySouthern Historical Society. cnSouthern Historical Society papers (Volume 14) → online text (page 32 of 61)