A Georgian at Bull Run/First Manassas

One-hundred fifty years ago today (July 21, 1861), the first major battle of the Civil War was fought near the town of Manassas Junction, VA. Three Georgia infantry units participated in the battle, under the command of Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow. Bartow had been active in secessionist politics, helping to organize early secession demonstrations in his native Savannah, GA and nearby Charleston, SC. He also organized one of the earliest military companies from Georgia – the Oglethorpe Light Infantry, which he led in the capture of Fort Pulaski in January of 1861. Bartow attended Georgia’s state secession convention in Milledgeville (then the state capital), where he was a vocal advocate for secession. Following Georgia’s withdrawal from the Union, Bartow was chosen as a delegate to the Provisional Confederate Congress, which met in Montgomery, AL in February of 1861. He worked with his friend, T.R.R. Cobb, in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain the Confederate Presidency for Cobb’s brother – Howell Cobb. Bartow also served as chairman of the military affairs committee and in this role reportedly selected gray as the color for Confederate uniforms.

Francis Stebbins Bartow
Francis Stebbins Bartow

Bartow led his Oglethorpe Light Infantry to Virginia in the spring of 1861, to prepare for the Northern invasion of the South. This caused a public disagreement with Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown, who disapproved of Bartow arming his men with rifles that Brown considered strictly for the defense of the state of Georgia. Bartow argued that he had little time for such petty matters. He was elected Colonel after his arrival in Virginia, and ultimately placed in command of a brigade. At a critical moment in the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), Bartow led a charge on a Union battery, where he was mortally wounded – his final words were “they have killed me boys, but never give up the field.” Newspapers throughout the state of Georgia praised Bartow for his leadership and gallantry.

July 25, 1861
From The Southern Confederacy

To honor Francis Stebbins Bartow, and at the urging of the citizens of Cass County in northwest Georgia, the county’s name was changed to Bartow County by the Georgia General Assembly in December, 1861.


On This Day in Georgia History

Sanborn map of Toccoa in 1908. From the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps DLG site

On this day in 1905, the Georgia state legislature established Stephens County, making it the state’s 143rd county. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the county was created out of portions of Habersham and Franklin counties in northeast Georgia. The county was named for Alexander Stephens, who served as governor of Georgia and vice president of the Confederacy. Toccoa, whose name comes from the Cherokee word for beautiful, is the county’s largest city, and serves as the county seat. Other towns in Stephens county include Avalon and Martin.

Image of Toccoa Falls, from the Sunny South, April 6, 1901 in the Atlanta Historic Newspaper Archive

The county is perhaps best known for its great natural beauty. One of the more striking features in the area is the 186 foot tall Toccoa Falls (see image below), which is located on the Toccoa Falls College campus. In 1977, a dam above the falls burst and killed 39 people. Today, a monument stands at the base of the falls to honor those who lost their lives in the flood.

Three other counties were created on the same day. To find out which ones, take a look at the “This Day in Georgia History” section of the GeorgiaInfo website. They also have information about Georgia history that occurred on every other day of the year.