Highlighting the “complex loyalties of Bartow Countians during the Civil War,” Dr. Keith S. Hebert will discuss his latest book, “The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains: Confederate Nationalism, Sectionalism, and White Supremacy in Bartow County, Georgia” at the Bartow History Museum Thursday. Titled “Bartow County’s Civil Wars,” his presentation will begin at 7 p.m. at the Cartersville venue, 4 E. Church St.
“Bartow County is an interesting choice to do a local history of the Civil War,” said Hebert, a 1995 graduate of Adairsville High School who currently serves as an assistant professor of history at Auburn University. “First, the county [experienced] a ‘boom’ period in the 1850s that aligned its interests with many areas in the South that owned significant amounts of slaves. Second, as slaveholding states begin to vote on whether or not to secede from the Union, Bartow Countians are divided on the issue.
“Some believe that their interests, primarily preserving a social order based on white supremacy and black inferiority, would be best protected if they left the Union. Others, however, saw secession as too radical and predicted that the very system that had created their society would be lost if the South seceded. Third, the county endured a prolonged period of Union Army occupation following the Atlanta Campaign. This occupation led to many encounters between local civilians and guerrillas and the Union army.”
He continued, “… However, it is important to note that locals, too, joined the fray and often used this period as an opportunity to settle old scores against their neighbors. If the Confederate government had any chance of winning the Civil War, ideally they would have received a lot more support from counties, such as Bartow. Ultimately, Bartow County represents hundreds of other counties across the region that never fully invested themselves in the Confederacy.”
Released in July 2017, “The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains” was published by University of Tennessee Press. According to Hebert, “one of the most interesting figures” in his book is Dr. William H. Felton, who was an avid Confederate government supporter at the beginning of the war.
“He volunteered to serve as a surgeon and throughout the war held many positions in the government’s medical department,” Hebert said. “By the end of the war, however, he had begun to question his support for the state’s Democratic Party leadership who had pushed for secession. … After the war, Felton became a leader in the Independent Party movement that challenged the state’s dominant Democratic Party.
“During the 1870s, Felton courted black voters and built a large constituency of poor Confederate veterans and white farmers to defeat General P.M.B. Young in a highly contested congressional race,” he said. “Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which [included] large portions of northwest Georgia, became known as the ‘bloody seventh’ because of the heated political contests fought in the area. Ultimately, Felton’s biracial coalition collapsed as Democrats used fears of black on white violence and black social advancement to sway the area’s white voters who remained committed to white supremacy, even if that meant supporting politicians who largely ignored their needs.
“Many of Rebecca Felton’s racist rants during the latter part of the century can be traced back to her husband’s failed political career. She, like many Bartow Countians, tended to blame the victims of the era, African Americans, for problems that largely stemmed from [the] ruling Democratic Party’s efforts to recommit the region to white supremacy.”
"The Civil War is an area of great interest and fascination for many in this area, including many of our members and visitors," BHM Director Trey Gaines said. "Programs on topics related to the Civil War are usually well attended, and because this particular presentation will focus on the local area, I think it will be of great interest to those wanting to know more about life during the mid- to late 1800s.
"Dr. Hebert grew up in Bartow County and went on to conduct extensive research on Bartow County history and Civil War history. He has led tours and given other presentations here at the Bartow History Museum in the past and has always engaged participants and offered new and intriguing information. We think attendees will learn more about the complexities of the war, particularly as they pertain to local history."
Open to the public, Hebert's lecture at 7 p.m. will be free for BHM members and included in regular admission to the venue for nonmembers.
“I hope guests gain a better understanding of the complex loyalties of Bartow Countians during the Civil War,” Hebert said. “Deep divisions existed across the county. As much as some groups would like to discount the role that slavery played in the war’s causes, one cannot honestly assess the war’s causes without serious study of the role that shared white supremacists’ attitudes had on their ultimate decisions.
“How do you get nonslaveholding white men to fight for the Confederacy? The answer to that question rests in the very foundations of that society, a social order built on white supremacy.”
For more information about the BHM and its exhibits and programs, call 770-382-3818 or visit http://bartowhistorymuseum.org.