Southwest Georgia marks Civil War anniversary

Cotton farmers

The first shot of the American Civil War was fired 150 years ago today. The aftermath of the bloody conflict meant radical changes and challenges for all of Southwest Georgia.

"Albany is known for the civil rights movement in the sixties and all the efforts that went on there but the process started many years before that," said Tommy Gregors of Albany's Thronateeska Heritage Center. Gregors says the push to make all men truly equal began with the rise of abolitionism in the 1850's that helped elect Abraham Lincoln and eventually led to the Civil War.

Like most of the state, Southwest Georgia's pre-war economy was based on cotton and on the slaves who worked the fields.

Albany's founder, Nelson Tift, was an early supporter of the Confederacy.

"While the battles did not come into Southwest Georgia, there was a good many troops furnished through Southwest Georgia and they would certainly leave out of the depot here at the Thronateeska site," said Gregors.

One of the other local buildings that played a significant role in the war is Albany's Bridge House. Its proximity to the Flint River made it a natural stop for steamships carrying supplies to the Confederacy. "There was a slaughter house that was out here and we actually stored the meat from the cattle and the sheep that were slaughtered in our basement," said Lisa Riddle of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Southwest Georgia was kind of known as the bread basket for the Confederacy because so much of the food for the soldiers came from our area."

The Union's victory secured the freedom of hundreds of thousands of African â"Americans but at a tremendous cost â" over 600,000 dead and a Southern economy in shambles. "It didn't come without challenges. It didn't come without a lot of sacrifice and commitment," said Gregors.

In many ways, Southwest Georgia is still grappling with the consequences of that first shot fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12th, 1861. "We've struggled with it over the years," added Gregors. "We've dealt with it. We've had successes as well. So, it was a huge way of life change for folks here and we continue to work on that today."

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