Question about white Southern refugees

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Pat Young

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I am starting some research on white refugees in the South who fled areas being occupied by the Union army. I am developing some questions about this and if anyone wants to chime in with answers and sources, please do.

1. Why did some whites flee Union armies and others remain?
2. Did Confederate leaders encourage white refugees to leave their homes when the Union army was nearby?
3. Apart from Missouri, were there instances of white Southerners being expelled en mass from an area by Union officers?
4. How many white refugees fleeing Union troops were there during the war?
5. Did most white refugees stay away from home for the duration of the war or did they return home soon after leaving?
 

Pat Young

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Some more questions:
6. How far did refugees travel before they stopped and resettled, even if only temporarily?
7. Did refugees become more militantly pro-Confederate after the refugee experience?
8. Did refugees blame the Confederate military and political leaders for their displacement?
 
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Pat Young

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More questions occur to me:

9. The Freedman's Bureau helped white pro-Union refugees. Was their a similar agency in the South for white pro-Confederate refugees?
10. What did state and local governments do to help refugees?
11. Was there some sort of an organized private relief effort like the American Missionary Association, which was a northern group helping black refugees?
12. Any sense of the mortality rate among refugees?
13. Did refugee typically return to their old homes after the war, or did they resettle elsewhere?
 
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Between September 11 and 16 some 446 families, about 1,600 people, left their homes and possessions
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/atlanta-is-evacuated

I see a Google book that says the first refugees returned at the end of November but for some reason Google books isn't opening for me this a.m.
Sherman's Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American ...
https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1620970783
Matthew Carr - 2015 - ‎History
When Sherman's army entered Atlanta, the spectacle of destruction shocked even ... When the first refugees returned at the end of November, they found what ...
 
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Anna Elizabeth Henry

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What a great research topic!

I have an ancestor who was deemed a refugee by the Union Army as he was allowed to stay in Alexandria with one of his sons late in the war. He left his home as he feared backlash for being a Unionist. One of his other sons, my very great-grandfather also left his home during the war and moved to West Virginia, I'm still trying to figure out why, but since he furnished a substitute to fight on his behalf I think he left Virginia for similar reasons as his father. I'm still trying to piece together their wartime movements and reasons behind them.
 

johan_steele

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I am starting some research on white refugees in the South who fled areas being occupied by the Union army. I am developing some questions about this and if anyone wants to chime in with answers and sources, please do.

1. Why did some whites flee Union armies and others remain? Every war in history shows refugees fleeing in front of an army. Some armies have even taken this into account and used it to their advantage. Only the most foolish want to stay in the path of an advancing army. But there will & always have been those who have no choice but to stay.
2. Did Confederate leaders encourage white refugees to leave their homes when the Union army was nearby? Yes and no, it would depend upon when and where.
3. Apart from Missouri, were there instances of white Southerners being expelled en mass from an area by Union officers? Yes as well as by CS authorities. The CS did some confiscation of pro union property at several locales. east TN, north GA & north AL come to mind.
4. How many white refugees fleeing Union troops were there during the war? I'm not certain that can be answered with certainty.
5. Did most white refugees stay away from home for the duration of the war or did they return home soon after leaving? Again that is time and location specific. Some never returned while others were back just as soon as the US troops were gone; others after a time.
6. How far did refugees travel before they stopped and resettled, even if only temporarily? This is an impossible question to answer with anything more than a broad brushed manner. Some families fled to neighbors, friends, relatives or a "safe" city. Some had a plan & others didn't. In many cases the US Army continued to push them out of what they viewed as safe areas.
7. Did refugees become more militantly pro-Confederate after the refugee experience? That seems to be a mixed result from what I've read. Some blamed the CS for failing to protect them others became militantly pro CS while others would return and just make do or kept on keeping on. The only specific reference to such that comes to mind is in regards to the Dalton GA area. Many civilians felt that Wheelers Cavalry had been far worse than the US troops that passed through the area. Another example would be in the Cartersville GA area where well after the one Pro US family returned to reclaim the farm they had been forced off of were apparently quite grateful to the local garrison for the ability to return home. That area of the country also showed families that refused to move. One family had all three of their sons conscripted by the CS Army and refused to move so that their sons would know where to return to.
8. Did refugees blame the Confederate military and political leaders for their displacement? Jeff Davis wasn't anywhere near as popular in 1864 than he is today in the eyes of the southern populace. I've read too much of the abject hate put toward him by southern civilians.
9. The Freedman's Bureau helped white pro-Union refugees. Was their a similar agency in the South for white pro-Confederate refugees? Not that I am aware of. Though I believe Joe Brown, governor of GA, made some attempt to do something for civilians who had been forced to flee the warzone. He blamed Jeff Davis for the whole mess in GA and from what I can tell never forgave him for the destruction in GA.
10. What did state and local governments do to help refugees? IIRC Gov. Brown had rations issued and sent out appeals to the civilian populace to help their brethren. I believe rations destined for the ANV were rerouted to a refugee camp at least once and some of the crops that had been collected for the tithing system ended up in refugee hands. though is such were done officially or on say so of a tithing officer I don't know. There was a refugee influx into the Waycross and elsewhere in the southern areas of GA. I'm also tempted to say numbers of GA refugees ended up in Alabama.
11. Was there some sort of an organized private relief effort like the American Missionary Association, which was a northern group helping black refugees? Not that I am aware of, though many local churches and communities certainly pitched in.
12. Any sense of the mortality rate among refugees? From what I've read not nearly as bad as would be expected or exhibited in other times. Many were absorbed into the ranks of the urban poor of cities like Atlanta, Richmond, Savannah & other cities.
13. Did refugee typically return to their old homes after the war, or did they resettle elsewhere? Many never returned home, many did. Some would return home to find nothing and rebuilt. Others returned to find nothing and just kept going elsewhere. Many western settlers were displaced southern refugees.
Studying refugees is a very daunting task because there is so little consistent or accurate information. One has to rely on newspaper & familial records as well as 2nd, 3rd & 4th hand accounts more than anything else and those all can be of questionable accuracy. In the archives in SC I recall reading many references in period newspapers about the plight of refugees settling throughout the state. Many from elsewhere in the CS and there were repeated calls to those other states & the CS to provide for those refugees as they were a burden on the communities they settled into. A lot of people moved themselves or their property inland away from the coast and US troops and as the war progressed there was no place really free from US incursions.
 
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Pat Young

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3. Atlanta? No?
Between September 11 and 16 some 446 families, about 1,600 people, left their homes and possessions
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/atlanta-is-evacuated

I see a Google book that says the first refugees returned at the end of November but for some reason Google books isn't opening for me this a.m.
Sherman's Ghosts: Soldiers, Civilians, and the American ...
https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1620970783
Matthew Carr - 2015 - ‎History
When Sherman's army entered Atlanta, the spectacle of destruction shocked even ... When the first refugees returned at the end of November, they found what ...
Thanks for the info.
 

DR_Hanna

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Here is a Harper's Weekly paragraph from Dec 10, 1864 which talks about the plight of "Union" refugees in NW GA, which I found enlightening. They were Union sympathizers who became political refugees when the Union abandoned N. GA for the coast.

Found at http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1864/december/stone-river-monument.htm

"WE give on our first page an illustration representing UNION REFUGEES AT KINGSTON, GEORGIA, on their way North. The number of these arrivals is daily increasing. Since SHERMAN with the main body of his army advanced southward, abandoning Northern Georgia, this region has become one not very safe and pleasant to those who have by the presence of our army been emboldened to declare their preference for the old Union. The Richmond journals dwell upon the departure of these loyalists with peculiar satisfaction, on the ground that it diminishes that opposition in Georgia which has always been an element of danger to the Confederacy."
The illustration referred to is here: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1864/civil-war-refugees.htm

Interesting that folks became refugees not only because of of actual fighting where they lived, but for other reasons, too. Many in Tennessee and Kentucky left during Confederate incursions to avoid "conscription".
 

johan_steele

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Another thing to keep in mind is that the refugee situation bred opportunity. Gov Brown was livid when he visited Atlanta after Sherman's Army had left and he noted hundreds of wagons full of items looted from abandoned homes.
 
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DR_Hanna

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Nortwest GA was trampled over by Union and Confederate armies for much of 1864 - The armies came South in the Atlanta campaign, went back North in the Nashville campaign, then back South to Savannah at the end of the year. Those who remained - refugees and natives alike, were in pretty hard straights - refugees in place, so to speak. It was so bad that the Union pitched in to help out...

From the South in the Building of the Nation, Vol II, page 216

"On Jan. 23, 1865, Gen. Win. T. Wofford
assumed command of the Confederate force in North
Georgia with headquarters in Atlanta. There was
great destitution through all this section. He called
in and organized several thousand men and obtained
corn which he and General Judah, of the Federal
army, distributed among the people, the two generals
having made a truce for that purpose."
From page 219, speaking of immediate post-war times:

"Soldiers returning to their homes and destitute people
generally were fed from their commissaries.
Horses and mules that had been surrendered by the
Confederate authorities, and even stock that had
been left in the state by the Federal army under
General Sherman, were turned over to the farmers,
who were in sore need of help for the plowing. The
officers and soldiers of the Federal army were as
considerate and generous as could be expected."​

From the same page:

"At the close of 1864 the polls of the state had decreased
from 52,764 to 39,863."​

But many of the missing were soldiers (alive or dead) - and many of those being counted had refugeed to GA from other places, as GA was largely untouched except for some coastal areas (The Union army - including Col. Robert Gould Shaw's U.S.C.T. regiment the Massachusetts 54th burned Darein GA in June of 1863) until Chickamauga at the end of 1863, and the subsequent 1864 campaigns in GA.

I would guess it would be very hard to accurately quantify the numbers of refugees during the war.
 

Pat Young

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What a great research topic!

I have an ancestor who was deemed a refugee by the Union Army as he was allowed to stay in Alexandria with one of his sons late in the war. He left his home as he feared backlash for being a Unionist. One of his other sons, my very great-grandfather also left his home during the war and moved to West Virginia, I'm still trying to figure out why, but since he furnished a substitute to fight on his behalf I think he left Virginia for similar reasons as his father. I'm still trying to piece together their wartime movements and reasons behind them.
I have written several articles on black refugees and intend to write a few more. I also have a proposal in the works for a white unionist article. When you find out more, let me know what you learned about your ancestor.
 
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2. Did Confederate leaders encourage white refugees to leave their homes when the Union army was nearby?

I have not found any instances of Southern leaders encouraging residents to leave their homes but rather the opposite. The Southern leaders demanded their active involvement against Federal troops as they entered their cities, towns and villages:

RICHMOND, VA., November 18, 1864.
General H. COBB,
Macon, GA.:
In addition to the troops of all kinds you should endeavor to get out every man who can render any services, even for short period, and employ negroes in obstructing roads be every practicable means. Colonel Rains, at Augusta, can furnish you with shells prepared to explode by pressure, and these will be effective to check an advance. General Hardee has, I hope, brought some re-enforcement, and General Taylor will probably join you with some further aid. You have a difficult task, but will realize the necessity for the greatest exertion.
JEFFN. DAVIS.
O.R. Series I, Vol. XLIV, pg. 865
-----------------------------------------

RICHMOND, November 18, 1864.
TO THE PEOPLE OF Georgia:
You have now the best opportunity ever yet presented to destroy the enemy. Put everything at the disposal of our generals; remove all provisions from the path of the invader, and put all obstructions in his path. Every citizen with his gun, and every negro with his spade and axe, can do the work of a soldier. You can destroy the enemy by retarding his march. Georgians, be firm! Act promptly, and fear not!
B. H. HILL,
Senator.
I most cordially approved the above.
JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War.
O.R. Series I, Vol. XLIV, p 867
----------------------------------

CORINTH, November 18, 1864.
TO THE PEOPLE OF Georgia:
Arise for the defense of your native soil! Rally round your patriotic Governor and gallant soldiers! Obstruct and destroy all roads in Sherman's front, flank, and rear, and his army will soon starve in your midst! Be confident and resolute! Trust in an overruling Providence, and success will crown your efforts. I hasten to join you in defense of your homes and firesides.
G. T. BEAUREGARD.
CORINTH, November 18, 1864.
ibid.
----------------------------------------

RICHMOND, November 19, 1864.
TO THE PEOPLE OF Georgia:
We have has a special conference with President Davis and the Secretary of War, and are able to assure you that they have done and are still doing all that can be done to meet the emergency that presses upon you. Let every man fly to arms! Remove your negroes, horses, cattle, and provisions from Sherman's army, and burn what you cannot carry. Burn all bridges and block up the roads in his route. Assail the invader in front, flank, and rear, by night and by day. Let him have no rest.
JULIAN HARTRIDGE,
J. H. ECHOLS,
JOHN T. SHEWMAKE,
MARK H. BLANDFORD,
GEO. N. LESTER,
JAS. M. SMITH,
Members of Congress.
ibid., pg. 869

-----------------------------------------------------------------


PETERSBURG, November 19, 1864.
His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS,
Richmond, Va.:
I have not received General Cooper's dispatch. I know of no troops within reach of Sherman except those in Georgia, nor do I know of a - . * All roads, bridges, provisions, &c., within Sherman's reach should be destroyed. The population must turn out. Wheeler could do much. It would be extremely hazardous and -. * Savannah will probably be Sherman's object. Troops that can be spared from Charleston, Savannah, &c., should take the field under Hardee.
R. E. LEE.
O.R. Series I, Vol. XLIV, pg. 869

---------------------------------------------------------


MACON, November 19, 1864.
Honorable James A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War:
There is great scarcity of arms in Georgia and South Carolina to meet the enemy. It is necessary to have additional arms to put into the hands of the levy en masse ordered by the Legislature of Georgia, and the reserve militia of South Carolina now called out by Governor Bonham. Please have all spare arms sent to Charleston, S. C., subject to my orders.
W. J. HARDEE,
Lieutenant - General.
O.R. Series I, Vol. XLIV, pg. 870

Edited to add O.R. sources to last two entries
 
Last edited:
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leftyhunter

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I am starting some research on white refugees in the South who fled areas being occupied by the Union army. I am developing some questions about this and if anyone wants to chime in with answers and sources, please do.

1. Why did some whites flee Union armies and others remain?
2. Did Confederate leaders encourage white refugees to leave their homes when the Union army was nearby?
3. Apart from Missouri, were there instances of white Southerners being expelled en mass from an area by Union officers?
4. How many white refugees fleeing Union troops were there during the war?
5. Did most white refugees stay away from home for the duration of the war or did they return home soon after leaving?
Their was of course as you mentioned quite a few white Unionist refugees as well. When you do your article on them the following books come to mind . "The Uncivil war Irregular warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865 by Robert Mackey University of Oklahoma Press. See his chapters on Ark. T.J. Stiles "Jesse James the last rebel of the Civil War. "The Inside War" Michael Fellman Univ of Oxford Press. The "Freemantle Diaries " mention pro Confederate white refugees quite a bit. T.J. Stiles mentions both pro CSA and pro Union refugees in Mo. "A Savage Conflict the decisive role of guerrillas in the American Civil war Daniel Sutherland Univ of North Carolina Press has a lot of information he might still be teaching at Univ of Ark.
Based on my readings the CW is like any other war if one is pro side A you try to go further into side A's territory. Same if your on Side"B". Their was no national welfare system as we know it today until FDR helped establish it in the 1930's. I would hazard a guess that plenty of Southern women who's husbands where dead, wounded in captivity and even if they did receive $ 11 dollars in CSA currency so what. How much good would it do in terms of buying food let lone shelter? These women had to do what they had to do to feed their kids. If they stayed on their small farms they where at great risk from( take your pick) Unionist guerrillas, CSA guerrillas, Freelance bandits. Armed hungry men are hungry men and men without women well not good for the single women
Leftyhunter
 

Eric Calistri

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A couple of published accounts detailing refugee life are Diary of a Southern Refugee by Judith McGuire and A Confederate Girls Diary by Sarah Morgan Dawson. McGuire left her Alexandria VA home in the first month of the war and spent 4 years living in various places and situations in VA, mostly near Richmond. Dawson, from Baton Rouge LA, has a very different story, she pores over whether to stay home and be seen as Unionists once Baton Rouge was occupied by the Federals, or to flee into the unknown, leaving their home and possessions behind, eventually settling in New Orleans, due more to health problems than politics.
 
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Anna Elizabeth Henry

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I have written several articles on black refugees and intend to write a few more. I also have a proposal in the works for a white unionist article. When you find out more, let me know what you learned about your ancestor.
Will do! It's a very under researched area of the war as there isn't a lot out there on the topic. I think many who were Unionists were afraid to leave an account of their experiences and feelings for free of repercussions during and even after war. My very great-grandfather never returned to his home in Virginia after the war. He also never saw his parents or brother again from what I can tell.
 

E_just_E

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Mary Boykin Chesnut has some of the answers to those questions, as far as her circumstances and of the other people who left their homes and she describes went. She did leave her home and went to stay with her parents as Union troops were closing in. Pretty good and quick read. You can find the text here. I don't think that there were any official records on refugees or even a policy. Not many records (for numbers etc.) survived the period. I think that individual circumstances dictated behavior.
 
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