British Subjects and Governor Brown's Conscription
In the wake of the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown called on the people of his state to remain true to themselves, placing their trust in Almighty God, and look to their homes from the ravages of the enemy. It became time for every Georgian, able to bear arms to unite themselves without delay to the military organization, holding himself ready to strike for their homes and the graves of their ancestors with unalterable determination, to die free rather than be enslaved by a despotic power.
General Braxton Bragg's army had retreated to the very borders of Georgia and even those who had yet to contribute due to lack of patriotism, contrary to the noble impulses that drive every human being, would still refuse to take up arms for the defense of his family and home when the enemy comes knocking to insult the one and injure the other, was in the governor's eyes inexcusable. He believed if there was a Georgian possessed of so little courage and manliness, let his fellow citizens mark him now and remember.
Patriotism was required more now than ever before. The men who were seen daily throughout every town, city, and village, on every railroad train and hotel in the Confederacy should be immediately returned to the field. Their money making schemes and hiding behind legalities, to him, was not only secondary but entirely unacceptable. Nobody in his state ought to hide behind the protection of a government he was unwilling to defend when so much had been at stake.
Accompanying Governor Brown's Proclamation was General Orders Number 16 published from the Adjutant and Inspector General's Office on July 17, 1863. The state militia was called on to assemble at 11 am on the 4th of August and the proclamation was to be read to them. Asking to meet President Jefferson Davis' call on Georgia for 8,000 troops, these men were given one last chance to volunteer before a draft to meet the demand was commenced.
The proclamation and general order quickly got the attention of the British Consulate in Savannah, Georgia and on July 22nd serious questions had been addressed to the state house in Milledgeville raising some concerns.
The proclamation would include British subjects residing within the borders of Georgia to become Confederate soldiers which clearly violated Queen Victoria's 1861 Neutrality Act of which the consuls had been instructed to use whatever means necessary to preserve. The Queen understood that British subjects within the borders of a foreign state or government could be called on to defend their homes and families from a local invasion, but the organization of militia companies had been in the habit of being turned over to the central government to wage war on the United States, and she demanded that none of hers perform such duties.
The crown would not have her subjects treated as rebels or traitors contrary to that of a prisoner of war. She would not subject them to any law which required them to take up arms which had no existence, when for commercial purposes these took up residency within that country and more so would now be in defiance to their legitimate sovereign which exhorts them to the strictest observance of neutrality and subjects them to severe penalties. More over when the conflict between North and South broke out, these subjects took an oath that arms would not be taken up. The consul in Savannah therefore asked Governor Brown to revise his order in respect of British subjects who had carried a certificate which released them from any such enterprise.
Two weeks later on the 8th day of August, a response came back to the consul from Marietta, Georgia. The military situation, in the governor's eyes had thus become a local as well as national concern. Through prior intelligence gathering in the spring, it had already become known that the Federal Government secretly authorized operations contrary to the usages of civilized warfare. In opposition to the writ of Mr. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, published on the first day of January, the Confederacy had expected a sanctioned slave insurrection; which could not have been publicly admitted to without flagrant violation to the established law of the United States Constitution.
In describing the plans thus learned of mounting slave insurrections in the interior of the Confederate States, it was deemed highly unlikely that the eight thousand men thus asked for would be drafted to fight against the federal soldier. Instead, the added body would do wonderful service to thwart the efforts that the Southerners were so convinced was coming.
It had been noted by the state executive that many who claimed to be Her Majesty's subjects had great stake as slave holders in Georgia, who would likewise take equal interest against such that would insight the loss of such property. He pointed the finger right back at the crown that while she had continually refused to recognize the Confederate States of America, her subjects certainly had enjoyed the protection under it. She had further refused any diplomatic relations with the South; but the Consulate as her representative, were still permitted to represent her interests and be heard in regards to them.
He explained that the Federal Government at Washington was convinced by experience of its inability by armed force to combat Southern valor, it therefore had begun to adapt the policy of destroying agricultural implements, mills, and provisions with a view of effecting by starvation that which it can not accomplish with skill and courage of its troops. Governor Brown had hoped that Her Majesty would see that the South could not afford to retain and protect among them a class of consumers who produce none of the necessities of life and who refuse to take up arms for interior and local defense.
On the 17th of August the British Consulate wrote once again having thought that the governor had terribly misunderstood the Queen's position. Outside of services within the community such as patrols or police duties, England would not have these members of the empire subjected to anything further than that; furthermore, having no voice in the councils that first brought on the war, that these should not be subjected to it. Georgia's call for a draft had extended beyond international diplomacy.
Governor Joseph E. Brown was appalled that the language of the British Consul suggested that as the federal armies invaded the state of Georgia that the British subjects are not to defend their own homes, and that Britain does not recognize the United States as a foreign power against the state of Georgia. He elected to dismiss the controversy with a single remark, in that, if the British Empire felt that there is no legitimate difference of foreign power between that of Georgia and the United States, than the consul ought to have made their complaint to Washington and not to himself. He was not going to be bound by the pretensions that the United States was not a foreign power to his own state of Georgia, nor was he going to admit the right of Her Majesty by proclamation to change the laws of nations and insist upon maintaining her subjects here and exempting them from the performance of duties imposed upon them by the very laws of nations.
It was a disagreement between a state government and a sovereign empire, a battle of will's where compromise on the issue was completely out of the question. The settlement only prevailed when the British Consulate recognized that the only option open to them was to treat Brown's zealous attitude with silent contempt. Governor Brown was not going to argue the point any further but return to the administration of his own state; and if the administration of his own state required him to place a musket into the hands of a British subject, by God he was going to arm the British subject. George Brown would show by practical orders just how foreign the Washington government was to the state of Georgia and honored the queen by holding her breath that this war would all be a thing of the past soon enough.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com