Thursday, January 24, 1861
Georgia had only been an “independent” state for five days, yet the seizure of arms bound for Savannah by the Police in New York City was seen as a major affront.
Recently resigned US Senator Robert Toombs, now in Georgia, took it upon himself to sort this out. It was suspected that the seizure of arms was ordered by New York’s Governor Morgan, but in an attempt to get the whole story, Toombs telegraphed New York Mayor Fernando Wood (the same mayor that recently suggested that New York City secede from the Union).
“Is it true that any arms intended for and consigned to the State of Georgia have been seized by public authorities in New-York? Your answer is important to us and to New-York. Answer at once.”
“In reply to your dispatch, I regret to say that arms intended for and consigned to the State of Georgia have been seized by the Police of this State, but that the City of New-York should in no way be made responsible for the outrage.
“As Mayor, I have no authority over the Police. If I had the power I should summarily punish the authors of this illegal and unjustifiable seizure of private property.”1
This statement by Wood was seen by many as proof that he was a traitor. Taken out of context, the phrase, “I regret to say that arms intended for and consigned to the State of Georgia have been seized…” seems to indicate that Wood was behind the shipment and regretted that his little plot was foiled. This was probably not the case.2
Georgia Wants to Keep Her Guns
While Georgia was trying to obtain arms from New York, they were also trying to keep the arms already in Georgia under Georgia’s control.
The Oglethorpe Infantry, a Georgia State Militia, was called up by Governor Brown to take the United States Arsenal in Augusta. It was the last inland, Union-controlled instillation in the state and had a battery of artillery and 20,000 muskets with plenty of ammunition for both.
The Arsenal was commanded by Captain Arnold Elzey, who was given permission by Secretary of War Joseph Holt to surrender the arsenal if the threat of violence was given by Georgia. Georgia’s Governor Brown had threatened such force and was now amassing militia units (about 600 men) around the arsenal.
In light of these circumstances, Elzey requested a personal interview with Brown in order to work out honorable terms for the surrender. At 10am, the Governor and Brigadier-General Harris, who was in command of the assembled militia units, entered the arsenal and agreed upon the surrender.
Elzey and his men were allowed to fire a thirty-three gun salute as the flag was lowered. They were given a place to stay, allowed to keep their arms and property, and allowed safe passage to Savannah and then to New York.3
- New York Times, January 26, 1861. [↩]
- The Life and Letters of Roscoe Conkling: Orator, Statesman and Advocate by Alfred R. Conkling – Conkling, for example seems to think that Wood was behind it. [↩]
- Confederate Military History: A Library of Confederate States History, Volume 6 by Clement A. Evans, The Minerva Group, Inc., 2004. [↩]