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ROBERT TOOMBS9 CONFEDERATE GENERAL William Y. Thompson After five months as Secretary of State of the Confederacy, restless RobertToombs of Georgia decided to resign his high post and serve his country directly on the field of battle. His Cabinet position was not a demanding one, and the energetic Toombs much preferred being in uniform on the front line to being minister almost without portfolio. All of his life Toombs had been a man of action. Though not always constructive, he was never without influence and in 1860 was regarded as one of the key Senate figures in the ominous secession crisis. Considering the position of the South hopeless, the fiery Georgian had helped lead his state out of the Union. A vivid description of Toombs in the sixties has been given by Varina Howell Davis. Mr. Toombs was over six feet tall, with broad shoulders; his fine head set weU on his shoulders, was covered with long glossy black hair, which when speaking, he managed to toss about as to recall the memory of Danton. His coloring was good, and his teeth brilliantly white, but his mouth was somewhat pendulous and subtracted from the rest of his strong face. His eyes were magnificent, dark and flashing, and they had a certain lawless way of ranging about that was indicative of his character. His hands were beautiful and kept Uke those of a fashionable woman. His voice was Uke a trumpet, but without sweetness, and his enunciation was thick.1 The metamorphosis from civilian to soldier was received in some circles with misgivings. His family was concerned over his ability to withstand the rigors of military Ufe. Even after Toombs had entered the service, his brother Gabriel wrote Alexander H. Stephens, imploring him to use his influence to effect a resignation. Good judgment in the matter had been blinded by his zeal said Gabriel and furthermore his health Dr. Thompson is associate professor of history at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute . Two of his articles on the U.S. Sanitary Commission appeared in earlier issues of Civil War History. 1ErOD Rowland, Varina Howell, Wife of Jefferson Davis (New York, 1927), I, 249. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 16, 1885, described Toombs "in the full bloom of manhood" as "undoubtedly the grandest looking man on the continent" 406 was severely impaired by a recent attack of rheumatism.2 President Jefferson Davis was not enthusiastic because of Toombs's lack of military training, but desiring to preserve harmonious relations with the important Georgian, he acceded to the request. Toombs resigned on July 24, 1861, and soon entered the army as a brigadier general. The Daily Richmond Examiner labeled his decision, along with similar ones by fellow Georgians Howell Cobb and Thomas R. R. Cobb, "an error of generosity," gently deploring the gaps left in civil leadership by their departure.3 The entry of Toombs into uniform occasioned some immediate excitement at the Fair Grounds in Richmond. On August 1, Mrs. Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote: That bold Brigadier, the Georgia General Toombs, charging about too recklessly , got thrown. His horse dragged him up to the wheels of our carriage. For a moment it was frightful. Down there among the horse's hoofs was his face turned up towards us, purple with rage. His foot was still in the stirrup, and he had not let go the bridle. The horse was prancing over him, rearing and plunging, and everybody hemming him in, and they seemed so slow and awkward about it. We felt it an eternity, looking down at him and expecting him to be killed before our very faces. However, he soon got it all straight, and though awfuUy tousled and tumbled, dusty, rumpled and flushed, with redder face and wilder hair than ever, he rode off gallantly, having to our admiration bravely remounted the recalcitrant charger.4 This embarrassing equestrian episode gave Toombs more action than he was to experience with the miUtary for a long time. The army he entered , though flushed with the victory at Manassas, was badly disorganized , as much so as the defeated Federals who had retreated to the outskirts of Washington. The Confederates were within picket sight of the unfinished Capitol...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 406-420
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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