The Civil War
Decades of rising tension over slavery and states’ rights resulted in Southern states leaving the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. Local opinion about the Civil War ranged from vocal supporters of secession, to businessmen who secretly feared cutting economic ties with the North. Ultimately, most white Chattahoochee Valley residents supported the Confederacy out of loyalty to their home state. Women managed households that began to look very different, as thousands of area men left for combat and enslaved people talked openly of freedom. Columbus became a Confederate industrial center, a development that would secure the city’s place in Civil War history.
Columbus became the second largest industrial center in the Confederacy. In addition to a government arsenal and the Confederate Naval Iron Works, a variety of items like cloth, uniforms, swords, rifles, shoes, belts, cartridge boxes, gun carriages, tents, drums, and fifes were made in the city. Girard (present-day Phenix City) was home to a few other establishments, including one of the largest paper manufacturers in the South, the Rock Island Paper Mill.
The last significant engagement of the war, the Battle of Columbus took place on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865. In a brief nighttime battle in Girard, Union forces under General James H. Wilson attacked and defeated the small, poorly trained force that had been quickly assembled to guard the city. The next day, federal troops destroyed Columbus’ industrial complex and the Confederacy’s last supply center.