Civil War and Reconstruction welfare programs for Georgia's white poor
Wright, Denise Elaine
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Georgia’s white poor, like most of the southern population from 1863 to 1868, faced many challenges. The depredations of the Civil War combined with natural disaster in the form of an ongoing drought to create a large population which faced displacement, poverty, and starvation. But this population also had access to numerous avenues of relief, both public and private. The state of Georgia implemented large-scale relief programs beginning in 1863. Only white Georgians were eligible to receive this assistance. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, the federal government’s first large-scale aid agency, provided assistance, generally in the form of food, to white and black Georgians from mid-1865 until late 1867. Private northern charitable organizations, founded in 1867, were designed specifically to aid white and black southerners whose lives were made more desperate by the ongoing drought and resulting crop failures. The founders and administrators of these programs struggled with defining the populations they would assist. Who “deserved” assistance? Should aid be restricted by race or class? Should wartime loyalty determine eligibility? These debates, carried out in very public arenas – the state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and national and local newspapers – offer a perspective from which to understand the evolution of American welfare in the Civil War era. And the records of these organizations provide a glimpse into the lives of Georgia’s white poor who solicited and accepted assistance. Freedmen’s Bureau’s assistance to the white poor has often been marginalized in Bureau studies, but it is central to this dissertation, as it provides the crucial connections which link the state of Georgia’s Civil War programs with Reconstruction-era private northern charity. Wartime relief programs in the southern states influenced the Freedmen’s Bureau’s architects, and private charities supplemented the Bureau’s shortages of funding and manpower when it faced an overwhelming population of starving southerners in 1867. Unraveling the relationships between these organizations furthers our understanding of them and the white poor in Georgia whom they served.