The persistent myth of ‘The State of Dade’

Posted by | May 21, 2015

“This year notes the 65th anniversary of Dade County [GA] rejoining the Union through a ceremony that was held on the Courthouse Square in 1945,” says the article in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, State of Dade, Camp No. 707’s May 2010 newsletter. “Come celebrate the anniversary of the event at the “State of Dade” Heritage Festival May 21st and 22nd, 2010.”

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Here’s how the SCV told the story of the State of Dade:

“In May of 1860, the Georgia General Assembly was locked in debate at the State Capital in Milledgeville, GA.  Several days were spent hotly debating the question of Georgia’s secession from the Union.

“Up from his seat in the back of the Senate rose a representative from Dade County by the name of Robert H. Tatum. ‘Uncle Bob,’ as he was fondly called, gained the floor and shouted out the fiery speech, which has become both legend and law: ‘By the gods, gentlemen,’ the old man said,  ‘If Georgia doesn’t vote to immediately secede from the Union, Dade County will secede from Georgia and become The Independent State of Dade!!!’

“A few days later when Georgia had still not seceded from the Union, the fighter made good his promise. He hurriedly left the Capital and by trains, buggy, and then horseback, came to the village of Trenton, where he called for a public meeting. The countrymen and townspeople gathered on the Courthouse Square where Bob Tatum stepped up and told the crowd of the arguments and the endless debates going on at the Capital.

“A vote was taken that very day on Trenton’s Courthouse Square and led by Bob Tatum; Dade County seceded from the state of Georgia.”

On July 4, 1945, over 4,000 people attended a celebration at Trenton when Dade graciously struck the Confederate banner, raised Old Glory and rejoined the Union.  This celebration attracted national attention and even a congratulatory telegram from President Harry S. Truman.  Everyone enjoyed the occasion and it left a lasting impression in the minds of Georgians.

One of these minds belonged to E. Merton Coulter, one of Georgia’s most respected and best-loved historians.  In “The Myth of Dade County’s Seceding from Georgia in 1860,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 41, Dr. Coulter looked very carefully at the records and concluded that this most popular story was not true.

Unidentified woman sitting on the steps of the Dade County Courthouse displaying both an American flag and a Confederate flag during the 1945 Fourth of July celebration in Trenton, GA. Courtesy Kenneth Rogers Photographs, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

Unidentified woman sitting on the steps of the Dade County Courthouse displaying both an American flag and a Confederate flag during the 1945 Fourth of July celebration in Trenton, GA. Courtesy Kenneth Rogers Photographs, Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center.

In point of fact, Dade’s two delegates to the secession convention did vote against the secession.  However, Dade County did not secede from either the Union or the state of Georgia.

When the state as a whole seceded from the Union in January 1861, Dade Countians immediately joined the Confederate Army in quantity. They served their new nation well in units like the Yancey Invincibles, the Lookout Dragoons, the Dade County Invincibles and the Raccoon Roughs, who wore coonskin caps.

During the Civil War more than 40,000 soldiers traveled through the area on their way to Chickamauga, building themselves a road to carry their equipment and munitions. The Battle of Chattanooga resulted in some minor skirmishes in the county. Dade County men saw action at Manassas (1st and 2nd), Fredricksburg, Cold Harbor, Gettysburg, Vicksburg and most of the major battles.

Rep. Bob Tatum remained in the Georgia state legislature through at least 1863. In a June 29, 1863 letter responding to backers (published in Southern Confederacy, Atlanta, GA, Vol III, No 122) who were encouraging him to run for another term, he stated “At the close of the last session of the Legislature the state of the health of my family and the absence of my sons in the army, who have also been in bad health, determined me to retire from public life and give my entire attention to my family and my private affairs.”

As for the State of Dade, it did exist in a physical sense until 1940.  Dade is tucked into the northwest corner of the state behind the steep slopes of Lookout Mountain.  Until the completion of Georgia 143 (Old S.R. 2), Dade was accessible only from Alabama or Tennessee unless the traveler had the skill of a mountain goat.

E. Merton Coulter, "The Myth of Dade County's Seceding from Georgia in 1860,"

First page of E. Merton Coulter’s article “The Myth of Dade County’s Seceding from Georgia in 1860.”

“For a mountain county, the roads are fair,” noted George White about Dade County in his 1849 book Statistics of the State of Georgia. “Isolated from the world, the people seem to care for nothing except the supply of their immediate wants. Hospitality is eminently their characteristic. The stranger is greeted with a hearty welcome, and his conversation listened to with evident signs of pleasure. In this county, the refinements of polished society do not exist.”

Until the all-weather road went through, Dade had been tied to the economy of Chattanooga.  Maybe the celebration on July 4, 1945, was a belated announcement that the State of Dade was ready to join Georgia culturally, physically and economically.

Whether the story had a true basis or not may be irrelevant.  The story was believed, and continues to be believed, by enough people so that it has become viable cultural folklore, which is almost as good as history.

You can still find the SCV ‘State of Dade’ story quoted at the top today on Facebook. Currently it’s labeled: ‘Legend and Lore of Dade County’s Secession from the Union,’ followed by an article titled ‘Actual History of Dade’s Return to the Union’ which more clearly separates fact from fiction.

 

Sources: E. Merton Coulter, “The Myth of Dade County’s Seceding from Georgia in 1860,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 41 (December 1957): 349-64.

Retired Senior Volunteer Program, ed. and comp., History of Dade County, Georgia (Summerville, Ga.: ESPY Publishing Co., 1981).

Newsletter Of State Of Dade Camp No. 707, Vol 15, No 5, May 2010
online at www.stateofdade.com/pdf/MayNewsletter2010.pdf

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2320

Tatum letter: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GADADE/2010-11/1290110668

Statistics of the State of Georgia, by George White, publ by W. Thorne Williams, Savannah, 1849.

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