Robert Toombs was born in Wilkes County, Georgia on July 2. 1810. Toombs attended the University of Georgia, but was expelled for numerous rules violations his senior year and ended up completing his education at the University of Virginia. Returning to Georgia, he was admitted to the bar at age 20 and began practicing law in Washington, Georgia. Here, Toombs developed a very successful law practice, which supplemented by an inheritance allowed him to invest in plantations in Georgia, Arkansas, and later in Texas. Toombs became active in politics and was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives (1837-43), the U.S. House (1846-1851), and the U.S. Senate (1851-1861). With the election of Abraham Lincoln, Toombs resigned his Senate seat, giving a farewell speech in which he warned that if northern states refused to grant southern states their constitutional rights, “We shall then ask you ‘Let us depart in peace.’ Refuse that, and you present us war. We accept it; and inscribing upon our banners the glorious words, ‘Liberty and Equality,’ we will trust in the blood of the brave and the God of Battles for security and tranquility.”
Toombs then returned home as a strong proponent of Georgia’s secession. In January 1861, Toombs was named Confederate Secretary of State - a post he soon resigned. In July 1861, he was named general of a Confederate regiment. He did play a pivotal role at the Battle of Antietam - despite being heavily outnumbered, he and his men held a bridge for four hours until reinforcements arrived. Toombs wanted the Confederacy to take the war to the North rather than fight a defensive war. Also, he had a volatile personality that led him to challenge officers of higher rank. After failing to obtain a promotion he felt he deserved, Toombs resigned his commission and returned to Georgia, where he became a vocal opponent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s policies. In 1864, Gov. Joseph E. Brown gave Toombs command of a unit of the Georgia State Guard, which had limited action during Sherman’s March to the Sea. At the end of the war, he fled to Europe. Returning two years later, the “unreconstructed rebel” refused to apply for a pardon. During Reconstruction, he fought Republican control of Georgia and proved to be the most influential member of Georgia’s Redeemer state constitutional convention in 1877. Toombs died at his home in Wilkes County on December 15, 1885.