When Georgia seceded on 19 January 1861 from the Union of States with which it had been confederated, it was not at war with anyone. It was an independent sovereign Republic which simply wanted to be self-governed and left alone in peace. But some three months later, it would become involved in a war that would last four long years and kill some 30,000 Georgian soldiers defending their homeland and families against an invading army with unlimited resources.
News about Fort Sumter's surrender on 13 April 1861 and President Lincoln's call two days later for 75,000 troops to invade the South and "end the rebellion" spread like wildfire across Georgia and the rest of the South. Public gatherings, patriotic rallies, picnics, and inflammatory speeches became commonplace in most Southern hamlets, villages, towns, and cities. Talk about the war, an easy victory, and independence dominated conversations around hearths, shops in the marketplace, and everywhere else that two or more Southerners gathered. States' Rights, the Constitutional right of secession, and the unwarranted expansion of Federal authority replaced talk about the weather, preparations for planting crops, and everything else that was normally important to Southerners in the spring.
State militias began forming throughout Georgia and James Byrd Foote of Paulding County, who had celebrated his eighteenth birthday in January, enlisted as a Private in Company A of the 1st Regiment, Georgia Regulars, just thirteen days after the surrender of Fort Sumter. Like thousands of other recruits across the South, he must have been full of patriotism and anxious to fight the Yankee invaders and drive them out of the South. He probably thought that the war would soon be over and had no idea that he would participate in twenty-two separate engagements against the Yankees and spend three hundred and sixty-six days in a Yankee prison before the war would finally end in the spring of 1865.
James Byrd Foote and the 1st Regiment, Georgia Regulars had been ordered to Richmond on 16 July 1861, but did not arrive at Manassas Junction until 24 July 1861, three days after the first great battle of the war ended. It was a great victory for the South and demoralized the North. People throughout the North and the South were shocked by the battle's casualties and many began to realize than the war would not soon end and would be brutal. They were right. The war would last four long years and one of of every four Southern white males would be counted among its casualties.
The 7th Georgia Infantry Regiment was among the first units to be engaged in the battle at Manassas and lost twenty-six percent of its five hundred and eighty soldiers during the battle. James Byrd Foote became part of the 7th Georgia Infantry Regiment of Colonel Samuel Jones' Brigade when he transferred from the 1st Regiment Georgia Regulars and enlisted with Company C of the regiment at Dallas, Georgia on 17 August 1861. He spent the winter of 1861-1862 with the 7th Georgia Infantry Regiment and the rest of the Army of the Potomac near Manassas Junction. The army was reorganized on 5 February 1862, Colonel George T. Anderson was named commander of Jones' brigade, and the Army of the Potomac was renamed the Army of Northern Virginia on 14 March 1862. Anderson's brigade would participate in all of the campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia except when the brigade was detached with Longstreet's forces at Suffolk, Virginia, in Georgia with the Army of Tennessee, in Tennessee during Longstreet's Tennessee Campaign, and in Charleston, South Carolina when the brigade was detached to strengthen the Confederate fortifications around Charleston.
James Byrd Foote would remain part of the 7th Georgia Infantry Regiment in Anderson's Brigade for the rest of the war. He became a become a battle-hardened Veteran in a brigade of battle-hardened Veterans would participate in engagements with the Yankees at Yorktown, Seven Pines, Oak Grove, Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, Garnett's and Golding's Farms, Savage's Station, Malvern Hill, Kelly's Ford, Boonsborough, Second Manassas, Ox Hill, Boonsborough, Sharpsburg, Suffolk, Gettysburg, Funkstown, Charleston, Chattanooga, Campbell's Station, and Knoxville, where he was captured on 28 November 1863. After spending more than three months as a prisoner of war in several jails and Union military prison camps, he was forwarded from the Union Military Prison at Louisville, Kentucky to Fort Delaware and was imprisoned there for three hundred and sixty-six days before he was delivered for exchange to Confederate authorities at Boulware's and Cox's Wharves in Virginia over the three-day period 10-12 March 1865.
He returned home to Dallas, Georgia as a paroled prisoner of war to find that the land throughout Paulding County had been laid waste by the Union and Confederate armies and his family had been impoverished by the war. He endured the hardships of Reconstruction in Northern Georgia, but was determined to prosper and he did, becoming a successful merchant-farmer and a leading citizen of Dallas who was favorably known throughout Paulding and surrounding counties.