April 12, 1995

Ghost Fry

Trials and Tribulations: The Life of Judge H.D.D. Twiggs, Part One

Hansford Dade Duncan Twiggs was born March 25, 1837, into a wealthy and honored Georgia family. His great-grandfather, John Twiggs, had come to what is now Burke County from Maryland in the 1750s, a landless carpenter.

By the end of the Revolution, John Twiggs was a general in the state militia, known as "The Savior of Georgia." He married Ruth Emanuel, daughter of David Emanuel, Georgia's only Jewish governor. A grateful state rewarded his military services with thousands of acres of rich land around Augusta and by the time of his death in 1816 he was one of the wealthiest planters in Georgia.

John Twiggs' son, David Emanuel Twiggs, entered military service in 1812, served in the Creek and Mexican Wars, and at the time of Georgia's secession from the Union in 1861 held the second highest rank in the United States Army. he served briefly as a Confederate general, but old age and poor health forced him to resign. He died in Augusta in 1862, leaving his estate to his great-nephew, H.D.D. Twiggs.

H.D.D. Twiggs graduated from Georgia Military Institute in 1858, studied law for a year at the University of Pennsylvania, then returned home to complete his legal studies at the University of Georgia. He graduated from the Lumpkin School of Law Ja. 11, 1861. Eight days later the Stars and Stripes was hauled down from the state capitol and the white flag of the Republic of Georgia raised. Young Twiggs knew that he soon must take up the duties of the elite military class into which he was born. Also to be considered was the dynastic duty of perpetuating that class: On May 21, 1861, he and Lucille Wilkins of Liberty County entered into what was to prove a long, unusual and unhappy marriage.

Twiggs was commissioned a lieutenant in the Georgia Regular Troops, was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia and soon rose to captain's rank. He was twice wounded and once captured. On return to Georgia he was ordered to Charleston to take part in the defense of Fort Wagner against the heroic assault by black troops, where he was once again wounded. He rejoined his old regiment and fought to the very end of the war, resisting Sherman's northward march through South Carolina until the surrender of Johnson's army at Greensboro. He finished the war with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Twiggs returned to his family on their plantation outside of Augusta and for three years attempted to make a go of things under the new order. In 1868 the family moved to Augusta where Twiggs began to practice law. He swiftly earned a reputation as a brilliant legal scholar and a fearsome figure in the courtroom. Tall and gaunt with stern military bearing and fierce, biting wit, his power over witnesses under cross-examination was nearly absolute.

In 1870 this Confederate hero and staunch Democrat was blind-sided by an unexpected and unwelcome honor: Rufus Bullock, Georgia's Republican Reconstruction governor, offered Twiggs the superior judgeship of the state's Middle Circuit. Twiggs was strongly inclined to refuse, but his friends insisted that he accept. He served three years as one of the youngest superior court judges in the history of the state, refusing reappointment in 1874 and returning to his lucrative law practice, thereafter always to be as "Judge Twiggs."

In 1882 Twiggs was elected state representative from Richmond County and served as speaker pro tem of the Georgia legislature. Although a confirmed Democrat, Twigg aligned himself with the dissatisfied element of the ruling party known as the Independent Democrats. The Independents were a highly mixed outfit of former Republicans, leftish members of the national Greenback-Labor Party, anti-corporate agrarian aristocrats, and disgruntled conservatives who felt that the "Atlanta Ring" of New South advocates backed by Henry Grady's Constitution were dictating local politics around the state.

Twiggs seems to have belonged to the last of these groupings. Former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens chose not to run for reelection to Congress from the 8th District in 1882 in order to run for Governor. Twiggs declared himself a candidate against Seaborn Reese, the handpicked choice of the "Atlanta Ring." Twiggs was better qualified than Reese (who longtime readers of this column may remember as the drunken judge who presided over the assault trial of the black editor T.L. Kennedy in 1897) but he had not played the game with the Atlanta boys. Attacked and ridiculed in the state press, he lost the election and returned to private life, where even greater disappointments awaited him.

Continued Next Week

© 1995, John Ryan Seawright