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Ghost Fry

Hansford Dade Duncan Twiggs of Augusta, descendant of an old and honorable family, wealthy planter, Confederate hero, state representative, highly regarded attorney and former judge, discovered in 1882 that his sterling qualifications were not sufficient to win a seat in Congress from a state dominated by the New South “Redeemer” clique of Gen. John B. Gordon, Joe Brown and Alfred Colquitt. Judge Twiggs had not toted their water and was defeated by a man who had, Seaborn Reese of Sparta. Chastened or embittered by the experience, Twiggs never again sought elected office.

Stormy as Twiggs’ public life was, it was placid alongside his private affairs. First was the matter of young Joe. Twiggs and his wife Lucille had been married for 21 years and had four children, David Emanuel, 19, Joseph Wilkins, 17, Herschel, 7, and Hattie, 3. Another child had apparently died in infancy. Joseph entered the University of Georgia as a freshman in the fall of 1881 and his career in Athens was not glorious.

Joe was a Phi Delt and apparently a “hell of a good fellow,” if something less of a great scholar. His name turned up regularly in the Faculty Minutes, where University disciplinary measures were recorded in those days. From March 7, 1882: “Petition from J.W. Twiggs who had stood the examination, but asking for another as he had not succeeded, was not granted.” And on April 4 of the same year: “The Chancellor was instructed to call Mr. Twiggs before him and order him to attend Mr. Wilcox’s class in English.”

That afternoon Twiggs and two friends were wandering around drunk on Milledge Avenue and got into a row with three black Athenians of about their own age. The full story of the tragedy that ensued will have to wait for its own telling in the coming months. For now it is sufficient to say that by noon the next day one young man was dead and the lives of three others were ruined. In the last week of May Joseph Twiggs was in every major newspaper in the state, the first witness called in one of the most closely watched trials in Clarke County history.

During that week the Faculty Minutes report: “The Chancellor read a petition from Mr. J.W. Twiggs to discontinue study of Mathematics. Referred back to him for his father’s consent.” And two weeks later: “The monthly reports for May were made out and notes ordered appended to reports of Messrs. Twiggs, Scrutton and Cobb, calling attention to the very unsatisfactory character of reports.” Joe seems to have gotten his plow back in the row for the next two years, but in November 1884, the minutes report, “Mr. J.W. Twiggs petitioned to discontinue physics with his father’s consent. Granted.”

Then in January 1885: “Mr. J.W. Twiggs was reported as absent five times unexcused.” The Augusta Chronicle of May 4, 1886, ran a small item: “Mr. Joe Twiggs has returned home from the University and will spend a few days with his parents.” A few thousand days. Joseph Twiggs never graduated; his father pulled strings to get him a job as court stenographer for the Middle Judicial Circuit &Mdash; not a bad job, but hardly fitting for a son of the noble house of Twiggs.

The noble house itself was not in best repair. In 1883 Lucille E. Wilkins Twiggs left her husband, a shocking step for a socially prominent Georgia woman of the time, and one which could have been prompted only by the most extreme provocation. Divorce, aside from being unspeakably scandalous in itself, would have required an airing of dirty linen that a well-bred lady would sooner stay in the hamper.

We can only speculate as to what brought Lucille Twiggs to this drastic measure; the 10-year interval between the births of the second and third children may give a hint about the family’s domestic bliss in those pre-contraceptive days. In addition, the Judge had a temper surpassing even the routinely imperial peevishness of the antebellum aristocrat, a temper which would soon be a matter of public discussion.

With his political ambitions crushed and his family life in shambles, Twiggs turned once more to the law, where he had not yet failed to find glory and honor. Twiggs was widely sought out, not only as a defense lawyer, but as a prosecutor as well. In 1886 he led the prosecution of a band of local toughs who had shot up a rival election worker at a country polling place in Jefferson County. Twiggs’ practice kept him on the road among the courthouses of east central Georgia and he tested himself against every lawyer on the area, surpassing them all in learning and in argument. He had, in fact, only one real rival at the bar of the Middle Circuit, a gaunt red-headed young man as brilliant, fierce and thin-skinned as himself named Thomas Edward Watson.

Continued Next Week

© 1995, John Ryan Seawright


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