Excerpt from Reminiscences of the Civil War Covering events from April 1865; published in 1903; reprinted on
Documenting the American South (Web site)
An ex-Confederate general remembers the end of the Civil War
"They knew that burnt homes and fenceless farms, poverty and ashes, would greet them on their return from the war."
The American Civil War (1861–65)—a bloody struggle described by Northerners as a rebellion, and by Southerners as a fight for independence—drew to a close April 9, 1865, with the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) and his troops in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The Southern troops were surrounded and outnumbered, and in many ways they were too weak to continue fighting. About twenty-five thousand Confederates were gathered at Appomattox, and Southern general John Brown Gordon (1832–1904) later wrote in his memoirs, "but two thirds of them were so enfeebled [weakened] by hunger, so wasted by sickness, and so foot-sore from constant marching that it was difficult for them to keep up with the army."
Union general Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) allowed generous terms of surrender. He permitted the Southern soldiers to keep their horses, for example, because he realized many of them had a...
(The entire section is 3148 words.)
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Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Ratified by the required three-fourths of states on
December 18, 1865
Reprinted on GPO Access: Constitution of the United States
Slavery is outlawed in the United States
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States.…"
The most obvious result of the American Civil War (1861–65) was the elimination of slavery. But that was not the original goal of President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) and it was not achieved all at once. The end to forced labor came in phases, as Lincoln and Congress adopted measures to take slaves away from the Confederacy and enlist African Americans in the Northern effort to win the war.
Lincoln had always hated slavery, but at first he did not think the federal government could eliminate a form of servitude that had been preserved in the Constitution, the document establishing the country's legal framework. In creating the congressional districts based on population, the authors of the Constitution decided in 1787 that each slave should count as three-fifths of a person, a concept known as the "three-fifths compromise." This deal pleased Southerners, who wanted slaves counted because they would boost the number...
(The entire section is 2529 words.)
Excerpt from Thirty Years a Slave Describing events in 1865; published in 1897; reprinted on Documenting the American South (Web site)
Reminiscences from a long-time slave
"We knew it was our right to be free … yet they still held us.…"
Four million slaves were freed by the American Civil War (1861–65), but their bondage did not end the instant Confederate troops surrendered in April 1865. In some pockets of the rural South, white men continued to keep African Americans as slaves for months after the war until Union troops liberated, or freed, them. Other plantation owners simply hired their former slaves to do their old jobs for meager pay, until the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal agency created to help ex-slaves, stepped in and required better terms of employment. Still other landowners created "sharecropping" arrangements with ex-slaves: The whites provided the land and farming equipment, the African Americans provided the labor, and the two split the value of the crop at the end of the year. While the deal sounded attractive at first, some African Americans ended up financially trapped. Sometimes the landowner would tell his sharecroppers that they owed him money at the end of the season—for food, clothing, medical care, and other supplies—so they would have to...
(The entire section is 3509 words.)
Freedmen's Bureau Act
Enacted by U.S. Congress, approved March 3, 1865 Reprinted on Freedmen's Bureau Online (Web site)
A government agency assists the recently freed African Americans
"The Secretary of War may direct such issues of provisions, clothing, and fuel … for the immediate and temporary shelter and supply of destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen.…"
The end of the Civil War (1861–65) brought sudden freedom—and a new kind of hardship—to four million African Americans in the South. The war had ended slavery, but most African Americans faced the overwhelming prospect of starting over without money, the ability to read, or their own plot of farmland. Their former masters had no reason to give them shelter or food, unless they continued to work their old slave jobs. Thousands of African Americans fled the plantations (large estates on which basic crops like cotton, rice, and tobacco were grown) for the cities in search of work. In August 1865, according to Black Voices from Reconstruction, a partly literate African American man described the freed slaves in Kansas and Missouri as "all most Thread less & Shoeless without food & no home to go [to.] sevral of there Masters Run them off & as fur as I can see the hole Race will fall back if the U.S. Government...
(The entire section is 3533 words.)
Excerpt from "Reconstruction" Published in Atlantic Monthly, 1866; reprinted on About.com (Web site)
A leading African American abolitionist fights for intervention from the federal government and Union military to gain equal rights for blacks
"If with the negro was success in war, and without him failure, so in peace it will be found that the nation must fall or flourish with the negro.…"
In many ways, the end of the American Civil War (1861–65) raised more questions than it answered. The North won the bloody struggle to end slavery and keep the South from seceding, or forming its own country. But how would these Southern states rejoin the Union? What changes would be made to their governments and their ways of life? What rights would African Americans have? And what would be their role in shaping a new South? The answers to these questions would define the process known as Reconstruction.
President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69) developed the first Reconstruction policy during the summer of 1865, without any input from Congress. He appointed governors in each of the Southern states and required them to hold conventions to draft new state constitutions. The conventions were only open to men who...
(The entire section is 3213 words.)
Leigh, Frances Butler
Excerpt from Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation Since the War Covering events from 1866 to 1868; published in 1883; reprinted on Documenting the American South (Web site)
A plantation owner writes about life after slavery
"Our properties will soon be utterly worthless, for no crop can be raised by such labour as this, and no negro will work if he can help it.…"
After the Civil War ended, the South had to start over in many ways. Homes, hospitals, and businesses needed to be rebuilt. Neglected fields needed to be sown (planted) with new seeds. Families that lost a husband or father in battle had to rebuild on their own. African Americans and whites alike had to learn how to make a living in a new economy—one in which African Americans were no longer slaves, but wage-earning employees.
Major stretches of the South were in ruins. In the opening account of The South Since the War, Charleston, South Carolina, was described as "a city of ruins, of desolation, of vacant houses, of widowed women, of rotting wharves [docks], of deserted warehouses, of weed-wild gardens, of miles of grass-grown streets, of acres of pitiful and voiceful barrenness.…" The destruction had not been limited to the battlefield. It spread to the cities and homes that had...
(The entire section is 3307 words.)
Excerpt from "On Reconstruction" Testimony before Congress April 11, 1866; published in the Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, 1866
The former Confederate vice president speaks out on Reconstruction
"It would be best for the peace, harmony, and prosperity of the whole country that there should be an immediate restoration, an immediate bringing back of the States into their original practical relations.…"
The end of the American Civil War (1861–65) raised a thorny question: How would the former Confederate states be brought back into the Union? Many Southerners believed they simply needed to pledge their loyalty to the Union and send their congressmen back to Washington, D.C.—almost as if the war never happened. Some Northerners supported that idea at first, eager for a quick reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward. But others found the idea tough to swallow after four years of bloody conflict. They believed the North's victory would be meaningless if it did not bring equal rights to African Americans. As time went on, a growing number of Northerners wanted the Southern states to grant equal rights to African Americans before returning to the Union.
Eager to reunite the...
(The entire section is 2976 words.)
Excerpt from his veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 Carried forth on March 27, 1866
The president angers many by vetoing a bill designed to assist African Americans
"The distinction of race and color is by the bill made to operate in favor of the colored and against the white race."
Seven months after the slaves were freed by the North's victory in the American Civil War (1861–65), the state of Mississippi passed new laws affecting African American residents. For the first time, African Americans were given rights to buy land, sue and be sued, even marry in state-recognized ceremonies. But the laws did not stop there. Every African American person had to provide written proof of having a "lawful home or employment." Any African Americans caught wandering the streets at night, neglecting their jobs, or even "misspend[ing] what they earn" could be arrested as vagrants (jobless or homeless people) and jailed for up to ten days. African American children whose parents could not provide for them, at least in a judge's determination, could be sent to white families to serve as apprentices (or assistants).
Mississippi was the first state to pass such discriminatory "Black Codes," but other Southern communities would quickly follow suit. The Louisiana towns of...
(The entire section is 3142 words.)
Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Ratifieed by the required three-fourths of states on July 9, 1868 Reprinted on GPO Access: Constitution of the United States (Web site)
Ex-slaves are granted citizenship and afforded civil liberties
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.…"
The rise of "Black Codes"—discriminatory local laws subjecting African Americans to harsher penalties or forced labor for certain crimes, among other restrictions—prompted the U.S. Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (see Chapter 8). The bill stated that all African Americans born in the United States were citizens entitled to the "full and equal benefit of all laws" enjoyed by whites. It also outlawed providing "different punishment, pains, or penalties" for ex-slaves than for whites.
Congress gathered the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the bill over the veto of President Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69). But the Northerners still had two problems. U.S. representative Thaddeus Stevens (1792–1868) of Pennsylvania, a leader of the antislavery Radical Republicans, feared the Civil Rights Act could be...
(The entire section is 3073 words.)
First Reconstruction Act of 1867
Enacted by U.S. Congress, March 2, 1867
Reprinted on About Texas: Texas State Library and Archives Commission (Web site)
Congress devises a plan for remaking Southern society
"No legal State governments or adequate protection for life or property now exists in the rebel States.…"
Two horse-drawn carriages—one driven by a white man, the other by an African American man—collided May 1, 1866, on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, a city that swelled with African American refugees and racial tensions after the American Civil War (1861–65). Police arrested the African American driver, and a nearby group of African American war veterans stepped in to ask what was happening. The scene attracted a crowd of white men, many of them resentful of the African Americans who were making a good living in the city or were wandering the streets of Memphis looking for work. Tempers began to flare. Shoves turned into punches, touching off one of the bloodiest riots of the post-war era, as noted in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. By the end of the three-day Memphis riots, at least forty-six African Americans were dead, five African American women had been raped, and "hundreds of black dwellings, churches, and schools were pillaged or...
(The entire section is 3009 words.)
Excerpt from "Argument for the Impeachment of President Johnson"
Delivered in May 1868; reprinted on From Revolution to Reconstruction … and What Happened Afterwards (Web site)
A fierce enemy of Andrew Johnson tells why the president should be impeached
"Slavery has been our worst enemy, assailing all, murdering our children, filling our homes with mourning, and darkening the land with tragedy; and now it rears its crest anew, with Andrew Johnson as its representative."
When the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) in April 1865 propelled Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69) to the presidency, Northerners thought they had a strong ally in the man who once declared that "treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished." During the American Civil War (1861–65), Johnson had been the only Southern member of Congress to keep his seat while his colleagues left for the Confederacy. When Union troops took control of the Tennessee capital of Nashville in 1862, Lincoln sent Johnson to serve as military governor of his home state, which remained under Confederate attack. Johnson's Southern ties and Democratic Party roots made him a logical running mate in 1864 for Lincoln, a Northern Republican...
(The entire section is 4602 words.)
Excerpt from "On the Readmission of Georgia to the Union"
Delivered on March 16, 1870; reprinted on U.S. Senate (Web site)
An African American senator speaks up about the readmission of a state
"They bear toward their former masters no revengeful thoughts, no hatreds, no animosities."
In two short years after the American Civil War (1861–65), the African American men of the South had gone from working as slaves to casting ballots as freedmen. It was an astonishing development in Southern society, outmatched only by the fact that African American men could also hold elected office and make laws alongside their former masters. Historians estimate about two thousand African Americans held federal, state, and local offices in the decade after Southern African American men were given the right to vote under the Reconstruction Act of 1867 (see Chapter 10). During that time period, the South sent two African American men to the Senate and fourteen more to the House of Representatives. About eight hundred African Americans served as state legislators, and hundreds more held local offices ranging from city councilman to sheriff.
It was an exciting opportunity—and a tremendous responsibility—for African Americans. Robert Brown...
(The entire section is 3591 words.)
Pike, James Shepherd
Excerpt from The Prostrate State
Published in 1874; reprinted on Making of America Books (Web site)
A Reconstruction-era journalist provides an inaccurate account of the African American politician
"Seven years ago these men were raising corn and cotton under the whip of the overseer. To day they are raising points of order and questions of privilege. They find they can raise one as well as the other. They prefer the latter. It is easier, and better paid.…"
To the white Southerners who lost the American Civil War (1861–65), nothing was more humiliating than the idea of their former slaves casting ballots and holding elected office. They argued that African Americans, particularly the illiterate (unable to read or write) ex-slaves who had no education, were too ignorant to vote or rule wisely. They also held racist views that African Americans would never be equal to whites. When Congress gave Southern African American men the ballot under the Reconstruction Act of 1867 (see Chapter 10), one angry South Carolinian declared that, "I shall never cast another vote so long as I live," James L. Roark wrote in Masters without Slaves. Another man in Tennessee said that "to be governed by my former slaves was an ignominy [disgrace] which I...
(The entire section is 2841 words.)
Bullock, Rufus B.
Excerpt from Letter from Rufus B. Bullock, of Georgia, to the Republican Senators and Representatives, in Congress Who Sustain the Reconstruction Acts
Published in May 21, 1870; reprinted on Making of America Books (Web site)
A Georgia governor describes what it is like to be a loyal supporter of Reconstruction in the sometimes hostile South
"For two years in Georgia I have been pursued by threats of personal violence and assassination.…"
Perhaps no figure was hated as much as the "carpetbagger" during the postwar years in the South. The term referred to Northerners who went to the South during or after the American Civil War (1861–65) with so few belongings they could fit them all in an old-fashioned traveling bag made of carpet. They were Republicans, viewed as opportunists who pressed for civil and voting rights for African Americans in order to further their own political careers. Indeed, many of them would become governors or congressmen in their newly adopted states, with the support of African American voters.
The carpetbaggers' very presence was a reminder of the South's crushing defeat at the hands of the North. Most Southerners could accept losing the war, but they could not accept the dramatic postwar...
(The entire section is 2995 words.)
Green, John Paterson
Excerpt from Recollections of the Inhabitants, Localities, Superstitions, and KuKlux Outrages of the Carolinas
Published in 1880; reprinted on Documenting the American South (Web site)
A former slave recounts his experiences with the Ku Klux Klan
"The bull-whip and raw-hide were also instruments of their torture, and made to produce arguments which none dared refute.…"
Started as a secret society for ex-Confederates, the Ku Klux Klan did not remain a secret for long. In a few short years, the white-hooded Klansmen became the most notorious band of terrorists in the postwar South, known for lynching African Americans, shooting "carpetbaggers," and torching freedmen's schools. Their goal was obvious: To defeat any efforts to elevate African Americans to the political or social equal of whites. That meant keeping African Americans away from polling places, chasing African Americans out of elected office, and running off the so-called carpetbaggers, Northern Republicans who came South and ran for office with promises to support African American rights (see Chapter 14).
The group actually had fairly innocent beginnings. Six young Confederate soldiers, having just returned to their hometown of Pulaski, Tennessee, created the...
(The entire section is 3535 words.)
Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Ratified by the required three-fourths of states on February 17, 1870
Reprinted on GPO Access: Constitution of the United States (Web site)
African American men gain the right to vote
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Once the slaves were freed by the North's victory in the American Civil War (1861–65), white abolitionist (slavery opponent) William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) thought his work was done. At the May 1865 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Garrison urged the group to disband and celebrate its success. Frederick Douglass (1817–1895), a leading African American abolitionist, said that would be a huge mistake. "Slavery is not abolished [ended] until the African American man has the ballot," said Douglass, as recorded in Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. After a heated debate, members decided to keep the group and replace Garrison, who had been the society's president.
The squabble underscored a larger debate: What did it mean to end slavery? Some people, including many white Northerners, thought it was enough to simply outlaw the practice of owning slaves. Others, such as...
(The entire section is 1822 words.)
Martin, Edward Winslow
Excerpt from "A Complete and Graphic Account of the Crédit Mobilier Investigation" from Behind the Scenes in Washington
Published in 1873; reprinted on Making of America Books (Web site)
Evidence mounts against the vice president of the United States
"The people do not wish to believe him guilty; but they are appalled by the terrible mass of circumstantial evidence against him.…"
Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885; served 1869–77), the Union general who led the North to victory in the American Civil War (1861–65), was pressed into politics by those seeking a fresh start after the troubled presidency of Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69) (see Chapter 11). Grant had never run for office, nor did he seek the presidency, but the war hero was nominated by the Republican Party in 1868 and won. His simple slogan, "Let us have peace," spoke to a weary nation still torn over race issues and the army occupation of the Southern states. In reality, however, the Grant administration would find itself embattled in some of the worst scandals in U.S. presidential history.
Grant was never personally implicated in (blamed for) any of the scandals, but the crooked ways of some of his closest associates would cloud his two terms...
(The entire section is 3049 words.)
Excerpt from his speech on the Civil Rights Bill of 1875
Given on June 9, 1874
A U.S. representative from Alabama talks about the discrimination he faces as a black man
"I feel this humiliation very keenly; it dwarfs my manhood, and certainly it impairs my usefulness as a citizen.…"
The struggle for racial equality was a difficult and step-by-step battle in the years after the American Civil War (1861–65). In three hard-won constitutional amendments passed over a five-year period, African Americans were freed from slavery, granted citizenship and equal legal treatment, and given the right to vote (although this last amendment applied to men only). But in many aspects of everyday life, African Americans remained second-class citizens. African Americans and whites attended separate schools, worshipped in separate churches, and buried their dead in separate cemeteries. African Americans were limited to the least-desirable cars on any train, and often they were turned away from restaurants and hotels.
Charles Sumner (1811–1874), a U.S. senator from Massachusetts who led the Radical Republicans' push for racial equality, proposed a bill that would ban such discrimination in schools, churches, cemeteries, hotels, theaters,...
(The entire section is 2921 words.)
Hayes, Rutherford B.
Excerpt from his Inaugural Address
Given on March 5, 1877; reprinted on Bartleby.com (Web site)
The winner of a controversial election officially greets the nation as president
"Only a local government which recognizes and maintains inviolate the rights of all is a true self-government.…"
Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893) went to bed election night believing he had lost the 1876 race for the presidency. Hayes, a Republican, seemed to hopelessly trail Democratic New York governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814–1886) in the electoral college, the group of state-selected delegates who actually pick the president. But Hayes's strongest supporters were not ready to give up. One of them, former U.S. congressman Daniel E. Sickles (1819–1914) of New York, sent urgent telegrams that night to Republican leaders in South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Oregon, historian Ari Hoogenboom wrote in The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. "With your state sure for Hayes, he is elected. Hold your state," the telegrams read. By three o'clock in the morning, Sickles heard back from Daniel H. Chamberlain (1835–1907), governor of South Carolina, where federal troops had been stationed for the past month to...
(The entire section is 3576 words.)