The Occupation of the South: An Interview with Andrew Lang

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Andrew Lang
Dr. Andrew Lang. Image courtesy of Mississippi State University.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Andrew Lang, Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University. Lang is the author of Waging Peace in the Wake of War: United States Soldiers, Military Occupation, and the American Civil War Era (currently under contract with Louisiana State University Press), as well as several scholarly essays.

CWI: What roles—political, economic, social—did the U.S. military play in the reconstruction of the South during the postwar occupation of the region?  What was the nature of its interactions with Confederate veterans? With women? With free blacks?  What regional variations did members of the U.S. military encounter during its occupation of the South in the Reconstruction era?

LANG: The U.S. military played a substantial role in the Reconstruction South. Following Confederate surrender, the Army was demobilized at a stunning, rapid pace, yet the institution retained important war powers which had guided Union arms to victory during the Civil War. In many ways, the Army assumed peacetime responsibilities with which it had rarely before been tasked, especially in politics and civil-military relations. The American tradition had long viewed a powerful military establishment, wielding strong political, economic, and societal influence, with suspicion. And yet it seemed that Union victory would not be assured without a substantial military force to maintain peace in the wake of wartime destruction while also ensuring the safety of freedpeople, southern Unionists, and Republicans who inhabited the South in the months and years after Appomattox. Serving as a formal peacekeeping force, overseeing elections and constitutional conventions, regulating local courts, policing the countryside, and engaging in a degree of counterinsurgency, the Army was perhaps the most important institution in the South during the Reconstruction era. This was true especially in managing the post-emancipation order. After playing a key part in the processes of wartime emancipation, the Army performed a crucial role in running the Freedmen’s Bureau, safeguarding African American rights, negotiating labor contracts and challenging the re-authorization of old planter regimes, acting as a buffer between freedpeople and former slave owners, and serving as a refuge to which freedpeople, notably women, could turn to report white transgressions and violence. As with most military occupations, the Army found that its presence in the South was welcomed warmly in some places and with much more hostility in others. Southern Unionists—white southerners who had opposed the Confederacy—as well as those pockets of the South that had long been under wartime military supervision, welcomed Union soldiers as forces of stability and protection. Some white southerners got along amicably with Union occupiers, while others expressed abject hatred and defiance, usually in areas hardly touched by Union patrols or in regions of formerly concentrated slave holding. Ironically, some evidence suggests that former Confederate soldiers—but certainly not all—were inclined to give Union soldiers the least amount of trouble. However, the occupiers eventually learned that some of those who had once filled the ranks of rebel armies were also those who joined the clandestine terror organizations that spread political and racial violence across the region. Continue reading “The Occupation of the South: An Interview with Andrew Lang”

Reconstruction in the North and South: An Interview with Andrew Slap

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Dr. Andrew Slap
Dr. Andrew Slap

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Andrew Slap, Associate Professor of History at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several books, including The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republican in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2006)He is also the editor of This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions About the Civil War-Era North (Fordham University Press, 2013) and Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath (The University Press of Kentucky, 2010). Slap serves as the series editor for “Reconstructing America” and “The North’s Civil War,” both published through Fordham University Press.

CWI: How was Reconstruction in the North similar to, and different from, Reconstruction in the South?  What challenges or opportunities existed in the North, and for whom, during the era of Reconstruction?

SLAP: Reconstruction in the North was strikingly different than Reconstruction in the South. For the South, Reconstruction meant massive upheaval (including almost four million African American slaves becoming free citizens), an occupying army, and having to rebuild an economy devastated by armies fighting across the South for years. By contrast, Reconstruction in the North was more about opportunities created by the war, and these extended throughout northern society. Economic legislation passed during the Civil War, such as the Homestead Act and the Transcontinental Railroad, helped open the West to new waves of settlers. Many veterans left the army ready to improve their lives with bonus money, new networks of friends, and a sense of optimism. Debates about African American voting rights helped spur the Women’s suffrage movement, including the Wyoming Territory’s women’s suffrage provision in 1870 and Victoria Woodhull becoming the first female candidate for president of the United States in 1872. Continue reading “Reconstruction in the North and South: An Interview with Andrew Slap”

Historic Sites and the Interpretation of Reconstruction: An Interview with Emmanuel Dabney

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Emmanuel Dabney. Image courtesy Gettysburg College.
Emmanuel Dabney. Image courtesy Gettysburg College.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies.  Today, we’re speaking with Emmanuel Dabney, park curator at Petersburg National Battlefield in Petersburg, Virginia. Dabney holds a B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and an M.A. in Public History from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  He maintains the blog Interpretive Challenges.

CWI: At what types of sites might we locate the history of Reconstruction?  What sites, specifically, lend themselves especially well to an interpretation of Reconstruction?

DABNEY: We should encounter the history of Reconstruction at a variety of sites including, but not limited to, local and state historical societies; historic house museums; and local, state, and National Park Service-operated sites and battlefields.

There are a host of sites that lend themselves to interpreting Reconstruction: State Capitol buildings with visitor centers (especially those located in the South), every Civil War battlefield and Civil War-era National Cemetery, historic plantations, and National Park Service units that relate to the Reconstruction presidents, such as President’s Park (aka The White House), Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, and Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Continue reading “Historic Sites and the Interpretation of Reconstruction: An Interview with Emmanuel Dabney”

"Competing Memories of the War": An Interview with Dr. Caroline Janney

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI Summer Conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Caroline Janney, Professor of History at Purdue University. Janney is the author of Burying the Dead But Not the Past: Ladies Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause (University of North Carolina Press, 2008), and most recently, the multi-award-winning Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Caroline Janney

CWI: How did Reconstruction shape the public memory of the Civil War? Who participated (or was not allowed to participate) in the shaping of Civil War memory and why?

JANNEY: Memory is a multi-faceted process that is at its heart about contemporary events. That is, the way in which people (northern and southern, black and white) thought about the war between 1865-1877 was in response to what was happening between 1865-1877. One of the best examples of how the policies of Reconstruction – or at least the uncertainty of what lay ahead – affected memory is the Lost Cause. Because former Confederate men were fearful of being charged with treason, southern white women took the lead in memorializing the Lost Cause. By invoking their maternal obligations to care for the dead, they were able to create Confederate cemeteries and establish the practice of Memorial Days as early as 1866. Continue reading “"Competing Memories of the War": An Interview with Dr. Caroline Janney”

An Interview with Dr. Gregory Downs

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI Summer Conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Dr. Gregory Downs, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Downs is the author of Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (University of North Carolina Press, 2011) and most recently, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press, 2015), which uses the lens of occupation to examine the immediate period after Confederate surrender as an extension of wartime.Greg Downs

CWI: It is popular perception that the Civil War definitively and “neatly” ended at Appomattox, and so most media outlets declared the commemorations of the Civil War Sesquicentennial over in the summer of 2015. In what ways have such understandings of the war inhibited a fuller understanding of the enduring challenges and unanswered questions that Americans faced in the postwar period? Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Gregory Downs”

A Take on Appomattox

By Brianna Kirk ’15

On April 9, 1865, Palm Sunday, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met in the front parlor of Wilmer McLean’s house in the little village of Appomattox Court House to discuss the status of their two armies. After swapping stories of the days of their Mexican War service, the two men finally penned their names on terms of surrender, effectively ending the American Civil War. Grant, magnanimous towards the now defeated Confederates, and Lee, humble in his loss, ushered in the era of reconciliation that would bandage up the past four bloody years and push the reunited country forward together as one.

Lee and Grant meet at Appomattox Court House to settle terms of surrender. Wikimedia Commons.
Lee and Grant meet at Appomattox Court House to settle terms of surrender. Wikimedia Commons.

Most Americans are familiar with this depiction of the way the Civil War’s end happened, basking in the intense moment of genuine reconciliation and healing, all feelings of animosity and politics pushed aside. The meaning of the Civil War, we’ve been told, was decided upon that day when Grant and Lee met. Appomattox has become interchangeable with peace, progress, and reunion in the American consciousness. Continue reading “A Take on Appomattox”

Tributes to Terror: The Mis-Monumentation of the Colfax Massacre

By Matt LaRoche ’17

Recently, I contributed a piece called “Days Gone By, Days to Come: Monuments and the Politics of Peace” on the political teeth with which monuments are often imbued (or are deliberately denied). While I do not intend to ramble on about this issue—I hope that the previous piece will do enough to inspire readers to take a critical eye to any monuments that they cross in the future—I felt that one more story of poor documentation deserved illumination. The context: as Charles Lane chronicles in his book The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, on April 13, 1873—Easter Sunday—the racial and political tensions already boiling in Reconstruction-Era Louisiana burst into decisive, open racial warfare. On that date, the Colfax courthouse in Grant Parish was stormed by a mob of white Democrats who, in a final bid to resolve the question of which party’s candidate had won the 1872 gubernatorial election, shattered the trench lines around the courthouse with small arms and a small cannon. Defending the courthouse were hundreds of freedmen and white Republican officials who had fled into Colfax from the countryside as racial violence had grown increasingly prevalent and organized. Most were refugee women and children. By massacre’s end, three whites and up to one hundred and fifty freedmen lay dead. A PBS documentary on Ulysses S. Grant reports that “nearly half [the victims were] murdered in cold blood after they had already surrendered.”

In the century and a half following the events of that Easter Sunday, the victims of Colfax have not been allowed to rest. Their memory has primarily been ignored or bent toward political ends, usually by those who couldn’t care less for the massacre’s victims of white supremacy. The site’s monuments reflect this. Perhaps there is no more abhorrent example of blood bound to stone for shallow aims in all of U.S. history. Continue reading “Tributes to Terror: The Mis-Monumentation of the Colfax Massacre”