Browsing "Reconstruction"

Better to Die in the Last Ditch

Of the war and its end in the submission and occupation of the American South, those enduring the degradation vowed that “These things will not stay forgotten . . . daughters and Veterans can not afford to be silent about the painful past. Let our descendants have a truthful account of that awful time as far as written words can give it.” The source below can be obtained from Orders@Xlibris.com.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Better to Die in the Last Ditch

“Twenty years after Appomattox in a survey to determine “how the war had most significantly changed” the lives of Confederate women, “all said that doing their own work or adjusting to hired Negro domestics was their major postwar problem.” Sallie Southall Cotton wrote to General William G. LeDue in 1909 about Reconstruction:

“Defeated, oppressed, humiliated, poverty-stricken, disenfranchised, taxed to pay the war debt, while too poor to support ourselves, deprived of opportunity politically, and handicapped by pride and the bitterness of rebellion against our condition, the South was a pitiable spectacle – and her rise from that condition to the splendid attainments of today is a crown of honor she deserves because she has won it by overcoming obstacles which at first seemed insurmountable.”

Dr. Henry Bahnson, in his speech to Confederate veterans, had this to say about Confederate women:

“We can speak in unstilted praise of the best and greatest glory of the South – the women of the war. Their soft voices inspired us, their prayers followed us and shielded us from temptation and harm. We witnessed their Spartan courage and self-sacrifice in every stage of the war. We saw them send their husbands and their fathers, their brothers and their sons and their sweethearts, to the front, tempering their joy in the hour of triumph, cheering and comforting them in the days of despair and disaster.

Freely they gave of their abundance, and gladly endured privation and direct poverty that the men in the field might be clothed and fed. Their days of unaccustomed toil were saddened with anxious suspense, and the lonely, prayerful vigils of the night afforded no rest.

They nursed the sick and wounded; they soothed the dying; and in the last stages of the war when all was lost but honor, were made to marvel at their saintly spirit of martyrdom standing as it were almost neck deep in the desolation around tem, bravely facing their fate, while the light of heaven illuminated their divinely beautiful countenances.”

Catherine DeRosset Meares [of Wilmington] remarked: “The sense of captivity, of subjugation . . . [was] so galling that I cannot see how a manly spirit could submit to it . . . Oh, it is such degradation to see [our] young men yield voluntary submission to these rascally Yankees. Better to stand on the last plank and die in the last ditch.”

(Blood and War at My Doorstep, North Carolina Civilians in the War Between the States, Brenda Chambers McKean, Volume II, Xlibris, 2011, pp. 1082-1083)

Rebel Yelling Solid South Democrats

Bernard M. Baruch, born in Camden, South Carolina in 1870, grew up shooting muzzle loaders and picking cotton. His father Simon was born in East Prussia in 1840 and came to Camden in 1855 – later to attend South Carolina Medical College at Charleston and the Medical College of Virginia. Surgeon Baruch served in the Third South Carolina Battalion from Second Manassas through Gettysburg, and the Thirteenth Mississippi in July 1864 through the end of the war. In the postwar Dr. Baruch was known to emit loud rebel yells when “Dixie” was played or if a theatrical performance he was attending was deserving of such.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Rebel Yelling Solid South Democrats

“[Bernard] Baruch was not a Democrat on specific issues. On the contrary, he had made a fortune at least once because the Republican view on the tariff had prevailed. [But] He was a Democrat and would contribute generously to a Democratic Party campaign regardless of what he thought the issues or, for that matter, about the candidates. And he would vote the Democratic ticket – straight.

The party regularity dated back to his childhood. He had been raised on Confederate war stories and his whole family was devoted to the Confederate cause. Years after the Baruch [family] had moved to New York [his father] Dr. Baruch embarrassed [mother Miss Belle] frightfully by giving the rebel yell in the crowded Metropolitan Opera House.

But it was not the war or even his mother’s story of how her home had been burnt by Sherman’s men so much as it was Reconstruction that turned Baruch and thousands of other Southerners into such fervid partisan Democrats that the “solid South” has been at once a conundrum and problem to most residents of other parts of the country since. {Reconstruction] . . . with all its terrible connotations, bred hatred for the Republican party.

The terrors of Reconstruction lasted from shortly after the close of the war until 1877, when Baruch was seven years old. In that year Federal troops were withdrawn from the South. Then came the struggle to turn the rascals out, now that they were no longer protected by Federal bayonets – followed by the long uphill battle to work order out of the chaos they had left. Not much of this progress was made by the time the Baruch family moved to New York.

In those first eleven years of his life Baruch heard constantly of Republican misrule of his town and county and State, misrule seemingly directed and certainly protected by soldiers sent by a Republican administration in Washington. The stories told of how the Republican carpetbaggers looted the State and local treasuries, of how they prevented Confederate veterans from voting, while the Negroes, directed by Republicans from the North and local scalawags who had turned Republican for the easy graft involved, elected officials whose only thought was to line their pockets.

Money was extorted from the helpless local whites, and more was obtained by the sale of bonds, some of which were later repudiated, to innocent investors, not only in the north, but abroad! All this left the South not only in unspeakable poverty and want, but under a mountain of debt [and impairing the future credit worthiness of the South]. This last phase was impressed on Baruch in his financial dealings on Wall Street.

March 4, 1913, was a great day for the Democrats. The troops marched into Washington from far and near, but particularly from the South, for the inauguration of their second president since “the War.” Baruch trooped with them. Bands in the inauguration parade played “Dixie” and “Bonnie Blue Flag” and “My Maryland.” Southerners cheered the West Point cadets not only because they marched so true, but because they wore the Confederate gray.

The crowds nearly went crazy over the gray-clad Fifth Maryland Infantry, the Richmond Light Blues and dozens of other historic Southern military organizations. The Taft inauguration, 4 years before, had been held in a blizzard. Now the sun was shining. The South was in the saddle. Woodrow Wilson had been born in Virginia!

(Bernard Baruch, Park Bench Statesman, Carter Field, McGraw Hill, 1944, excerpts, pp. 89-98)

 

Bearing Their Afflictions with Philosophy and Christian Fortitude

The postwar South endured a swarm of curious Northerners: some journalists, many exploitive speculators, and often offensive bigots “who gave advice, condemned customs, asked obtrusive questions, and published tactless statements.” Despite New England’s large part in the African slave trade and perpetuation of slavery with its ravenous cotton mills, the North was determined that the South alone would be punished for the supposed sins of slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Bearing Their Afflictions with Philosophy and Christian Fortitude

“The defeated Southerners were expected to make the sacrifices necessary for reforms favoring the Negro. They were willing to recognize the defeat of the Confederate armies, the freeing of the slaves, and the restoration of the Union. A considerable number with the fear of summary punishment before them were willing to repudiate the Confederacy with unseemly haste. A few – the first scalawags – were prepared to adopt the beliefs of the conquerors.

For the great majority, however, the tragic outcome of the war increased their hatred of Northerners, made Southern doctrines more precious, and invested the war leaders with an aura of heroism. Only the minimum demands of the victor were to be accepted. As soon as it became clear that the North would not be as vindictive as some imagined every reform suggested from the outside was contested bitterly.

Those among the conquerors who imagined that military defeat had reduced the white Southerners to impotence were to be unpleasantly surprised. Although defeated, these people were not without material resources. Despite threats of confiscation, the land remained mostly in their hands and agricultural possibilities partially compensated for decline in land values. All tools were not destroyed and many cities were unscathed or only partially wrecked.

The whites faced their difficulties with superb courage. “While clouds were dark and threatening,” wrote a Northern newspaper reporter, “I do not believe there was ever in the world’s history a people who bear their afflictions with more philosophy and Christian fortitude than these unfortunate people.” Women cheerfully returned to the kitchen and men turned to manual labor. A philosophy of hard work and close economy was preached, and every expedient which might lead out of the impasse of poverty and social stagnation was advanced.

The war had accustomed men to hardships, and the women had learned to manage plantations, maintain slave discipline, and endure privations. Certainly there was no ground for the belief, fostered by the romantics, that Southerners were a lazy and improvident lot who were helpless unless ministered to by faithful blacks. Actually, they were ready to assume duties previously exercised by Negroes, at the same time resisting Northern assaults on their inherited privileges.

They were backed in their policies by an assertive country folk who were accustomed to dwell on lands of their own, and who had a profound contempt for Northerners . . . had proved their stamina while serving in the Confederate army . . . [and] were ready to terrorize Yankees and Negroes alike if members of either group attempted to upset the traditional social order.”

(The South Old and New, A History, 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. 171-172)

The Postwar Radical Inquisition

To destroy President Andrew Johnson’s postwar program, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction was established by Congress in early December 1865, chaired by the sinister and vindictive Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania who made no secret of his aim to firmly plant Republican political control in the South, which he considered conquered territory. General Robert E. Lee was interrogated for two hours by the Committee on 17 February 1866.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

The Postwar Radical Inquisition:

“[Radical Republican] Senator Jacob M. Howard [of Michigan] resumed his questions . . . “While you were in command at Richmond, did you know of the cruelties practiced toward the union prisoners at Libby Prison and Belle Isle?”

[Lee answered] “I never knew that any cruelty was practiced, and I have no reason to believe that it was practiced. I can believe, and have reasons to believe, that privations may have been experienced among the prisoners. I know that provisions and shelter could not be provided for them.”

[Howard] “Were you not aware that men were dying from cold and starvation?”

Aware? Was I aware? The questions must have bitten like strong acid. In those vivid and unspoken images that crowded through Lee’s mind that moment and on other days, what did he see, what did he feel? The historian cannot rightly draw upon reverie; but to think that the real marrow of the hearing got into the stenographer’s notes is to be more naïve than one might want to be.

When the opportunity arose, Lee said quietly, “I had no control over the prisoners, once they had been sent to Richmond. I never gave an order about it . . . No report was ever made to me about them. There was no call for any to be made to me. Prisoners suffered from the want of ability on the part of the Confederate States to supply their wants. As far as I could, I did everything in my power to relieve them, and urged the formation of a cartel.

Pushed further, Lee told of specific proposals made to Grant, and of the work of his Christian Committee. “Orders were that the whole field should be treated alike . . . We took in Federal wounded as well as ours on every field.”

Weeks later the Joint Report of the Committee would lash out at the South . . . “The Rebels heaped every imaginable insult and injury upon our nation . . . They fought for four years with the most determined and malignant spirit . . . and are today unrepentant and unpardoned.” [The editor of the Lexington, Virginia Gazette wrote that the] “devilish iniquity and malignant wickedness” of the Committee’s report he found “so monstrous that no Southern man can read it without invoking the righteous indignation of heaven.” How long was the South to suffer from such wretched injustice and perfidy?

Signs of rebellion began to crop up again. Confederate flags were peddled openly in a dozen cities and were called “sacred souvenirs” by Alabama Governor Parsons. “Stonewall Jackson” soup” and “Confederate hash” appeared on hotel menus. In Richmond, a magazine called The Land We Love began to glorify the “Lost Cause.”

Open conflicts between racial groups spread. Three days of rioting in Memphis, beginning on April 30, left forty-six Negroes dead and scores of homes, churches and schools burned. Summer riots in New Orleans saw sensational and unsavory actions go unchecked. Murder degenerated into massacre. “The hands of the rebel are again red with loyal blood,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.”

(Lee After the War, The Greatest Period in the Life of a Great American, Marshall W. Fishwick, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963, excerpts, pp. 122-126)

New Masters from New England

The Northern abolitionists and the African slave met for the first time at Beaufort, South Carolina, and the former came face to face with what Jefferson Davis earlier pondered regarding what to do with the emancipated slave. The planters warned their hands “that the Yankees would treat them as slaves and sell them to Cuba,” a prediction that nearly became true.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

New Masters from New England

“The revolution began with considerable destruction of property. The Negroes on many plantations . . . broke the cotton gins [and] in other cases they began looting their master’s houses and furniture, and activity which the federal soldiers took up enthusiastically . . .

The [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase’s] correspondence during the months following the fall of Port Royal showed him that the government would gain the support of an ever-increasing segment of the public through sterner war measures: “Wagons, cattle, Horses, Provisions, Negroes not excepted, in short everything useful to our army ought to be appropriated . . . advised one correspondent, who sharply criticized the government for looking “more to a peace through compromise, than to a . . . . victory of arms.”

Certainly [President Lincoln’s] cautious treatment of the issue in his message to Congress offered little encouragement. He threw the problem of defining the new status of the Negroes at Port Royal and others in their situation into the lap of Congress, and then asked that provisions be made to colonize the liberated Negroes “in a climate congenial to them.” Small wonder it was that Chase turned his first attention to contraband cotton rather than to contraband Negroes.

The rapid change in their status was not working to the advantage of many Sea Island Negroes . . . as the [Northern] army had made free use of plantation food stores, leaving many in the slave communities with little to eat. Commodore DuPont reported than numbers of the nearly ten thousand Negroes on the islands were by late winter “almost starving and some naked or nearly so . . .

Having no place to turn, they flocked to the neighborhood of the army camps [where] they were as often treated badly as offered employment and help. The New York Tribune’s correspondent reported that one enterprising and unscrupulous [Northern] officer was caught in the act of assembling a cargo of Negroes for transportation and sale in Cuba, thus giving one example of to bolster the late slave-masters’ prediction.

Something had to be done. If the land should lie fallow and the Negroes idle for long past the middle of February, there would be no cotton in 1862, and the Negroes would have to be supported by the government or charity, thus giving the opponents of emancipation a very good argument.

[Some saw in the Northern oversight of continued cotton production] arrangements the outlines of a typical graft opportunity, to achieve its classic form in the “company store” of a later day . . . and it was “of the utmost importance” that [the Negroes] should be kept busy “at the work which they have been accustomed to do . . . “

[One Northern agent] reported that the Sea Island Negroes knew all the steps involved in the cotton culture and that the great majority of them were ready to work, “with proper inducements.” They needed the help and protection of white men, however, in [his] opinion, and a good system of management. The Negroes were no longer slaves . . . Although they were “as yet in large numbers unprepared for the full privileges of citizens . . . “

(Rehearsal for Reconstruction, The Port Royal Experiment, Willie Lee Rose, Vintage Books, 1964, excerpts, pp. 16; 18-25; 29)

 

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