Mobilizing for War
Neither North nor South was prepared for war, In April 1861 most of the Union’s small army, a scant 16,000 men, was scattered across the West. One-third of its officers had resigned to join the Confederacy.
The Confederacy was even less prepared: it had no tax structure, no navy, only two tiny gunpowder factories, and poorly equipped, unconnected railroad lines. During the first two years of war, both sides would have to overcome these deficiencies, raise large armies, and finance the war.
The Civil War armies were the largest organizations ever created in America; by the end of the war, more than 2 million men had served in the Union army and 800,000 in the Confederate army.
At first the raising of armies was a local, rather than a national or state, effort. Regiments usually consisted of volunteers from the same locale, as casualties’ mounted, military demand exceeded the supply of volunteers.
The Confederacy felt the pinch first and in April 1862 enacted the first conscription law in American history, requiring all able-bodied white men aged eighteen to thirty-five to serve in the military.
Once the army was raised, the Confederacy had to supply it. At first the South imported arms and ammunition from Europe or relied on weapons captured on the battlefield.
Gradually, the Confederacy assigned contracts to privately owned factories such as the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, provided loans to establish new plants, and created government-owned industries such as the giant Augusta Powder Works in Georgia.
Supplying troops with clothing and food proved more difficult. Supply problems had several sources: railroads that fell into disrepair or were captured, an economy that grew more cotton and tobacco than food, and Union capture of livestock and grain raising districts of central Tennessee and Virginia.
Close to desperation, the Confederate Congress in 1863 passed the Impressment Act, authorizing army officers to take food from reluctant farmers at prescribed rates.
The industrial North more easily supplied its troops with arms, clothes, and food, but keeping a full army was another matter. When the initial tide of enthusiasm for enlistment ebbed, Congress turned to conscription with the Enrollment Act of March 1863 Every able-bodied white male citizen aged twenty to forty-five faced the draft.
The Enrollment Act provided some exemptions and offered two ways of escaping the draft substitution, or paying another man to serve, and commutation, or paying a $300 fee to the government. Nevertheless, as in the Confederacy, the law stimulated volunteering only 8 percent of all Union soldiers were draftees or substitutes
During the war, however, annual federal expenditures rose to 15 percent of the gross national product, the need for new sources of revenue became urgent When neither additional taxes nor war bond sales produced enough revenue, the Union and the Confederacy began to print paper money.
Early in 1862 President Lincoln signed into law the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the issue of $150 million in paper “greenbacks”. To bolster confidence in the paper money, Union officials made the greenbacks legal tender (that is, acceptable in payment of most public and private debt).
In contrast, the Confederacy never made paper money legal tender, and so suspicions arose that the southern Government had little faith in its own money.
Northern invasions and poor internal transportation made collecting taxes difficult, and ultimately the South raised less than 5 percent of its wartime revenue from taxes.
The Civil War pitted rival political systems as well as armies and economies against each other. The Union’s list of political liabilities appeared lengthy. Loyal but contentious northern Democrats wanted no conscription, no National Bank, and no abolition of slavery. Even within the Republican Party Lincoln, with little national experience, had trouble commanding respect.
The Civil War was the first war in which both sides relied extensively on railroads, the telegraph, mass-produced weapons, joint army-navy tactics, iron-plated warships, rifled guns and artillery, and trench warfare. In many ways it was the first modern war.
The Civil War witnessed experiments with a variety of new weapons, including the submarine, the repeating rifle, and the multibarreled Gatling gun, the predecessor of the machine gun. Whereas smoothbore muskets had an effective range of 80 yards, the Springfield or Enfield rifles widely in use by 1863 were accurate at 400 yards.
The rifle’s development posed a challenge to long-accepted military tactics, which stressed the mass infantry charge. As the fighting wore on, both sides recognized the value of trenches, which offered defenders protection against withering rifle fire.
Much like previous wars, the Civil War was fought in a succession of battles during which exposed infantry traded volleys, charged, and countercharged. The side that withdrew first from the battle was considered the loser, even though it often sustained lighter casualties than the “victor”.
The defeated armies usually moved back a few miles to lick its wounds; the winners stayed in place to lick theirs. Not surprisingly, generals on both sides concluded that the best defense is a good offense.
Early in the war the need to secure the border slave states, especially Kentucky and Missouri, dictated Union strategy in the West, sending northern armies plunging southward from Kentucky into Tennessee.
East of the mountains, the Confederates’ decision to locate their capital in Richmond, Virginia, shaped Union strategy. “Forward to Richmond!” became the Union’s first war cry.
Before Union troops could reach Richmond, one hundred miles southwest of Washington, they would have to dislodge a Confederate army brazenly encamped at Manassas Junction, Virginia, only twenty-five miles from the Union capital.
In the resulting First Battle of Bull Run, amateur armies clashed in bloody chaos under a blistering sun in July 1861 as well dressed, picnicking Washington dignitaries watched the carnage.
After Bull Run, Lincoln appointed General George B. McClellan to replace McDowell as commander of the Union’s Army of the Potomac. In spring 1862 McClellan got an opportunity to demonstrate the value of his strategy.
After Bull Run, the Confederates had pulled back behind the Rappahannock River to block a Union march toward Richmond. At first McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign unfolded smoothly.
But after luring the Confederacy to the brink of defeat, he hesitated, refusing to launch the final attack without the reinforcements he expected As McClellan delayed; General Robert E Lee assumed command of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee immediately took the offensive, attacking the much larger Union forces in the Seven Days’ Battles (June-July 1862). Raging through forests east of Richmond, nearly twice as many men as the Union, but McClellan, not Lee, blinked.
His panicky reports prompted Lincoln to order him back to Washington. With McClellan out of the picture, Lee and his lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, pushed north, routing a Union army at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas) in August 1862.
McClellan met Lee at the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) on September 17, 1862. North and South together suffered 24,000 casualties in this bloodiest day of the entire war Tactically, the battle was a draw, but strategically it constituted a major Union victory because it forced Lee to withdraw south of the Potomac.
McClellan’s replacement, General Ambrose Burnside, thought he was unfit for high command. He was right. In December 1862 he led 122,000 federal troops against 78,500 Confederates at the Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia). Burnside captured the town but then sacrificed his army in futile charges up the heights west of the town.
Union general, Ulysses S. Grant, A West Point graduate with a reputation for heavy drinking, and a failed farmer and businessman, Grant soon proved one of the Union’s best leaders.
In 1861—1862 Grant had stabilized control of Missouri and Kentucky and then moved south to attack Corinth, Mississippi, a major rail junction.
In early April 1862 Confederate forces staged a surprise attack on Grant’s army, encamped at Shiloh Church in southern Tennessee. Driven back on the first day, Union forces counterattacked on the second day and drove the Confederate army from the field. Of 77,000 men who fought at Shiloh, 23,000 were killed or wounded.
For the Corinth-Shiloh Campaign, the Confederacy had stripped New Orleans of its defenses, leaving its largest city guarded by 3,000 militia. A combined land-sea force under Union general Benjamin Butler and Admiral David G. Farragut took advantage of the weakened defenses and captured New Orleans in late April.
When a Union flotilla moved down the river in June and took Memphis, the North controlled the great river except for a 200-mile stretch between Port Hudson, Louisiana, and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
In 1862 Union and Confederate forces also clashed in the trans-Mississippi West, a vast region that stretched from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast.
On the banks of the Rio Grande, Union volunteers and Mexican-American companies drove a Confederate army from Texas out of New Mexico. A thousand miles to the east, at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March 1862, northern troops scattered a Confederate force of 16,000
These Union victories changed the trans-Mississippi war. As the rebel threat faded, western volunteers who had mobilized to crush Confederates turned to fighting Indians.
After 1865 federal troops moved west to complete the rout of the Indians that had begun during the Civil War.
The Naval War
By plunging the navy into the Confederacy like a dagger, the Union exploited one of its clearest advantages. The North began the war with more than forty active warships—the South had none—and by 1865 northern industrial advantages had given the United States the largest navy in the world. Steamships could penetrate the South’s river systems from any direction
Despite meager resources, the South made impressive efforts to offset the North’s naval advantages. The Confederates raised a scuttled Union frigate, the Merrimac; sheathed its sides in iron; re-christened it the Virginia, and deployed it to attack wooden Union ships at Hampton Roads, Virginia.
The Virginias success ended on March 9, 1862, when it tangled with the hastily built Union ironclad Monitor in the first battle ever fought between ironclads. The battle ended in a draw, but the South eventually lost the naval war because it could not build enough ships to overcome the northern lead.
The Diplomatic War
While armies and navies clashed in 1861—1862, conflict developed on a third front, diplomacy. At the war’s start southerners had expected to gain swift diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy.
They were sure of the support of Britain and France’s upper classes and even more certain that Britain, dependent on the South for four-fifths of its cotton, would have to break the Union blockade.
Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves, effectively preempted any British or French move toward recognition of the Confederacy. By transforming the war into a struggle about slavery, Lincoln won wide support among liberals and the working class in Britain.
The Union’s policy on emancipation developed in several stages. As soon as northern troops invaded the South, questions arose about captured rebel property, including slaves.
Generally, slaves who fled behind Union lines were considered “contraband”— enemy property liable to seizure—and were put to work for the Union army. In August 1861 Congress passed the first Confiscation Act, which authorized the seizure of all property, including slaves, used in military aid of the rebellion.
This law did not free slaves, nor did it apply to those who had not worked for the Confederate army.
Emancipation also took on military significance with each Union setback, as northerners began to recognize that slavery permitted the South to commit a higher percentage of its white men to battle.
In July 1862 Congress therefore passed the second Confiscation Act, which authorized the seizure of property belonging to all rebels, stipulated that: slaves who entered Union lines “shall be forever free.” and authorized the use of blacks as soldiers.
Reluctant to push the issue while Union armies reeled in defeat, Lincoln drafted a proclamation of emancipation and waited for the right moment to announce it. After the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation (September 1862), which declared all slaves under rebel control free as of January 1, 1863.
The final Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, declared “forever free” all slaves in areas in rebellion.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a brilliant political stroke. By making it a military measure, Lincoln pacified northern conservatives, and by issuing the proclamation himself, he stole the initiative from the Radical Republicans.
The proclamation also mobilized support for the Union among European liberals, pushed the Border States toward emancipation (both Missouri and Maryland abolished slavery before the war’s end), and increased slaves’ incentives to escape as union Troops neared.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery everywhere or free all the slaves, but it changed the war from 1863 on, the war for the Union was also a war against slavery.
The attacks and counterattacks of the opposing armies turned many slaves into pawns of the war, free when Union troops overran their area, slaves again if the Confederates regained control.
During the first year of the war the Union had rejected African-American soldiers. Only after the Emancipation Proclamation did the large-scale enlistment of blacks begin. By the war’s end 186,000 African-Americans had served in the Union army, one-tenth of all Union soldiers.
For most of the War, black soldiers earned far less pay than whites. Not until June 1864 did Congress belatedly equalize the pay of black and white soldiers.
African-American soldiers also suffered a far higher mortality rate than whites. Seldom committed to combat, they were far more likely to die of disease in bacteria-ridden garrisons.
The Confederacy refused to treat captured black Union soldiers as prisoners of war; instead they were sent back to the states from which they had come to be re-enslaved or executed. In an especially gruesome incident, when Confederate troops captured Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in 1864, they massacred 262 blacks.
Anxious white southerners on the home front felt as if they were perched on a volcano. To maintain control over their 3 million slaves, they tightened slave patrols, spread scare stories among slaves, and sometimes even moved entire plantations to relative safety in Texas.
Some slaves remained faithful to their owners, hiding treasured belongings from Union soldiers. Others were torn between loyalty and desire for freedom; one body servant, for example, accompanied his master to war, rescued him when he was wounded, and then escaped on his master’s horse.
Given the chance to flee to Union lines, most slaves did. But the majority of southern slaves stayed on plantations under the nominal control of their masters. Despite the fears of southern whites, no general slave uprising occurred, and the Confederate war effort continued to utilize slave labor.
The Civil War, which, engulfed two economies and societies, extended far beyond the battlefields: the North’s superior resources enabled it to meet wartime demands more successfully than the south, but both sides confronted similar problems; labor shortages, inflation, and dissent.
The War had a widely uneven effect on the Union’s economy. Deprived of southern markets, the shoe industry in Massachusetts declined; deprived of raw cotton, the textile industry went into a tailspin. But northern industries related to the war effort, such as the manufacture of arms and uniforms, benefited from huge government contracts. Railroads flourished.
The Homestead Act (passed in May 1862), embodying the Republican Party’s ideal of “free soil, free labor, free men,” granted 160 acres of public land to settlers after five years of residence on the land. By 1865, 20,000 homesteaders had occupied new land in the West under this act.
To bring higher education within the reach of the common people, the Morrill Land Grant Act of July 1862 gave states proceeds from public land to establish universities emphasizing, “such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and mechanic arts (engineering).”
Despite the idealism underlying such laws, the war benefited the wealthy more than the average citizen. Corrupt contractors grew rich by selling the government substandard merchandise such as the notorious “shoddy,” clothing made from compressed rags, which quickly disintegrated.
Speculators made millions in the gold market, profiting more from Union defeats than from Union victories.
Ordinary workers suffered. Protective tariffs, wartime excise taxes, and inflation bloated the price of finished goods, while wages lagged 20 percent or more behind cost increases.
The war shattered the South’s economy. In fact, if both regions are considered together, the war retarded American economic growth.
The war destroyed the South’s railroads. Cotton production plunged from 4 million bales in 1861 to 300,000 in 1865. Southern food production also declined because of Union occupation and a shortage of manpower.
Part of the blame for the South’s food shortage rested with the planters. Despite government pleas to grow more food, many planters continued to raise cotton. To feed its hungry armies, the Confederacy impressed food from civilians.
Farms and plantations run by the wives of active soldiers provided the easiest targets for food impressments agents, and the women sent desperate pleas to their husbands to return home. By late 1864, half the Confederacy’s soldiers were absent from their units.
Both wartime governments faced mounting dissent and disloyalty. Within the Confederacy, dissent assumed two basic forms.
Ø First, a vocal group of states’ rights supporters persistently attacked Jefferson Davis’s government as a despotism.
Ø Second, loyalty to the Union flourished among the nonslaveholding small farmers who lived in the Appalachian region.
The Union and the Confederacy alike witnessed remarkable wartime patriotism that propelled civilians, especially women, to work tirelessly to alleviate soldiers’ suffering, The United States Sanitary Commission, organized to assist the Union’s medical bureau, depended on women volunteers.
The commission raised funds, bought and distributed supplies, and ran special kitchens to supplement army rations.
Women also reached out to aid the battlefront through the nursing corps. Some 3,200 women served the Union and the Confederacy as nurses. The Confederacy also had extraordinary nurses, among them Belle Boyd, who served as both nurse and spy and once dashed through a field, waving her bonnet, to give Stonewall Jackson information.
Nurses were useful, and the sanitary reforms they he1ped bring about improved the practice of medicine. The widely held theory that disease was caused by noxious vapors also prompted doctors to adopt valuable sanitary measures. In partial consequence, the ratio of disease to battle deaths was much lower in the Civil War than in the Mexican War.
Nonetheless, for every soldier killed during the Civil War, two died of disease. The germ theory of disease was unknown, and arm and leg wounds often led to gangrene or tetanus. Typhoid, malaria, diarrhea, and dysentery were rampant in army camps.
Nurses were not the only women to serve society in wartime. In North and South alike, women took over jobs vacated by men. In rural areas, where manpower shortages were most acute, women often plowed, planted, and harvested.
Northern women’s rights advocates hoped that the war would yield equality for women as well as for slaves. A grateful north, they contended, should reward women for their wartime service and recognize the link between black rights and women’s rights.
In 1863 feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony organized the National Woman’s Loyal League to promote abolition and woman suffrage. Despite high expectations, the war did not bring women significantly closer to economic or political equality nor did it much change the prevailing definition of women’s sphere.
Successes at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863 notwithstanding, the Union stood no closer to taking Richmond at the start of 1864 than in 1861, and most of the Lower South remained under Confederate control. War weariness strengthened the Democrats and jeopardized Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.
Early in 1864 Lincoln made Grant the commander of all Union armies and promoted him to lieutenant general. At first glance, the stony-faced, cigar-puffing Grant seemed an unlikely candidate for so exalted a rank, held previously only by George Washington. But Grant’s successes in the West had made him the Union’s most popular general.
In early May 1864 Grant led 118,000 men against Lee’s 64,000 in a forested area near Fredericksburg, Virginia, called the wilderness. The Union army fought the Army of Northern Virginia in a series of bloody engagements in May and June.
These battles ranked among the war’s fiercest; at Cold Harbor, Grant lost 7,000 men in one hour. Instead of recoiling from such an immense “butcher’s bill,’ Grant pressed on, forcing Lee to pull back to trenches guarding Petersburg and Richmond. Once entrenched, Lee could not threaten the Union rear with rapid moves as he had done for three years.
While Grant and Lee grappled in the Wilderness, Sherman led 98,000 men into Georgia. Opposing him with 53,000 men (later reinforced to 65,000), General Joseph Johnston slowly retreated toward Atlanta, conserving his strength for a defense of the city. Dismayed by this defensive strategy, President Davis replaced Johnston with the adventurous John B. Hood.
He gave Davis what he wanted, a series of attacks on Sherman, but Sherman pressed relentlessly forward against Hood’s dwindling forces. Unable to defend Atlanta, Hood evacuated the city, which Sherman took on September 2, 1864
Atlanta’s fall came at a timely moment for Lincoln, in the thick of a tough campaign for reelection despite opposition from Radical Republicans; Lincoln’s managers controlled the nomination by the time of the Republican convention.
Lincoln doubted that he would be reelected, but the fall of Atlanta provided an enormous boost. With 55 percent of the popular vote and 212 out of 233 electoral votes, he swept to victory’
Meanwhile, Sherman gave the South a lesson in total war. Refusing to chase Hood back into Tennessee, he decided to abandon his own supply lines, to march his army across Georgia to Savannah, and to live off the countryside, He would break the South’s will to fight, terrify its people, and “make war so terrible that generations would pass before they could appeal to it again”.
While Sherman headed north, Grant renewed his assault on the entrenched Army of Northern Virginia. His main objective was Petersburg, a railroad hub south of Richmond. The fall of Atlanta and the devastation wrought by Sherman’s army took a heavy toll on Confederate morale.
Late in March 1865 Grant, reinforced by Sheridan, swung his army around the western flank of the Petersburg defenders. Lee could not stop him. On April 2 a courier brought the grim news to Jefferson Davis, attending church in Richmond: General Lee telegraphs, “He can hold his position no longer.”
Davis left his pew, gathered his government, and fled. On the morning of April 3 Union troops entered Richmond, pulled down the Confederate flag, and raised the Stars and Stripes over the capital. Explosions set by retreating Confederates left the city “a sea of flames.”
On April 4 Lincoln toured the city and, for a few minutes, sat at Davis’s desk with a dreamy expression on his face.
Lee led a last-ditch effort to escape westward to Lynchburg and its rail connections. But Grant and Sheridan choked off the route, and on April 9 Lee bowed to the inevitable.
He asked for terms of surrender and met Grant in a private home in the village of Appomattox Courthouse, east of Lynchburg. The final surrender came 4 days later as Lee’s troops laid down their arms between federal ranks.
On April 14 at Ford’s Theater an unemployed pro-Confederate actor, John Wilkes Booth, entered Lincoln’s box and shot him in the head. Assassination attempts on the secretary of state and vice president failed, and Booth escaped.
Within two weeks Union troops hunted him down and shot him to death (or he shot himself). Four accused accomplices were hanged, and four more were imprisoned. On April 15 Lincoln died and Andrew Johnson became president.
The end of the Civil War offered multiple possibilities for chaos and vengeance. The Federal Government could have imprisoned Confederate leaders; former rebel troops could have become guerrillas; freed slaves could have waged a racial war against their former masters.
None of this happened. Instead, intense political conflict dominated the post war period.
The political upheaval, sometimes attended by violence, produced new constitutional amendments, an impeachment crisis, and some of the most ambitious domestic legislation ever enacted by congress, The Reconstruction Acts of 1867-1868.
It culminated in something that few expected, the enfranchisement of African-American men.
Conflict over Reconstruction had begun before the war ended. In December 1863 Presidents Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which allowed southern states to form new governments if at least 10% of those who had voted in the 1860 elections and swore an oath of allegiance to the Union and accepted emancipation.
Radical Republicans in Congress wanted a slower readmission process that would exclude even more ex-confederates from political life.
Lincoln’s death foreclosed the possibility that he and Congress might draw close to an agreement, and Radicals now looked with hope to the new president, Andrew Johnson.
At first glance, Andrew Johnson seemed a likely ally for the Radicals. The only southern senator to remain in congress when his state seceded, Johnson had taken a strong anti-confederate stance and had served as military governor of Tennessee for two years.
Self educated, an ardent Jacksonian, a foe of the planter class, a supporter of emancipation, Johnson had his own political agendas, very different from that of the Radicals.
In May 1865, with Congress out of session, Johnson shocked Republicans by announcing his own program to bring the southern states still without Reconstruction governments, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, back into the Union.
Virtually all southerners who took an oath of allegiance would receive pardon and amnesty, and all their property except slaves would be restored to them.
The presidential Reconstruction took effect in summer 1865. Johnson handed out pardons liberally (some 13,000) and dropped his plans for the punishment of treason.
By the end of 1865 all seven states had created new civil governments that in effect restored the status quo antebellum Confederate officers and large planters resumed state offices, and former Confederate congressmen and generals won election to Congress.
Most infuriating to the Radicals, every state passed a “black code”, these codes, which replaced earlier slave codes, guaranteed the freedmen some basic rights, marriage, ownership of property, the right to testify in court against other blacks, but also harshly restricted their behavior.
Most harmful, black codes included economic restrictions to prevent blacks from leaving the plantation, usually by establishing a system of labor contracts and then stipulating that anyone who had not signed a labor contract was subject to arrest as a vagrant.
In late 1865 Congress voted to extend the life of the Freedmen’s Bureau for three more years. Staffed mainly by army officers, the bureau provided relief, rations, and medical care; built schools for former slaves, put them to work on abandoned or confiscated lands; and tried to protect their rights as laborers.
In February 1866 Johnson vetoed the bill. Then in March 1866 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which made African-Americans U S. citizens with the same civil rights as other citizens and authorized federal intervention to ensure African-Americans’ rights in court Johnson vetoed this measure also.
In April Congress overrode his veto, and in July it enacted the Supplementary Freedmen’s Bureau Act over another presidential veto. Although the vetoes gained support for Johnson among northern Democrats, the president drove moderate and radical Republicans together toward their next step: the passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the new Civil Rights Act.
In April 1866 Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, its most ambitious attempt to deal with the problems of Reconstruction and the freed slaves.
v In the first clause, the amendment proclaimed that all persons born or naturalized in the United States were citizens and that no state could abridge their rights without due process of law or deny them equal protection under the law.
v Second, the amendment guaranteed that if a state denied suffrage to any male citizen, its representation in Congress would be proportionally reduced.
v Third, the amendment disqualified from state and national offices all prewar officeholders who had supported the Confederacy.
v Finally, it repudiated the Confederate debt and maintained the validity of the federal debt.
Passage of the amendment created a firestorm. Abolitionists said that it did not go far enough to protect African-American voting rights, southerners blasted it as vengeful, and President Johnson denounced it.
The president’s unwillingness to compromise solidified the new alliance between moderate and Radical Republicans and transformed the congressional elections of 1866 into a referendum on the Fourteenth Amendment.
Republicans carried the congressional elections of 1866 in a landslide, winning nearly two-thirds of the House and three-fourths of the Senate. They had secured a mandate for the Fourteenth Amendment and their own Reconstruction program.
The congressional debate over reconstructing the South began in December 1866 and lasted three months. Radical leaders, anxious to stifle a resurgence of Confederate power, called for African-American suffrage, federal support for public schools, confiscation of Confederate estates, and extended military occupation of the South.
In February 1867, after complex political maneuvers, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867. Johnson vetoed it, and on March 2 Congress passed the law over his veto. Three more Reconstruction acts, passed in 1867 and 1868 over presidential vetoes, refined and enforced the first act.
Congressional Reconstruction took effect in spring 1867, but Johnson impeded its implementation by replacing pro-Radical military officers with conservative ones. Furious and more suspicious than ever of the president, congressional moderates and Radicals again joined forces to block Johnson from further hampering Reconstruction.
In March 1867, responding to Johnson’s obstructionist tactics, Republicans in Congress passed two laws to restrict presidential power. The Tenure of Office Act prohibited the president from removing civil officers without Senate consent.
Its purpose was to protect Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Radical ally needed to enforce the Reconstruction acts. The other law banned the president from issuing military orders except through the commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, who could not be removed without the Senate’s consent.
In August 1867 Johnson suspended Stanton and in February 1868 tried to remove him. The president’s defiance of the Tenure of Office Act drove moderate Republicans back into alliance with the Radicals. The House approved eleven charges of impeachment, nine of them based on violation of the Tenure of Office Act.
Johnson’s trial by the Senate, which began in March 1868, riveted public attention for eleven weeks.
Ultimately, seven Republicans risked political suicide by voting with the Democrats against removal, and the Senate failed by one vote to convict Johnson. In so doing, the legislators set two critical precedents: in the future, no president would be impeached on political grounds, nor would he be impeached because two-thirds of Congress disagreed with him.
The Fifteenth Amendment, drawn up by Republicans and approved by Congress in 1869, aimed both to protect black suffrage in the South and to extend it to the northern and Border States, on the assumption that newly enfranchised African-Americans would gratefully vote Republican.
The amendment prohibited the denial of suffrage by the states to anyone on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude
The debate over black suffrage drew new participants into the fray. Women’s rights advocates had tried to promote both black suffrage and woman suffrage but radical Republicans rejected any linkage between the two, preferring to concentrate on black suffrage.
Women’s rights leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony disagreed. If the Fifteenth Amendment did not include women, they emphasized, it would establish an “aristocracy of sex” and increase the disabilities under which women already labored.
By the time the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, Congress could look back on five years of momentous achievement. Three constitutional amendments had broadened the scope of democracy by abolishing slavery, affirming the rights of citizens, and prohibiting the denial of suffrage on the basis of race.
Congress had readmitted the former Confederate states into the Union. At the same time, momentum had slowed at the federal level. In 1869 the center of action shifted to the South, where tumultuous change was under way.
During the years of presidential Reconstruction, 1865 -1867, the southern states faced formidable tasks: creating new governments, reviving war-torn economies, and dealing with the impact of emancipation.
In May 1866 white crowds attacked African-American veterans in Memphis and rampaged through African-American neighborhoods, killing forty-six people.
Two months later in New Orleans, whites assaulted black delegates on their way to a political meeting and left 40 people dead.
Large numbers of African-Americans participated in government for the first time in the state constitutional conventions of 1867-1868.
Republican regimes also expanded state government and formed state militias in which African-Americans often were heavily represented. Finally, they created public school systems, almost nonexistent in the antebellum south.
Opponents of Reconstruction viewed Republican rule as wasteful and corrupt, the “most stupendous system of organized robbery in history”.
The main profiteers were government officials who accepted bribes and railroad promoters who doled them out. However neither one of these was exclusively Republican.
Corruption increasingly characterized government nationally in these years and was both more flagrant and more lucrative in the North.
Vigilante efforts to reduce black votes bolstered Democratic campaigns to win white ones. Antagonism toward free blacks, long present in southern life, grew increasingly violent.
As early as 1865 Freedmen’s Bureau agents itemized a variety of outrages against blacks, including shooting, murder, rape, arson, and “severe and inhuman beating.” White vigilante groups sprang up in all parts of the former Confederacy, but one organization became dominant.
In spring 1866 six young Confederate war veterans in Tennessee formed a social club the Ku Klux Klan, distinguished by elaborate rituals, hooded costumes, and secret passwords. New Klan dens spread rapidly.
By the election of 1868, when African-American suffrage had become a reality, the Klan had become a terrorist movement directed against potential African-American voters.
The Klan sought to suppress black voting, to reestablish white supremacy, and to topple the Reconstruction governments. Republican legislatures tried to outlaw vigilantism, but when state militias could not enforce the laws, state officials turned to the federal government for help.
In response, between May 1870 and February 1871 Congress passed three Enforcement Acts.
ü The First Enforcement Act protected African-American voters.
ü The Second Enforcement Act provided for federal supervision of southern elections
ü Third Enforcement Act (also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act) authorized the use of federal troops and the suspension of habeas corpus.
Although thousands were arrested under the Enforcement Acts, most terrorists escaped conviction.
By 1872 the federal government had effectively suppressed the Klan, but vigilantism had served its purpose. A large military presence in the South could have protected black rights, but instead troop levels fell steadily. Congress allowed the Freedmen’s Bureau to die in 1869, and the Enforcement Acts became dead letters.
Emancipation stirred waves of migration within the former Confederacy. Some slaves headed to the Deep South, where desperate planters would pay higher wages for labor, but more moved to towns and cities. Urban African-American populations doubled and tripled after emancipation.
The desire to find lost family members drove some migrations. Parents sought children who had been sold; husbands and wives who had been separated reunited; and families reclaimed children who were being raised in masters’ homes.
Once reunited, freed blacks quickly legalized unions formed under slavery, sometimes in mass ceremonies of up to seventy couples. Legal marriage had a tangible impact on family life. In 1870 eight out of ten African-American families in the cotton-producing South were two-parent families, about the same proportion as white families.
Men asserted themselves as household heads, and their wives and children often withdrew from the work force. However, by Reconstruction’s end, many African-American women had rejoined the work force out of economic necessity, either in the fields or as cooks, laundresses, and domestic servants.
The freed blacks’ desire for independence also led to the growth of African-American churches. The African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded by Philadelphia blacks in the 1790s, gained thousands of new southern members, Negro Baptist churches, and their roots often in plantation “praise meetings” organized by slaves, sprouted everywhere.
The influence of African-American churches extended far beyond religion. They provided relief, raised funds for schools, and supported Republican policies. African-American ministers assumed leading political roles.
Schools, too, played a crucial role for freedmen as the ex-slaves sought literacy for themselves and above all for their children. At emancipation, African-Americans organized their own schools, which the Freedmen’s Bureau soon supervised. In 1869 the bureau reported more than 4,000 African-American schools in the former Confederacy.
Within three more years each southern state had a public-school system, at least in principle, generally with separate schools for blacks and whites. The Freedmen’s Bureau and others also helped to establish Howard, Atlanta, and Fisk Universities in 1866—1867 and Hampton Institute in 1868. Nonetheless, African-American education remained limited.
By the end of Reconstruction, only a fraction of former slaves owned working farms. Without large-scale land reform, barriers to African-American landownership remained overwhelming.
Three obstacles impeded African-American landownership. Freedmen lacked capital to buy land or tools. Furthermore, white southerners generally opposed selling land to blacks. Most important, planters sought to preserve a cheap labor force and forged laws to ensure that black labor would remain available on the plantations.
Southerners began trying out new labor schemes, including the division of plantations into small tenancies. Sharecropping was the most widespread arrangement.
Under this system, landowners subdivided large plantations into farms of thirty to fifty acres and rented them to freedmen under annual leases for a share of the crop, usually one-half.
Before the Civil War planters had depended on factors, or middlemen, who sold them supplies, extended credit, and marketed their crops through urban merchants. Because the high value of slave property had backed these long-distance credit arrangements, this system collapsed with the end of slavery.
Into this gap stepped rural merchants, who advanced supplies to tenants and sharecroppers on credit and sold their crops to wholesalers. Because renters had no property to serve as collateral, merchants secured their loans with a lien, or claim, on each farmer’s next crop. Once a tenant’s real or alleged debts exceeded the value of his crop, he was tied to the land, to cotton, and to sharecropping.
Trapped in perpetual debt, tenant farmers became the chief victims of the new agricultural order. As an easily marketable cash crop, cotton remained the only survival route open to poor farmers, regardless of race. Yet low income from cotton locked them into sharecropping and crop liens, and the failure to diversify crops exhausted the soil. African-American tenants, for whom neither landownership nor economic independence ever materialized, saw their political rights dwindle as rapidly as their hopes for economic freedom.
The nomination of Ulysses S. Grant for president in 1868 launched a chaotic era in national politics. His eight years in office featured political scandals, a party revolt, a massive depression, and a steady retreat from Reconstruction.
A war hero, Grant was endorsed by veterans, admired throughout the North, and unscathed by the bitter feuds of Reconstruction politics. To oppose Grant, the Democrats nominated Horatio Seymour, arch-critic of the Lincoln administration and an opponent of Reconstruction and greenbacks.
Grant’s presidential leadership proved as weak as his war leadership had been strong, and a string of scandals plagued his administration. For example, near the end of Grant’s first term, his vice president, Schuyler Colfax, got caught up in the Credit Mobilier scandal, an elaborate scheme to skim off the profits of the Union Pacific Railroad. Then in 1875 Grant’s personal secretary, Orville Babcock, was found guilty of accepting bribes from the “whiskey ring,” distillers who preferred bribery to payment of federal taxes.
Although Grant was not personally involved in the scandals, he did little to restrain such activities, and “Grantism” came to stand for fraud, bribery, and corruption in office.
The postwar years brought accelerated industrialization, rapid economic expansion, and frantic speculation as investors rushed to take advantage of seemingly unlimited opportunities.
The Panic of 1873 plunged the nation into a devastating five-year depression. Thousands of businesses went bankrupt. By 1878 unemployment had risen to more than 3 million. The depression of the 1870s demonstrated ruthlessly that conflicts born of industrialization had replaced sectional divisions.
The Republicans gradually disengaged from Reconstruction, beginning with the election of Grant as president in 1868. Grant, like most Americans, hesitated to approve the use of federal authority in state or local affairs.
In the 1870s Republican idealism waned. Instead, commercial and industrial interests dominated both the Liberal and “regular” wings of the party, and few had any taste left for further sectional strife. When Democratic victories in the House of Representatives in 1874 showed that Reconstruction had become a political liability, the Republicans prepared to abandon it.
An angry white majority had led a Democratic resurgence throughout the South in the 1870s, and by the end of 1872 four Ex-Confederate States had already returned the Democrats to power. By 1876 Republican rule survived in only three southern states. Political bargaining in 1877 ended what little remained of Reconstruction.
By autumn 1876, with redemption almost complete, both parties were moving to discard the animosity left by the war and Reconstruction. The Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes, the governor of Ohio, for president.
The Democrats nominated Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York, a political reformer known for his assaults on the Tweed Ring that had plundered New York City’s treasury.
Tilden won the popular vote by a small margin, but the Republicans challenged pro-Tilden electoral votes from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Giving those nineteen electoral votes to Hayes would make him the winner The Democrats, for their part, requiring a single electoral vote to put Tilden in the White House, challenged one electoral vote from Oregon.
But Southern Republicans managed to throw out enough Democratic ballots in the contested states to proclaim Hayes the winner. The nation now faced an unprecedented dilemma each party claimed victory, and each accused the other of fraud. In fact, both parties were guilty.
In January 1877 Congress created a special electoral commission to resolve the conflict. With eight Republicans and seven Democrats, the commission gave the Republican Hayes the election by an 8 to 7 vote.