VICTORIES AND LOSSES
Lee's surrender on April 9, 1865, ended the Confederate dream. The
preservation of the Union gave Lincoln hope, a hope cut short by his
assassination on April 14. The country, following Lincoln's wishes,
rapidly tried to reunite, to heal the bitter wounds of four years of
fratricide. Struggling back to peacetime was an enormous effort in the
North but an even more devastating prospect for white southerners.
The war not only wiped out a generation (over one-fifth of the adult
male white population in the South) but deprived descendants of
misplaced dreams of returning to prewar prosperity. Ten billion dollars
worth of property was destroyed in the region, but this "destruction"
also reflected the emancipation of millions of slaves, many by their own
liberation, and a new dawn for black hope. African Americans rejoiced in
Confederate defeat. Slavery was abolished with the passage of the
Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865, and citizenship rights were
extended to individuals of the former slave class with the Fourteenth
Amendment in July 1868. (Voting rights were reinforced by the Fifteenth
Amendment, ratified in 1870.) These legislative strides on the federal
level did little to better race relations during the social and
political ferment that followed war's end. Indeed, many southern
politicians defied the spirit of these constitutional amendments and
enacted "Black Codes," as they came to be knownlaws meant to
prevent African American freedom.
The Freedmen's Bureau, established during wartime under the
leadership of General O. O. Howard (after whom Howard University is
named), and various war relief agencies tried to move into the shambles
of the postwar South to set up schools, to protect voting rights, and to
initiate economic self-sufficiency among African Americans. During the
summer of 1865 the Freedmen's Bureau distributed 150,000 daily rations
(nearly 50,000 to whites), a necessity that seemed to grow rather than
diminish as the agency passed out nearly twenty-two million rations
between 1865 and 1870.
CITIZENS SEARCHING THE RUINS OF A BATON ROUGE MANSION. (LSU LIBRARY)|
A FREEDMAN'S SCHOOL IN THE OCCUPIED SOUTH. (LC)|
A RETURN TO FARMING NEAR "BLOODY HILL" AT THE SITE OF THE BATTLE OF
WILSON'S CREEK. (AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLECTION)|
Defeated Confederates reeled from the consequences of their failed
rebellion. Once rich Delta lands were filled with weeds and burned out
shells of former estates.
Defeated Confederates reeled from the consequences of their failed
rebellion. Once rich Delta lands were filled with weeds and burned out
shells of former estates. This was in direct contrast to the stellar
record of agricultural production enjoyed in the North, where wheat
production beat prewar output, and corn, pork, and beef exports doubled,
while the Union supplied its armies and its people.
Transportation and industrialization boomed. Only the textile
industry suffered in the North (because of the shortage of raw
material). Coal production, copper processing, and other resources
accelerated from wartime demand. So much commercial growth contributed
to the Civil War being called "the Second American Revolution." Although
economic output may have slowed in some areas, the overall picture in
the 1860s is one of acute acceleration. Economists debate the question
of growth during the war years, but all agree that the sectional
redistribution of wealth was enormous. In 1860 the per capita wealth of
white southerners was 95 percent higher than that of northern whites.
That situation was reversed dramatically in 1870 when the northern per
capita wealth was 44 percent greater than that of southern whites. The
South's share of the national wealth had been 30 percent in 1860 but
shrank to 12 percent in 1870.
YOUNG WOMEN IN WARTIME NORTH CAROLINA. (MC)|
The back of the plantation economy had been broken, and there seemed
no way to restore prewar patterns, despite planters' dreams. The black
work force was reluctant to return to former plantations. Although most
wanted to escape field work, without education and resources, the
majority were forced into daily wage labor. Indeed, the sharecropping
system was seen as a means to property owning by land-hungry
freedpeople. By war's end, blacks discovered that "forty acres and a
mule" was a dream rather than any federal agenda. President Andrew
Johnson's amnesty programs and congressional caution prevented the
federal government from allowing distribution of public lands, which
were plentiful. The land for black ownership need not have come from any
property held by whites. But the principle of white supremacy reigned.
Northern intervention may have allowed occasional interlopers such as
the first generation of black elected officials during Reconstruction,
including Hiram Revels and Francis L. Cardozo. The specter of black
judges, black legislators, and African Americans as local federal
officeholders alarmed former Confederates.
White men felt undermined and overwhelmed in the wake of surrender.
The 1870 census revealed 36,000 more women than men in Georgia and
25,000 more in North Carolina. In Atlanta more than 8,000 families, many
headed by women, were utterly destitute in the wake of the war. Federal
troops were a constant and visible reminder of Confederate defeat.
Georgian Fanny Andrews commented on women pulling their drapes, feigning
mourning. White women boycotted social functions where soldiers might
appear, including church, where they felt sermons were influenced by the
CONFEDERATE SPY ROSE GREENHOW AND HER DAUGHTER, UNDER HOUSE ARREST IN
WASHINGTON, BEFORE BEING CONFINED IN THE OLD CAPITOL PRISON. (LC)|
During the summer and fall of 1865 many Confederates fled their
former homes. Brazil and Mexico hosted colonies of disenchanted former
slave owners, and Europe welcomed these aristocrats in exile as well.
Hundreds also crossed the Canadian border as refugees. But the majority
of white southerners remained in their defeated homeland.
One Georgia woman reported, "The pinch of want is making itself felt
more severely every day and we haven't the thought that we are suffering
for our country that buoyed us up during the war. Widows in the South
were deprived of the generous pensions provided families of Yankee
veterans. Despite poverty, white southerners stubbornly held on to their
pride. Many refused to take the dreaded oath (renouncing the Confederacy
and pledging loyalty to the Union) and sought federal pardons from
Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, who proved an all too lenient
dispenser of mercy. Surprisingly, only Confederate president Jefferson
Davis served any time in jail and only one Confederate officer, the
infamous Commander Henry Wirz, in charge of the Andersonville Prison,
was executed for war crimes. So despite Confederate complaints to the
contrary, the federal government proved amazingly tolerant following
As Lincoln had predicted, once the Union was preserved, the
difficulty would be to restore the nation to order. Most ex-Confederates
wished to embalm their status by exalting the nobility of the Lost
Cause. Women were especially active in these campaigns to rewrite
history, praise southern military heroes, and paint a picture of glory
and honor in the wake of such a serious setback as presidential and
congressional Reconstruction. The United Daughters of the Confederacy
and other memorial organizations kept the Confederate cause alive well
into the next century. Indeed, it wasn't until the corrupt bargain in
the wake of the election of 1876 that the South wholly rejoined national
politics, and at the cost of black political progress, as many critics
have pointed out.
RUINS OF COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA. (NA)|
But despite these setbacks, Reconstruction gave African Americans as
a group their first taste of freedom, and many seized the moment with
vigor and admirable restraint. The way southern blacks struggled for
their rights and stepped lively into political arenas is one of the
great political transformations of the millennium. Whatever happened in
the backlash that followed, former slaves shed their shackles, bidding
for their full and rightful place in the public sphere.
Following the war, many former Confederate states were forced to
contend with the discomforts of modernization. Folkways could be
supplanted by federal directives. State governments grappled with
education and reform in ways that had never been seen before south of
the Mason-Dixon line. The forced march toward fuller political
participation, literacy, and agricultural and labor reforms pulled an
unruly region more into line with its northern neighbor.
The wartime Congress could be proud of many accomplishments.
Certainly, the Homestead Act had far-reaching effects as over 500,000
settled 80 million acres by the end of the century. Additionally, the
Morrill Act paved the way for the state university system. After 1862
states were granted public lands (amounts based on a per legislator
basis) for sale, and money raised established land-grant colleges. This
was the most important and initial grant of federal aid to education.
Land grants to the railroads totaled over 120 million acres. The steady
march of progress created a parade of modern legislative victories
ushering in national banking, homesteading, colleges and universities,
railroads, and, finally, the Internal Revenue Act.
THE EXTENSION OF THE RAILROAD CREATED A STAMPEDE WESTWARD WHERE LAND WAS
PLENTIFUL. (ADVERTISEMENT FROM HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
REFUGEES ON THE RICHMOND CANAL IN 1865. (LC)|
Nevertheless, the costs of war were enormous. The Civil War resulted
in more soldiers dying than were killed in almost all subsequent wars in
American history. Almost 630,000 died, with over half a million
wounded. At Antietam on a single day nearly 4,800 were killed, whereas
less than 4,000 Americans died during the Revolutionary War. But the
impact on the national scale paled in comparison to the effect on local
communities: in Worcester, Massachusetts over 4,000 of its eligible male
population of 24,000 went to war and nearly 500 never came back. Most
homecoming reunions among Yankee soldiers were touching rather than
melodramatic affairs, as Leander Stillwell recalled. When he returned to
Otterville, Indiana, Stillwell was happily restored to his parental
home: "We all had a feeling of profound contentment and satisfaction . .
. too deep to be expressed by mere words." The next day he took off his
uniform (shedding his status as a Union lieutenant), put on his father's
old clothes, and "proceeded to wage war on the standing corn."
CLARA BARTON'S POSTWAR CRUSADE TRACING MISSING SOLDIERS
Once the war was over in April 1865, many families faced the harsh
reality that their husbands and brothers, fathers and sons might not be
coming home. Tens of thousands had not heard from families for months
or even years and found their inquiries to the government failed to
elicit response because the War Department was flooded with requests
following Confederate surrender. Certainly the work of identifying the
thousands buried in anonymous graves would never be completed, but
Union women dedicated themselves to trying.
Clara Barton, whose legendary war work had saved hundreds of
soldiers' lives, established a clearinghouse for the purpose of tracing
lost soldiers. This task propelled her into a controversial tangle of
issues. She began her operation even before government funds were set
aside for the task. Her search for the missing naturally led to
Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison where so many Union
soldiers has lost their lives. She traveled to Georgia in the summer of
1865 to help identify remains and rebury the dead. But Barton found her
plans thwarted by military resistance. Caught in a bureaucratic
crossfire, she was not appointed head of a Bureau of Missing Persons but
found herself at odds with the War Department.
CLARA BARTON (NA)|
Having fought military red tape throughout the war, Barton simply
sidestepped the chain of command and launched a private crusadeadvertising
in newspapers, printing circulars with lists of missing men,
reaching out directly to those anxious families seeking assistance.
Barton's crusade stirred up enormous passion. She was able to locate
information on dying men soliciting soldiers who may have witnessed a
comrade's passing, so that details of death were conveyed to anxious
mothers who begged to know how their sons had died. She also was able to
sift through enemy records and discover burial information on thousands,
especially those who perished in prisons, letting wives know that their
husbands would not he coming home but also letting the government know a
veteran had died.
On occasion, Barton would track down a soldier who had disappeared
for his own reasons. In one case, a veteran raged at Barton for having
his name "Blazoned all over the Country" and said his family could just
wait until he was ready to contact them. Barton sent a stinging reply,
notifying him, "Your mother died waiting." Much more often, Barton was
an instrument of welcome reunion.
Congress finally recognized the significance of Barton's campaign and
appropriated $15,000. But by the time she closed down her operation in
1869, Barton had spent all the government money and nearly $2,000 of her
own funds. She went without salary as she and her staff processed over
63,000 letters, providing more than 22,000 families with information on
missing soldiers. Through her efforts many families were able to bury
their dead and move on with their lives.
But not all soldiers had a homecoming. Over twelve thousand of the
Iowa men who enlisted (half of all eligible) died: 3,500 on the
battlefield, 500 in prison, 8,500 from disease. Over 8,500 of those who
went home returned seriously disabled. In the four years of war, almost
30,000 amputations were performed. In the state of Mississippi, 20
percent of the state revenue was spent on artificial limbs in 1866.
Private Cutler Rist of the Thirty-Sixth Wisconsin had his tibia
shattered by a bullet at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864. Two days later
surgeons removed his leg from the knee down. He was operated on again in
December 1864, when leaking fluid indicated the possibility of gangrene.
Discharged in May 1865, he hobbled home to Madison, Wisconsin. Rist,
like thousands of other soldiers, would have a permanent reminder of his
ONE SOLDIER WHO WOULD RETURN HOME ONLY FOR BURIAL. (LC)|
THIS SHEET MUSIC ILLUSTRATION SHOWS A VACANT CHAIR, A POIGNANT SYMBOL OF
LOSS IN MANY POSTWAR HOMES. (LC)|
Nervous diseases rapidly multiplied in the postwar years, causing
physician S. Weir Mitchell to complain about "epileptics . . . every
kind of nerve wound, palsies, horeas, stump disorders, I sometimes
wonder how we stood it." Causes and treatment of mental illnesses were
little understood during the late to mid-nineteenth century. A
surprisingly small number, a little over 800 men, were discharged from
the Union army because of mental disabilities. Despite this low number,
one medical authority at the time complained that "the number of cases
of insanity in our army is astonishing." Less than 2,500 cases of mental
illness were reported in the North during the entire war, and some
doctors suggested that they thought the war actually reduced mental
diseases. The director of a District of Columbia asylum offered
conjecture: "The mind of the country was raised by the war to a
healthier tension and more earnest devotion to healthier objects than
was largely the case amid the apathies and self-indulgences of the
long-continued peace and prosperity that preceded the great struggle."
The war, an Ohio doctor suggested, channeled energies into "new and
We do have evidence that opium addiction increased: not only veterans
but their wives became dependent on the drug. Horace Day argued in his
1868 medical text that opiates offered temporary relief to those "maimed
and shattered survivors from a hundred battlefields, diseased and
disabled soldiers released from hostile prisons, anguished and hopeless
wives and mothers, made so by the slaughter of those who were dearest to
THE ERECTION OF WAR MONUMENTS AND DEDICATION CEREMONIES HELPED TO HEAL A
WOUNDED NATION. (HARPER'S WEEKLY)|
The war took an enormous emotional toll, as children lost their
childhoods, families lost loved ones, and the nation mourned the passing
of a generation of youth who could have given talents and energies and
not just their bodies to their beloved country. Like many other wars,
the scars were deep and not all visible. Burying the dead did not always
bury the memories, and the words of soldiers and loved ones continue to
haunt. The impact of this terrible contest remains very much with us
today, as statues of Civil War soldiers dot town squares from rural New
England to bustling Manhattan. As Americans moving into the twenty-first
century, our reflections on the terrible ordeal that almost tore the
country apart seem nostalgic. Yet our constant reexamination of those
issues for which so many died and so many more fought, to appreciate the
bravery of those on the home front as well as the battlefront, signals
the strengths of our American heritage, as we are condemned not to
relive our history but to fulfill the promise of our victories and
recall the memories of losses.
Back cover: Heart of the Southern Girl by Henry E. Kidd,
Colonial Heights, Virginia.|