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Bluecoats and Tar Heels

Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina

Mark Bradley

Publication Year: 2009

Though the Civil War ended in April 1865, the conflict between Unionists and Confederates continued. The bitterness and rancor resulting from the collapse of the Confederacy spurred an ongoing cycle of hostility and bloodshed that made the Reconstruction period a violent era of transition. The violence was so pervasive that the federal government deployed units of the U.S. Army in North Carolina and other southern states to maintain law and order and protect blacks and Unionists. Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina tells the story of the army’s twelve-year occupation of North Carolina, a time of political instability and social unrest. Author Mark Bradley details the complex interaction between the federal soldiers and the North Carolina civilians during this tumultuous period. The federal troops attempted an impossible juggling act: protecting the social and political rights of the newly freed black North Carolinians while conciliating their former enemies, the ex-Confederates. The officers sought to minimize violence and unrest during the lengthy transition from war to peace, but they ultimately proved far more successful in promoting sectional reconciliation than in protecting the freedpeople. Bradley’s exhaustive study examines the military efforts to stabilize the region in the face of opposition from both ordinary citizens and dangerous outlaws such as the Regulators and the Ku Klux Klan. By 1872, the widespread, organized violence that had plagued North Carolina since the close of the war had ceased, enabling the bluecoats and the ex-Confederates to participate in public rituals and social events that served as symbols of sectional reconciliation. This rapprochement has been largely forgotten, lost amidst the postbellum barrage of Lost Cause rhetoric, causing many historians to believe that the process of national reunion did not begin until after Reconstruction. Rectifying this misconception, Bluecoats and Tar Heels illuminates the U.S. Army’s significant role in an understudied aspect of Civil War reconciliation.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: New Directions in Southern History

Front cover

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pp. iv


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii


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pp. ix-xi

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Prologue:Taking on Mission Impossible

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pp. 1-6

In his semi-autobiographical novel, A Fool’s Errand, Albion W. Tourgée sought to explain the failure of postwar Reconstruction in the South. Few persons had been more dedicated to its success. In the fall of 1865, the Union officer-turned-carpetbagger attorney settled in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he aroused considerable controversy as a champion of the freedpeople...

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1. The Warrior as Peacemaker:Sherman and the Bennett Place Negotiations

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pp. 7-24

Of the eleven states that comprised the Confederacy, North Carolina was the last to secede from the Union. Only after the fall of Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand troops to suppress the rebellion did North Carolina succumb to the “secession mania” that had already swept the Deep South states. But Unionism and other forms of anti-Confederate dissent...

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2. Military Rule by Default: Schofield’s One-Month Regime

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pp. 25-46

As the occupation commander in North Carolina, General Schofield presided over a state that lacked a civil government. President Andrew Johnson’s repudiation of Sherman’s first agreement had made it clear that the governor, the General Assembly, and other state and local officials would not be permitted to resume their former duties. Unlike Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia, the Old North State possessed no Lincoln-sponsored...

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3. An Uncertain Relationship: The Interaction of Soldiers and Civilians in 1865

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pp. 47-70

With the surrender at the Bennett farm, the U.S. Army’s role in North Carolina abruptly shifted from conqueror to peacekeeper, the bluecoats’ erstwhile foes becoming their fellow countrymen once more. The trauma of defeat left white North Carolinians briefly disoriented and despondent; some Union commanders erroneously interpreted their apparent passivity...

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4. The Return of Civil Government

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pp. 71-94

Shortly after assuming command of the Department of North Carolina, General Ruger began transferring authority to the state’s civil officers. Ruger nevertheless was barraged with complaints from Governor Holden concerning troublesome black soldiers and the military’s improper interference in civil affairs. Holden also maintained that civil authority reigned...

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5. The Struggle for Civilian Supremacy

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pp. 95-134

The new governor of North Carolina, Jonathan Worth, took pride in his record as a steadfast Union Whig. “The preservation of the Union has been the polar star of my political life,” he declared in June 1866. As a first-term state legislator in 1831, Worth denounced nullification, a doctrine granting a state the right to reject a federal measure it deemed unjust...

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6. Military Reconstruction under Sickles

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pp. 135-158

The commander of the Second Military District, Maj. Gen. Daniel Edgar Sickles, ranks as one of the more flamboyant characters to tread the American public stage of his time. A lawyer, Tammany Hall Democrat, and U.S. congressman before the war, Sickles created a scandal in 1859 when he murdered his young wife’s lover, Francis Barton Key, the son of “Star Spangled Banner”...

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7. Military Reconstruction under Canby

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pp. 159-188

Unlike his predecessor General Sickles, Brig. Gen. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby was a professional soldier, having served in the army for twenty-eight of his forty-nine years. Canby was a graduate of West Point (class of 1839), and a veteran of the Second Seminole War, the Mexican War, and the Mormon Expedition. He was also one of the most underrated Union generals...

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8. North Carolina Rejoins the Union

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pp. 189-216

In February 1868, as the first year of Congressional Reconstruction drew to a close, the Republicans sought to gain firm control of political affairs in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. As North Carolina’s Republican-dominated constitutional convention laid the foundation for a biracial democracy, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson...

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9. Fighting Terrorism

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pp. 217-258

The years 1870 and 1871 marked the height of the Klan terror in North Carolina. The army refused at first to step in, believing it a disturbance the civil authorities were equipped to handle. Only after the assassination of two county Republican leaders, numerous other Klan-related atrocities, the Conservative electoral triumph of 1870, and the impeachment...

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pp. 259-270

By 1872, the widespread, organized violence that had plagued North Carolina since the war had ceased. Even so, the army still had to contend with moonshiners and a few disturbances that stemmed from election-year campaigning. Perhaps the worst such incident involved a drunken brawl between soldiers and civilians that erupted in Lincolnton during a Democratic political rally...

Appendix: Regional and Ethnic Origins of Federal Troops in North Carolina, 1868–1870

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pp. 271-274


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pp. 275-338


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pp. 339-354


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pp. 355-370

E-ISBN-13: 9780813173061
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125077

Page Count: 382
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: New Directions in Southern History