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180 • 8 • Relics of the Antebellum Era Confederate Soldiers and the Postwar World After fighting four years in a conflict that took at least 620,000 lives, Confederate soldiers returned home to communities impoverished and scarred by war. Southern men had seen more than 260,000 comrades die, and the Federal army had done untold damage to homes and farms. Emancipation, furthermore, liquidated billions in Confederate wealth.1 The war dramatically changed Southern race relations, and in April 1865, with the Confederacy defeated and the slaves freed, the U.S. government began Reconstruction in earnest.2 Confederates were forced to accept abolition , they very thing they had fought so hard to prevent. Yet, in the face of a Northern political and military presence in the South, resourceful and ruthless former Confederates realized that white supremacy did not depend upon slavery. Had Reconstruction never occurred, they would have restored a “white man’s government” in the Southern states even sooner. After 1865, slave patrols no longer existed, but the black codes and the Ku Klux Klan tried to reestablish what whites believed was the “proper” order among the races. The continued struggle for a “white man’s government” took on new forms, from violent anti-Republican riots, to the intimidation of black voters, to assassinations and murder, to widespread Democratic voting fraud, to the reconfiguration of proslavery ideology into a defense of Jim Crow laws and black disfranchisement. “Redemption” would take years, but after Lee’s surrender, ex-Confederates continued their war against Northerners’ and African Americans’ attempts at establishing greater social , economic, and legal equality in the South. Veterans’ postwar views provide not only an epilogue to the story of wartime race relations, they also provide further insight into why Confederates acted as they did during the war.3 The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment did not immediately free confederate soldiers and the postwar world 181 the slaves in the Confederacy. And before the Army of Northern Virginia capitulated at Appomattox, Southern soldiers tried to keep slavery intact. In January 1865, the Louisianan David Pierson heard of Congress’s plan to free the slaves in return for European recognition. In response, men apparently were moving their slaves to western Texas in order to sell them for gold. Pierson wished he could have done the same.4 The war had not ended, and men had not put an end to their efforts to make money from slavery. As 1865 began, millions of black people remained in bondage. Confederates who vowed to fight on continued to believe in the institution of slavery and the idea that Union victory meant subjugation for white Southerners. Capt. Robert E. Park of the Twelfth Alabama, who was suffering in a Northern prison, railed against the United States, denouncing the “blatant Abolitionists” who “would scarcely be convinced of the truth of a negro slave’s fidelity to his master.” Northerners, he believed, were “totally ignorant of the real status of the divine institution of slavery.”5 “Divine” or not, slavery was crumbling. Some Confederate troops’ concerns for their slaves made for pathetic letters. “You asked after the servts,” wrote the Louisianan James Stubbs to his father in January 1865. “Eliza is still very ill & I would not be surprised if she never recovers .” A slave’s illness and possible death was not unusual, but Stubbs probably would not have been as pessimistic six months before. Things had worsened for everyone, he noted, “since our recent national reverses.” After he returned home, Stubbs gave $20 to the care of his slaves. It was all he could spare. He considered hiring his servants out, but in January 1865, he noted, hires were not getting a third of their asking price.6 Stubbs’s mastery over his chattels was weakening, but soldiers had not expected abolition to improve the lot of black people. Capt. Thomas W. Patton resigned his commission in August 1864 to attend to matters at home. In January 1865, writing to his mother from Alabama, he said, “All of the negroes here seem to be better contented than I ever found them.” Even so, he saw that slavery was near its end, for which he believed “the negroes are most to be pitied.”7 The impending end of slavery filled African Americans with hope, but Southern whites were far less sanguine. Some Confederates were defiant to the point of being delusional. Writing from Shreveport, the capital of Confederate-held Louisiana, Hugh Montgomery believed that the Confederacy might still...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813935423
Related ISBN
9780813935416
MARC Record
OCLC
870893814
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-15
Language
English
Open Access
No
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