Monday, June 20 started with battlefield tours. I was on the “Training & Education: The Gettysburg Battlefield and Its Uses for the Military Professional” excursion with Chris Stowe of the U.S. Marine Corps University at Quantico. This was an excellent tour. We talked about how the U.S. military used the battlefield over the years, including as a training camp. There were several National Guard encampments held on the battlefield in the early twentieth century, culminating in Camp U.S. Soldier to train for World War I and Camp Colt, commanded by Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower, to train tank soldiers. There was a large U.S. Marine Corps exercise under Gen. Smedley Butler that used the battlefield as a training and proving ground as well, during which some reenacted Pickett’s Charge. It’s great to remind ourselves the battlefield has a history beyond what happened on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. Finally, we talked about staff rides and we did an operational exercise that covered Richard S. Ewell’s decision not to attack Cemetery Hill on July 1. I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this, so I was very well prepared beforehand. It was a fun discussion and everyone enjoyed it.
After the tours we reconvened for a presentation James Downs of Connecticut College delivered on “Native Americans & the Freedmen’s Bureau.” Rather than discuss the relationship of Native Americans with the Freedmen’s Bureau, Professor Downs gave a litany of the wrongs committed against the Santee and the Black Seminoles. Now, I don’t have a problem with discussing the treatment of Native Americans during Reconstruction, but I think the presenter owes it to the audience and to the conference organizers to at least make sure we have an accurate title so we know what to expect. Professor Downs told us that after the Civil War, many U.S. soldiers believed the West would be a healthier region than the South had been. Some saw their Union [United States] uniform as a license to do what they wanted to any woman. Natives were starving and some of their women prostituted themselves and their daughters in return for food. The government had broken promises to the Native Americans and white settlers were overcharging Native Americans for basic supplies. The Santee were starving. Their annuity payments from the government were late and white settlers didn’t extend credit, so they rebelled, resulting in the 1862 Dakota War. The U.S. Army forced the Santee to surrender. Afterward, the U.S. Army held trials and over 300 Santee were sentenced to be executed. President Abraham Lincoln took the extraordinary measure of reviewing the trials and commuting the sentences of the vast majority. As a result, 38 Santee were hanged on December 26, 1862, which was the largest mass execution in American history. The Northern [United States] victory in the Civil War and the success of free labor allowed the U.S. to use the South as a template for labor in the West. They moved the tribes to reservations to become laborers. The reservations resembled contraband camps. The experience in the South offered a model of how to handle displaced populations. The Civil War’s results encouraged using the military to create a labor force. Ulysses S. Grant increased the number of reservations. The government defined Native Americans as dependent wards. They wanted the Native Americans to turn to agricultural labor and not depend on hunting and fishing. The drew on the assistance of Northern relief organizations and Northern reformers. Both the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Office of Indian Affairs grew out of the War Department. Both contraband camps and reservations galvanized laborers. The government plan produced sickness and environmental destruction. The failed to take into account the effects of the sheer movement of large numbers of people. It led to sickness and mortality and forced people to become dependent on the government and the military. Tragic results followed. For example, to cut down on wolves preying on agricultural animals, the government poisoned the wolves. This made the wolves easier to catch, and when the Santee caught and ate the wolves, the Santee then ingested the poison and were sickened and in many cases died.
Professor Downs next considered the Black Seminoles. Enslaved people in North Carolina and South Carolina escaped to North Florida and became part of the Seminole Nation as free men. Andrew Jackson expelled the Seminoles from Florida and Georgia, and the escaped slaves move with the Seminoles. White planters in Arkansas recognize women and children who could be sold into slavery for a profit, and abducted many and sold them. Black Seminoles escape from Arkansas and go to Texas, where the Mexican government hired them as scouts. They got word at the end of the Civil War that slavery was ended and return to Texas. Now they’re recognized not as black but as Indians and put in refugee camps. The army inducted the most skilled marksmen, and that left their women and children in the refugee camps where they starved and got sick. Professor Downs made the point that Native Americans see Reconstruction as a larger and more tragic history. Unfortunately, Professor Downs’ presentation had to be cut short due to an inadvertent fire alarm prior to his speaking.
Next we went to our break-out sessions, with the theme “Reconstruction Through Biography.” The first I attended was with Judy Geisberg on Caroline LeCount. Caroline LeCount was a Philadelphia woman who had been engaged to Octavius Catto at the time of his murder. It was a pleasure hearing about this remarkable woman. She went to the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, graduating in 1863 at the age of 17 and at the top of her class. She joined the Ladies Union Association, a group of women supporting the USCT. She was also involved with a Colored Women’s Sanitary Commission. She became a teacher, a principal, and a civil rights activist after the war, and she was a central figure in the civil rights battle to integrate the Philadelphia street cars, resulting in Pennsylvania’s outlawing segregation in public transportation in 1867. As soon as the newspapers announced the change in the law, LeCount tried to board a street car. When the conductor wouldn’t let her board, she found a policeman who duly arrested the conductor, and the conductor had to pay a fine for violating the law. LeCount was a vocal advocate for black teachers. At the time, for an African-American to be a teacher, their test scores had to be higher than that of white applicants. LeCount persuasively argued that not only were blacks just as qualified to be teachers as whites, but the discriminatory rules in place showed that the current black teachers were actually better qualified than whites to be teaching. In 1876 the Centennial Exhibition would be held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. In 1873, to prepare for this, a group of white women from prominent families decided women in the city should get involved. Mary Rose Smith and Elizabeth Duane Gillespie were organizing women to knock on doors to get women in the city to contribute. There was a large black population and these ladies didn’t think they could go into black neighborhoods. They go to LeCount and Rebecca Cole, a black woman physician, to be a “Colored Auxiliary” to knock on doors in black neighborhoods. LeCount asked if she and Cole could also knock on doors in white neighborhoods. Smith, aghast at the suggestion, said they couldn’t. LeCount refused to participate because of that. Cole at first refused but later relented. Caroline LeCount retired from teaching in 1911 and died in 1923, having never married.
The second breakout session I attended was with Diane Sommerville of the State University of New York, Binghamton Campus. The subject was Rebecca Latimer Felton, famous for being the first woman United States Senator. This was more an honorary title because it only lasted for two days, Congress wasn’t even in session at the time, and she was 87 years old at the time, but she did “hold the seat” for those two days. Felton was a Georgian, born in 1835 and died in 1930. Felton pops up in considering how the Civil War and Emancipation affected women of the slaveholding class. Felton is one of the most interesting women the South produced. She was an advocate for raising the age of consent (from ten years old) and women’s rights. But she was also a rabid racist who advocated lynching black men. In 1897 she said, “If it takes lynching to protect women’s dearest possession from drunken, ravening beasts, then I say lynch a thousand a week.” Anne Firor Scott, in her book, The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830-1930, says the war helped to emancipate women. It forced women to take on new jobs and consider new values. She also said the war altered gender roles, plantation mistresses actually worked hard, contrary to myth, and the Civil War was a watershed for women. In a book on Petersburg, Virginia, Suzanne Lepsatt wrote Southern planter women had less money and less property, and their roles were diminished. George Rable, Drew Gilpin Faust, and LeAnne White claimed that in the postwar period, women were eager to get back to the old roles. They spent a lot of time bolstering manhood. We actually know a lot more about the Antebellum planter women than we know about the postbellum planter class women. Felton wrote a book about her life, Country Life in Georgia in the Days of My Youth. Born into a slaveholding family in North Georgia, she lived the traditional life of a young mistress-in-training. She was religious and well educated. She enrolled in the Methodist Female Academy in Athens, Georgia at age 15 and took classes in philosophy and French. She excelled in art and joined a temperance society. In 1852, at the age of 18, she married William H. Felton, who was a 30-year-old widower at the time, with a young child. She would eventually bear five children of her own. She was deeply passionate about politics. The couple lived in Cartersville, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta. They were effectively in the war zone. She volunteered to aid the war effort and was the first president of a local aid society, making blankets and socks for the confederate army. Her husband, a physician, tended to the sick and injured in confederate army camps. Rebecca, therefore, was left alone much of the time and became very self-reliant. The Feltons moved to Macon in 1864 in an attempt to escape the war, but the war followed them. Federal troops trampled their crops, and she was horrified when a U.S. soldier came into the house and rummaged through her bedroom. The couple lost two children during their time in exile and a third soon after the war. In all, only one of her five children would survive into adulthood. She blamed the confederate leadership for failing to protect women. She blamed politicians for putting more faith in slavery and failing to protect Southern women. A hallmark was her frustration and anger at various times over men’s failure to protect women. After the war she suffered material, financial, and personal losses. The Feltons moved back to Cartersville and Rebecca became a teacher. In 1874 her husband ran for office and won three terms in Congress as an Independent Democrat. Rebecca began writing her own column for the Atlanta Journal in which she was pro-Prohibition. She called for better treatment of convicts and industrial education for white women. She also called for access to the pulpit for women in the Southern Methodist Church. In 1886 she joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and was nationally known in the late 19th century. In 1890 the country was getting ready for the Chicago World’s Fair, and Rebecca Felton was appointed to be part of the commission. She was offended by an exhibit on Harriet Beecher Stowe and wanted an exhibit of what she called, “actual life of a slave.” She believed there was a rising threat to white women from black men and attempted to defend lynching. In 1897 she gave the Tybee Island Speech in which she said, “When there is not enough religion in the pulpit to organize a crusade against sin; nor justice in the court house to promptly punish crime; nor manhood enough in the nation to put a sheltering arm about innocence and virtue—-if it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession form the ravening human beasts—-then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.” She was chiding white men for not protecting women, and she used it to argue for removing voting rights for blacks. Felton was very concerned about women’s vulnerability. She had a fear of not being protected, and she lobbied for women’s suffrage. Her postwar life represented an attempt to reconcile old values of dependence with new values of independence. This was really a fascinating discussion.
Next we had concurrent sessions. One of these was with Megan Kate Nelson on “Reconstruction in the West.” Although Megan tried to convince me to attend her session so she could win the attendance competition, I had to stick with my fellow South Jersey native and Birthday Brother, Kevin Levin and his session on “In Search of Black Confederate Soldiers: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.” Kevin found the first mentions of the term “black confederate” in the 1970s in response to the miniseries, “Roots.” He talked about the case of Silas Chandler, who was a camp slave, not a soldier. The presence of former camp slaves at confederate reunions was used to reinforce two central lost cause tenets: the war was not about slavery; and slaves were loyal. They were used as models of deference in the Jim Crow South. At no point did confederate veterans identify their former camp slaves as soldiers. The reunions in the 1890s showcased the deference of slaves to their masters. Kevin also showed us the case of Steve Perry [not the former lead singer of “Journey”], aka Steve Eberhart [his “stage name”]. Perry, appearing as “Eberhart,” gave speeches and entertained whites. In one he promised, “I shall remain in my place and be obedient to all white people.” [H. K. Edgerton, anyone?] Kevin also discussed former slave pensions. The first were in 1888 in the state of Mississippi. Other states followed suit in the 1920s. This amounted to a state-sanctioned model of expected behavior, with the application process being a community affair. The applicant had to have the testimony of two white men. This was another very good discussion.
The final presentation was Edward Ayers of the University of Richmond on “Reckoning with Reconstruction and Its Sesquicentennial.” He began with a definition for Reconstruction: the point is the reconstitution of the United States without slavery. There are a lot of things it can be. They can remove the slave power so free institutions can flourish all across the United States. The Republicans first had to destroy the fundamental threat of the slaveholders–disunion. To win that struggle, they had to undermine slavery. They had to prevent reigniting the conflict, which meant slavery had to be abolished completely. The replaced the coercion of labor with the right to work for wages. In doing this they removed the Constitutional provisions that made slavery possible. The Democrats opposed them in all these measures with the exception of military power. The Republicans were able to do all that, but they couldn’t force white southerners to change the self-righteous belief they weren’t wrong. Professor Ayers then talked about timing. When did Reconstruction begin and when did it end? He zeroed in on August of 1864 to July of 1870, which is when he says the Reconstruction structure is fixed.
Reconstruction is not the war’s aftermath, but its culmination. How things happen and why things happen are the same thing. Things that seem like obstacles to some events are the things that make other events happen. He then took a look at August of 1864 as the beginning of Reconstruction. No president since Andrew Jackson had won a second term. The Democrats in the North remained strong. 45% of the Northern voters voted against Lincoln in the 1864 election. A shift of 80,000 votes in certain states would throw the election to McClellan. With almost half the voters in the North voting against Lincoln, had the United States been a parliamentary system, Lincoln may not have survived August of 1864. While he was at it, Professor Ayers echoed something I said at the 2013 Lincoln Forum symposium, that Gettysburg was important for what didn’t happen as a result. He’s obviously right about that. 🙂
The 13th Amendment passed and was ratified, and this provided the foundation for reconstituting the United States without slavery. Lincoln thought that might have been enough. Lincoln was looking for the smoothest way to reconstitute the Union without slavery. He now has half of that–the end of slavery. In his last public address he talks about limited suffrage for African-Americans. He hasn’t laid out a plan for Reconstruction when he dies, though. Andrew Johnson intended to follow what he believed was Lincoln’s path. The Democrats for their part appealed to racial unity. Would things have been different had Lincoln lived? The white South would have reacted violently anytime the racial order was threatened. Reconstruction moves by counterpoint and reaction as much as by deliberate moves. The Fifteenth Amendment was needed because the white North didn’t want black suffrage. They can’t use the Fourteenth Amendment’s provisions to reduce representation in the North for not allowing black voting because the percentage of African-Americans in the North was so small it would have little to no effect.
Reconstruction failed, he told us, because white southerners’ violent resistance exhausted the will and finances of the North and exhausted the lives of Republicans and African-American leaders in the South. The destruction of slavery and universal male suffrage were incredible gains. However, from 1890 to 1908 every Southern state wrote new constitutions that erased the gains of Reconstruction. This was another wonderful presentation, but I think his definition in the beginning of the program undermines the rest of his presentation. If the point of Reconstruction was to reconstitute the Union without slavery, then Reconstruction was an overwhelming success and was completed in 1866, with Andrew Johnson as its hero. However, the Republican Party had a different view of Reconstruction. Instead of reconstituting the Union, they wanted to remake it. I mentioned this to Professor Ayers after the presentation, and he agreed it was a better way to phrase it.
This was yet another great day at the Civil War Institute.