Facts, information and articles about Civil War Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War

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Civil War Reconstruction summary: There are two basic areas of topics in regards to The Reconstruction Era. One covers a period from 1865-1877 and is as broad as the U.S. History in its entirety and the other sticks mainly to the Southern states and dates from 1863-1877. This was the reconstruction of both society and state directed by Washington.

Both President Lincoln and Johnson (1865 forward) took a position that was more moderate to bring the South back into the Union with little trouble. However, the Radical Republicans had another view and wanted the Freedmen to have as many rights as quickly as possible and wanted harsh punishments doled out. When Ulysses S. Grant stepped into office he also pushed for a more radical movement.

Military Involvement In Reconstruction

The U.S. military was deployed in an effort to protect the movement as well as keep the violence against voters of both races suppressed. The policies of the reconstruction first were supported when the Union Army took control of the Confederate state. Some of these states included Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee. In South Carolina Lincoln gave land to freed slaves before he was assassinated in 1865.

Further Developments In The South

In the year 1867 there was a shift in the majority of Congress and they were able to override much of Johnson’s rulings and force a more Radical Reconstruction period. Part of this program removed man of the governments of the south to replace them with ruling by the U.S. Army.

Some of the major benefits of the Reconstruction were public schools appearing for the first time in many of the states as well as numerous institutions for charity being developed. The Reconstruction was set up to help the 11 states that seceded become part of the Union again and have Congress seats as well as self-government. 


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Mothers of the Lost Cause

United States Army troops guarded the streets of Richmond, Virginia, on May 31, 1867, but the former Rebel capital teemed with Confederate spirit. Businesses through­out the city closed that Friday as if for a Sabbath, and nearly 60,000 people trekked by foot, horse or carriage to Hollywood Cemetery. By 10 a.m., well-dressed citizens filled the paths and avenues of the burial ground while women and children placed freshly cut buds and garlands of evergreens on the 6,000 mounded but as yet unsodded graves of Confederate soldiers. Veterans attended the services, but clearly the day was under the auspices of the Hollywood Ladies’ Memorial Association. Richmond resident James Henry Gardner observed that had the affair “not been under the control of the Ladies,” then a “thousand bayonets would have bristled to prevent the celebration.”

How was it that a defeated people could conduct such an extravagant affair in the name of a lost cause even as the war’s victors occupied their city?

The 1867 Hollywood Memorial Day service had originated with Confederate women more than two years ear-lier. The spring of 1865 brought tenuous peace to Virginia, but four years of war had left the remains of more than 260,000 white Southerners (proportional to more than 14 million of today’s population) scattered in graves across the South, most of them within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Most of these fallen soldiers would eventually be buried in Confederate cemeteries. But these cities of the dead were not to be furnished by the federal or state governments; neither were they to be organized by Southern veterans. Rather, approximately 80 percent of the Confederate dead would be interred in cemeteries created by locally organized groups of Southern white women known as Ladies’ Me-morial Associations.

As former soldiers returned to their fields to resume farming after the war, they routinely uncovered the decomposing bodies and bleaching bones of their comrades and enemies alike. Mary Williams of Winchester, Va., was especially horrified by the lack of proper burials for the Confederate soldiers who had defended her Shenandoah Valley town, and along with her sister-in-law, Eleanor Boyd, called a meeting of the town’s women in May 1865. At this gathering, several of the women who had volunteered in the hospitals during the war agreed to organize a memorial society whose purpose was to gather the dead soldiers within a 15-mile radius of the town and inter them in a single graveyard. Once that task had been completed, they hoped to establish an annual tradition of placing flowers and evergreens on the graves. Less than a month after General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army, the first Ladies’ Memorial Association (LMA) in Virginia organized to honor the memory of the Con­federacy’s fallen soldiers. Within a year, white women from Virginia to Alabama followed suit, establishing no fewer than 70 LMAs throughout the South.

These organizations did much more than simply provide centralized resting places for fallen Confederates. Many of the same women who had sewn battle flags, volunteered in hospitals and snubbed Yankee soldiers during the war turned to the LMAs so they might continue to display their Con­federate patriotism.

Relying on the mid-19th-century assumption that women were nonpolitical by nature, ex-Con­federate men recognized that the ladies might be best suited to take the lead in memorializing the South’s Lost Cause—because after all, if women were not political, their actions could not be construed as treasonous to the U.S. government.

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While the ladies of Winchester were busy creating their Confederate cemetery during the summer and fall of 1865, federal burial crews began recovering the remains of their own soldiers from the Southern battlefields. Roused by reports of Union grave desecration throughout the South, the Northern public had demanded that their dead be provided proper burials. As early as February 1866, officers and work crews from the U.S. Burial Corps began arriving in Richmond to gather the remains of Northern prisoners who had been buried at Hollywood and Oakwood Cemeteries and at Belle Isle. Modeled after the national cemetery at Gettysburg, the grounds were arranged so that each grave was of equal importance and had an individual headstone. From Richmond, the Union detail moved on to Cold Harbor, Seven Pines, Hampton, City Point, Fredericksburg and Winchester. By 1870, 300,000 Union soldiers had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries—at least 17 of them in Virginia.

But as the U.S. Burial Corps worked to bury Union dead, Southerners became increasingly angry about the lack of provisions for Confederate soldiers—and the atrocities they believed were being committed by the burial crews. An article in the Richmond Daily Examiner opined that “the nation condemns our dead” leaving them “in deserted places to rot into oblivion.” Newspapers in Petersburg reported that the crews were “digging up skeletons of [Confederate] soldiers” and “selling them to be ground for manure.” Even though the Winchester women had begun preparing Confederate cemeteries in the spring of 1865, the Union practice of expressly ignoring the Confederate dead during elaborate reburial efforts prompted the further organization of Ladies’ Memorial Asso-ciations. By mid-June 1866, several of Virginia’s most influential and active LMAs had organized, including groups in Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Lynchburg and three separate associations in Richmond.
Theoretically, any woman in the community could join these associations. Those who pledged to join the association were expected to provide their “subscription,” or dues, which in Petersburg, for example, ranged from 50 cents to $5.50 annually. Despite the claim that “every person [woman] of good character properly vouched for” could become a member, the membership rolls reflected an obvious bias toward the elite. Not surprisingly, women who joined LMAs between 1865 and 1870 overwhelmingly were the wives and daughters of the cities’ civic leaders, physicians, insurance agents, merchants, tobacco manufacturers and lawyers. Most had been born between 1830 and 1850 and had supported the war effort in local aid societies or otherwise. All had experienced the hardships of war in some fashion.

But surprisingly, many of the members’ male relatives, especially husbands, had not served in the Confederate military; rather, they had tended to remain in their communities either because of job obligations or age. For example, the Rev. Andrew H. H. Boyd, husband of Winchester LMA Vice President Eleanor Boyd, was an adamant supporter of the Confederate cause but remained in town throughout the war because of his position as minister of the Loudoun Street Church. And even when their loved ones did serve in the Confederate military, the men mostly had survived the war—Captain Richard Pegram, husband of Petersburg LMA member Helen Pegram, and Maj. Gen. William Mahone, husband of the LMA’s vice president Otetia Mahone, had served but survived.

That LMA members tended not to be the widows and orphans of men who died in the war reveals in part their political agenda. They were not mourning their own fathers, sons or brothers at Memorial Days and cemetery dedications; they were grieving the loss of the Confederacy—the death of their cause. The act of hiring burial crews, establishing cemeteries and organizing elaborate Memorial Day spectacles all represented means by which they could keep alive their intense Confederate patriotism. What better way to demonstrate their disdain for Yankees and their undying loyalty to the Confederate cause than by honoring the South’s dead?

From Winchester to Lynchburg, LMAs appealed to a unified South to raise funds to continue their work. Both the Fredericksburg and Winchester associations appealed to every state of the former Confederacy, observing that scarcely a town or a county was unrepresented on the cities’ battlefields. The Hollywood women’s appeal addressed “the South as one family” and believed that “the southern heart throbs with one impulse.” The Petersburg LMA claimed that the entire South should be expected to provide “aid of a work which has equal claims on them as on ourselves.” The Virginia ladies group petitioned the whole region for good reason—they were caring for a substantial percentage of the Confederate graves.

Within just the seven LMAs located in Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Richmond, Petersburg and Winchester, more than 72,520 remains would eventually be reinterred—nearly 28 percent of the South’s total war dead. At a minimal estimate of $1 per body, that was a hefty price for the organizations to assume, especially given the financial circumstances of the postwar South.

These pleas for aid did not go unanswered. Donations reached the LMAs from as far away as Louisiana and Texas. Because of the number of Alabama soldiers who reposed in the Old Dominion, Alabama’s women were especially generous to Virginia’s LMAs, sending contributions to the Winchester, Hollywood and Fredericksburg associations.
If establishing Confederate cemeteries motivated Virginia’s women to organize LMAs, their most visible and popular activity was the annual celebration of Memorial or Decoration Days. White Southerners celebrated these days in the spring as a sign of renewal and rebirth, but each community chose its own symbolic date on which to gather. For example, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg and Oakwood in Richmond all selected May 10, the anniversary of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s death. The women of Hollywood agreed to celebrate on May 31, the anniversary of the day Richmonders first heard the cannons of war.

Despite the omnipresent rhetoric of mourning at these Memorial Days, white Virginians were aware they were trodding on dangerous ground when they invoked the memory of the Confederacy so soon after defeat. Petersburg’s Sara Pryor later recalled that the ladies recognized the need for discreet behavior given the presence of the U.S. Army in the city. To avoid any confrontations with these soldiers, LMA President Margaret Joynes quietly sent notes to all members requesting their presence for services at Blandford Church on the afternoon of June 9, 1866. Perhaps it was in an effort to prevent federal censure that the ladies decorated the Union graves that were scattered among those of the Confederates. On Lynchburg’s first Memorial Day—May 10, 1866—the city newspaper attempted to forestall any negative reaction from Northern observers. The paper admitted that the services would “doubtless excite harsh and malignant remarks in certain quarters of the North, and be taken as evidence of a mutinous, malcontent spirit pervading our people.” But, the writer maintained, “we are sure” that “this sentiment will for the main part be confined to men who took no active battle-part in the war.” Northern soldiers, and perhaps their devoted wives and daughters, would surely recognize the need to honor the remains of those who had died “valiantly in the opposite ranks.”

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Indeed, ex-Confederates had every reason to suspect that the U.S. Army and Northern press closely monitored their actions. In the days following the first Confederate Memorial Days, an anonymous Northern woman lamented that “we have few flowers for the graves of our heroes, but we have crowns and honors for the heads of traitors.” She implored her fellow Northerners to “not forget Andersonville, nor Libby, nor Castle Thunder, nor Belle Isle!”

The New York Times concurred, warning Northerners that the “Southern spirit” was continuing to grow “with wonderful rapidity” and noting that its “most fruitful feeders are the Memorial Associations.” The paper reminded its readers that these seemingly “noble” Memorial Days pro-
vided forums for ex-Confederate men to make speeches, “wherein [they] adroitly inculcat[e] hatred of the North.…These memorial days have now become painfully frequent, and on every one of them recruits are gathered to the Democratic banner.” The Chicago Tribune denounced the Ladies of Richmond for strewing flowers on the graves of the Confederate dead, charging that these women sought “to keep alive the political feeling of hostility to the Union.”

But couched safely in the shroud of motherly and sisterly undertaking, former Confederates defended these floral tributes. The Richmond Whig contended that “political significance is not attached to these funeral ceremonies in the South,” as it was not the habit of Southern women to form political conspiracies. Rather, the paper proclaimed, “if the men of the South contemplated treason and ‘civil war,’” they would not put “forward their wives and daughters to do the dangerous work.”

White Southerners argued that the festivities in Winchester on June 6, 1866, were free of treasonous spirit. Businesses closed that day while thousands of locals and visitors filled the town’s streets for the dedication of the Stonewall Section of the Mount Hebron Cemetery. Three hundred former Confederates, primarily survivors of the Stonewall and Arnold Elzey Brigades, were followed by 14 young girls wearing white dresses and black sashes, accompanied by other citizens in a procession traveling from the Episcopal Church to the new section of the cemetery. Upon reaching the site, the women and young girls decorated every grave with wreaths and garlands of fresh flowers and greenery. Finally, the crowd gathered to hear three speakers, all former Confederate majors, pay tribute to the fallen soldiers. Surely Northern troops stationed in Winchester would have frowned upon the large gathering of Southern sympathizers, not to mention the hundreds of ex-Confederate soldiers who pa-raded through town only a year after the war’s end.

“The mothers and daughters of Virginia are the chief mourners and actors in these touching obsequies,” proclaimed one of the day’s speakers, Major Uriel Wright. For Wright and other former Confederates, the language of mourning and feminine virtue was virtually synonymous when justifying tributes to their “Lost Cause.”
Wright made sure white South­erners, as well as any Northerners who might be watching, understood that despite Confederate veterans’ support, these ceremonies were solely the work of the South’s women. “Mothers and daughters of Virginia,” he exclaimed, “this noble enterprise is your work. They took their origin in the brains of no politician, no schemer, seeking individual distinction or plotting the renewal of strife.” Because this tribute had been born in the heart of women, he argued, it could only be interpreted as true and pure. According to his reasoning, these women they were simply exhibiting the qualities 19th-century Victorian ideology attributed to women: sentiment, emotion and devotion to their menfolk. In fact, Wright declared that Southern white women “were not political casuists.” They had not paused “to enquire whether the teachings of Jefferson, Madison, or Mason furnished the true interpretation of the Constitution, and correctly marked the boundaries of State and Federal powers.”

Within a year of Appomattox, Southern white women had successfully launched an effort to venerate the defeated Confed­eracy. Hundreds of Virginia’s leading daughters had transformed their wartime aid societies into memorial associations and had initiated campaigns to raise funds for their national Confed-erate cemeteries, furthering the sense of Southern solidarity and sectional animosity.

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LMAs had created a permanent reminder of the Confederate war effort through their cemeteries and had provided a forum through Memorial Days that allowed Southern white men to expound on the virtues of the Confederacy and advocate resistance to Reconstruction.

Although challenges awaited the women after implementation of more rigid Reconstruction policies in 1867, using the cloak of feminine mourning, the Ladies’ Memorial Associations had set in motion Lost Cause traditions that would continue into the next century.


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