The Civil War Draws to a Close

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2 The Civil War Draws to a Close

Passing through Mathews County, Virginia, one of eleven states that seceded (separated themselves) from the Union to become the Confederacy, a Union officer encountered a slave woman named Eliza Sparks. Stopping to admire her baby, the officer asked for the child's name. The woman answered that the baby's name was Charlie Sparks, just like his father's. As the officer rode off he called out, "Goodbye, Mrs. Sparks!" As recorded in Been in the Storm Too Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, the woman was pleasantly surprised to be shown such respect by a white person. "Now what do you think of dat?" she said. "Dey all call me Mrs. Sparks!" In the days before the Civil War (1861–65), the African American people who had lived in the Southern United States for over two hundred years as slaves were known—to whites, at least—only by their first names. Among the many rights denied them was the simple one of being addressed with respect, as an adult human being like any other.

The last two years of the American Civil War (1861–65) would be full of moments like that experienced by Eliza Sparks, moments when sometimes thrilling, sometimes shocking evidence of change would boldly appear before both black and white Southerners. As the Union army made its slow and steady progress across the South—from its occupation of the important port city of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the spring of 1862, to its victory in Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the summer of 1863, to the march of General William T. Sherman (1820–1891) across Georgia to the sea in late 1864—the slave system was breaking up, and the old ways were being destroyed. How these familiar things would be replaced was, however, still an open and complex question.

The Emancipation Proclamation changes the war

The Civil War is often viewed as a fight about slavery, but that is not exactly how it began. It started as a conflict between a Confederacy determined to detach itself from the Union and preserve its own way of life, and a Union just as determined to hold all of its individual states together as one nation. But the war's purpose changed on January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that declared that a large number of the African Americans held in the Southern states as slaves were forever free. From that point on, the war was about slavery, and President Lincoln was committed to ensuring the freedom of the four million enslaved blacks in the South.

News of the Emancipation Proclamation reached some slaves fairly quickly, especially in areas where Union troops were present to confirm their freedom. It took longer for the news to reach some of the more remote regions, and on plantations (large farms or estates on which slaves worked on basic crops like cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice) in these areas life went on much as it had before. Though most former slaves would remember for the rest of their lives the day they heard that they were free, not all felt inclined to immediately leave the only homes they had ever known and set out on their own. For one thing, the Union victory—however likely it seemed—was not yet secured, and in many areas there were still Confederate forces around. For another, the prospect of freedom brought confusion in addition to joy, for the slaves were now forced to think about where they would go and what they would do to support themselves.

In addition to such practical concerns, the years of slavery had woven a complex web of mutual dependency between the slaves and their owners. Slaves were dependent on their masters for everything material—food, clothing, and shelter—and in many cases they had lived a long time or even grown up with the white people they served. Although sometimes modified by feelings of affection and loyalty, the habit of obedience and submission to the traditional authority and power of these white people was strong. Meanwhile, the white slaveholders were dependent on their slaves both practically and emotionally. It was not just that they needed the slaves to work their fields, though that was certainly true. They often believed they had treated their slaves like members of the family and they were truly shocked to find that their slaves did not want to stay with them.

Contrabands in the Union camps

Many of those who did choose to leave their masters followed the Union troops as they made their way through the South. African Americans streamed by the thousands into the Union camps, creating a big problem for the commanders who found themselves responsible for caring for these refugees, who came to be known as contrabands (a word that refers to property confiscated by an invading army during war). Many were put to work for wages, as army laborers or even as workers in the cotton, rice, and tobacco fields abandoned by fleeing whites. Wages were low and conditions harsh, however, for the camps provided neither adequate shelter, food, or sanitation, and disease was widespread.

In addition, African Americans who had arrived among the Union forces with high expectations about how they would be treated often encountered the same kind of prejudice and even abuse they had experienced from Southern whites. Racist attitudes against blacks (as well as anyone not of northern European descent) existed all across the United States, and not just in the South. On the other hand, the experience of meeting for the first time the enslaved human beings for whom the war was being fought changed the outlook of at least a few Union soldiers. As noted in Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, one soldier described his encounter with the evidence of slavery's brutality, when he saw the scars left by the whippings that slaves routinely received for misbehavior: "Some of them were scarred from head to foot where they had been whipped. One man's back was nearly all one scar, as if the skin had been chopped up and left to heal in ridges.… That beat all the antislavery sermons ever yet preached."

Meanwhile, white Southerners feared the worst as the Union troops advanced and more and more blacks became aware of the change that was coming. Many whites expected their slaves to erupt in vengeful violence against their masters, but—despite a few occurrences of black violence against whites—this expected bloodbath never came. Reports were made, however, of slaves suddenly talking back to their masters or refusing to submit to the discipline and punishment they had previously endured. Gradually, African Americans were beginning to lower the masks they had used to disguise their true feelings and opinions, masks that had given them one form of protection against the inhumanity of slavery. As noted by one slaveholder in Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, what was hidden behind these masks sometimes came as a surprise to those who had never questioned either slavery or their slaves' outward demeanor: "I believed that these people were content, happy, and attached to their masters. But events and reflection have caused me to change these opinions."

Rehearsals for Reconstruction

As the Civil War wound down and a Union victory drew closer, political leaders, journalists, and ordinary citizens turned their attention to some important issues. They wondered how the Confederacy would be accepted back into the Union, and whether the Congress or the president would decide the terms of this process. They wondered what labor system would replace slavery in the Southern states, the economy of which was so dependent on the toil of those who were now free. Perhaps most troubling was the question of how African Americans would fit into politics and society in both the South and the North.

In late 1863, President Lincoln would provide a partial answer to these questions, but it was an answer that many believe he intended only as a short-term, temporary solution. His Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction would offer a plan for admitting Southerners back into the Union and for reorganizing their state governments. Before it would come to be, however, several notable experiments in Reconstruction had already taken place, or were already in the process of taking place. These early efforts at rebuilding highlighted the many challenges ahead.

Changes in a border state

Maryland was one such Reconstruction testing ground. Maryland was one of the border states, one of the Southern states, along with Delaware, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri, that had voted not to secede from the Union. Maryland was excluded from the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. But unlike Delaware and Kentucky, where slavery was allowed to continue, Maryland was dominated during the war by an antislavery sentiment. Before the war, there had been eighty-seven thousand slaves in Maryland, almost all of them on large tobacco plantations located in the rural southern part of the state. This area's large landowners had long controlled state politics, but after the occupation of Maryland by the Union army early in the war, the small farmers, manufacturers, and laborers of the northern part of the state—and particularly those who lived in the large city of Baltimore—gained more power.

After a strong showing in Maryland's 1863 election, this group (called Unionists because of their support for the Union) set in motion a reconstruction of the state that included the abolition (outlawing) of slavery as well as the establishment of free, tax-supported public schools. From that point forward, legislative representation would be based on the white population alone. (Previously, population counts in slaveholding areas had included blacks, even though they could not vote. This method of counting gave these areas more legislative representatives and thus more power.) In addition, voters would have to take a strict oath of loyalty to the United States. In its lack of endorsement, or even much concern, for the rights of black people beyond freeing them from slavery, Maryland's reconstruction reflected the viewpoint of many other Southern governments in the earliest days of the Reconstruction era.

Further experiments in Tennessee and Louisiana

Early models for Reconstruction were also tried out in Tennessee and Louisiana. After capturing the city of Nashville in February 1862, the Union took control of Tennessee. President Lincoln rewarded Unionist senator Andrew Johnson (1808–1875) for his loyalty to the federal government by appointing him military governor (a temporary leader who serves during wartime) of the state. Johnson became known for the tough stand he took against the Confederates, declaring, as quoted in A Short History of Reconstruction, that "treason must be made odious [unpleasant; distasteful] and traitors punished." This unforgiving stance made Johnson seem like one of the Radical Republicans in Congress, who were calling for harsh measures against those who had turned against the Union. (Later, it would become clear that, as U.S. president, Johnson was not a Radical after all.) At the end of 1863, Johnson called for the abolition of slavery, although he confided that his motive was not so much sympathy for the slaves as disdain for the slaveholders: "Damn the Negroes, I am fighting those traitorous aristocrats, their masters." A year later, hoping to extend their influence in the South by rewarding a Unionist, the Republicans elected Johnson as Lincoln's second-term vice president.

Louisiana provided the only example of an early attempt at reconstruction that took place in the Deep South (which included such states as Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida). The Union capture of New Orleans in April 1862 was a major feat, for this was the largest city in the South. Its white population included a large number of foreigners and Northerners drawn to New Orleans by its thriving banking and commercial industries. The city was also home to the largest free black population in the Deep South, a community dominated by biracial individuals (people of mixed racial heritage; then called mulatto) who had achieved remarkable levels of wealth, education, and status. Unlike in many other places, free blacks in New Orleans were allowed to travel freely and could testify in court against whites.

New Orleans: A Unique Black Community

In addition to the nearly four million blacks who were living as slaves in the Southern United States, there were about 180,000 free blacks in the nation. Free blacks were those who had never been slaves, those who had escaped to freedom in the North, or those who had somehow accumulated enough money to purchase their own freedom. Eleven thousand of them were living in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the most important cities in the South. The free black community in New Orleans was the largest in the Deep South before the war.

Many of the free blacks in New Orleans were the mulatto, or mixed-heritage, descendants of French settlers and slave women. Among these individuals, known as Creoles, were a sizable number who were well educated and wealthy. There were craftsmen such as bricklayers and carpenters, and there were professionals like doctors, architects, and undertakers. Some free blacks owned plantations, and some were even slaveholders. Sugar planter Antoine Dubuclet (1810–1887), for example, owned one hundred slaves.

Although the laws of the state and nation prohibited the free blacks of New Orleans, like other African Americans, from voting, they did enjoy unusual freedom. They could own property, they could sue (and be sued), and they could travel without restriction, something most slaves could not do without permission from their masters.

The Union army occupied New Orleans in the spring of 1862. Almost immediately, hundreds of free blacks volunteered to join the Northern cause and fight against the Confederacy. In August, the military commander in charge of New Orleans, Major General Benjamin Butler (1818–1893), authorized the formation of three black regiments: the First, Second, and Third Louisiana Native Guards. By November, the regiments had three thousand members, with officers drawn from the free black community (unlike the black regiments of the North, which were commanded by white officers).

With the end of the Civil War and the coming of freedom, free blacks from New Orleans were at the forefront of those speaking out for the expansion of black civil and political rights, especially black suffrage (the right to vote). They also called for government funding of public schools for children of all races, and an end to the segregation (separation) of the races in public places. They formed aid societies (such as the Bureau of Industry) to provide the former slaves with food and fuel and to help them find employment.

Even though they made an effort to assist the freed people, the Creoles of New Orleans did not see themselves as having much in common with those who had been slaves. Some did not even want their children to attend school alongside the offspring of the former slaves. As quoted in A Short History of Reconstruction, an observer noted that they "tended to separate their struggle from that of the Negroes. Some believed they would achieve their cause more quickly if they abandoned the black to his fate. In their eyes, they were nearer to the white man; they were more advanced than the slave in all respects."

In the eyes of many white Southerners, however, there was no difference between these and other categories of African Americans when it came to the denial of equality. The struggle ahead would be shared by all of them.

Most of the sugar planters in the southern part of the state were Unionists, but they were divided in their ideas about slavery. Some planters wanted to keep slavery or at least compensate slaveholders for their lost labor; others favored emancipation and other reforms that would make Louisiana more like a Northern state. Lincoln put General Nathaniel B. Banks (1816–1894) in charge of Louisiana, instructing him to oversee the creation of a new state constitution that abolished slavery. Serious disagreements about the rights of African Americans soon developed between the different groups, however. A prominent leader of the free blacks named P. B. S. Pinchback (1837–1921), who would later briefly serve as lieutenant governor of Louisiana, called for political rights to be extended only to that community, which set itself apart from (and even above) the slave population.

Several free black leaders from Louisiana even paid a visit to the president to argue the case for extending political rights—especially the right to vote—to blacks, and their intelligence and eloquence appear to have influenced the qualified endorsement for voting rights that Lincoln later made. In the end, though, the pleas of Pinch-back and other black leaders were ignored. Louisiana's new constitution did make New Orleans the new center of power in the state. (In the same manner as Maryland's constitution, it also established a minimum wage and free public education.) Louisiana's slaves were declared free, but they were not granted the further rights for which Pinchback and his friends had argued.

The Sea Islands experiment

Perhaps the most pressing and thorny issue facing white and black Southerners alike was that of labor. How would the economy of the South survive without the unpaid toil that had been provided by the slaves for so long? What would happen to the many acres of land that had been abandoned or confiscated during the war? How would blacks support themselves? Would they become independent farmers, or work for others for wages? Would their employers treat them fairly? The complexities of these questions were revealed in the labor experiments that took place in several areas of the South, including the Sea Islands (a chain of islands located off the coast of South Carolina), the plantations of southern Louisiana, and at Davis Bend, Mississippi.

The Sea Islands came under Union control relatively early in the war, with the Navy occupation of the city of Port Royal in November 1861. Virtually all white residents of the Sea Islands had fled, leaving ten thousand slaves behind. The newly freed black people reacted to the departure of the whites, and the arrival of the Union troops, by looting houses and shops and burning cotton gins, the processing machines used in the production of the much despised "slave crop," cotton. Having thus expressed their feelings about their former lives as slaves, the blacks went about planting their own corn and potato crops on the abandoned land, which they felt entitled to occupy by virtue of their long years of unpaid labor. The former slaves' efforts at independent survival were not allowed to continue for long, however, as a new population of whites soon arrived on the Sea Islands, and these newcomers had different ideas about how the former slaves should employ themselves.

The new arrivals included military officers, government agents, and investors hoping to cash in on the cotton and rice still growing in the fields of the Sea Islands. Another important new presence was a group called Gideon's Band, made up of idealistic Northern teachers and missionaries, all of them fired with abolitionist fever, who wanted to teach and otherwise help the freed slaves. In their sensitivity to the wishes of the Sea Island blacks, however, the Gideonites were destined to clash with those who had come to the area with a plan to use the former slaves as laborers.

In 1863 and 1864, the confiscated land of the Sea Islands was auctioned off, and almost none of it went to the African Americans who had previously toiled on it. Eleven plantations were purchased by a group of Boston investors headed by Edward S. Philbrick (1827–1889). Although he was a strong supporter of abolition, Philbrick also believed that the labor of the freed slaves could help him to make a lot of money. Apparently unimpressed by the more than two hundred years that the Sea Island blacks had spent working for free, Philbrick did not want to give them any free land. Instead, he proposed to pay them wages to work in the same cotton fields previously owned by their former masters.

In the end, even though he had made some money, Philbrick decided to return to Boston. The big profits he had anticipated never materialized. The black people of the Sea Islands were not enthusiastic about raising cotton, which they associated with slavery; nor did they respond well to the gang-labor system that was used. Unlike in other areas of the South, where slaves had worked in gangs supervised by an overseer, the Sea Islands blacks had been assigned daily tasks they had to complete. This had given them more control over the pace and length of their work day. Generally, though, the failed labor experiment in the Sea Islands demonstrated a fundamental difference in viewpoint. Whereas the Northerners envisioned the freed slaves working for wages on plantations, the blacks wanted to farm their own land.

Regulations for control of blacks

A labor system that was more typical of experiments tried across the South occurred in southeastern Louisiana, where former slaves were offered plantation work that came with strict rules. Responding to plantation owners' desire to control blacks—and to keep Southern society as much as it had been before the war as possible—General Banks issued labor regulations in Louisiana that created a situation closely resembling slavery. Blacks who were unemployed could be charged with vagrancy (being without a home or job), and to avoid that charge they had to sign yearly labor contracts. They would receive either 5 percent of the crop proceeds or $3 per month plus food, shelter, and medical care.

Perhaps most restrictive, though, was the rule that they would not be allowed to leave the plantation without the owner's consent; one of the worst aspects of slavery had been the inability to move around when and where one wished. Blacks resisted signing the contracts, and the white plantation owners did not like the contracts either because they prohibited the kind of physical punishment they felt was necessary to make blacks work. Even though this attempt to answer the looming questions about labor did not work, the army extended it to the rest of the Mississippi Valley—with similar results—after the fall of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863. A similar system would even become law under the Black Codes established in the Southern states soon after the end of the war (see Chapter 5).

A Mississippi community run by blacks

Davis Bend, Mississippi, was the site of what was referred to in A Short History of Reconstruction as "the largest laboratory of black economic independence." In the years leading up to the war, this plantation owned by Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), the president of the Confederacy, and his brother Joseph Davis (1784–1870) had been the setting for an attempt to establish a model slave community. The idea was that if slaves were provided with good food and housing and allowed to set up their own government to resolve conflicts, they would be happy with their lot and would give their masters less trouble. Indeed, one result had been that the Davises gained a reputation among the region's black population as particularly kind and fair masters. In any case, the owners had fled Davis Bend during the war, and when General Sherman arrived in the area with his troops, the former slaves were running the plantation.

Sherman decided to follow the example set by the Davises. He declared that the plantation would be run by freed slaves, who would establish their own government with elected judges and sheriffs. By 1865, the five thousand blacks who had settled on the plantation lands had raised almost two thousand bales of cotton, bringing in a profit of $160,000. But in 1867, the land was returned to Joseph Davis. In the end, the model that gave blacks control over their own work and community was not followed. Rather, the Louisiana version, featuring labor contracts and military officers in charge, prevailed.

Lincoln's Ten Per Cent Plan

Even as these experiments were taking place, government leaders were wondering what the president would propose as the best way to rebuild the Southern states. It was almost a year after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln came up with such a plan, issuing his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction on December 8, 1863. Under this plan, any Southerner (excluding slaves) who took an oath of loyalty to the United States and agreed to accept the abolition of slavery would receive a full pardon and the restoration of all rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens. Not included in the offer were high-ranking Confederate civil and military officers, although even they could apply for individual pardons. (It was believed that had Lincoln lived, he would have been very generous in granting such pardons.)

Lincoln's proposal is often referred to as the Ten Per Cent Plan, because it stated that when the number of loyal citizens in a state reached 10 percent of the number who had voted in 1860, this minority could establish a new state government. Although the new constitution had to abolish slavery, the states could otherwise deal with blacks (in other words, extend other rights) as they saw fit. Abolitionists immediately criticized the plan because it failed to guarantee black suffrage (the right to vote) and equality before the law.

It seems that Lincoln wanted to appeal to those Southerners who, before the war, had voted against seceding from the Union. He did not want to offend them now by offering African Americans too many rights, and he probably saw the plan as a way to shorten the war and gain support for emancipation rather than as a long-term arrangement. As reported in The Era of Reconstruction: 1865–1877, Lincoln explained his position by noting that this kind of government was only "what it should be as the egg is to the fowl.… We shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it." Nevertheless, this plan for state governments to be ruled by a minority proved more divisive than helpful.

The Wade-Davis Bill

Some of that division existed within Lincoln's own Republican party. Different ideas about the postwar status of the freed blacks would eventually lead to the emergence of a powerful group called the Radical Republicans, who would push through a truly revolutionary program of Reconstruction. During the last year of the war, however, the Republicans' main concerns did not include winning suffrage for blacks. Rather, they wanted to make sure that the newly freed blacks received equal protection under the law, and that sincere Unionists (not those who had just taken a loyalty oath in order to gain power) were in control of the Southern state governments.

In pursuit of these goals, U.S. senator Benjamin F. Wade (1800–1878) of Ohio and U.S. representative Henry Winter Davis (1817–1865) of Maryland introduced to Congress a bill that was meant to delay the start of Reconstruction. The Wade-Davis Bill specified that a majority of a state's white males must pledge their loyalty—signing a strict promise, called an Ironclad Oath, that they had never aided the Confederacy—to the U.S. Constitution before a new state constitution could be drawn up. Only those same white males could vote on the new constitution, which had to outlaw slavery but did not have to ensure blacks the right to vote.

Still reluctant to offend Southerners, Lincoln ensured the death of the Wade-Davis Bill by pocket-vetoing it (neither signing nor vetoing it, until at last its eligible time frame for signing expired), which earned him stinging criticism from the bill's sponsors. Lincoln's response was that he did not want to commit to any one plan, and that the individual states could choose to go along with the Wade-Davis plan if they wished. Historians have characterized Lincoln's actions of this period as reflecting his view that the war must first be won and emancipation ensured before proposing radical changes to Southern society.

An important amendment, and
a new agency

In January 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified (approved by both houses of Congress and signed), thus officially abolishing slavery in the United States of America. Still, some abolitionists noted that the freedom thus gained by African Americans would ring hollow until they also earned political rights. Meanwhile, free blacks in Louisiana continued to push for black suffrage, and they were winning sympathizers.

The question of whether, or how much, the federal government should get involved in assisting the freed slaves as they attempted to take their places in U.S. society was at least partially answered by the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau in March 1865. Originally established to last for just one year, this new government agency was authorized to distribute clothing, food, and fuel and generally oversee the interests of the freed people. Importantly, the bureau was also authorized to divide land that had been abandoned or taken over by the federal government (usually for nonpayment of taxes) into 40-acre lots. These lots were to be available for freed slaves or loyal whites to rent and would eventually be sold.

Special Field Order #15

Even before the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau, an action taken by General Sherman soon after his arrival on the Georgia seacoast added a new complication to the land issue. After a 285-mile march from the west that left a trail of destruction in its wake, Sherman's troops reached Savannah in November of 1864. Thousands of slaves followed, despite Sherman's attempts to discourage them from leaving their own areas. Desperate for ideas on what to do with so many homeless people, Sherman and Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton (1814–1868) met with the city's black leaders, who expressed the desire of the black population and refugees to obtain and farm their own plots of land.

As a result of this meeting, Sherman issued Special Field Order #15, which set aside the Sea Islands and a segment of the coastal rice-growing region south of Charleston, South Carolina (extending inland thirty miles), for black settlement. Each family would receive 40 acres as well as a mule loaned by the army. By June, 40,000 blacks had settled on 400,000 acres of what came to be known as "Sherman land." This bold move by Sherman suggested to the freed slaves and others that truly radical changes were underway. The idea that their generations, worth of unpaid labor would now be compensated for with free land made perfect sense to blacks and represented one of their most cherished dreams. Like other Americans, they associated ownership of land with success, contentment, and freedom itself. They wanted to work for themselves and support their families and never again have to answer to any master or overseer. This dream, however, was not recognized by most Southern whites. The promise represented by Sherman's order—which would be encoded in the popular slogan "Forty Acres and a Mule"—would eventually be taken back, and Sherman himself would later say that he had never intended it to be permanent.

Blacks celebrate the war's end

As Sherman's army moved north into South Carolina, it was more and more evident that the war was almost over. On February 18, 1865, Union forces entered Charleston, greeted by cheers from jubilant blacks. Among the troops were the members of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, an army unit made up of black volunteers who had helped to prove that African Americans were willing and able to defend their nation. Five weeks later, the black population of Charleston celebrated the Union victory with a parade in front of ten thousand cheering spectators that featured four thousand marchers, including soldiers as well as schoolchildren and members of fire companies and the skilled trades.

Similar scenes of jubilation marked the arrival of the forces headed by General Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, on April 3. The Union occupation of Richmond was a momentous occasion for the city's blacks, for it convinced them that they were really free. President Lincoln himself traveled down from Washington, D.C., to walk the streets of the enemy stronghold, surrounded by a group of sailors as bodyguards. To his embarrassment, Lincoln was received as a savior by the freed slaves, some of whom threw themselves at his feet.

Wondering where to go from here

On April 9, Confederate general Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, officially ending the war. Although the fighting was over, great challenges lay ahead for white and black Southerners and for the political and military leaders who would begin the work of reconstructing their society. At this point, Lincoln had no specific plan for Reconstruction that promised success. The early experiments in Reconstruction had not produced any workable guidelines, nor had they been widely accepted.

On April 11, in what is generally regarded as his last speech as president, Lincoln made a qualified endorsement of black suffrage, suggesting that perhaps blacks with proven intelligence or who had served their country through military service could be allowed to vote. This suggests that Lincoln might eventually have become a committed supporter of expanded rights for blacks, but no one will ever know. Four days later, Lincoln was dead, shot by John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865), an actor with strong Confederate sympathies who blamed the president for the South's downfall.

Across the nation, African Americans responded with deep sadness to the death of the man they closely associated with their freedom. Many blacks were among the twenty-five thousand people who viewed Lincoln's body in Washington, D.C., and many joined the spectators who lined the streets of that city as his casket passed by. In the South, blacks showed their grief over Lincoln's death by wearing black clothing and armbands; they honored the president with church services that often ended with whole congregations in tears.

The shocking loss of Lincoln brought African Americans not only sadness but apprehension. Without the wise and just leadership of the fallen president, they wondered, would they be permitted to become full citizens of the United States? Slavery was gone for good, but freedom was not yet completely won. As noted in A Short History of Reconstruction by the great, black abolitionist and leader Frederick Douglass (c. 1817–1895), "The work does not end with the abolition of slavery, but only begins."

For More Information


Berlin, Ira A., et al., eds. Freedmen: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Blassingame, John W., ed. Slave Testimony. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.

Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

Golay, Michael. Reconstruction and Reaction: The Emancipation of Slaves, 1861–1913. New York: Facts on File, 1996.

Jenkins, Wilbert L. Climbing Up to Glory: A Short History of African Americans During the Civil War and Reconstruction. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2002.

Litwack, Leon F. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

Oubre, Claude F. Forty Acres and a Mule: The Freedmen's Bureau and Black Land Ownership. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Rose, Willie Lee. Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

Stampp, Kenneth M. The Era of Reconstruction: 1865–1877. New York: Vintage Books, 1965.

Web Sites

Louisiana State University. The United States Civil War Center. (accessed on August 31, 2004).

"Reconstruction." African American History. (accessed on August 31, 2004).

"Reference Resources: Civil War." Kidinfo. (accessed on August 31, 2004).

"US Civil War." Internet Modern History Sourcebook. (accessed on August 31, 2004).

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The Civil War Draws to a Close

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