- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2001

April 1865 was not the end of the Civil War. It was simply the end of the formal fighting. Recent books have praised Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and other Confederate military leaders for not continuing their struggle by guerrilla tactics. Those historians, however, pass lightly over the guerrilla and sometimes terrorist campaigns Forrest and other former Southern officers fought against the U.S. Army and against black and white leaders trying to change the Deep South.
Those attacks peaked around 1867, when a major reform effort began, and faded near the end of Reconstruction in 1877, when violence was no longer necessary. The historians have not asked one critical question: What inspired Confederate generals to follow Lee's example? If they surrendered simply because of his influence, why then did they resume warfare against the lawful forces of the United States?
There is a tendency to gloss over both Forrest's later involvement with the Ku Klux Klan and the reasons why the Federal Army found it necessary to station one-third of its strength in the South to support the Union's efforts to reform Southern society. Yet those events are linked. The need for the military presence grew after a Radical Republican Congress in 1867 adopted more stringent policies, replacing all but one of the post-surrender Southern governments with military rule.
Jay Winik in "April 1865: The Month that Saved America," quotes Forrest telling his men, "Obey the law, preserve your honor, and the government to which you have surrendered can afford to be and will be magnanimous." I want to suggest that Lee's example was only one of two reasons why April 1865 went so smoothly. More research is needed on this point, but did so many surrender, even in theaters of war away from Lee, because they expected to return to a Southern society as close as possible to the one they had left at the start of the war?
In other words, did Forrest expect a magnanimous Federal government to leave the South alone so prewar white leaders could resume their positions while the newly liberated blacks and the poor whites could be kept as subjugated as possible? When Reconstruction came to mean reform, those Southern aristocrats turned to guerrilla and terrorist tactics to defeat those efforts. Mr. Winik simply followed the lead of earlier historians in not making a connection between the Confederate officers of 1865 and the fighting Southerners of 1867.
Forrest, after all, became the Klan's first grand wizard. Often former military officers led the Klan in its attacks on black leaders and their white supporters.
There is not room here to detail the combat between U.S. Army and black militia units on one side and the white supremacist groups on the other. As the new black militia units symbolized Confederate defeat, whites in Arkansas and New Orleans fought pitched battles with them. Fighting recruiting efforts, nightriders terrorized and sometimes killed black men enlisting in those units. Nor can I here discuss the terrorizing and sometimes murdering of black political leaders that accompanied black efforts to participate in state and local government.
The racial and political violence in New Orleans stands out as representing some of the worst of this fighting. Louisiana's version of the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, organized in the summer and fall of 1868 to restore white supremacy in the state.
In the southern part of the state, the Knights and their allies fought against the radical Republican governor, Henry Clay Warmoth, and his black and white allies in the state legislature. Meanwhile, nightriders killed black and white Unionists in the northern part.
The situation deteriorated to the point where, on Aug. 1, the governor and legislature formally requested help from the U.S. Army. This led to months of peace while Federal soldiers were present and bloodshed when they were absent.
Lasting peace did not come until Warmoth, with the agreement of the Federal commander on the scene, Brevet Maj. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau, persuaded his black supporters to stop voting. That peace lasted until 1870, when violence resumed.
After about two years, Forrest resigned as head of the Klan. Research is not clear on the sincerity of his action. Did he resign because of objections to how the Klan had evolved or simply so he could deny responsibility for or knowledge of Klan actions?
Eventually, the combination of white victories at the polls, the reduction of Klan and other violence as those victories happened, and white Southern persistence wore down Northern efforts at electoral and social reform in the South. After the election of 1877, Congress ended Reconstruction, and the already lessening organized Southern violence came to a temporary end.
The Klan and related groups no longer had a role as the traditional Southern white aristocracy resumed its place in state and local governments and blacks were forced into a legally segregated system.
The return to power of the traditional leaders also gave white Southerners in Congress the opportunity to take their revenge on the U.S. military. For years thereafter, they voted against every bill that would increase or modernize the Army and also passed the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878.
That legislation created a general prohibition against the use of military personnel in law enforcement, a role the Army played during Reconstruction.
Congress has modified that law over the years to permit the armed forces to assist in the war against drugs, but the basic principle of that Southern-sponsored legislation restricting the domestic role of the Army and now the Air Force remains in force to this day.
Thus, writers who say there was no Balkanization in the reunited United States, no terrorist or guerrilla warfare after the peace of 1865, are making an artificial distinction.
The violence of 1867 through 1877 succeeded in canceling the effects of the Union victory in Southern economic and political life and in creating a region within the United States where strict legal codes governing black behavior and controlled elections held sway for decades.
Indeed, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a general who became president roughly 75 years later, had to return military force to the South to enforce federal law.
Violent white resistance to court-mandated integration in high schools and colleges obliged him to use U.S. marshals, backed by federalized National Guard forces and regular Army forces, to enforce the law.
One can argue that the violence that met integration in several Southern cities was the last effort of the cultural descendants of those who followed Nathan Bedford Forrest in fighting Reconstruction.

Martin K. Gordon is an adjunct associate professor of history at University College, University of Maryland at College Park.



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