Here’s a look back at a few of the events that were happening during Reconstruction in the South, 150 years ago.
Instead of taking a closer look at a particular Southern city this week, let’s check out an interview that Nathan Bedford Forrest gave to Bryan McAlister in Meridian, Mississippi, shortly after the surrender. Some of this is ugly and offensive, but I must include a link to it (not the text itself, which uses the “N” word) because of the emphasis I’ve placed on Forrest’s considerable military skills and energy in these timelines.
We ended the Civil War portion of this timeline with Forrest’s address to his troops at surrender. It’s peacetime now, and we must look more closely at Forrest the man. Immediately after the war, he was still in step with his time and surroundings. Like him, many soldiers in blue and gray just wanted to be quiet and reflect. There was still plenty of racism and hatred around, too. As we will see below, black people were emancipated but they weren’t included in Reconstruction plans. In Forrest’s area, the Ku Klux Klan would not appear in a vacuum later in 1865. And yet Forrest would go on to repudiate the Klan in the 1870s.
Even in peacetime, he was a complex, interesting man.
Controversial return of Southern self-government
President Johnson has refused to convene Congress (which isn’t scheduled to meet until December). Practically speaking, then, the work of Reconstruction is being handled by the executive branch of government, not by Congress (the body that, in the opinion of some cabinet members and some Congressmen, should handle it). Johnson bases his authority to do this on Article IV, Section 4, of the US Constitution. (Brabson) https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleiv#section4
When not working through the flood of amnesty applications from former high-ranking Confederates, the president is busy establishing provisional governments in 7 of the 11 former Confederate states. Existing loyal governments in Virginia (Governor Peirpoint), Tennessee (Governor Brownlow), Arkansas (Governor Murphy), and Louisiana (Governor Wells) are exempted from the provisions.
Johnson believes he is following Lincoln’s postwar plans. Northern Democrats, conservative Republicans, and southerners are in favor of this approach, but moderate Republicans have some doubts about it, and Republican radicals are outraged. Thaddeus Stevens, from Pennsylvania, states he is sickened by the whole business and suspects Johnson will be crowned king before Congress can meet. Charles Sumner, from Massachusetts, is very unhappy, primarily because black Americans are excluded from the process. (Bergeron)
What to do with Davis and Lee?
I’m just going with Brabson (source 20) on this complicated matter (also see note under June 16th, below):
In operation, Johnson’s amnesty proclamation brought in its train a series of problems. It did not cover the case of General Lee, who therefore in June wrote a letter to General Grant on the subject. Lee enclosed a letter to the President, in which he applied for the restoration of his rights and privileges. He wrote that, although he was willing to stand trial and did not seek to avoid it, he asked the protection granted him by the parole following his surrender at Appomattox. General Grant transmitted Lee’s letter to the President “with the earnest recommendation that the application of General Robert E. Lee for pardon and amnesty be granted him.” Furthermore, Grant objected to the trial of Lee unless he should violate his parole. Under the circumstances President Johnson did not press the case for trial, nor was he further requested to pardon General Lee. The result was that General Lee was never tried, nor was he pardoned until the Third General Amnesty on Christmas Day, 1868.
President Johnson next considered the possibility of bringing Jefferson Davis to judgment. When the Davis case was brought before the Cabinet, all of the members except Seward and Harlan favored his trial by civil court. As to the place of the crime, it was contended that Davis could not be tried for treason in the District Court of the District of Columbia because the offense had not been committed there. To complicate the matter, Chief Justice Chase informed the President that it did not behoove a Justice of the Supreme Court to exercise jurisdiction through an assigned circuit in Virginia before the complete reconstruction of Virginia and the supercedence of the military by a civil administration. By this ruling President Johnson was stymied for the time, since it was apparent that no Virginia jury would ever convict Davis of treason.
Mississippi: President Johnson appoints William Sharkey provisional governor. (4)
Mississippi: Martial law is lifted. (4)
Under the “North Carolina Proclamation,” President Johnson appoints provisional governors James Johnson of Georgia and Lewis Parsons for Alabama. All of the appointees are to assemble state conventions of loyal citizens to amend their state constitutions, set up loyal state governments, and meet the presidential requirements for readmission to the US (repeal the secession ordinances, repudiate war debt, and abolish slavery and eventually ratify the 13th Amendment). (4, 10, 19)
Tennessee: Johnson declares Tennessee restored to the U.S. and all citizens free from federal disabilities or disqualifications. (10)
Military: Secretary of State Seward succeeds in modifying General Grant’s plans to pursue Confederates into Mexico. Instead, Grant, through General Sheridan (who is near the border), demands that the French return all arms and munitions that Confederates have taken into Mexico. (5)
Military: Beginning today, and for the next four days, Grant successfully argues that Robert E. Lee must not be prosecuted for treason. (5)
Virginia: Edmund Ruffin kills himself at his plantation Redmoor in Amelia County. (4)
Texas: President Johnson appoints Andrew J. Hamilton as provisional governor of Texas. (10)
Texas: The holiday Juneteenth is established when General Robert Granger emancipates all slaves in the state. (4)
Georgia: Former Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown is released from Carroll Prison (Old Capitol Prison). (17)
Military President Johnson ends the blockade against Southern ports. (5)
” Cherokee leader Brigadier General Stand Watie surrendered the Confederate Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Osage Battalion to Lieutenant Colonel Asa Matthews at Doaksville near Fort Towson in the Indian Territory. This represented the last formal submission of any sizable body of Confederate troops. While Confederate forces west of the Mississippi had been largely dispersed after the Battle of Westport last October, Watie’s men had continued guerrilla attacks in Arkansas and the Indian Territory.” (10, including quote)
Georgia: Former Governor Brown gives his resignation address. (17)
South Carolina: President Johnson appoints Benjamin Perry provisional governor. (4)
Lincoln assassination: Conspirators are convicted by the military tribunal. Edman Spangler is found guilty of a lesser charge of aiding and abetting John Wilkes Booth during his escape from Ford’s Theatre. He is sentenced to six years of hard labor at Dry Tortugas, Florida. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlin receive life sentences at Dry Tortugas. Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, David Herold, and Mary Suratt receive the death penalty. Many protested executing Mrs. Suratt, but to no avail. (10)
Lincoln assassination: President Johnson approves the conspirators’ sentences. (10)
(2) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).
(3) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).
(5) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(6) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(8) Timeline 1865. State of Tennessee
(9) Up From Slavery. Booker T. Washington
(13) The Papers of Jefferson Davis, timeline. Rice University.
(14) Reconstruction Timeline. Mount Holyoke College.
(15) The American Presidency Project – Presidential Documents.
(16) Andrew Johnson Timeline. National Park Service.
(17) Georgia History Timeline/Chronology 1865.
(18) Nathan Bedford Forrest. Jack Hurst. Knopf. New York. 1993.
(19) Andrew Johnson’s Civil War and Reconstruction. Paul H. Bergeron. University of Tennessee. Knoxville. 2011
(20) Andrew Johnson: A Life in Pursuit of the Right Course 1808-1875 Fay Warrington Brabson. Seeman. Durham, NC. 1972
(21) Toward A New South? Studies in Post-Civil War Southern Communities. Edited by Orville Vernon Burton and Robert C. McMath, Jr. Greenwood Press. Westport. 1982.