Short on battles, Civil War Center adds Reconstruction

“Mac Healy announced that the North Carolina Civil War History Center had been renamed the North Carolina Civil War and Reconstruction History Center. Healy is the chairman of the foundation promoting what would become the state’s premier Civil War center.

“Reconstruction refers to not only the formal time period recognized by historians as between 1865 to 1877, but to the years after that. Healy said people were still feeling the [effects] of the war after that period.

“ ‘North Carolina was defined by the Civil War, but you have to keep in mind that there were relatively few battles fought here, so that’s why our center is searching for stories of how families dealt with the hardships that came as a result of the Civil War,’ Healy said.”

— From “City Council raises concerns about poverty initiative, Civil War center” by in the Fayetteville Observer (Jan. 2)

 

Reconstruction was hotbed of impeachments

“Once again, Maine Gov. Paul LePage is in trouble, and race is at the heart of the matter….  Talk is once again circulating about removing the governor from office.

“Over the course of American history, there have been 17 instances of gubernatorial impeachment, with eight convictions resulting. The last governor to be impeached [was] Rod Blagojevich of Illinois….

“While the power of impeachment has been a feature of state constitutions since the founding of the republic, it was never used until the Civil War….

“The first conviction of an impeached governor occurred in the post-Civil War period, when North Carolina’s Democratic legislature convicted Republican William Holden for using martial law to protect the rights of freed slaves against white racial terrorists. (Back then, the Republicans were the party of civil rights.) This era, during which Southern white supremacists engaged in a political insurgency against the victorious Union government for control of Reconstruction in the defeated Confederate states, witnessed nearly half of all gubernatorial impeachments in American history….”

— From “A LePage impeachment would repeat — and reverse — impeachment’s race-based history” by Patrick Rael in the Bangor Daily News (Aug. 29)

 

Hate for Confederacy didn’t ensure love for Union

“In North Carolina there is a great deal of something that calls itself Unionism; but… it is a cheat, a Will-o’-the-wisp; and any man who trusts it will meet with overthrow.

“Its quality is shown in a hundred ways. An old farmer came into Raleigh to sell a little corn. I had some talk with him. He claimed that he had been a Union man from the beginning of the war, but he refused to take ‘greenback money’ for his corn. In a town in the western part of the State I found a merchant who prided himself on the fact that he had always prophesied the downfall of the so-called Confederacy and had always desired the success of the Union arms; yet when I asked him why he did not vote in the election for delegates to the Convention, he answered, sneeringly — ‘I shall not vote till you take away the military.’

“The State Convention declared by a vote of 94 to 19 that the Secession ordinance had always been null and void; and then faced squarely about, and, before the Presidential instructions were received, impliedly declared, by a vote of fifty-seven to fifty-three, in favor of paying the war debt incurred in supporting that ordinance! This action on these two points exactly exemplifies the quality of North Carolina Unionism. There may be in it the seed of loyalty, but woe to him who mistakes the germ for the ripened fruit!”

— From “Three Months Among the Reconstructionists” by Sidney Andrews in The Atlantic (February 1866)

Andrews was among the most acerbic of Northern reporters visiting postbellum North Carolina. Here’s how he viewed  “the native North Carolinian.”

 

Former slaves built schoolhouse whites never did

“Throughout the South, blacks in 1865 and 1866 formed societies and raised money among themselves to purchase land, build schoolhouses, and pay teachers’ salaries. Some communities voluntarily taxed themselves, while in others black schools charged tuition, although often a certain number of the poorest families were allowed to enroll their children free of charge….

“Contemporaries could not but note the contrast between white families seemingly indifferent to education and blacks who ‘toil and strive, labour and endure in order that their children “may have a schooling.” ‘ As one Northern educator remarked: ‘Is it not significant that…  one hundred and forty-four years since the settlement [of Beaufort, North Carolina], the Freedmen are building the first public school-house ever erected here?’ ”

— From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

 

Slavery over? Not for blacks drafted for road gang

On this day in 1865: The Raleigh Daily Standard reports on what may be the state’s first road gang, organized under the military government immediately following the Civil War:

“The military on yesterday picked up a large number of gentlemen of color, who were loitering about the street corners, apparently much depressed by ennui and general lassitude of the nervous system, and, having armed them with spades and shovels, set them to play at street cleaning for the benefit of their own health and the health of the town generally.

“This is certainly ‘a move in the right direction’ for the indolent, lazy Sambo, who lies about in the sunshine and neglects to seek employment by which to make a living, is undoubtedly ‘the right man in the right place’ when enrolled in the spade and shovel brigade.”

 

N.C.’s ‘mask of nationality’ wasn’t to be trusted

“Much is said of the hypocrisy of the South. I found but little of it anywhere. The North-Carolinian calls himself a Unionist, but he makes no special pretence of love for the Union.

“He desires many favors, but he asks them generally on the ground that he hated the Secessionists. He expects the nation to recognize rare virtue in that hatred, and hopes it may win for his State the restoration of her political rights; but he wears his mask of nationality so lightly that there is no difficulty in removing it.”

— From “Three Months Among the Reconstructionists” by Sidney Andrews in The Atlantic (February 1866)

 

White elite feared rule by ‘dregs of society’

“[In the early days of Reconstruction] North Carolina Conservatives harped upon the specter of integration in the new public schools, where white children would ‘take in all the base and lowly instincts of the African.’

“Racial appeals, however, often went hand in hand with revulsion at the prospect of governments controlled by what North Carolina Governor [Jonathan] Worth called ‘the dregs of society.’ Universal suffrage — government by ‘mere numbers,‘ Worth wrote, ‘I regard as undermining civilization.’ Civilization he defined as ‘the possession and protection of property.’ It was clear that such remarks did not apply to blacks alone….

“If North Carolina’s constitution needed revision, Worth and other Democratic leaders preferred a return to the frame of government of 1776, which contained substantial property requirements for voting.”

– From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

 

‘He thought they were handy for wrapping purposes’

“In the important town of Charlotte, North Carolina, I found a white man who owned the comfortable house in which he lived, who had a wife and three half-grown children, and yet had never taken a newspaper in his life. He thought they were handy for wrapping purposes, but he couldn’t see why anybody wanted to bother with the reading of them. He knew some folks spent money for them, but he also knew a-many houses where none had ever been seen….

“I found several persons — whites, and not of the ‘clay-eater’ class, either — who never had been inside a school-house, and who didn’t mean to ‘low their children to go inside one.”

— From “Three Months Among the Reconstructionists” by correspondent Sidney Andrews in The Atlantic (February 1866)

About that “clay-eater” reference: In 1866, a dispatch in The New York Times  described “the notorious clay-eaters [as] the lowest representatives of the United States … little more than mere animals … strange, undeveloped [and] repulsive…. For the most part, however, they are long-lived and rarely ill, realizing the old notion that dirt is extremely healthy.”   

By 1984 the Times was regarding the practice less with disgust than with clinical curiosity. 

 

‘A native North Carolinian,’ uncharitably viewed

On this day in 1865: Sidney Andrews, Southern correspondent for the Boston Daily Advertiser and the Chicago Tribune during the early days of Reconstruction, sums up his observations of North Carolina:

“Spindling of legs, round of shoulders, sunken of chest, lank of body, stooping of posture, narrow of face, retreating of forehead, thin of nose, small of chin, large of mouth — this is the native North Carolinian as one sees him outside the cities and large towns.

“There is insipidity in his face, indecision in his step, and inefficiency in his whole bearing. His house has two rooms and a loft, and is meanly furnished – one, and possibly two, beds, three or four chairs, half a dozen stools, a cheap pine table, an old spinning-wheel, a water-bucket and drinking gourd, two tin washbasins, half a dozen tin platters, a few cooking utensils, and a dozen odd pieces of crockery. Paint and whitewash and wall-paper and window-curtains are to him needless luxuries.

“His wife is leaner, more round-shouldered, more sunken of chest, and more pinched of face than her husband. He ‘chaws’ and she ‘dips.’ The children of these two are large-eyed, tow-headed urchins, alike ignorant of the decencies and the possibilities of life. In this house there is often neither book nor newspaper; and, what is infinitely worse, no longing for either. The day begins at sunrise and ends at dark; its duties are alike devoid of dignity and mental or moral compensation. The man has a small farm, and once owned six or eight Negroes.

“How the family now lives, the propping hands of the Negroes being taken away, is a mystery, even if one remembers the simple cheapness of mere animal life.”