The Civil War was the costliest war in American history. There were 620,000 deaths and an equal number of casualties out of a nation of 35 million. This is more casualties than all the other United States wars combined. Once the war was over, the answers to certain questions remained unclear: Under what conditions should the South be allowed to return to the Union? Would any punishment by meted out to the rebellious states? What would become of the 4 million newly freed slaves? Would they be accorded equal status or be accorded some type of 2nd class citizenship until they were “ready” for full participation? Would they receive any kind of economic assistance? Who was to decide these issues–the President or Congress?
The Constitution offered no guidelines for reconstructing rebellious states. Everyone was left to their own devices to determine what they could get away with.
CONDITIONS IN TEXAS AND THE SOUTH
Texas escaped much of the physical devastation of war in comparison with the rest of the South, but it did suffer significant post-war chaos. By 1865, many crops and livestock had been eaten or destroyed. Confederate money and bonds had become worthless. Millions of dollars’ worth of slaves walked off the plantations. Just at the time when the crops needed the most attention, many slaves refused to work–even for a wage. Practically no plantation owners had any plans on how to survive the post-slavery era, and so crops rotted in the fields. Texas land values fell by 80% from prewar valuations. Most Southerners and Texans were now poor. The capital and manpower required to rebuild were not readily available. Morale and aspiration were low. Texas and the proud South had been defeated. Could it be that “one southerner could(n’t) whup five Yankees,” after all? The war had been in vain.
In Texas, many Confederate leaders fled to Mexico to escape possible punishment. The state and local governments collapsed. Renegade bands of deserters, criminals, Mexican bandits, and hostile Native Americans killed and looted. The federal government did not immediately re-establish the frontier forts, but it prohibited Texas from forming a militia for defense. Someone stole what remained of the state treasury, leaving no funds for public use. Hatred and / or suspicion abounded between resentful Whites and Blacks, as both struggled to adjust to new roles. United States President Andrew Johnson quickly appointed Unionist Andrew Jackson Hamilton to serve as the provisional governor. Hamilton initially relied on Union soldiers to maintain order.
TEXAS BLACKS—THE AFTERMATH OF SLAVERY
In 1865, Texas had approximately 250,000 freedmen living within its borders. This was about 30% of the state’s population. After the Confederate surrender, most Texas planters assembled the remaining bondsmen, acknowledged their freedom, and offered them wages or a share of the crop to stay on. However, some planters in out-of-the-way locations refused to emancipate their slaves and continued working them for up to two extra years until finally discovered by Union troops.
There were difficult decisions for the newly freed slaves. How should they test their freedom? As one freedman said: “I must go, for if I stay here, I’ll never know I am free.” About 1/2 of the freed families left their plantations, but most returned within a year, after finding life on the outside very difficult. Family members separated by slavery sought each other out after emancipation, but it was very difficult to locate loved ones, with no guarantee that former relationships could be restored. The letter below from a former slave illustrates the difficult entanglements:
“I want to see you and I don’t want to see you. I love you just as well as I did the last day I saw you, and it will not do for you and I to meet. I am (now) married, and my (new) wife (and I) have two children. . . You know it never was our wishes to be separated from each other, and it never was our fault. Oh, I can see you so plain at any-time, I had rather anything to had happened to me most than ever have been parted from you and the children. As I am, I do not know which I love best, you or Anna. If I was to die, today or tomorrow, I do not think I would die satisfied till you tell me you will try and marry some good, smart man that will take good care of you and the children; and do it because you love me; and not because I think more of the wife I have got than I do of you. The woman is not born that feels as near to me as you do. Tell them (the children) they must remember they have a good father and one that cares for them and one that thinks about them every day.” (Unsigned and undated letter around 1869)
Former slaves received little in the way of preparation for freedom and would have to discover the boundaries of their emancipation one day at a time. It was rarely easy. It was often said that “freedom could make folks proud, but it didn’t make them rich.” Or, as Frederick Douglass put it: “The slave is free from the master but remains a slave to the cold of winter and the heat of summer.” Fortunately for all, revenge was generally not part of the freedmen’s agenda.
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