Monday, June 25, 2012

Civil-War Reconstruction in Izard County - Introduction

During an interview for Ken Burns' 1994  documentary series, Baseball, Former New York Governor, Mario Cuomo,  in relation to integration of black ball-players into the Major Leagues, asked,  "Why? Why did it take all those years? Why should it have been such a big event? Why weren't we capable of better? How could you possibly say that they were less than we were? Didn't we put that behind us in the Civil-War? Why wasn't the question settled?"

Branch Rickey Signs Jackie Robinson 
The fact is, no...we didn't put that all behind us in the Civil-War. While the official end to the "War Between the States" came upon the heels of General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, not a whole lot was settled at all because of that action. Yes. Emancipation had freed the slaves. Yes. The Confederate army and government were defeated. But no...there was nothing magical that took place upon the south's surrender that changed attitudes. In many ways, the "cessation" of hostilities was only the beginning of hard-fought change.  The American South was decimated. Devastated. Without form. Void. The south was a gaping hole in America created by the power vacuum caused by Confederate defeat.

Today, one often hears talk of revolution. In many ways, our nation is as divided politically much as it was leading up to the secession of the southern states. We have seen the rise of the militia movement and more recently, the Occupy movement...both which yearn for revolution, both espousing the use of violence to overthrow what is viewed for different reasons by each group as a corrupt, evil, and ineffective government. In light of this, one question begs to be asked:  If the government of The United States of America were somehow brought crashing down in this era, what would happen then? One only needs to study the decade immediately following the close of the Civil-War in 1865 to know what would then happen. It was not pretty! And it must be kept in mind, there was a central government in place after the close of that war.

  In last Summer's series, "The Civil War in Izard County", we learned about the extreme difficulties that arose for the people of Izard County during the four-year conflict. Families were split apart – some Union loyalists resorting to moving away from the county to escape the severe harassment by those who were once neighbors…some even by their own family members. We also learned about the violence that occurred in Izard County when bushwhackers and jayhawkers terrorized the people living here. We learned about the Mill Creek Peace Organization Society, a group of citizens who were against secession and resisted joining the confederacy. 
1876 Political Poster

In this Summer's series, we'll learn that…like in the rest of the nation…very little was won during the conflict other than the emancipation of the slaves. We'll learn that the same differences among Izard County's citizens existed after the war as was there before the war. Much of what we will learn will be about the nation as a whole, and about the events that occurred in the south during the years after the war. Very little is written about Izard County from that tumultuous time in our nation's history so it is imperative that we view what is recorded in context with what was happening elsewhere in the re-uniting United States of America!
For this reason, we will be including links to videos and other media where those readers who wish to understand this important period in our history can learn if he or she chooses to do so.

The Civil-War was not only about slavery as many believe. It was about States' rights. In fact, emancipation was not even a priority in the war until  it became useful to the Union for recruitment and support from a war-weary constituency. Most people today, however, understand that as a nation that claims to be free, emancipation was essential for America. And though the liberation of a people in chains was one of the only good things the war accomplished, freedom for that people was in many ways short-lived. Some say the war never really ended. As Mario Cuomo's questions above about race integration of Major League Baseball illustrate, African-Americans , though appearing to be citizens of this nation, were not really free at all once the aftermath of the war played-out suggesting that little was won at all by the Union upon the surrender of the Confederacy.
Next week, we will begin our discussion of Izard County during Reconstruction by sharing some stories of Izard County Confederate veterans returning home after being separated from their CSA units. Between then and now, readers are encouraged to visit the following links – two are outstanding lectures from Yale University professor, Dr. David Blight (two lectures in a series we will revisit as the Summer Series continues) and the other, a PBS documentary about the period of Reconstruction:

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