Title: Civil-Military Relations in the Reconstruction South: Three Community Studies
Abstract: This panel will examine instances of Reconstruction era violence in the American South. Together, these presentations offer insights into a volatile period when former Confederates and a former enslaved population struggled over key social, economic, and political issues. Panelists will examine the United States Army's and the Freedmen's Bureau's interventions in their respective roles to suppress remnants of the Southern rebellion and to help African Americans transition to freedom.
Mr. Somers's proposed paper focuses on a July 1867 riot in Franklin, Tennessee just weeks before African Americans would cast votes in a state election for the first time. Somers argues that local alliances, often misunderstood or unknown by Army and Freedmen's Bureau officers, and nineteenth-century disagreements over the proper role of federal forces in local issues, exacerbated tensions at this crucial moment of Reconstruction.
Dr. Nash's paper examines an 1868 election day riot in Asheville, North Carolina, which resulted from widespread Ku Klux Klan activity responding to the rising influence of federal power throughout the Appalachian South. This riot reveals the roles played by the Freedmen's Bureau and U.S. Army in creating--and failing--the strong Republican organization in the Appalachian South.
The proposed presentation from Dr. Lang places an 1871 Ku Klux Klan uprising in South Carolina within an international context of domestic disturbances, and considers Americans' growing concern over the unprecedented role of the military in the post-Civil War South. Lang argues Americans simultaneously understood the need to keep order in the South while also recognizing the dangers of becoming a "military state."
These presentations demonstrate how violent uprisings and nineteenth-century American attitudes toward the proper use of force shaped the postwar South. Each presenter argues that a local examination of Reconstruction is the best way to understand the broad social changes that transformed the region after the Civil War.
Lucas Somers, University of Southern Mississippi
Participant's Paper Title: Franklin Unsettled: Localizing Reconstruction in Tennessee
Participant's Paper Abstract: This paper explores an 1867 riot between former Confederates, black Conservatives, and a local Union League chapter in Franklin, Tennessee. Occurring just weeks before former enslaved men could cast their first votes in a state election, the violence left one man dead and over thirty wounded on both sides. Two years removed from the Civil War, emancipation and early Reconstruction policies had upended the Franklin's social, political, and economic order. Tennessee took some especially Radical turns under Governor William G. Brownlow, who had disenfranchised former Confederates, gave the vote to freedmen, and raised a militia to prevent groups like the nascent Ku Klux Klan from interfering in the coming state election. While these developments created tensions and frustrations between white and black Franklin's citizens, the local alliances that influenced the riot, and traditional attitudes toward law and order and who should secure this, provide illuminating insights into the root causes of event.
In the two days that followed the riot, a detachment from the U.S. Army and Freedmen's Bureau--both operating under the authority of the War Department--arrived to restore order and investigate its causes and outcomes. This paper is grounded in the seventy-five interviews conducted by Freedmen's Bureau officers with rioters and witnesses. This includes conversations with men and women, and whites and blacks, all of whom had connections with each other in this small community. Their voices underscore the diverse dynamics important to determining how Franklin's citizens formed alliances in their postwar period and how they believed the violence in their community should be resolved. This examination of the 1867 Franklin riot contributes to a growing trend in the historiography that argues that the challenges, failures, and lessons of Reconstruction can be best understood at the local level.
William Allison, Georgia Southern University
Andrew Slap, East Tennessee State University
Andrew Lang, Mississippi State University
Participant's Paper Title: Internationalizing the Domestic: The 1871 Klan Uprising and the Problem of Standing Armies in the Post-Civil War Union
Participant's Paper Abstract: This paper explores the 1871 Ku Klux Klan uprising in South Carolina as a microhistory of a broader international discourse on the problem of employing military force to quell domestic disturbances. The violence that blanketed the Reconstruction South during the 1870s occurred during a relatively inauspicious moment in which United States armies pulled back their regulatory influence, allowing terrorist groups to fill precarious voids left by the military. Indeed, once the southern states complied with the terms of Military Reconstruction, the army retreated from active participation in civil and political affairs. Such a retreat, coupled with the implications of the Fourteenth Amendment and African American political participation, inspired a violent backlash among former Confederates who embarked on campaigns of violence to marginalize the new bi-racial political order. And yet many in the United States believed that authorizing overt military force in the wake of the former rebel states returning to the Union violated a sacred compact with "American civilization," an idea that considered the United States an anti-militaristic, exceptional nation among corrupted violent nations. This discourse surrounded the possible recourse against the Klan uprisings in 1871, coinciding at the same time that Americans looked with great suspicion, and even horror, at the chaotic upheaval of the Paris Commune and other similar episodes of domestic disturbance within the broader Atlantic world. This paper considers how Americans at once recognized the need for unprecedented military force while believing that a "military state" would violate the essence of American uniqueness in the world. How could the Union achieve balance and order--protecting citizens in their lawful political pursuits--while avoiding the chaos attendant of constant military regulation, a foreboding practice deemed so common in Europe?
Steven Nash, East Tennessee State University
Participant's Paper Title: More Booths than One in the Land
Participant's Paper Abstract: One of the hardest and most ingrained perceptions about Southern Appalachia is that it is lily white. Scholars long struggled against popular images casting southern mountaineers as trapped in a sort of pioneer past and free from the taint of slavery. These attitudes--wholly disproved by a wide range of scholars--lead many to conclude that post-Civil War Reconstruction was easy in Appalachian regions like western North Carolina. With a distinct African American population minority, it is easy to believe that the Southern mountains escaped the effects of emancipation, military occupation and reconstruction, and Ku Klux Klan violence. Such assumptions are as wrong as the stereotypes that undergird them.
Republicans swept the North Carolina state elections in 1868. Their rise, however, did not go unchallenged. Even in the state's mountain counties, the Ku Klux Klan emerged in a violent effort to stop the Republicans. Few events highlight the intersection of local, state, and national politics as the November 1868 election riot in Asheville. The riot, which began as African American men tried to vote, showed how the Freedmen's Bureau and United States military helped to create and to protect the nascent Republican efforts in the South. It also showed the limits of those efforts. A close analysis of the 1868 Asheville election riot demonstrates the role that federal power and counterrevolutionary violence played in reconstructing a section of the South that many people--then and now--believe should have been easily reconstructed. It also shows that a biracial political coalition had developed in western North Carolina that had the power to topple the region's antebellum elite, thus making the Ku Klux response so important to the region's Reconstruction history.