While the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution extended voting rights to African American males, the question of women’s suffrage remained unresolved. This 1866 speech by African American speaker Frances Ellen Watkins Harper illustrates the complex intersection of race, gender, and politics in the Reconstruction era.
From 1865-1877, the federal government attempted to reintegrate the southern states into the united States following their secession and subsequent Civil War. There were several aspects of southern existence that the government needed to address. First was the basic re-formation of the state governments to purge them of Confederate influence. Second was the question of integrating former slaves into the social, political, and economic life of the southern states.
In the third year of the war, a Union victory looked far off. Former commanding general George McClellan ran against Abraham Lincoln for President in 1864, asserting that the President’s continued leadership would lead the nation to ruin.
Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union Army began recruiting African American soldiers. Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist called for men to join the fight.
Mary Chesnut’s diary of the Civil War years in South Carolina is one of our best glimpses into life on the homefront in the Confederacy. This excerpt is from the earliest days of the Civil War.
July 12, 1863
Robert E. Lee
The consequences of war are horrid enough at best, surrounded by all the ameliorations of civilization and Christianity. I am very sorry for the injuries done the family at Hickory Hill, and particularly that our dear old Uncle Williams, in his eightieth year, should be subjected to such treatment. But we cannot help it, and must endure it. You will, however, learn before this reaches you that our success at Gettysburg was not so great as reported–in fact, that we failed to drive the enemy from his position, and that our army withdrew to the Potomac. Had the river not unexpectedly risen, all would have been well with us; but God, in His all-wise providence, willed otherwise, and our communications have been interrupted and almost cut off. The waters have subsided to about four feet, and, if they continue, by tomorrow, I hope, our communications will be open. I trust that a merciful God, our only hope and refuge, will not desert us in this hour of need, and will deliver us by His almighty hand, that the whole world may recognise His power and all hearts be lifted up in adoration and praise of His unbounded loving-kindness. We must, however, submit to His almighty will, whatever that may be. May God guide and protect us all is my constant prayer.
Questions for consideration:
- In this letter, what concerns seem to be weighing on Lee’s mind?
- Is his assessment of the battle at Gettysburg accurate?
The American Civil War (1861-1865) was a massive, devastating conflict which changed the nation forever.
By the end of the war, slavery in the United States would be destroyed and the power of the federal government over that of the states would be redefined. The Union (northern) states, with their economic, population, and manufacturing advantages triumphed over the Confederate (southern) states, despite the Confederacy having a distinct advantage in military leadership throughout much of the conflict.