Washington, Arkansas, 1861
|The day following the election was an uncommonly dark
and gloomy one for November. It was ushered in with rain, and all day
long there was a constant downpour. As I sat alone by the window - I
remember it as distinctly as if 'twer by yesterday - and gazed out upon
the dark pall of clouds that enveloped the earth, and listened to
the ceaseless patter of the rain-drops, I felt a vivid presentiment that
the forbidding scene was a presage of the dreadful feeling of gloom that
was about to be cast over the entire south by the news of
Lincoln's election. Never was news of a political contest awaited
with deeper interest. In due course of time - I think it was the
third day - intelligence of the results reached Washington. My
presentiment proved too true. Abraham Lincoln was chosen. The
announcement fell upon our little community with the awfulness of a
death-knell. In all previous election contests the news of
the result had been received with shouts of joy by a a portion of the
people, and good-natured expressions of disappointment by another
portion. But her there were none to rejoice - unless we except the
bondsman, and his rejoicing was done in secrecy, if at all.
The entire male population assembled at the post-office before the arrival of the stage-coach and when the intelligence was given out, the effect could be plainly discerned in the faces of the group who were discussing the momentous event. A feeling of sadness, as if some great and overshadowing calamity was about to happen, pervaded the entire community. With leaden hearts and downcast spirits the little knots of men finally dispersed to their homes.
-Sam Williams, "Printer's Devil"
In spite of the turn of events, Arkansas reaffirmed her allegiance to the Union. Hempstead county elected two candidates on the Union ticket to the Constitutional Convention. But, while the Convention was sitting in Little Rock the bombardment of Fort Sumter began. The delegates voted for secession.
Take your pick:
|a.||The War Between the States
|b.||The Civil War|
|c.||The War of Northern Aggression|
If you choose (c) you may want to access the link.
One of my undergraduate history professors held that in war lots of people suffer and many are killed, but the important issues are the political, economic, technical, and social events leading up to the war and the changes following the war. Generally, the winner blames the loser for starting the war, launches a search for war criminals, identifies the moral defect in the defeated people, and demands repatriations. The moral defect in this case was, obviously, owning slaves which made the Southerners degenerate and justified the slaughter of its citizens and the destruction of its farms, infrastructure, and cities.
A million casualties suffered in the South out of a population of just over five million whites was horrendous. As the war was fought mainly in the Confederacy, that is where the major damage occurred. At the conclusion of the war the South was in ruins and the white Southerners were bitter; not only were husbands, fathers, brothers, and other relatives dead or missing, many others were blinded or deafened or missing limbs. A large portion of the budget for the State of Mississippi in 1866 was for prosthetic devices. The physical destruction from the war was enormous. Bridges and railroads destroyed, buildings burned or damaged, factories destroyed, mules and horses killed, and many other assets destroyed thoughout the South. My great grand father, Thomas Watt Jackson, captured at the Battle of Shiloh, died a prisoner in St Louis and was buried in an unmarked grave. My maternal grand father James S. Wilson survived many battles, from Pea Ridge to Port Hudson, and returned to Penhook after his unit surrendered in Jackson, Mississippi in 1865. The South had to pick up and start over.
After the war, James Wilson went to Mobile Alabama, learned the cotton trade, returned to Penhook with enough money to purchase a farm and take a bride. He and Mary Stuart were married in the Presbyterian Church in 1875. Their first child, Louise, was born the next year.
|James S. Wilson on the right. Next is his wife Mary Stuart (Mattie), his son Manton (MD and missionary) and wife Bess (Missionary), son Joe (back left, farmer), and son Edwin (Presbyterian minister, missionary) and wife Georgia. I labeled this image "spirits" because of the "mix up". Circa 1916, as Edwin died in 1917. On second thought, the man on the far left may be son John Calvin (MD) and his wife Emily. John died in 1922, so picture could have been taken after 1916.|
Nor was the lot of freed slaves improved. Once the war was over the Federal Government did almost nothing to educated the ex-slaves; they destroyed the economic base of the South and walked away, leaving the impoverished people to invent the share cropping system and to construct a make-shift educational system. As there was no capital in the region, land owners had no money to buy seed and tools, to pay labor, and to live on, so they had to mortgage their land. The money loaned came from northern banks, funneled through local banks and mercantile stores. To ensure repayment, northern lenders insisted that the farmers plant cash crops, such as cotton or tobacco. Crop diversity which was prevalent before the war was replaced by monoculture farming. The thin upland soil of Penhook would wash away within a few decades with the perennial planting of cotton.
|The Civil War ended for Hempstead County the same way it began, with
a public meeting at the courthouse on June 15, 1865. The
main purpose was to discuss how to restore law and order in the country.
The preamble acknowledged that by dissolution of its civil government,
and the surrender of its armies, "The Confederate State of America" had
become extinct. The people resolved to return their allegiance to the
"United States of America" by taking the amnesty oath proclaimed by
President Andrew Johnson. They concluded that there was no need for a
large body of government troops in the country. In spite of this
statement, the Twelfth Michigan Infantry marched into town
on Wednesday, June 21st, under the flag of the United States. The
occupation of Washington lasted about one year without any major
incidents between the soldier and citizens. In fact, most people
welcomed the Federal troops as protection against an imagined
uprising by the newly freed black population. Those who could not bring
themselves to rejoin the Union met at the courthouse on August 26th to
discuss a plan for emigrating to Brazil.
-Washington Telegraph, February 18, 1916
Stereotyping provides a mental shorthand that allows us to move on with our lives. If we stopped and considered every event or object that comes along we would all become poets or philosophers, God forbid. That said, many cases do not neatly fit our stereotypical thinking and are worth considering. Here are a few:
Absalom Madden came to Hempstead county around 1819, bringing with him a number of slaves, which he liberated before his death. One bondsman, Jake Madden, reported to be a hard working sensible man, eventually acquired a plantation and a number of slaves. In 1853, the Arkansas Legislature enacted a law requiring all free Negroes to either leave the state or to choose a master and reenter slavery. Jake Madden sold his farm and slaves, went to California and became a wealthy man.
Another misconception involves the evil KKK during Reconstruction. In surveys conducted by WPA Early Settlers' Personal Histories of African Americans in Arkansas in Hempstead County, 1941, all of the ex-slaves gave similar responses to questions about Carpetbaggers and the KKK; the Carpetbaggers burned houses and crops and stole food. The KKK battled the Carpetbaggers at night while the freed slaves took refuge in white homes. Hollywood changed all that. Incidentally, the Carpetbaggers burned the crops so that the farm owners, black and white, were unable to pay county taxes. They then paid the taxes and claimed the farm.
And finally, another interview in the same interviews of ex-slaves. This one of Laura Jackson Edwards of Dardanelle. "She remembered her mistress baking wheat and sweet potatoes during the Civil War and grinding it to use as coffee. She also remembers the soldiers stripping the house of food, burning the straw beds, breaking the mirrors, dishes, and everything of value. They would go to the pasture and kill all the cows and hogs. She said if the Federals came and wanted to know where anything was, they had to tell or they would burn your feet off. She went into the house one morning and the soldiers had her mistress before the fireplace fixing to burn her feet because she would not tell them where the money was. Laura told them and they went away." Brave Federal soldiers liberating the slaves and punishing the degenerate Southerner women.