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Conditions in the Postwar South
Digital History ID 404

Author:   Edwin H. McCaleb


As a result of the Civil War, the South lost a fourth of its white male population of military age, a third of its livestock, half of its farm machinery, and $2.5 billion worth of human property. Factories and railroads had been destroyed, and such cities as Atlanta, Charleston, Columbia, and Richmond had been largely burned to the ground. In South Carolina, the value of property plunged from $400 million in 1860, ranking it third in the nation, to just $50 million in 1865. In this letter, a former supporter of the Confederacy responds to Lincoln's death, describes conditions in the post-war South, and expresses distrust toward President Andrew Johnson.


...As mail communication has been partially reopened with the North I avail myself of this my first opportunity to write to you. I have not been with the army since my release from prison. I can never forget the kindness shown me by yourself & family and I shall cherish to the day of my death sentiments of profound gratitude & esteem for your noble generosity & christianlike charity....

Our country is now in a disturbed condition caused by the fiery ordeal through which we just passed & the total absence of both military or civil law in all parts of this state except the few garrisoned towns. Were it not for the national quiet and law abiding disposition of our people we would be subjected to the augur of lawlessness and outrage. All good citizens deeply deplore the assassination of Pres. Lincoln...Mr. L--was a great man and more than that was a good man and the country could ill afford to lose his services at this important crisis....Mr. Johnson has disregarded the requirements of the Constitution & undertakes to enact military governments over the states that have hitherto only been at war with the Federal Government. And more than this, men are now being tried for their lives before military courts...instead of the civil tribunals of the land. This is in direct violation of the Constitution as these...were in no way connected with the Army.

This looks very much as that he has assumed arbitrary power & was overstepping his oath of office. I hoped he would convene Congress in Extra Session or take the counsel & advice of the able & learned statesmen of the Country. But even this he has failed to do. All the good men of the land desire to return to their peaceful avocations & be permitted to enjoy the blessings of liberty transmitted by our ancestors who fought side by side through the Revolution & on the plains of Mexico. But this they are not permitted to do & they are told that those who have taken up arms of defense of what they believed to be their rights under the old Federal Compact have no claims but mercy upon the General Government and those who now hold...power.... By this sudden system of Emancipation, this spasmodic transformation of the ignorant Negro from a peaceful laborer who has been accustomed to have all needs...provided...both in sickness & health to a self reliant citizen will paralyze the productive resources of the South. It...can cause a famine in this our fertile land. If we could have a system of gradual emancipation & colonization our people would universally rejoice & be glad to get rid of slavery which has ever been a cancer upon the body politic of our social organization.... We would gladly substitute white for slave labor but we can never regard the Negro our equal either intellectually or socially. The doctrine of "Miscegenation" or as the word which is a Latin compound ("Misco" to mix & "genus" race) signifies an amalgamation of the races, is odious, destructive & contrary to the laws of God & Man. If such a detestable dogma becomes a law we shall soon have a race of mulattoes as fickle & foolish as the Mongrel population of Mexico never content with their present condition but always desiring a change of government & rulers. The government ought to pursue a magnanimous merciful & conciliatory course toward those who have striven to be honorable...& who have acknowledged ourselves fairly beaten. Let the northern people arise in the majesty of their power & stay the uplifted hand of official oppression & hatred.... Let not the pages of American history be stained with a second recital of the reign of terror like the frightful record of the French Revolution in the memorable days of Danton & Robespierre. The only way to avoid these disasters is by a strict compliance with the Constitution & the laws.

I was only 17 years of age when this war commenced & the last speech I made before leaving college for the army was against secession and advocating the sovereignty of the Federal Government and yet I am now among the proscribed because I held a petty office in the army.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Edwin H. McCaleb to T.P. Chandler

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