A Gold Rush Leads To War

.. and Britain gave up any serious hopes of a Confederate victory. With Britain’s vote of confidence also went the possibility of European support for the Confederacy. Without this vital link with the outside world, the Confederacy lost all advantage in the war. Amidst all the turmoil of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in all territories, including the South, which Lincoln continued to insist was under Union jurisdiction.

Recognition of the Proclamation became a required element of Lincoln’s “ten-percent plan”, whereby 10% of the population of any seceded state could reform the state government and apply for readmission to the Union. The Proclamation would also prove to be a valuable precedent from which the Thirteenth Amendment (abolishing slavery) would find support. The Confederacy suffered severe losses of both territory and men in 1863. A provisional government in Wheeling, Virginia, rallied the support of fifty surrounding counties and seceded from the Confederacy, forming the state of West Virginia. The United States admitted the state soon afterwards. Also in 1863, Confederate General Robert E.

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Lee staged one last offensive against the Union at Gettysburg, PA. Again, the Union forces hold off the offensive, and Lee is forced to withdraw to Virginia. On the same day that Lee withdrew from Gettysburg, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, fell to a Union siege. The fall of Vicksburg returned full control of the Mississippi River to the Union, and divided the Confederacy in half, with strong Union armies expanding from the middle. The Confederacy was being torn down from the inside out.

In July of 1864, the Union Congress proposed the Wade-Davis Bill, which would have made reacceptance into the Union more difficult for the rebels who wished to set up provisional Union governments in occupied states. Lincoln defeated the bill by a pocket veto, meaning he kept the bill unsigned for ten days, whereafter the bill became invalid. This angered the “Radical Republicans” who wished to take revenge on the south for their atrocities, but allowed for the light Reconstruction policy which would eventually take effect at war’s end. Meanwhile, Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were making a name for themselves fighting the rebels. With the Confederacy split along the Mississippi River, Grant commanded Sherman to move eastward, cutting the eastern section in half again and further disabling their resistance. Sherman marched from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, burning and pillaging every city in his path, leaving only destruction in his wake.

On September 2, 1864, the city of Atlanta fell to Sherman’s forces. Sherman turned north to meet Grant, who was enjoying bittersweet success in his so-called “Wilderness Campaign”. Grant was moving southward from Maryland through northern and central Virginia, pursuing Lee’s retreating resistance force. Finally, Grant surrounds Lee’s army and beseiges Richmond and Petersburg. Meanwhile, the states of Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas established provisional governments under Lincoln’s ten-percent plan. Lincoln himself gained reelection in 1864 over George McClellan, the infamously inept Union general who had failed to win the Peninsular Campaign despite venturing within sight of Richmond, his eventual goal.

The Confederacy’s hopes of independence were finally defeated on April 9, 1865, when Lee, fleeing from Richmond, surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, VA, ending the war. Five days later, on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln while the president was watching a play in northern Virginia. Booth and everyone who allegedly aided or conspired with him were executed. Seemingly before Lincoln was cold in his grave, the radical Republicans tried to gain support of his successor, Andrew Johnson. However, Johnson’s policies on Reconstruction were more similar to the ten-percent plan imposed by Lincoln than the strict laws proposed by the radicals in Congress.

One issue both parties did agree on, however, was the abolition of slavery. While Union troops began the long and oppressive military occupation of the south, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in all United States territories and possessions. Tennessee’s new state government almost immediately ratified the amendment, and was freed from military control in 1865. The news was met with mixed feelings among both whites and blacks. The former slaveholders in the south now feared riots by mobs of vengeful blacks, and a “black rule” where former slaves made up a majority of the houses of Congress in the southern states. The blacks, while they enjoyed their freedom, were uncertain about the amendment’s effectiveness, and fearful that their rights would be restricted despite federal law. Though the whites’ fears of wide-scale racial violence were not immediately realized (those would not become reality for almost 100 years), the blacks’ fear of oppression began almost immediately.

In 1866, several southern states adopted”black codes”. While these new laws did grant blacks a few new rights (such as the right to testify in courts of law), they also restricted their involvement in almost every other activity, especially suffrage and labor. Abolitionists everywhere cried out against the black codes, deeming them a disguised reinstitution of slavery. President Johnson vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, which would have given the Bureau more power in enforcing blacks’ rights. Angered by Johnson’s opposition, the still dominant radical Republicans revised the bill and overrode another Johnson veto to finally make it law. Also, Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill, declaring that all blacks were legal citizens of the United States, and enjoyed all rights that citizenship entails. Later in 1866 was the proposal of the Fourteenth Amendment, which amplified the Civil Rights Bill and the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill.

Tennessee was again the first of the former Confederate states to ratify the amendment, and in 1866, was readmitted to the Union. Congress, with the Reconstruction Act of 1866, divided the remaining states into five “military districts”, and offers each state readmission if they follow Tennessee’s example and ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, over yet another veto from a now frantic and ineffective Johnson. In 1868, feeling his political influence waning all too quickly, Johnson tried to hamper Congress’s Reconstruction efforts by dismissing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. However, Congress had recently passed the Tenure of Office Act, which forbade any Senate-approved appointed official from being removed by the president without the consent of the Senate. Radicals and Democrats alike were delighted, because they thought they now had sufficient grounds to impeach Johnson. They quickly did so, but fell short of convicting Johnson of “high crimes and misdemeanors” by only a single vote.

Amidst the political turmoil in Washington, six former Confederate states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. Alabama, Arkansas, North and South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana all ratified the amendment and gained readmittance to the Union. However, military control was withdrawn only from Alabama, Arkansas, and North Carolina. In 1870, Congress proposed a Fifteenth Amendment, which revoked suffrage restrictions on the grounds of race. Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia, which had all been refused readmittance because of their unwillingness to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, now ratified both and were readmitted. Military control was withdrawn from all four, and the territorial Reconstruction of the United States was completed.

While the Reconstruction policies instituted by even the radicals were lenient, a feeling of extreme bitterness still prevailed among many southerners, especially in the deep south. Military control was not withdrawn from Florida until 1876, and South Carolina and Louisiana suffered Union occupation until 1877. The atrocities of some of the military deputies and their units, along with the racial tension between displaced whites and newly freed blacks, armed a time bomb between the races which built up strength for almost 100 years. The Civil War and the Reconstruction set a precedent for racial, territorial, and social prejudice which this country suffers from to this day.