Reporting from the SHA: Defining Defeat—Three Approaches to Making Sense of Loss and the Confederate Experience

Reporting from the SHA: Defining Defeat—Three Approaches to Making Sense of Loss and the Confederate Experience

Historians had long analyzed the context of Confederate defeat during Reconstruction and the creation of the Lost Cause in the years after Reconstruction ended. This panel at the 2018 Southern Historical Association demonstrated that there are more avenues for historians to unpack the meanings of Confederate defeat and the building of the Lost Cause. The panelists were Amy L. Fluker (University of Mississippi), Ann L. Tucker (University of North Georgia), and Sarah K. Bowman (Columbus State University).

Read More

The 14th Amendment to Black New Orleans

The 14th Amendment to Black New Orleans

The 14th Amendment was a part of Reconstruction history, but its effects and interpretations are still being debated. It was meant to engage the four million formerly enslaved people with its prevailing morality – the language of equal justice after the Civil War. This was quite meaningful to the people of New Orleans who brought some of the first suits in the nation to uphold the rights of African descendants.

Read More

Historic Site Review: Frogmore Cotton Plantation, Natchez, MS

Historic Site Review: Frogmore Cotton Plantation, Natchez, MS

In the midst of conversation and debate about how to best interpret slavery at historic sites, I recently visited Frogmore Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. When my family signed up to take a tour of this working cotton plantation as part of our Mississippi River cruise, I was admittedly excited but with some trepidation. Viewing the experience through the historian’s lens, it could have been enlightening or terrible.

Read More

"In behalf of humanity:" Richard Etheridge, the U.S. Lifesaving Service, and Reconstruction

"In behalf of humanity:" Richard Etheridge, the U.S. Lifesaving Service, and Reconstruction

Within one hundred miles of Ft. Monroe, the catalyst for military emancipation under the command of Benjamin Butler, military operations along the coast of Virginia bled into North Carolina’s Outer Banks and had lasting implications for its seemingly small population.  Within this militarily and geographically dynamic area, Richard Etheridge would make a name for himself both as an advocate for Civil Rights and leader of the freedman’s population along the coast.

Read More

The Changing Face of Reconstruction

The Changing Face of Reconstruction

As we enter into the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction many historians are questioning how to re-interpret the period and present it to the public. From a lay perspective history is often seen as stagnant, made up of names, dates, and facts to be learned and recited. But in reality, the understanding of history shifts and changes as new evidence is uncovered or a new interpretation is adopted. In historian lingo this is called historiography, essentially the history of how history has been understood and presented in the past. In terms of Reconstruction, there has been a wide swing of scholarship in the last century.

Read More

Reporting from the Southern Historical Association: The Boundaries of Reconstruction

Reporting from the Southern Historical Association: The Boundaries of Reconstruction

What are the boundaries of Reconstruction and how can historians redefine them? This was the subject of a roundtable session at the Southern featuring Stephen Hahn, Stacy L. Smith, Elliott West, and Heather C. Richardson as panelists. Historians usually define the period of Reconstruction as 1865-1877 where Americans rebuilt the country and racial relations after the Civil War and most equate the end of Reconstruction with the destruction of black civil rights in the south. These historians challenged the audience to rethink the meanings of Reconstruction. 

Read More

The Reconstruction of Billy Mahone

The Reconstruction of Billy Mahone

The descriptions of him are priceless.  “He looked the image of a bantam rooster or a gamecock,” recalled a veteran.  Perhaps it was his odd dress:  “He wore a large sombrero hat, without plume, cocked on one side, and decorated with a division badge; he had a hunting-shirt of gray…while he wore boots, his trousers cover them; those boots were as small as a woman’s.”  Or perhaps he was just plain odd, “the sauciest-looking manikin imaginable” and “the oddest and daintiest little specimen.”  His five-foot stature and frail 125 pound frame didn’t help.

William "Billy" Mahone was a genuine character, and his life was as unique as his stature.  Although a rising star in the Army of Northern Virginia by the end of the war, his post-war political career in the darkness of Reconstruction and Redemption is perhaps his true shining moment.  “Bantam” Billy Mahone revealed his character not only as a fighter on the battlefield, but as a progressive on the political stage. 

Read More

Sanitary Measure or Unchecked Despotism? The Fourteenth Amendment, the Slaughter-House Cases, and Radical Reconstruction

Sanitary Measure or Unchecked Despotism? The Fourteenth Amendment, the Slaughter-House Cases, and Radical Reconstruction

How does the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution relate to a group of disgruntled butchers? In 1873, the United States Supreme Court struggled to answer exactly this question.

Perhaps no image better captured the tumultuous and confused nature of the Reconstruction Era than former Supreme Court Justice John Campbell during the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases. A former slave owner who served as the Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy, Campbell oddly found himself arguing against states rights in an attempt to overturn a Louisiana state statute. When the Reconstructionist, Republican-dominated legislature of Louisiana incorporated all the slaughterhouses within New Orleans, giving a single company the exclusive right to slaughter within the city, no one expected the butcher’s protests to lead to the first interpretation of the new Fourteenth Amendment by the nation’s highest court. Campbell, however, quickly saw an opportunity.

Read More