The Freedmen's Bureau and Reconstruction: Reconsiderations

By Paul A. Cimbala; Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview

5
The Personnel of the
Freedmen's Bureau in
Arkansas

Randy Finley

LOCAL AGENTS of the Freedmen's Bureau in Arkansas entered their offices with varied pasts and diverse ideologies. Some agents did anything necessary to impress their superiors to maintain their positions in an army that had slashed personnel at the end of the Civil War, whereas others held deep-seated sympathies or antipathies toward blacks. As some agents tentatively brokered new relationships with freedpeople and planters, others helped planters to regain power. Some agents actively pursued a radical agenda and hoped to transform Arkansas, but other more conservative agents did little and wished only to maintain order and restore a black workforce to the cotton fields. Many agents embraced a pragmatism that recognized the Bureau as a temporary agency, and they acknowledged that it could address only the most fundamental conflicts between newly freed blacks and whites. To capture the complexity, confusion, promise, and disillusionment that was Reconstruction in Arkansas, as elsewhere, it is essential to focus on the role of local Bureau agents. By examining closely the beliefs and behavior of agents in one setting, it becomes possible to untangle the motivations that fueled their behavior toward the conquered Confederates and the emancipated blacks in Arkansas and to suggest how their experiences reflected those of others across the South.

Bureau Chief General Oliver Otis Howard recalled that "Arkansas was a difficult state to reconstruct, and progress, especially in the line of justice, was slow enough." The physical distance from Washington, D.C.; the still frontier-like conditions of much of the state;

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