The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research

By Robin Higham; Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview
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41 Southern Occupation

Richard M. Zuczek

In "The American Experience with Military Government," published in 1944, Ralph Gabriel, professor of history at Yale, devoted a single paragraph to the army's role in the Southern states following the Civil War. Yet in that paragraph lay a sentence laden with unexplored potential: "The rule of the generals in the South was one of the longer American experiences with military government." Although the accuracy of the statement is questionable--the generals never exercised complete power, nor did their "rule" last very long--Gabriel's comment focused attention on a glaring gap in the Civil War literature. Soon a new breed of scholars, reared in the era of World War II and Korea, began to examine postwar developments and military occupation. The civil rights movement served as another catalyst; questions of blacks' place in American society, and the Federal government's role in creating and protecting that place, were once again pressing issues. As America embarked on its second Reconstruction, it seemed only natural to reach back for lessons and leftovers from the first.

This is not to say that recent years have seen a flood of books on the military during Reconstruction. Only one scholarly overview of the army's role in the postwar South has been published: James Sefton The United States Army and Reconstruction, 1865-1877 ( 1968). As one might imagine with a study covering the entire South in the Reconstruction period, there are gaps in coverage. The focus is on the military's role in enforcing civil policy from 1865 to 1868; Sefton bypasses wartime Reconstruction, which he believed was "fundamentally different" from the postwar, and treats postreadmission years only briefly. Even with these limitations, Sefton can provide only anecdotal examples as he scans across years and states. Still, The United States Army and Reconstruction does

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