Academic journal article Military Review

After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War

Academic journal article Military Review

After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War

Article excerpt


Military Occupation and the Ends of War

Gregory P. Downs, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2015, 352 pages

Over the past century, reconstruction has been approached as political, legal, economic, and, most recently, as social history. In this very important book, Professor Gregory P. Downs reminds us that it is also military history, because reconstruction was primarily the military occupation of the South. While he does not disregard the vociferous political debates in Washington, Downs puts the Army front and center in the story of reconstruction. In doing so, he goes well beyond merely updating James Sefton's The United States Army and Reconstruction, 1865-1877. He illuminates the problematic role of coercion in shaping political and social change.

Downs demonstrates that in both legal and practical terms, the Civil War did not end in April 1865. He argues that between "battle time" and "peacetime," 1865 to 1871 was a period of "postsurrender wartime" After Appomattox, both President Andrew Johnson and Congress continued to use war powers to justify reconstruction and its military intrusion into civil governance in the South. The fight between the president and the Congress over control of the army of occupation resulted in Johnson's impeachment, congressional assumption of war powers, and the continuation of war for three more years.

Downs makes a compelling case that the "war" officially ended in 1871 when Congress permitted the seating of a Georgia delegation, the last representatives from a Confederate state to be seated. White Southern violence of course did not end after 1871, and the Grant administration had to rely on civil-rights legislation and not war powers to enforce federal authority. Federal courts and marshals did not have the same impact as military commissions and martial law on an unreconstructed South. The war continued with peacetime rules, and by 1877, ex-Confederates had "redeemed" the South.

Downs makes an important point that both the size and the disposition of the army mattered. As the Army reduced its strength, especially cavalry, it consolidated its posts into cities and major towns. …

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