Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshall H Twitchell in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshall H Twitchell in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Article excerpt

Edge of the Sword: The Ordeal of Carpetbagger Marshall H. Twitchell in the Civil War and Reconstruction. By Ted Tunnell. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. Pp. xiii, 326. Acknowledgments, abbreviations, introduction, bibliography, index. $34.95.)

Carpetbagger. Even to this day, the term has a negative connotation, implying someone who comes from outside to exploit a difficult local situation to his or her advantage. But Ted Tunnell believes that it should be otherwise. He is not alone. The usual stereotype-the greasy Yankee opportunist who came south during and after the Civil War, with all his worldly goods (probably a change of dirty clothes) in a carpetbag valise, "like vultures" (p. 2) to pick dry the bones of the defeated Dixie-has been under constant attack by historians, until one might believe that no such person could possibly have existed. Tunnell bemoans the fact that this false characterization is still used to justify illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral treatment of African Americans. Although he "did not conceive this book as an exercise in carpetbagger rehabilitation," he would "be pleased if that is the result." The reader might be pleasantly surprised, then, that Tunnell does not replace the word "carpetbagger" with the term "outside white," as do many other historians nowadays.

Tunnell could not have picked a better man to illustrate his point than Marshall Twitchell, a Vermonter turned Louisianan. Twitchell is not exactly unknown, as Tunnell admits, citing at least nine prior works, including his own edited edition of Twitchell's autobiography. But except for Jimmy Shoalmire's unpublished biography (a 1969 dissertation at Southern Mississippi University), Twitchell usually appears as an incidental character. With the appearance of Tunnell's well-written and wonderfully researched study, this is no longer the case. Tunnell follows Twitchell's life from his birth in Vermont in 1840, through his childhood on a hardscrabble farm, to his combat service in the 4th Vermont Volunteer Infantry, and his transfer to the U.S. Colored Infantry.

Sent to Texas for occupation duty along the Rio Grande, Twitchell was pulled out of the regiment at Indianola and sent to New Orleans because of a toothache. In the Crescent City, he joined the Freedmen's Bureau. Several agencies were open. Twitchell chose an isolated spot in the Red River valley near Shreveport, where he met Adele Coleman, a local planter's daughter. Initial animus turned to love, and ultimately they were wed, overcoming her parents' vehement objections.

Twitchell took his army money-he had saved nearly all of it-and bought land, becoming a cotton planter. By the time Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts, Twitchell was both the only white trusted by local blacks and connected to the governing class through his wife's family. Bienville Parish sent him to the state constitutional convention in New Orleans. He ran for parish judge, lost the election and only to see his opponent disqualified under the constitution Twitchell had helped write.

It is here (pp. 133-134) that Tunnell makes the most important comment in his volume, one that has relevance for every southern state, including Arkansas. What Twitchell and other Republicans failed to see was that their centralized control of the governmental election apparatus raised the issue at the heart of Reconstruction-legitimacy. They tried to correct the wrongdoings of whites against blacks at the polls with a bit of crookedness of their own. It was called the returning board, appointed by the governor. …

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