South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER LIII
PRESIDENTIAL RECONSTRUCTION, 1865-1867

The Prostrate State. --To the people of South Carolina in 1865, exhausted by war and stunned by the overthrow of their economic and social system, the overwhelming facts were confusion and hardship. To the glory of military prowess a conquered people now added the dignity of quiet courage and self-respecting endurance of privation and humiliation. Men of aristocratic antecedents or public distinction sought any honest employment. Lieutenant-General Richard H. Anderson worked as a railroad-yard worker and died a phosphate inspector. For years ex-Confederate officers in Charleston drove street cars, and when their Negro passengers were too disagreeable would shake their heads in warning to ladies not to get on.

"What is that white woman doing here?" asked a Northern visitor looking on the file of Negroes drawing rations from the Charleston City Council's charity provisions, which the Federal authorities had taken over. "My dear sir," replied Mr. George W. Williams, the alderman in charge, "that woman four years ago was worth half a million dollars and lived in a mansion on the Battery." The cashier of the Bank of Charleston, he continued, came every day for his rice or meal. Actual hunger was found as late as 1867, and many formerly wealthy were for years undernourished. "Here," wrote Sidney Andrews, "is enough of woe and want and ruin to satisfy the most insatiate heart. . . . One marks how few young men there are, and how generally the young women are dressed in black."

The city of Charleston itself was a mournful spectacle. The wharves were rotting, the water front resembled a tangled marsh, grass grew in the leading streets, and blackened walls and chimneys stood as monuments of the terrible fires of 1861 to 1865 over water-filled cellars yawning like graves.

On this scene of desolation there descended a rejoicing party of Northern philanthropists to celebrate the raising of the United States flag by Major Anderson over Fort Sumter. Henry Ward Beecher delivered an oration recognizing the military virtues of the South, while mercilessly chastising her political theories, and prophesying, in some respects truly, the future of a remade South. The whole expedition

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