Four years after the war had started there, Charleston was in ruins in April 1865. “Any one who is not satisfied with war should go to Charleston,” General William Sherman said, “and he will pray louder and deeper than ever that, the country, in its long future be spared any more war.” (George N. Barnard/Library of Congress)
When lee’s army—exhausted, starving, and outnumbered—surrendered at Appomattox, the proceedings went remarkably smoothly. Generals Lee and Grant shook hands and signed articles of surrender, Lee gratefully accepted Grant’s offer of rations for his troops, and Grant prevented his men from cheering or firing celebratory salutes. “We did not want to exult over their downfall,” he later explained. “The war [was] over. The Rebels [were] our countrymen again.”
But the fall of the Confederacy meant the invalidation, all at once, of all authority in the South, and order inevitably broke down. In the final segment of his seven-part Atlantic series (see “A Rebel’s Recollections” for excerpts from his earlier installments), the former rebel soldier George Cary Eggleston described the chaos of the days following surrender, as marauders robbed, looted, and terrorized the countryside, and no police force, justice system, or municipal government had the authority to keep them in check. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the federal army came to the rescue, helping to reestablish order and “protect all quiet citizens.”—Sage Stossel
The end came, technically, at Appomattox, but of the real difficulties of the war the end was not yet. The trials and the perils of utter disorganization were still to be endured …
Our principal danger was from the lawless bands of marauders who infested the country, and our greatest difficulty in dealing with them lay in the utter absence of constituted authority of any sort. Our country was full of highwaymen,—not the picturesque highwaymen of whom fiction and questionable history tell us … but plain highwaymen of the most brutal description possible, and destitute even of the merit of presenting a respectable appearance … At the house of one of my friends where only ladies lived, a body of these men demanded dinner, which was given them. They then required the mistress of the mansion to fill their canteens with sorghum molasses, which they immediately proceeded to pour over the carpets and furniture of the parlor. Outrages of this kind and worse were of every-day enactment, and there was no remedy. There was no State, county, or municipal government in existence among us. We had no courts, no justices of the peace, no sheriffs, no officers of any kind invested with a shadow of authority, and there were not men enough in the community, at first, to resist the marauders, comparatively few of the surrendered soldiers having found their way home as yet. Those districts in which the Federal armies were stationed were peculiarly fortunate. The troops gave protection to the people, and the commandants of posts constituted a government able to enforce order, to which outraged or threatened people could appeal. But these favored sections were only a small part of the whole … As soon as it became evident [to the federal commanders] that we had no disposition to resist further, but were disposed rather to render such assistance as we could in restoring and maintaining order, everything was done which could be done to protect us. It is with a good deal of pleasure that I bear witness to the uniform disposition shown by such Federal officers as I came in contact with at this time, to protect all quiet citizens, to restore order, and to forward the interests of the community they were called upon to govern …
We governed the county in which we lived until the establishment of a military post at the county seat relieved us of the task, and the permission given us thus to stamp out lawlessness saved our people from the alternative of starvation or dependence upon the bounty of the government. It was seed-time, and without a vigorous maintenance of order our fields could not have been planted at all.
Read the full text of this article (originally titled “A Rebel’s Recollections”) here.