Antoinette G van Zelm. Civil War: People and Perspectives. Editor: Lisa Tendrich Frank. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
Civilians who lived in occupied or invaded territory experienced the Civil War firsthand. For at least a few moments, they shared some of the fear and exhilaration that accompanied soldiers into battle. Most civilians would never forget the day the war came to their front door. Beyond understanding that they were living through a momentous event in their lives, civilians had varied reactions to invasion and occupation. Age, sex, color, socioeconomic status, political inclination, and war-weariness influenced how individuals responded as the home front became a battlefront.
The Consequences of Union Occupation
Most of the civilians who experienced invasion and occupation lived in the Confederacy. For most of the white residents of the South, the invading enemy was the Union Army. These civilians deeply resented the coming of Union forces. Still, a significant minority of white Southerners were Unionists and welcomed the Yankees. Most of the Confederacy’s black residents, slave and free, cheered the arrival of Union troops as well.
Residents of the Border States, who were sharply divided over the war, also experienced occupation by Union forces throughout the conflict. Incursions by Confederate troops took place occasionally and had the support of Southern sympathizers in these areas. Northerners in towns like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Sharpsburg, Maryland, also experienced invasion by Confederate forces.
Invasion and occupation by Union troops presented Southern civilians with both challenges and opportunities. With the threat of invasion came the difficult decision of whether to stay or go. Confederate supporters had to choose whether to remain at home and try to protect their property or to leave home and become refugees deeper within the Confederacy. With invasion came the dire prospect of witnessing the carnage of battle or even getting caught in the crossfire. The arrival of Union troops signaled freedom for many enslaved civilians, who took advantage of the opportunity to leave slavery behind.
Occupation brought new rules and regulations governing everyday life, and Union authorities eventually tightened these restrictions to clamp down on Confederate civilians’ active support for the Rebel war effort. Perhaps most significant, occupying troops looked to civilians to provide them with food and shelter. The occupiers generally took what they needed, leaving Confederate supporters and even many Unionists with significant grievances against the Yankee troops.
Relatively little Confederate territory came under Union control in 1861. The land held by the Yankees existed on the fringes of the Confederacy and consisted mostly of western Virginia and coastal islands along the shores of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In these areas, local civilians became guinea pigs, as the army and government officials worked out the policies and procedures that would guide the early years of occupation.
Perhaps inevitable in a war fought over the issue of the expansion of slavery, some of the first residents of the Confederacy to live under occupation forces in large numbers were slaves themselves. When Union troops invaded Port Royal Sound along the South Carolina coast in November 1861, most white residents of the Sea Islands fled to the mainland. Most of the local slaves stayed behind; many of them refused to become refugees with their owners, and some paid a high price when they were beaten or even killed. One contemporary estimate held that close to 10,000 slaves lived on the Sea Islands at the time of the Union invasion. These slaves were soon joined by others, who were escaping the lowcountry plantations of the mainland. One slave family left a Savannah River rice plantation during the night. The grandmother of the family successfully steered them to a federal gunboat. “‘My God! are we free?’” she exclaimed when her family’s boat touched the Union vessel (Schwalm 1997, 95).
Late in 1861 and early in 1862, another key group of civilians to live under Union occupation within the Confederacy began to arrive. Northern teachers came to areas of coastal Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to assist the former slaves living under Union occupation. These teachers, most of whom were unmarried women from the New England states, performed varied tasks. Sponsored by secular and religious societies, the teachers did much more than give lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also provided moral instruction, medical care, sewing lessons, and advice on conduct, dress, child care, and household organization. In addition, these Northerners distributed donated clothes among the ex-slaves and supervised black field workers on occupied plantations. By war’s end, there would be about 900 such teachers working in the former Confederacy.
As President Abraham Lincoln sought to shore up support in the Border States in 1861 and early 1862, Union troops occupied areas of Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. While Unionists welcomed the Yankees with flag presentations and other demonstrations of support, Confederate partisans expressed their disdain for the occupiers. In Maryland, for example, tensions quickly arose between civilians and Union troops. In Baltimore, where there was considerable secessionist sentiment, the Union Army attempted unsuccessfully to stifle Confederate support. Not allowed to display Confederate flags or banners, residents found other ways to demonstrate their loyalties. Women wore ribbons and bows that reflected their leanings. Similarly, girls clothed themselves and their dolls in Confederate colors. Defiantly, on July 4, 1861, about 70 boys who supported the Confederacy went to a Union encampment and paraded around with a homemade Confederate flag.
Beginning in February 1862, the Union Army began to take over significant pieces of the Confederacy, particularly in the Western theater of the war. By spring, the Union would claim the cities of Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, and surrounding regions; Norfolk and areas of southeastern Virginia; and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Also in Union hands were footholds in coastal Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, as well as parts of northern Alabama, Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and northern Virginia. The anticipated arrival of Union troops provoked turmoil, fear, and uncertainty within the Confederacy. John McCline, an enslaved boy who lived outside of Nashville during the war, later described the evacuation of Tennessee’s capital by the Confederates in February 1862: “The fact that they seemed so frightened and helpless left us under the impression that the yankee was an exceedingly dangerous foe” (Furman 1998, 43). Indeed, even before they laid eyes on any Yankee troops, many Confederate supporters viewed them as a depraved bunch. As sectional tensions had mounted during the antebellum period, people in the North and those in the South adopted severely distorted and highly stereotypical views of each other. In the minds of many Southerners, Northerners were greedy, worldly, selfish, and ruthless.
Southern Civilians and the Union Army
Before civilians saw the Yankees, they usually heard them coming. The bellow of artillery and the rumble of wagon trains signaled the arrival of Union troops for the residents of invaded areas. Families who lived near the battle front also heard the sounds of maiming and death—the movement of ambulances and the cries of the dying, wounded, and sick. Many civilians could not quite believe what they were hearing. John C. Spence of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, described his neighbors as “never once dreaming that they should ever hear the roar of cannon, the rattle of muskets, or the groans of the dying” (Spence 1993, 10).
As Union forces captured Confederate territory in 1862, more and more civilians came face to face with the horrors of war. In battle zones, the distinction between soldier and civilian often disintegrated. Townspeople in Murfreesboro found themselves in the line of fire on July 13, 1862, when Confederate colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry attacked the occupation forces. A young girl was shot in the face. Several major battles with horrific numbers of casualties took place in 1862, particularly late in the year. The bloody reality of the war came home to all civilians, North and South, but perhaps especially to those who witnessed the carnage. The mind-numbing death and destruction at Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Stones River shocked and saddened civilians. Makeshift hospitals sprang up everywhere as severely wounded men overwhelmed the communities near these battlefields. Civilians helped care for the wounded in homes, schools, churches, hotels, stores, and public buildings. Marylanders who lived in and near the town of Sharpsburg did their best to cope with what would be the bloodiest day of the entire war, with 22,719 casualties at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.
In 1861 and most of 1862, Union troops took a relatively lenient stance toward the civilians in occupied areas. President Lincoln and many other Northerners believed that most residents of the South had simply been duped by their slaveholding leaders into supporting the Confederacy and that, with benevolent treatment, these everyday citizens would soon change their allegiance.
Despite the relative leniency of early occupation, Confederate supporters chafed under Yankee rule. They resented the sounds of the occupation troops, from drilling to shouting and drinking. Union troops sometimes rang bells in occupied towns to signal Union victory; the prospect of such an eventuality prompted residents of Charleston, South Carolina, to send their bells inland to Columbia. Many Confederate civilians did not shy away from letting the Yankees know what they thought of them. Confederate supporters in New Orleans rained down insults on Union troops when they entered the city in May 1862. Residents shared with the soldiers their fervent hope that the yellow fever would soon take many of the occupiers away to what they saw as deserved early graves. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, resident Mattie Ready vocally defended the Confederate cause to Union officers who occupied the town. Ready’s outspoken defense of Kentucky cavalryman John Hunt Morgan to Yankee officers in the summer of 1862 got back to Morgan, and the two were married that December.
To the chagrin of Confederate supporters, romances between Union occupiers and Confederate women developed occasionally as well. Women who fraternized with Union troops did so knowing that they would likely be ostracized and threatened by family members and neighbors.
Because of the battle front’s unrelenting demand for Confederate soldiers, the Southern home front increasingly became a female world. Women thus played an important role in the reception of Yankee troops in occupied areas. Union general Benjamin Butler quickly recognized this in New Orleans. Butler, whose hard-line policies governing civilian life in the Crescent City in 1862 presaged the adoption of harsher occupation terms throughout the occupied South, issued his infamous General Order Number 28 to stifle the vitriol directed at Union troops by Confederate women. Butler’s order stated that women who insulted Union officers and soldiers would be treated as prostitutes. Although Butler’s threat succeeded in making life more comfortable for his troops, he became a pariah among Confederate Southerners, who called him “Beast” Butler. His rigid control of civilian life prompted numerous complaints to his superiors, and President Lincoln replaced him late in 1862.
Although the harshness of Butler’s rule stands out among occupied territory in the first few years of the war, Confederate supporters in all Union-held areas found themselves being governed by an alien authority that intended to regulate some of their activities. Tensions arose between civilians and Union occupiers, for example, over the payment of taxes, the confiscation of land, and the oath of allegiance, which was required of civilians who wanted to carry on their businesses or professions.
Because President Lincoln wanted commerce and agriculture to continue on a limited basis in Union-occupied territory, he encouraged Congress to pass laws to allow for the use of lands within Union-held areas. In June 1862, Congress instituted a real estate tax for residents of occupied areas. U.S. officials could confiscate the lands of planters who could not pay their taxes. The next month, Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act, which authorized federal troops to confiscate and make use of property that was being used to support the Confederacy, as well as the property of Confederate officers, officials, and active supporters.
The U.S. Treasury Department oversaw the leasing of abandoned and confiscated land within the Confederacy. The land could be leased to Northerners, loyal Southerners, and individuals of dubious loyalty who partnered with Unionists. At the same time, the Union military wanted to use some of the lands within occupied areas to support the occupation forces. Consequently, land confiscation not only resulted in friction between occupiers and civilians but also among the occupiers themselves.
As the number of Union forces in occupied areas of the Confederacy rose to more than 350,000 by mid-1862, civilians found their farms, plantations, and homes subject to the army’s voracious appetite for food and supplies. Both Confederates and Unionists lost goods and property to the Union Army during the war. Some property was confiscated officially, some was taken unofficially, and some was destroyed simply for the sake of destruction. Troops not infrequently took more than they needed; some looted simply to get revenge on secessionists or for amusement. On the Hoggatt family plantation near Nashville in 1862, Union troops who were camped nearby killed livestock and dismantled rail fences for firewood. John McCline, a slave on the plantation, saw his owner and the plantation’s overseer begging the soldiers to spare the animals, but their pleas fell on deaf ears until a general arrived on the scene. Mr. Hoggatt assured the soldiers he was a Unionist, but his slave doubted that they believed this.
Civilians very often had to fulfill the basic need of the ever-growing Union occupation forces for food. Kibbie Gardenhire, who was a young girl in rural Middle Tennessee during the war, perhaps summed it up best when she recalled in her memoir: “When they would say the Yankees were coming we would not know what to expect, whether someone would be killed, the house burned or what would happen, but there was one thing sure, they had to be fed” (Gardenhire, “Memoir,” 9).
Relations between occupying troops and civilians deteriorated as 1862 progressed. Confederate successes on the battlefield emboldened Southerners who opposed Yankee rule. Many residents of occupied Tennessee, for example, believed that the Confederate Army might reclaim their state. This hope fueled civilian resistance. Residents of occupied areas smuggled, spied, and adopted guerilla warfare tactics.
Military reversals for the Union in the second half of 1862, along with continued resistance to Yankee occupation by Confederate civilians, hardened soldiers against the Confederacy and all of its inhabitants. In December 1862, the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia was accompanied by the looting of civilians’ houses and the destruction of their personal property by Union troops. Soldiers helped themselves to books, bedding, china, clothing, furniture, children’s toys, food, paintings, silver, glasses, and musical instruments. What the troops did not use or keep they destroyed, littering the streets with civilians’ possessions. One resident of the town reported, “I can tell you much better what they left, than what they destroyed” (Rable 2002b, 100). Such callous behavior by Union troops enraged civilians and Confederate soldiers. The Union soldiers’ actions only fed Confederate civilians’ negative views of Yankees. Some of the Union forces themselves were appalled and saddened by the sack of the town. Others among the invaders sought to justify their actions, in part by blaming the Rebels for initiating the war in the first place.
Newfound Freedom for Slaves
The tangible loss of provisions and personal property angered Confederate civilians in occupied areas, but the presence of Union troops wreaked havoc in other ways as well. Tensions rose within households and between neighbors. Kate Carney of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wrote in her diary of the disquiet generated by Yankee occupation. Slaveholders were growing increasingly distrustful of their slaves, she noted, and personal antagonisms were breaking out between former friends.
Slaveholders’ distrust of their slaves was well-justified, especially as the war progressed. The disruption of the war and the arrival of Union troops served as a catalyst for the South’s slaves, causing them to reconsider their position and their options. On occupied Craney Island near Norfolk, Virginia, an escaped slave named Nancy told missionary Lucy Chase that she had been content in her relationship with her mistress—until the Union Army got close. The demise of slavery came about because slaves like Nancy took advantage of the new developments taking place around them to claim their freedom.
The lives of slaves changed dramatically just with the threat of invasion by Union troops. Some slave owners simply sold their slaves, for fear of getting nothing in return for such valuable investments. Others moved their slaves south or to interior areas of the Confederacy. Some slaves also became refugees with their owners, often moving more than once in the course of the war.
Accustomed to watching and listening closely, slaves immediately perceived changes ushered in by the war. The bondpeople noticed the anxiety of their owners and the disruption of everyday routines. They listened for the approach of Union troops and quickly learned the location of Union camps. Some slaves began celebrating as soon as they knew that Union troops were nearby. Others waited until they actually saw the Yankees in person.
Slaves had to decide whether to break for Union lines and the unknown or to stay put and see how the war played out. U.S. policy toward escaped slaves evolved as the war progressed. In August 1861, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act, which allowed for the confiscation of slaves working for the Confederacy. The Second Confiscation Act of July 1862 declared free all slaves who entered Union lines and who had been owned by Confederate masters. That same month, the Militia Act freed the mothers, wives, and children of men who had left their Confederate owners and joined the Union forces. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued in September 1862, and the final version of January 1863 mandated the enforcement of the Second Confiscation Act by military personnel.
Slave owners tried various tactics to discourage their slaves from leaving to join Union forces. John McCline’s mistress gave the slaves on her plantation near Nashville Confederate money, perhaps to counter the blankets and clothing the Union troops were distributing to her slaves. Slave women on the plantation were also working for the soldiers on their own time and receiving pay in return. Susie King Taylor, who was a young slave in Savannah, Georgia, when the war broke out, recalled: “The whites would tell their colored people not to go to the Yankees, for they would harness them to carts and make them pull the carts around, in place of horses” (Taylor 1904/1968, 7). Taylor’s grandmother assured her that these were just scare tactics. Taylor soon escaped to St. Catherine Island with her uncle’s family. Like Taylor, many slaves who escaped to Union lines traveled in family groups. Those who left home as individuals tended to be young men. A simple invitation by a passing Union soldier to come up North and be free convinced young John McCline to leave slavery behind near Nashville in December 1862.
Escaping to Union lines could be dangerous. Fanny Wright, who became a regimental laundress, lost a child to a sniper’s bullet when escaping to Union lines at Port Royal, off the South Carolina coast. En route to St. Simon’s Island off the Georgia coast on a Union gunboat in 1862, Susie King Taylor remembered hiding between decks when a slave owner sailed up looking for his bondpeople.
Even within Union lines, safety was not ensured. Particularly early in the war, slave owners often showed up at Union camps to claim their former slaves. Taylor recalled that the ex-slaves on St. Simon’s stuck close to their quarters, for fear of being captured by former slave owners. In Kentucky, one teenage female slave disguised herself as a soldier to evade her owner when he came looking for her. The Union soldiers for whom she cooked helped her in this ruse. In many other cases, the Union military was not so welcoming. Some Union officers helped Unionist slaveholders reclaim their escaped slaves.
Obviously, slaves who successfully escaped to Union territory wanted to be free. They also sought to avoid some of the trauma associated with the Confederate home front during wartime, including the breakup of families as owners moved slaves around, raids by hungry troops, and hunger as shortages mounted within the Confederacy by late in 1862.
Important developments in 1863 influenced civilian life in Union-occupied areas. Perhaps most significant, the Union Army began to enlist and heavily recruit black soldiers. This turning point encouraged more slaves to escape, particularly young men but also entire families. In 1863, Yankee rule also became more oppressive for Confederate supporters who lived in occupied areas. Authorities replaced the conciliatory policy of the early war years by stricter controls and far less tolerance for expressions of dissent.
As the recruitment of black soldiers and the capture of additional Confederate territory increased the number of slaves escaping to Union lines, the Union military found itself unprepared to deal with the number of refugees. Some commanders simply refused to let women and children into camp. In one of the most notorious instances of egregious behavior against the families of black soldiers, military authorities at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, expelled about 400 women and children during bitterly cold weather in November 1864. Although the families were allowed to return several days later, many died or became chronically ill. As late as 1865, soldiers in the Sixtieth U.S. Colored Infantry, stationed in Helena, Arkansas, had to get permission from their company commanders for their wives to join them.
Families of black soldiers received some assistance with basic necessities from Union military officials in occupied areas. In December 1863, for example, General Benjamin Butler issued General Order Number 46 requiring that black soldiers mustered into units in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina receive certificates of subsistence for their families to bring to Union officials. Referring to Butler’s order, Ann Sumner of Portsmouth, Virginia, wrote to the general in February 1864 and told him that she was having trouble getting officials to supply her with some much-needed wood.
Authorities were reluctant to give too much aid. They feared encouraging dependence, and most believed that ex-slave women should work to help support their families. Many slave women who had escaped got relief work in Union-occupied towns and at Union encampments. Many such women worked as cooks and washerwomen. Others did basic custodial work, sewed for the men, or sold them baked goods. With the formation of black regiments, black women found additional opportunities. Women who worked for black regiments could take on more responsibility than black women who worked for white regiments. At the Benton Barracks Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, for example, black women worked as nurses in the hospital’s black ward. Susie King Taylor, officially a regimental laundress for the Thirty-third U.S. Colored Troops, nursed, taught, and even cleaned guns.
Other ex-slave women worked as field hands on lands confiscated by the federal government. Some of the newly freed began their own businesses, including hotels, groceries, and brothels. Others, responding to the eagerness for education among former slaves of all ages, learned enough to become teachers themselves. The famous Harriet Tubman, who served as a Union spy and nurse at Beaufort, South Carolina, during the war, set up a wash-house where women could learn to wash and gain some independence.
Some escaped slaves initially lived in contraband camps, which were temporary settlements in occupied areas. In these camps, the ex-slaves lived in tents, shanties, abandoned houses, cabins, former barracks, and lean-tos. Contraband camps quickly became overcrowded; exposure to the elements and poor sanitary conditions led to high rates of disease and death. Consumption, pneumonia, and smallpox claimed many victims. With the great demand for ex-slave men as military laborers and soldiers, contraband camps were largely populated by women, children, and the elderly. The cycle of life continued for these families, despite the many challenges they faced. Residents of contraband camps recreated aspects of their slave communities, cultivating small plots of land by daylight and gathering in the evenings to sing, dance, pray, sew, and gossip. Midwives served contraband camps in Helena, Arkansas, and on Edisto Island off the South Carolina coast. Some women started orphanages in the camps, as in Clarksville, Tennessee, and on President’s Island in the Mississippi River. In Beaufort, South Carolina, Harriet Tubman appears to have run a soup kitchen for the poor.
One of the most disappointing aspects of freedom for former slaves likely was the treatment that some received from Union soldiers and officers. In June 1863, contrabands in Maryland suffered when members of the Second Maryland Infantry Regiment raided their tents, stealing from the former slaves and beating them. Many black women suffered from sexual assaults by white Union soldiers and officers. On the Sea Islands, women were shot for refusing sexual advances, and mothers were beaten for trying to shield their daughters. Similarly, laundresses at Fort Jackson, Louisiana, tried unsuccessfully to resist a group of officers who targeted the women for sexual harassment over several nights.
Despite these hardships, the desire for schooling among the former slaves thrived during the war. Although teachers from the North played an important role, indigenous efforts abounded as well. In Tennessee, African Americans began the first wartime schools in the fall of 1862. In many Union-occupied areas, Northern teachers helped former slaves make the transition to freedom. In addition to the instruction and care that the teachers provided, they also gave ex-slaves other kinds of support. Teachers in occupied areas encouraged former slaves to marry and tried to help them reunite with their families. Although military officials often viewed slave women and their families as a nuisance at best, female teachers showed particular solicitude for women and their families. These teachers condemned the sexual abuse of ex-slave women and girls by Union officers and soldiers. Women teachers also lamented the Union Army’s impressment of slave men, echoing the protests of ex-slave women.
The presence of women teachers in Union-occupied areas signaled to many newly emancipated slaves that freedom would be different from slavery. Former slaves appreciated the assistance they received from Northern teachers. However, they also usually encountered some of the same attitudes of possessiveness and control that they had long endured from Southern whites. Northern teachers, for example, became easily exasperated with former slaves and felt superior to them in terms of class and race. In addition, most Northern teachers promoted family stability for the ex-slaves, and also believed that freedwomen as well as men should work for wages.
The rapidly increasing demise of slavery in and near Union-occupied areas during 1863 rankled Confederate supporters, as well as Unionist slaveholders. Slaves who had not left used the threat of escape to negotiate better working conditions. Some slaves refused to carry out certain types of work; others came and went as they pleased. Slaveholders struggled to keep their farms and businesses going.
The Firm Grip of Union Occupation
Nonslaveholders had an even more difficult time feeding their families than the wealthier slaveholders because they had fewer resources to draw on when their farms were besieged by Union troops. Foraging, both official and unofficial, devastated many rural families. Living off the land was an essential component, for example, of General Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign from May to July of 1863. Residents of Union-occupied rural areas often did not have enough to eat during the closing years of the war.
In addition, there were never enough troops to enforce Union control on a daily basis beyond garrisoned towns and cities, thus a dangerous power vacuum developed throughout the countryside. Beset by guerillas, Union stragglers, and simple thugs, rural occupied areas descended into chaos in the later years of the war. Community relations broke down completely as county governments ceased operations and as rural churches and stores closed. Vicious cycles of violence ensued between Unionists and Confederate supporters in such areas as western Tennessee and northwestern Arkansas. The bitterness engendered by guerilla activity would last long after the war ended.
Civilians who lived in Union-garrisoned towns and cities also saw their lives become more difficult in 1863. Occupation forces cracked down on active resistance with arrests, house burnings, and executions. In many towns and cities, military authorities instituted stricter oath policies, with those who refused to take the oath of allegiance sent beyond Union lines.
The Union Army’s unrelenting assault on the Confederacy in 1863 introduced the hard hand of war to more Southern civilians. The Vicksburg campaign included the burning of Jackson, Mississippi, in May 1863. The siege of Vicksburg lasted from late in May to early July, trapping many civilians within the city. Many sought to protect themselves from the shelling by hiding in cellars and hillside caves. Little drinking water or food remained by the time the Confederates finally surrendered on July 4. Union forces distributed bacon and hardtack to starving civilians. At the same time, the troops celebrated their Independence Day victory with music and gunshots, to the chagrin of Vicksburg residents, who would not celebrate the Fourth again until the 1940s.
Many civilians lived in areas that changed hands several times during the war. Eliza Anderson Fain, who lived near Rogersville in northeastern Tennessee, recorded in her diary the comings and goings of Union troops from September 1863 until the end of the war. Fain, a Confederate supporter who had a husband and sons in the Rebel forces, nonetheless shared food with soldiers from both armies. A devout Presbyterian, she also passed out religious tracts to men on both sides. One evening in October 1863, a Union major from the 65th Indiana Regiment dined at the Fains’s home. He said grace before the meal, and Eliza later recorded in her diary: “Oh to think Christian is arrayed against Christian in this struggle almost breaks my heart” (Stowell 2000, 161). As the war wore on, the Fains and many other families had less and less to eat for themselves. Foraging by the armies and wartime shortages depleted the Fains’ resources so much that by May 1864 Eliza had to ask a neighbor to share some meat with her family. Later that year, she suffered another loss when the minister of her church became a refugee. From August 1864 to March 1865, she had no services to attend.
For Confederate supporters like Fain, 1864 brought disappointment and misery. Like residents of Vicksburg the year before, civilians in Atlanta endured the incessant shelling of a Union siege. People dug pits in their backyards and used metal sheets and railroad ties to erect roofs over the holes. Despite these precautions, 20 civilians were killed during the siege. When it ended with the city’s surrender in September, General William T. Sherman’s troops evacuated the civilians who had not yet left the city. Sherman’s forces then destroyed the railroads and war industries, and many houses burned down as a result.
As more and more Confederate territory came under Union control, and as the number of refugees entering Union-held areas mounted, the federal government strained to assist civilians. The Nashville contraband camp, for example, was overwhelmed late in 1864 as Confederate general John Bell Hood’s troops invaded Middle Tennessee.
Guerilla warfare continued to wreak havoc in rural areas of the occupied South in 1864. In particular, residents of Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee suffered terribly from this irregular warfare. Confederate guerillas raided Union outposts. John Singleton Mosby, who commanded the Forty-third Virginia Partisan Ranger Battalion, was one of the most successful guerilla leaders. In Union-held north-central Virginia from 1863 to 1865, his unit attacked railroads, bridges, supply wagons, and telegraph lines. In Kentucky, John Hunt Morgan conducted many similar raids behind Union lines.
Civilians often found themselves caught in the middle. Guerillas burned the contraband camp in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1864. In East Tennessee, Unionist bushwhackers threatened the Fain family farm in the closing year of the war. Early in April 1865, they stole food, a horse, and silver from the Fains’ already depleted resources. Lizette Woodworth Reese, who lived north of Baltimore for most of the war, later wrote about the fear she experienced when caught between both sides. Reese’s home was located near a Union encampment that was often visited by Confederate raiders. “Between the blue forces and the gray we were ground between two millstones of terror,” she recalled (Bardaglio 2002, 321).
Despite mounting military defeats and pressing everyday needs, Confederate supporters continued to speak out against aspects of Yankee rule. Civilians who believed that they were being mistreated by occupation authorities protested, sometimes successfully. In Natchez, Mississippi, in 1864, civilians registered numerous complaints against General Mason Brayman, commander of the Union post. When Brayman ordered that all congregations pray for President Abraham Lincoln, the Roman Catholic bishop of Natchez, William Henry Elder, refused. Brayman exiled Elder to Vidalia, Louisiana, but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton overruled Bray-man and rescinded his order, so that Elder could return to Natchez.
Other citizens of Natchez went to nearby Union authorities and complained of arbitrary arrests and confiscation of property from individuals who had taken the oath of allegiance. Transferred to Vidalia and later publicly censured, Brayman was replaced by General John W. Davidson, who eventually established a formal body to respond to complaints by Natchez citizens.
By December 1864, civilian charges of mistreatment and exploitation by Union occupiers led President Lincoln to appoint special commissioners for the occupied areas. These men had the task of investigating the activities of both civil and military officials.
Meanwhile, military officials, missionaries, and teachers promoted the legalization of slave marriages in occupied areas. In 1864 and 1865, many former slaves in Union-controlled territory got married legally, some in mass wedding ceremonies. New unions were formed, and existing ones made legal. Vicksburg, Davis Bend, and Natchez, Mississippi, for example, together registered more than 1,400 nuptials during these years.
According to one chaplain of a black regiment, ex-slaves did not just see the war as an opportunity for freedom but also as “the road to Responsibility; Competency; and an honorable Citizenship” (Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland 1982, 712). This citizenship included legal marriages. The chaplain approved of the popularity of weddings among the former slaves he ministered to in Little Rock.
Teachers played an important role in politicizing former slaves and introducing them to the rituals of citizenship. Early in 1865, teacher Anna Gardner in New Bern, North Carolina, introduced her ex-slave students to a ritual of Union citizenship when she had them present a flag to a black artillery unit. Holiday celebrations, such as those on the Sea Islands to commemorate Thanksgiving in 1862 and New Year’s in 1863, included speeches and songs promoting the Union cause. An Emancipation Day celebration in Beaufort, South Carolina, on January 1, 1865, featured a former slave woman dressed as the Goddess of Liberty. She sang “In That New Jerusalem” and waved a banner. During Reconstruction and beyond, emancipation celebrations would become an integral part of black community and political life.
By 1865, some residents of occupied areas were looking toward the future and life in the postwar South. In January 1865, for example, the “colored citizens” of Nashville petitioned the Union Convention of Tennessee. The 62 individuals who signed the petition wanted blacks to be given the right to vote and to testify in court. The petitioners based their request in part on the sacrifices that black soldiers had made in their service to the Union cause. The Nashville civilians asked, “When has the colored citizen, in this rebellion been tried and found wanting?” (Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland 1982, 815).
In 1865, residents of the last bastions of the Confederacy experienced invasion and occupation. General Sherman’s Carolinas campaign in February and March 1865 brought significant suffering to civilians, particularly in South Carolina. Sherman and his army, which numbered 60,000, wanted to destroy Confederate resources but also to inflict punishment on South Carolina for its rabid secessionism. At the Middleton Place plantation near Charleston, for example, slaves joined Union soldiers in destroying the plantation. Officers burned the house and many of the outbuildings. Slaves desecrated the family mausoleum. Although slaves and Union forces worked together in this instance, many blacks in the Carolinas were appalled by the destructiveness of Sherman’s troops and disaffected when the soldiers mistreated them.
As Confederate troops evacuated strongholds like Richmond and Charleston, they set fire to the cities. Citizens desperately tired to subdue the flames. “It was a terrible scene,” Susie King Taylor wrote of Charleston in her memoir of the war (Taylor 1904/1968, 42). For civilians in invaded and occupied areas, the South’s devastated landscape served as a constant reminder of the war’s heavy toll.
As Sherman’s troops made their way through South and North Carolina, they encountered firm resistance from Confederate supporters, especially women. Throughout the South, civilians who had supported the Confederacy drew on a range of coping mechanisms to deal with defeat, from continued resistance to denial to religious resignation. In Norfolk, Virginia, for example, Confederate supporter Chloe Tyler Whittle flirted with despair but drew on her Christian faith to face the future. She dedicated herself to avoid taking the oath of allegiance to the United States at all costs.
Although invasion ceased with the Confederate surrender in 1865, occupation of areas of the South by Union troops would continue for 12 years. Reconstruction was not a new experiment but a continuation of the challenge of wartime occupation. Civilians would continue to work out the transition from slavery to freedom, the response to Northern rule, and the recreation of community life. Years after the Civil War, Susie King Taylor wrote, “I can and shall never forget that terrible war until my eyes close in death” (Taylor 1904/1968, 50). Countless civilians who witnessed the horrors of the conflict shared her sentiment.