Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What was Reconstruction Like in the South?

Holly Springs, Mississippi

From 1865 to 1875 the state of Mississippi underwent “Reconstruction”, a plan to reintegrate the South into the Union. Three companies of Federal troops, under the command of Major Jonathan Power, were stationed in Holly Springs. A circular of instruction to post commanders read, “. . .you are particularly directed not to molest or incommode quiet and well disposed citizens and will be held to strict accountability that your men commit no depredations of any sort. Houses, fences, farm property, etc. will be secure and remuneration will be compelled and punishment inflicted for all infractions of the rule. The well disposed people must be made to feel that the troops are for their protection rather than for their inconvenience.”

In 1860 the population of Holly Springs had been 5,690; by 1865 the population had declined to 2,000. The survivors found themselves without money, cotton, horses, livestock or provisions. Most had lost loved ones and many had been burned out. For the vanquished ex-Confederates it was a period in which the social order was turned up side down. Individuals prominent under the old regime were disenfranchised, while former slaves and new men from the North took the most prominent positions in the state. The ex-Confederates struggled to regain power. Elections were characterized by bribery, intimidation and trickery.

The Democratic Party was comprised of Southern whites and a few blacks who remained under the influence of their old masters. The Republican Party was comprised of a few native whites known locally as, “turncoat scalawags”, interested in the spoils of office, Northern “carpetbaggers” and ex-slaves, attracted by promises of obtaining, “forty acres and a mule.”

Blacks were in the voting majority throughout Marshall County in 1865, having 3,669 males of voting age in the county while the whites of voting age numbered only 3,025, a large number having been disenfranchised because of their activities during the war. During the entire Reconstruction period, blacks formed more than fifty percent of the total population of the county.

A portrait of Holly Springs, a small but prosperous town in northern Mississippi’s Marshall County, during the years of the American Civil War and the era of Reconstruction. This is a glimpse of life in Mississippi during these dramatic years, relying on the words of the people who lived during that time and on other primary historical sources to tell the story.

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