Thomas and Debra Goodrich’s book The Day Dixie Died: Southern Occupation, 1865-1866 is one of a small handful of books that dares to tell the truth about what really happened in the American South in 1865.
BRA’s historians prefer to focus exclusively on black suffering, noble Yankees, the preservation of the Glorious Union, Lincoln’s assassination, the abolition of slavery, and the wickedness of Southern opposition to Reconstruction.
The Southern reader is always left with the gut feeling that something is being deliberately omitted from their narrative. Court historians are not telling the whole story. There is a sneaking suspicion that history is being written from the perspective of the victors.
What about the losers? If the Union won the War Between the States, then the Confederates were the losers. In The Day Dixie Died, Thomas and Debra Goodrich describe in vivid detail what life was like for the losing side in the year that followed Appomattox.
Here are some highlights:
John Wilkes Booth, The Conspirators, and Lincoln’s Assassination
In his last public speech, Abraham Lincoln endorsed the idea of making “African-Americans” into citizens with voting rights in Louisiana. John Wilkes Booth was among the audience and told a friend, “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”
In a last ditch effort to save the Confederacy, John Wilkes Booth (who was a member of the Confederate Secret Service) and his fellow conspirators plotted to decapitate the Union government by assassinating Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.
In Ford’s Theater, Booth famously shot and killed Lincoln. The Shakespearean actor leaped from the stage, raised his dagger of his head, and yelled “Sic semper tyrannis, The South is Avenged.” Lewis Powell attempted to assassinate William Seward and succeeded in stabbing him several times. George Atzerodt was assigned to assassinate Andrew Johnson, but got drunk and abandoned the idea at the last moment.
Booth was hunted down and was fatally shot in the head outside a tobacco barn in Port Royal, Virginia. He told the Union solider who shot him, “Tell my mother I die for my country.”
Among the items found on Booth was a diary. The April 21 entry reads:
“After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and … chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet, cold, and starving, with every mans hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made Tell a Hero. And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cuttthroat … I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone … I do not repent the blow I struck. I may before my God but not to man.”
Lewis Powell, George Atzerdot, Mary Surratt, and David Herold were arrested in connection with Booth’s conspiracy and were executed in a military show trial. Mary Surratt, who was the first woman ever executed by the United States government, was an innocent tavern owner.
Northern mobs extracted their own version of justice across the Union. In Buffalo, the home of ex-president Millard Fillmore was splashed in gallons of black ink. In Staten Island, a gang invaded the home of ex-president John Tyler and ransacked his parlor.
From Maine to Minnesota, scores of Confederate sympathizers, Democrats, and critics of Republicans and the Lincoln administration were shot, stabbed, hung or beaten to death in an orgy of patriotic violence. Every home in Nashville and New Orleans was forced to fly the Stars and Stripes.
Union soldiers marched on Raleigh with the intention of burning the city to the ground like Columbia. Only the muzzles of cannons and German Sherman’s tireless efforts prevented a massacre of Southern civilians.
In the War Between the States, 178,000 black troops fought for the Union Army and 19,000 served in the Union Navy. 70,000 of these black Union soldiers died in the war from disease or combat injuries.
“African-Americans” were 10 percent of the Union Army. These black soldiers served under the command of White abolitionists who led them into battle to kill Confederate soldiers in the South.
Black soldiers were given the honor of being the first troops to enter defeated Richmond on April 3, 1865:
“Bervet Brigadier General Draper’s brigade of colored troops, Brevet Major General Kautz’s division, were the first infantry to enter Richmond. The gallant 36th U.S. Colored Troops, under Lieutenant Colonel B.F. Pratt, has the honor of being the first regiment. Captain Bicnnef’s company has the pride of leading the advance…
By that point, Virginia was a vast tomb for countless thousands of dead Confederate soldiers. When Abraham Lincoln arrived for the ceremonial lowering of the Stars and Bars, Richmond was buried in a sea of black. The city was in funeral mode when Robert E. Lee arrived with the ragged remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia.
A witness of the event described the scene:
“By some strange intuition, it was known that General Lee was among them, and a crowd collected all along the route he would take, silent and bareheaded. There was no excitement, no hurrahing; but, as the great chief passed, a deep, loving murmur, greater than these, rose from the very hearts of the crowd. Taking off his hat and simply bowing his head, the man great in adversity passed silently to his own door; it closed upon him, and his people had seen him for the last time in his battle harness.”
Robert E. Lee, the man would have been president, died in 1870.
A Boston correspondent who arrived in Charleston after the war described “a city of ruins, of desolation, of vacant houses … of rotting wharves, of deserted warehouses, of wild-weed grown gardens, of miles of grass-grown streets, of acres of pitiful and voiceful barrenness.” Most of the citizens of Charleston were exiled, widowed, orphaned, crippled, or dead.
Robert Gould Shaw, who was famously played by Matthew Broderick in Glory, died leading the Massachusetts 54th All-Black Regiment in the Battle of Fort Wagner outside Charleston.
The black survivors were invited back to participate in the occupation:
“Leading the first Union troops to enter Charleston was a black Union soldier who rode a mule up Meeting Street, carrying a banner emblazoned “Liberty.” Black soldiers with the famous Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, survivors of the bloody assault on Fort Wagner outside Charleston, marched behind him singing “John Brown’s Body,” the abolitionist anthem.”
William Lloyd Garrison and Henry Ward Beecher arrived in Charleston on April 14, 1865 to witness Robert Anderson’s raising of the Stars and Stripes at Fort Sumter. After the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, Beecher gave the keynote address which culminated in a bloodthirsty call for vengeance.
He wasn’t referring to the starving and vanquished inhabitants of Charleston who might have sympathized with his call for vengeance, but to the thousands of Yankees who had died in the course of “preserving the Union.” The survivors wandered around the ruins of Charleston like ghosts as the patriotic celebrations lasted through the night and into the next day.
“In Charleston, a wanderer found the churchyard there symbolic of the city itself – sunken grass, broken headstone, a “mangy cur … slinking” amid the markers. Then he noted a particular grave: “All around the little plat is a border of myrtle, sweet in rich greenness, but untrimmed and broken and goat-eaten. It is the grave of the father of the Rebellion, and on the marble slab there is cut the one word, – CALHOUN” … Time was when South Carolina guarded this grave as a holy spot. Now it lies in ruin.”
As John C. Calhoun’s grave was overwhelmed by weeds, “African-Americans” taunted the local Whites in their “Jubilee” and paraded through the ruined streets of Charleston behind a wagon pulling a coffin marked “Slavery is Dead.”
War Crime Trials
Henry Wirz, the Confederate commander in charge of Andersonville, was put on trial for war crimes by a military tribunal and was publically executed before a crowd of 250 spectators.
If Wirz had implicated Jefferson Davis for being responsible for the conditions at Andersonville, his sentence would have been commuted and he would walked away. He refused, “I would not become a traitor to him or anyone else to save my life.”
Wirz stoically marched to his death at the gallows:
On the morning of November 10, 1865. Wirz was roused by guards in his cell at the Old Capitol Prison. “As they were leaving the room,” wrote a witness, “Witz turned to the mantel, and with as much nonchalance as if he had been in a bar-room, took up a bottle of whisky, and pouring out a liberal draught, drank it down with apparent relish. Then taking a chew of tobacco, he took his place in the procession.”
“He disappointed all those who expected to see him quiver at the brink of death …,” wrote a reporter for the New York Times, only one of a flock of correspondents scribbling away. “His step was steady, his demeanor calm, his tongue silent … He met his fate with unblanched eye, unmoving feature, and a calm, deliberate prayer for all those whom he has deemed his persecutors.”
13 percent of Confederate POWs died in Northern prison camps like Elmira amid a cornucopia of food. 11 percent of Union POWs died in Confederate prison camps like Andersonville.
Edmund Ruffin, the fiery Virginia secessionist who fired the first cannon shot at Fort Sumter, committed suicide. Before he blew his brains out with that rifle, Ruffin left behind a letter for posterity:
“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connection with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down-trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and atrocious outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States!
…And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my latest breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to yankee rule–to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.”
1 out of every 4 Southern White men of military age died or was seriously maimed in the War Between the States. At least 45,000 amputees came home unable to work in an economy where Confederate currency had become worthless.
The inevitable result of such of a male holocaust on the battlefield and the destruction of the Confederate infrastructure by the Union Army was the mass starvation of women and children on the homefront:
“There seemed no limit to the privation; an estimated thirty-five thousand people in an around Atlanta had to be fed by government rations or starve.
We had nothing to eat but musty meal and hardtack,” a man from Georgia recalled. “We just kept from starving and that was all.” Another Georgian acknowledged, ” We did not starve; but, like thousands of others, “we most starved'”
In South Carolina:
“In South Carolina, “hundreds of mortal beings are perishing around us each day for want of food and raimant …,” the Charleston Courier reported. There are numbers of White families who know not where to get their next meal.”
“Near Huntsville, Alabama, families of dead Rebel soldiers were dying of starvation.”
In Missouri and Arkansas:
“In the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas, much of the scattered and decimated population was surviving on “greens, slippery elm bark, and roots.”
In Virginia and North Carolina:
In North Carolina, a reporter for the New York Herald watched as “wasted women” lurked around train stations, “moving like clothed skeletons around the cars to gather up any corn which … may escape from the sack.” In neighboring Virginia, “here a tired woman, with a babe in one arm and a little toddler clinging to her skirts … There a twelve-year-old boy, dragging a wooden cart … Aged women, hobbling along … shy young girls, with basket and bag, blushing under the impudent leers and coarse jets of the loafing soldiery.”
A Texas cavalryman along the Red River in Louisiana reported that women and children were living in the woods without shelter or adequate clothing. “There are many,” said the soldier, “that have been in easy circumstances who are actually living on blackberries.”
Not surprisingly, food of any sort in the ravaged Red River Valley was a delicacy, and Yankee soldiers sailing to Shreveport soon found sport in the situation:
“In front of every farm-house would be a large assemblage of whites and blacks, of all ages and assorted sizes. Our boys amused themselves by throwing “hard-tack” to them, and then what running and tumbling and scrambling would ensue! little nigs and little whites, little dogs and big dogs, all joined in the race, and by the time the “hard-tack” was secured it was difficult to determine what were the original ingredients.”
The Imprisonment of Jefferson Davis
President Jefferson Davis and the remnants of the Confederate government were hunted down and captured near Irwinville, Georgia.
Davis spent the next two years in prison at Fort Monroe on the coast of Virginia. Obama recently designated Fort Monroe a national monument because it was a refuge for runaway slaves.
As a prisoner of the victorious Union, President Davis was forced to suffer the indignity of wearing the shackles of a common criminal. The scene is described in the book:
“These are not orders for a soldier,” shouted the prisoner, losing all control of himself. “They are orders for a jailer – for a hangman … I plead against this degradation. Kill me! Kill!” he cried passionately, throwing his arms wide open and exposing his breats, “rather than inflict on me, and on my people through this insult worse than death.” …
“It required six men to accomplish it, he the while struggling like a maniac,” recalled a witness to the scene. “Mr. Davis was thrown on his back on the cot …,” said another present, “and the blacksmith welded the irons on his wrists and ankles.”
The above is a sample of the topics discussed in this must read book.
If your curiosity has been aroused, you can also find discussions of other neglected subjects such as the mass crime wave that followed abolition, more on “swallowing the dog,” the looting of plantations, the carpetbagger invasion, the epidemic of black-on-white rape, the anarchic collapse of Texas, partisan warfare in Missouri and Kentucky, Jesse James getting shot in the chest after attempting to surrender, the race war in Memphis, the starvation of freedmen, the brutal dictatorship of “Parson” Brownlow in Tennessee, and black troops removing buttons from the uniforms of Confederate veterans.
The Day Dixie Died ends on a positive note: in the context of military occupation, economic collapse, and social revolution, the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee, America’s very first revolutionary pro-White organization.
Buy this book. I’m sure you will enjoy it.