For Confederates, a return to ashes

Homecoming: Many Southern soldiers returned home to a devastated landscape after a war that had torn the nation, the states, cities and families apart.

Grand Review 2000

June 04, 2000|By Monica Leal | Monica Leal,Special to the Sun

In celebration of the Civil War's 135th anniversary both Confederate and Union re-enactors will gather in Harrisburg, Pa.,next weekend to re-create the victory parade the Union held in Washington at the Civil War's end. But in 1865, while Union soldiers and supporters rejoiced, Confederate men returned to a South devastated by the war.

"There was a lot of animosity toward the Confederates after the war," said James Schmick, in charge of the Grand Review 200 events and founder of the Camp Curtain Historical Society. "This year's theme, therefore, is one of healing, with a Confederate and Union soldier shaking hands as the logo," he said.

Before his assassination on April 15, 1865, President Lincoln had approved terms of surrender for Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army at Appomattox Court House. The terms were made "with the bottom line that we're all Americans [and that the Confederates] be treated as such," said James H. Friedline, department secretary-treasurer for the Maryland Division of the Sons of Union Veterans.

"The terms included that the Confederates surrender their public property such as arms, flags and accouterments," said Ed Bearss former chief historian of the National Park Service at Antietam Battlefield. Allowed to keep their horses, the Confederates were given passes to cross Union lines and sent on their way. Those traveling deep into the South were offered transportation on government railroads, but the majority walked home, Bearss added.

Arriving at home, many Confederates were greeted by heavily damaged cities and farms.

Some went to Latin America

Feeling lost and humiliated, some left the country for Latin American colonies while many sought refuge in Texas. By 1890 the state had the largest population of former Confederates in the country. Others took revenge and "ransacked Confederate army storehouses, assaulted and robbed civilians, attacked Unionists, and settled old scores," recounts author Larry M. Logue in his book, "Appomattox and Beyond."

Maryland received an influx of Southerners after the war from states such as Alabama and Georgia, said Nicholas Varga of Loyola College.

Confederates in Baltimore, however, returned to a "flourishing city," according to Robert I. Cottom, press director for the Maryland Historical Society. Since most Union supporters lived in the Central Maryland and Eastern Shore areas, returning Confederates easily returned to their previous occupations, providing they gave their oaths of loyalty.

All Confederates had to receive grants of amnesty from the federal government before returning to public offices such as judgeships or legislatures. Most soldiers were covered by a general amnesty but higher positions required individual application and approval by President Andrew Johnson.

John Sawyer, commander of the Maryland Division of the Sons of Confederate Soldiers, said that his ancestor, George Sweeney, a soldier in the 1st Maryland Calvary, refused to take the oath of allegiance that would have granted him gainful employment.

The process of release for the captured Confederate troops included parole, exchange, oath of allegiance and finally readmittance into the Union. "Those soldiers that refused to take the oath were taken out and held at gunpoint so that they raised their hands [and] released as if they had taken the oath," Sawyer said.

As was evident from the numbers in the election of 1860, the majority of Maryland supported the Union, Varga said, voting mainly for Republican candidates such as Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. But the numbers of Confederates in Maryland -- who made up at least four Confederate artillery units, two calvary regiments, and an infantry regiment -- cannot be disregarded. Because of duplicate names and inadequate records, the exact number will never be known.

Getting used to the new numbers of freed people was not easy. "There were incidents of Confederates surrounding and shooting up black churches and the freed slaves now shot back," Cottom said.

Returning to Baltimore, blacks who had fought for the Union paraded through the streets of Baltimore displaying their arms. Baltimore, which had had a free black population equal to its slave population, now had a black citizenry twice as large.

Despite the large black influence in Maryland, Jim Crow laws finally reached it in 1890. There were also protective covenants on deeds forbidding the lawful sale of the property to ex-slaves or any other African-American.

"No large activity was done to benefit Confederate veterans," Varga said, although he pointed out a former home for Confederate veterans still stands on Reisterstown Road with a plaque bearing its name. However, Confederates and Unionists learned to live together.

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