Reconstruction was a period of rebuilding after the Civil War. Not so much a physical rebuilding of the war-torn cities and farms but a rebuilding or reconstructing of the nation. Reconstruction represents the political and legal process of putting the Union back together. In reality, Reconstruction continued the war but with political fighting rather than bloody battles.
The Federal government considered several central questions after the Civil War:
1. Formerly Enslaved Africans or Freedmen and Freedwomen
What to do with the four million former enslaved Africans?
Were they citizens?
Would they have equal political rights?
2. The Southern States
What to do with the former Confederate states?
Were they equal?
Had they actually ever seceded?
Did they need to be readmitted into the Union?
3. The Southern People
What to do with the former Confederates?
Should all southerners be punished?
Should Confederate leaders, politicians, and military commanders be punished?
The leaders of the country grappled with these questions and would try to address them for over a decade.
The Three Main Phases of Reconstruction
To get started, there were three main phases of Reconstruction:
1. Wartime Reconstruction, 1861-1865
2. Presidential Reconstruction, 1865-1867
3. Congressional or Radical Reconstruction, 1867-1877
Track: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Written by Robbie Robertson. Performed by the Band.
Album: The Band, The Last Waltz (Warner Brothers Records, 1978).
The South had been devastated by the war and the road to reunion would be perilous and wrought with racial rancor. The animosities after the war bred violence. Many Southerners felt it was a matter of honor, but in most cases the violence stemmed from deep-ceded prejudice. Popular culture played on the former notion of honor and created a myth around Southern resistance known as “the Lost Cause.”
This youtube video of The Band performing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” personified Southern feelings and their “Lost Cause.” This is a clip from The Band’s famous final concert film The Last Waltz, which would also become a best-selling album. While watching the video, make note of the lyrics, especially the pain and anguish taking its toll on this Confederate veteran.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).