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Military Rule

Rejecting the lenient reconstruction measures initiated by Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, the U.S. Congress, under the control of the Radical Republicans, passed the punitive Reconstruction Act of 1867 on March 7, over Johnson's veto. This act sought to rebuild the governments of the Southern states in the Northern mold and ensure the civil rights of the freed blacks. The members of the existing state governments in the South, made up of the leaders of the Confederacy, were removed, and the states were placed under the military rule of the U.S. Army. No one who had supported the Confederate government was allowed to vote or hold political office. As a result, the state governments were controlled by scalawags and carpetbaggers and the military rulers of the Radical Republican Congress.

The South was divided into five military districts, with a U.S. Army general in charge of each. Virginia, the first district, was commanded by Gen. John Schofield. The second district brought North and South Carolina under the command of Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, and Gen. John Pope oversaw the reconstruction of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida in the third district. The fourth district, comprising Mississippi and Arkansas, was commanded by Gen. Edward Ord, and in the fifth, Texas and Louisiana came under the control of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Some 200,000 U.S. soldiers were stationed throughout the South to preserve order and carry out the dictates of Congress.

These first military commanders had virtually unlimited power. They removed thousands of civil officials from their jobs and actively cultivated the registration of black voters, thereby placing former slaves in position to dominate their former masters and to wring from the South what little was left after four years of devastating war. Military rule in the South lasted for 10 years, until 1877, when Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to return the states to home rule in exchange for Southern support in his bid for the presidency.

Fascinating Fact: Because of its large Unionist population and its submission to congressional demands, the State of Tennessee was the only South- ern state to escape harsh reconstruction measures.

Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, left, and Gen. John Schofield; courtesy Library of Congress
Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
MCMXUIII Atlas Editions, USA
D3 602 03-20