Reconstruction as Military History

Authored by: Benjamin Franklin Cooling

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415533805
eBook ISBN: 9781315817347
Adobe ISBN: 9781317813354


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America’s Civil War neither began at Fort Sumter nor ended at Appomattox. We now know that the terrorism of Bleeding Kansas, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry as well as post-war violence and the travesties of so-called Reconstruction were all part of a violent continuum in America’s fiery trial of nation-building. The United States military participated with manpower and materiel—instruments of the state as part of a political, diplomatic, informational, economic and social endeavor. Formal Reconstruction of the secessionist Confederacy traditionally has been interpreted as beginning in 1865 and ending with ascension of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency in 1877. Thus, the term affixes to efforts to re-assimilate political, legal and economic systems of the states that had seceded from the Union. General history perpetuates that paradigm. 1 Yet, revised perspective suggests that reconstruction actually began with passage of Union troops across the Potomac and Ohio rivers to restore the Union as early as 1861. Military presence in a conquered rebellious South culminated only with federal troop withdrawal in 1877 and passage of the Posse Comitatus Act on June 18, 1878 that forbade the use of national military personnel acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States (except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress).

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