I wrote the following short essay about General Ulysses S. Grant’s 1865 tour of the South for our park’s quarterly newsletter. I liked how the final version came out and decided to re-post it here. Enjoy!
United States General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant called for a quick restoration of the Union and reconciliation between Unionists and former Confederates following General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. “The Rebels are our countrymen again,” explained Grant, and he wanted to end military rule and restore civil state governments in the South as soon as possible. When President Andrew Johnson expressed his wish to hang General Lee for treason in the summer of 1865, Grant threatened to resign. He argued that Lee had been protected by the surrender terms at Appomattox and that hanging him would only complicate efforts at sectional reconciliation.
In the fall of 1865, President Johnson asked General Grant to take a tour of the South to assess the sentiments of local residents and write a report on his findings. During his fifteen-day tour (November 27 – December 11) Grant made stops in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. He met with political leaders, Confederate veterans, and black Southerners during his tour. In a letter to his wife Julia while in Georgia, Grant stated that “people all seem pleasant . . . at least towards me, and I think towards the Government.” At the same time he told a reporter that “my faith in the future rests on the soldier element of the South. I feel assured that those who did the fighting may be depended upon to restore tranquility.”
When Grant returned to Washington, D.C., he reported that white Southerners were “more loyal and better-disposed that [I] had expected to find them.” But he also believed that some whites were still vengeful and that black Southerners still needed the protection of the U.S. military. These concerns were validated when Grant’s commanders wrote him a month later stating that black and white Unionists in the South were subjected to persecution, fraud, and violence by former Confederates. In May 1866 a series of riots in Memphis, Tennessee, saw 46 African Americans killed and more than 100 homes, churches, and schools destroyed. Grant now realized that the protection of black Southerners trumped reconciliation with angry rebels.
The work of reconstruction was only beginning.