A Novel of the Post-Civil War
The battle flags had been furled. The hills, meadows and woodlands where men once struggled in bloody conflict and brought a new country to its knees, was now peaceful. The brutal sound of clashing armies was now replaced by the soft whisper of birds and breezes. Only the torn and shattered trunks of trees and an occasional row of lonely graves confirmed the terrible sacrifice that had been made. The battles had ended, but other conflicts lay ahead, conflicts that would test the inner soul of a young democracy. The year was l866.
The nineteenth century had brought flourishing change to the United States. Waves of immigrants flooding the cities along the eastern seacoast surrendered their family ties to venture into a new country. They brought with them their hopes and dreams of finding a better life; a life where a man could acquire his own piece of land and build a home for his wife and children; a life where personal freedom was guaranteed, for himself and his posterity.
In the northeastern United States, the Industrial Revolution begun in Europe was now prevalent throughout the region. Newcomers seeking work could find jobs in factories, but pay there was little and the working conditions often deplorable. These jobs were stumbling blocks for those trying to obtain enough money to make dreams of land and a home a reality. These factory workers were never able to accumulate enough and became enslaved economically to the system.
Strangely enough, however it was this very system that produced an abundance of war materials that in the hands of the Union soldiers brought the American Civil War to an end and gave freedom to thousands of African slaves. These freed men also had hopes of a promised parcel of land and mule and dreams of a good life for their families. Would this government that had waged such a costly war in terms of expense and loss of human life, and in the end granted these slaves freedom, forsake them now that they stood on the brink of a new era? Would the highly revered Constitution of this great young democracy stand by all of its citizens, no matter what race or gender?
Meanwhile gold had been discovered in California and people had flocked to the West Coast seeking their fortune along the abundant streams and rivers in this beautiful and enchanting land. Many did strike it rich, but most people abandoned the gold fields for other interests such as farming, lumbering, and the raising of livestock. Once word spread to the eastern shores about the vast wealth of California and Oregon, people aggressively sought ways to reach this land of wonder. The dream of land drove them relentlessly. To those unprepared for the journey, disaster lay ahead. Their dream would become their nightmare.
Throughout the eastern United States, most of the Native Americans had been removed and placed on reservations located west of the Mississippi River, land not particularly of value. But in contrast, during the l860s the Indians of the American plains were still living on their tribal lands in much the same way as their ancestors. But with the completion of the transcontinental railroad, change and rapid development of these sacred grounds was inevitable. The dreams of these people, dreams of being left alone to live their lives on grounds guaranteed by treaties signed with the United States government, were threatened. Would the United States protect their rights and grant their children the freedom they had experienced for generations on lands of their ancestors?
Following the American Civil War, the South outwardly appeared prostrate as defeated armies were disbanded, and tired and ragged soldiers made their way home. Once home, they found themselves under military rule with little self-government. As the Southern states began their reorganization, many former representatives and congressmen were chosen to return to Washington only to be denied their seats by the predominant Republican-led congress. With the rejection of these men, the Southern States had to find others to represent them. In many cases, newly freed Negroes, citizens from the North who had come south to seek their fortune and white men who had not supported the Southern cause, filled the vacancies.
Outwardly, the South appeared a conquered country. Its armies had been driven from the field. Its white supremacy government no longer existed. Many of its farms and plantations lay in disrepair. The economy was depleted.
Their rifles had been stacked and uniforms exchanged for plain clothes. These warriors of the South were now mere men trying to rebuild their lives and fortunes. The South appeared in submission. But underneath, its pride, spirit, and sense of loyalty to its cause were still alive. The white South dreamed of reclaiming its identity and freedom.
But would the Negro be integrated into this new Southern culture. They were given no land at the end of the War as they had hoped, and with no education, what would they do? Who would protect their new grant of freedom?
Who would come forward and lead the South? Out of the ashes of war would someone with vision, mercy, and a feeling of justice for all step forward? Did the South have men such as these and would they be allowed to serve their country during these difficult times?