Cultures of Occupations: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Resentment during Early Reconstruction

AHA Session 105
Society of Civil War Historians 2
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mercury Ballroom (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Andrew Lang, Mississippi State University
Andrew Lang, Mississippi State University

Session Abstract

In the thirty years since Eric Foner famously labeled Reconstruction an “unfinished revolution,” scholars have broadened a conflict traditionally understood as confined to the eleven states of the Confederacy and to the period ending in 1877. Some historians argue for a “Greater Reconstruction,” one that considers the western states and involves Anglo Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants. Other scholars point to the importance of analyzing Reconstruction in the northern states to understand the national implications of the fierce contests over citizenship and suffrage. Still other academics posit the need to internationalize Reconstruction because the events that unfolded in the U.S. both informed and responded to proceedings throughout the world. The contributors to this panel offer more suggestions on how to write broader histories of Reconstruction, reminding historians that there is still much to say about Reconstruction as it unfolded elsewhere, as well as in the U.S. South.

In conversation with recent scholarship by Gregory P. Downs and Andrew F. Lang, the three papers in this panel examine different types of occupations during the early years of Reconstruction. Each paper considers the fluctuating politics of occupations and the development of new ideas about race and gender. In “‘The uniform of the United States does not protect the disturber of the public peace’: Tensions between Black and White Union Soldiers and the Southern Population, 1865-1868,” Shae Smith Cox examines the effect uniformed Black soldiers had on the white southern population. Historians have long noted how ex-rebels wore their gray uniforms during the fall of 1865, as southern legislatures promulgated the Black Codes. Cox employs material culture, specifically uniforms, to analyze how the occupied saw their occupiers. In this case, the mixture of U.S. uniforms and Black soldiers produced seething contempt in ex-rebels that exploded in violence. Jonathan Lande’s “‘Nature Marked Him for Combat’: Gender and Racial Politics in Frances Rollin’s Post-Civil War Biography of Martin Delany” analyzes Frances Rollin’s 1868 biography of Martin Delany. Reacting to the vicious paramilitary violence unleashed by the occupied, Rollin made Delany’s manhood a source of strength and a reason why the U.S. defeated the rebels. Rollin not only rebuked white people who denied African Americans soldiers like Delany equal citizenship, but wrote an early history of Reconstruction that cast occupiers as manly, in contrast to their craven opponents. Evan Rothera’s “‘The United States did not mean to rub elbows with an Austrian-French monarchy’: Cooperation and Conflict in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands, 1865 – 1867” analyzes how U.S. and Mexican citizens considered the French Intervention an extension of the U.S. Civil War. General Philip Sheridan and his subordinates, who occupied Texas and Louisiana, cooperated with Mexican Liberals to oust the French from Mexico. Mexicans, in turn, adroitly invoked the Monroe Doctrine to spur U.S. intervention. Andrew F. Lang will chair the panel and Lisa Tendrich Frank and Lang will comment.

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