Terrorism grows in Civil War aftermath

Stephen Budiansky's nonfiction book, "The Bloody Shirt," chronicles the South during Reconstruction.

Stephen Budiansky's nonfiction book, "The Bloody Shirt," chronicles the South during Reconstruction.

November 09, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

History books have long written that the American Civil War ended in 1865, soon after Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse near Lynchburg, Va.

But in his nonfiction work, "The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox," author Stephen Budiansky explains that the wounds of the Civil War never had a chance to heal after both sides laid down their weapons. For the next 10 years, racist organizations led by ex-Confederates wreaked havoc below the Mason-Dixon Line. What they left in their wake were the bodies of more than 3,000 blacks and their white allies who tried to stop them.

Budiansky will give a talk Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Washington County Free Library about his book and the era that he calls "a little known chapter in history."

In "The Bloody Shirt," Budiansky tells the years following the Civil War through real accounts from five men who tried to stand up to those afflicting violence: Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who became a critic of Lee after the war; Union Army Gen. Lewis Merrill, who broke up the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s; Prince R. Judge, a former slave who became a South Carolina legislator; Adelbert Ames, a Union war hero; and Albert T. Morgan, another Union veteran who had married a black woman before campaigning to become a Mississippi state legislator.


Through written accounts by the men themselves, Budiansky discovered the missing pieces from modern history books about Reconstruction from 1865 to 1877. What he discovered was that the racist organizations used more than just scare tactics.

In fact, the methods of the ex-Confederates can be described as homeland terrorism, Budiansky said during a telephone interview from his Leesburg, Va., home. They created political warfare with a calculated message. Misleading newspaper accounts and editorials in newspapers - newspapers funded by white Southern Democrats - blamed blacks for the violence and exaggerated civil unrest to show that the new government was unstable and its leaders incompetent.

Even early on, scholars tried to correct history, Budiansky said. "There were a few historians, several African-American historians, very early in the 20th century saying that something about the stories wasn't true," he said.

Growing up in New England, Budiansky said his history books painted a skewed picture of life during Reconstruction.

"I grew up probably with the understanding of rampant corruption of the Southern government that was controlled by carpetbaggers, 'ignorant Negroes' and scalawags," he said.

He said some of those problems did exist, but not at the level that Southern newspapers of the time would have readers believe. One of the biggest misconceptions about Reconstruction, he said, was that the U.S. Army was oppressing the South. In reality, he described the number of U.S. troops as "tiny."

Even though he has written several books dealing with other wars where propaganda helped to fuel the message, such as the Nazis during World War II, Budiansky said he couldn't get over how the Southern Democrats defended their use of violence and racist remarks.

"It struck me how much the ex-Confederates resembled terrorism of the 20th and 21st century," he said.

Budiansky goes so far to even call their tactics similar to how al Qaeda operates.

And that the techniques Lewis Merrill tried to counter the violence were similar to the methods used by U.S. military personnel to deal with current terrorism. Budiansky said he's been told that U.S. Marines are learning about Reconstruction as part of a course on counterinsurgency warfare. "There are enough parallels," he said.

Budiansky said he enjoys talking to the public about history and his books. He said one of the strangest questions he ever received was from someone who wanted to know what his motivations were to write "The Bloody Shirt."

His answer? "I wanted to tell the truth," he said.

If you go ...

What: Stephen Budiansky will discuss his book "The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox" followed by a book-signing.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13

Where: Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library, 100 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

More: For more information, contact Adult Services Department at 301-739-3250, ext. 186, or at

o "The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox" (288 pages, Viking) retails for $27.95.

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