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