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Army Generals and Reconstruction

Louisiana, 1862-1877

by Joseph G. Dawson

312 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Civil War

  Paperback / 9780807119600 / October 1994

The U.S. Army faced extraordinary problems while policing the post–Civil War South, and the task may have been the most difficult in Louisiana, where Reconstruction lasted longer than in any other of the former Confederate states. Beginning with General Benjamin Franklin Butler, who boasted that “in six months New Orleans should be a Union city or—a home of the alligators,” the Union generals who commanded Louisiana would meet with varying degrees of success in their attempts to enforce the constantly evolving Reconstruction policies of three administrations on a people who openly despised their conquerors.

Covering the period from the fall of New Orleans to Federal forces through the collapse of Stephen Packard’s Republican government in 1877, Army Generals and Reconstruction is a history and a detailed analysis of the army’s responsibilities, accomplishments, and failures in Reconstruction Louisiana. The first book to fully examine and assess the army’s direct influence on Louisiana politics during Reconstruction, Joseph G. Dawson’s study shows how the decisions and attitudes of the army commanders were crucial to both the Republican and Democratic parties and how neither side could act confidently without knowing first how the generals would respond to their actions.

Dawson examines the army commanders’ efforts to ensure that blacks and Republicans could exercise their civil and political rights. He reveals the difficulties commanders often faced in protecting Republicans from Democratic violence and economic retribution—particularly during the 1870s when the conservative Democrats mounted an intensive and violent campaign to regain control of the state government. Dawson also looks at the influence of General Philip Sheridan on Louisiana Reconstruction politics. During his command in the state, Sheridan was able to protect and strengthen the Republican party, but his policies incurred the displeasure of President Andrew Johnson, who ordered him out of Louisiana to a new assignment on the Great Plains. Sheridan, however, retained his interest in Louisiana politics and his support of Radical Reconstruction, and was later twice sent into the state on special missions by President U.S. Grant. Still, despite the efforts of Sheridan and other pro-Republican officers, the Democrats worked their way back into power.

Based on a close examination of archival sources—including the personal papers of the officers who commanded the occupation forces—this study by Joseph G. Dawson reveals the fully complexity of the army’s involvement in Louisiana politics throughout Reconstruction. 

Joseph G. Dawson III is assistant professor of history at Texas A & M University, Galveston.

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