American Experience
About the Film

     video | transcript


Losses and Reconciliation: As Southerners return home to catastrophic losses, the president pardons planters and returns their lands.
Introduction: After a bloody Civil War, Americans fight about how to rebuild the nation. Chaos: Southern planters and liberated slaves are thrown into chaos as Union victory nears. Revolution on the Land: The Federal government allots abandoned plantation acreage to freed slaves as Southern whites face defeat. Uncertainty: After President Lincoln's assassination, Andrew Johnson takes office amid deep uncertainty. Cultivating Liberty: Activist Tunis Campbell and former slaves start self-sufficient lives in Georgia. Freedmen's Bureau Agent: Union veteran Marshall Twitchell moves to an isolated, battle-hardened Confederate district. 'White Men Alone': President Johnson plans to restore the Union quickly with few changes to the social order. An Independent Black Community: Tunis Campbell's black settlement establishes schools and bans whites from the island. Losses and Reconciliation: As Southerners return home to catastrophic losses, the president pardons planters and returns their lands. Slavery Without the Chain: To rebuild their cotton economy, Southern whites force black submission. Opportunity: Yankee Marshall Twitchell and Southerner Adele Coleman marry, over her family's objections. War in Congress: Deep rifts divide Washington as Congress passes the first law to protect civil rights. Radical Reconstruction: Shocked by Southern violence, Northerners support military governance and black suffrage. Citizens at Last: White Southerners' sense of injustice and fear of vengeance grow as black men obtain the vote. Credits Introduction: As Abraham Lincoln warned, Reconstruction is a task 'fraught with great difficulty.' Interracial Democracy: Black suffrage is imposed in the South, though blacks cannot vote in many Northern states. Sharecropping: Landowner Fan Butler negotiates new labor arrangements with her former slaves. Carpetbagger: Southerners start to view Northerners like Marshall Twitchell with suspicion. 'Let Us Have Peace.': As racial conflicts continue, Ulysses Grant gains the presidency by promising reconciliation. The New Order of Things: Republican legislators like former slave John Lynch introduce new services -- and new taxes. War of Terror: Secret groups like the Ku Klux Klan form to attack black political power with violence. Seeking Profit: Southern whites and blacks struggle to gain political power and forge a workable economy. A New South: The Federal government cracks down on violence, and Grant's re-election promises more change. The Lost Cause: The nation loses patience for the plight of Southern blacks as whites take back power. The Coushatta Massacre: President Grant makes an unpopular decision to send troops South to suppress an insurrection. Ideals and Intimidation: Congress passes a visionary civil rights bill, but Southern vigilantes continue their violence. At War: White vigilantes in Coushatta, Louisiana try to kill Marshall Twitchell. Secret Compromise: The North abandons Reconstruction in a secret political deal. Looking Back: By 1913, Reconstruction is widely viewed as a mistake, though its progressive legacy will endure. Credits
Episode 1 Episode 2

V/O Kate Stone
"At home again, but so many changes.... It does not seem the same place... the bare, echoing rooms, the neglect and defacement of all.... gardens, orchard and fences are mostly swept away... Nothing is left but to endure."

NARRATOR
When Kate Stone and her mother returned to their Louisiana home after the war, they were nearly bankrupt. There was no credit to be had. Of the one hundred fifty slaves they had owned, only a few remained at Brokenburn. The Stones had safeguarded the family silver before their escape. Now it was a reminder of the wealth and position the family had lost. What the women mourned most were the men who had sacrificed themselves for the Southern cause.

FAUST
Many white Southerners find themselves facing, as Kate Stone does, a defeat that has taken the lives of her brothers and her uncle and so many of the people she's known. When Kate's oldest brother, who is not killed in the war, comes back, he hardly speaks, she says, for many months. This was a civilization in which three out of four men of military age served. Many of them were in the war for years on end. How would we not expect that that experience and defeat and slaughter and tragedy would have left them, in some sense, wounded?

AYERS
All these hundreds of thousands of Confederate soldiers are going back home, uncertain of what they're going to find, and uncertain of what they're going to do. As they look around and see the freed black people refusing to do just what white men tell them to do, and trying to create freedom for their families, everything looks to them as an insult and as a threat. White Southerners say, "We gotta make it clear who's boss. We gotta make clear that we're in control of all this."

NARRATOR
In Washington, President Johnson shared white Southerners' concerns over growing black independence in the South.

WALKER
Johnson is seeing a black population who have abandoned the plantations. People who are demanding that they be treated in a decent fashion. And Johnson believes they should return to their former places of work and above all should accept their subordination to white power and authority.

AYERS
Andrew Johnson believes if there's going to be a reconciliation between North and South, that it's going to be a reconciliation of white Northerners and white Southerners. And if black people have to be set aside, fine.

NARRATOR
The president abandoned his strict policy toward the planters. By fall of 1865, he was pardoning so many that special clerks had to be hired to keep up with the paperwork.

FONER
Johnson thinks that only the planters can really keep these African Americans under control, so very quickly he begins to bring the wealthy planters back into his Reconstruction policy, in order to really impose subordination on the former slaves.

DUNCAN
The planters only want to be pardoned so that they could get their land back. And so Andrew Johnson complies with their wishes, pardoning fifteen to twenty thousand planters, hundreds of them being pardoned every day. When these planters then are pardoned, they return to their islands and to their acreages all over the South, and they want the people who are then living there removed.

NARRATOR
The president ordered that Confederate lands seized by Union troops during the war be returned to the planters, including land confiscated under General Sherman's Field Order 15.

NARRATOR
In Georgia, the assistant commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau refused to give planters back their land. Johnson fired him and replaced him with someone who would. In Washington, the head of the Bureau, General O. O. Howard, sympathized with the freedmen and resisted the president's decree for as long as he could. Finally in October, Howard set out for the black settlement at Edisto Island, off the coast of South Carolina. His orders from President Johnson were to "effect an agreement mutually satisfactory to the freedmen and the land owners." Behind the bureaucratic language Johnson's directive was clear.

FONER
General Howard has to tell these former slaves that the land that they thought had been given to them by the federal government now is going to be given back to the former owners. And if they want to remain there, they're going to have to sign labor contracts to work as laborers on these plantations. These people believe they have a right to this land. To them this is a violation, a deep betrayal of the promises that the government made to them. They are not willing to just take this lying down.

V/O General Howard
I'd endeavored to explain the wishes of the President, and with one voice they cried, "No! No!" In the noise and confusion, a sweet-voiced Negro woman began the hymn, "Nobody knows the trouble I [feel] -- Nobody knows but Jesus."

NARRATOR
Many had been following events in Washington and insisted they would wait and see what Congress had to say. Others petitioned Howard in writing. Wrote one man: "You ask us to forgive the landowners of our island...the man who tied me to a tree and gave me thirty-nine lashes, who stripped and flogged my mother and my sister and will not let me stay in his empty hut, except I will do his planting and be satisfied with his price -- that man I cannot well forgive." In January 1866, a large contingent of black soldiers arrived at St. Catherine's with orders to restore the land to Jacob Waldburg. Campbell's militia had kept whites off the island -- but this was something different.

DUNCAN
Tunis Campell believed that people have to take things into their own hands, sometimes. But African American freedmen are not going to fire on African American soldiers. No.

NARRATOR
The experiment in independence at St. Catherine's was over. A determined Tunis Campbell headed for the Georgia mainland.



buy the program video or DVD
support PBS programming | feedback