A Wounded Nation
The Civil War was over, and all across the land mothers and fathers buried their sons, wept, and tried to forgive the enemy now that all were once again pledging allegiance to the same flag . Most people seemed to understand that the country had to be made whole again. Its wounds needed to be bandaged. President Lincoln had been determined to use kindness in bringing the South back into the Union. Southerners were still part of the family, he had said. But Lincoln was dead now, killed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth . And, as the author Mark Twain recalled, some passions were hard to put away . He wrote: "In the South, every man you meet was in the war, and every lady you meet saw the war. The war is the great chief topic of conversation. The interest in it is vivid and constant; the interest in other topics is fleeting. In the South, the war is what A.D. is elsewhere: they date from it."
Did you ever lose a fight? Were you embarrassed and angry? White southerners were angry, confused, hurt, and miserable. Their lovely, elegant, aristocratic South was in ruins . Their sons were dead. Everything they had fought for seemed gone. "Gone with the wind," said one Southern writer in a famous book. A generation of white Southern men was dead. Those who came home brought wounds with them. In 1866, the year after war's end, Mississippi spent one-fifth of its revenues on artificial arms and legs for returning veterans. Sidney Andrews, a visitor to Charleston, South Carolina, wrote this about the city: "A city of ruins, desolation, and vacant houses, of rotting wharves, deserted warehouses, and grass-grown streets. That is Charleston. The beauty and pride of the city are dead ." Most of the South's cities were in the same shape. And the countryside? Here are the words of a Virginian after the war: "We had no cattle, hogs, sheep, or horses, or anything else. The barns were all burned, chimneys standing without houses and houses standing without roofs, or doors, or windows ."