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Reconstruction: The Second Civil War | Primary Source

Southern Violence

The First-Class Men of Our Town

Abram Colby, a former slave and member of the Georgia legislature, was called to Washington in 1872 to testify before a joint House and Senate committee investigating reports of Southern violence.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan had beaten Colby savagely in 1869 in an attempt to end his political activities as a Radical Republican, after earlier efforts to bribe the black legislator had failed. Colby, permanently injured by the assault which had nearly killed him, defied intimidation to remain active in eastern Georgia politics.

Colby: On the 29th of October 1869, [the Klansmen] broke my door open, took me out of bed, took me to the woods and whipped me three hours or more and left me for dead. They said to me, "Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?" I said, "If there was an election tomorrow, I would vote the Radical ticket." They set in and whipped me a thousand licks more, with sticks and straps that had buckles on the ends of them.

Question: What is the character of those men who were engaged in whipping you?

Colby: Some are first-class men in our town. One is a lawyer, one a doctor, and some are farmers. They had their pistols and they took me in my night-clothes and carried me from home. They hit me five thousand blows. I told President Grant the same that I tell you now. They told me to take off my shirt. I said, "I never do that for any man." My drawers fell down about my feet and they took hold of them and tripped me up. Then they pulled my shirt up over my head. They said I had voted for Grant and had carried the Negroes against them. About two days before they whipped me they offered me $5,000 to go with them and said they would pay me $2,500 in cash if I would let another man go to the legislature in my place. I told them that I would not do it if they would give me all the county was worth.

The worst thing was my mother, wife and daughter were in the room when they came. My little daughter begged them not to carry me away. They drew up a gun and actually frightened her to death. She never got over it until she died. That was the part that grieves me the most.

Question: How long before you recovered from the effects of this treatment?

Colby: I have never got over it yet. They broke something inside of me. I cannot do any work now, though I always made my living before in the barber-shop, hauling wood, etc.

Question: You spoke about being elected to the next legislature?

Colby: Yes, sir, but they run me off during the election. They swore they would kill me if I stayed. The Saturday night before the election I went to church. When I got home they just peppered the house with shot and bullets.

Question: Did you make a general canvas there last fall?

Colby: No, sir. I was not allowed to. No man can make a free speech in my county. I do not believe it can be done anywhere in Georgia.

Question: You say no man can do it?

Colby: I mean no Republican,either white or colored.

Excerpt from Testimony Taken by the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States (Washington, 1872), printed in Dorothy Sterling, ed., Trouble They Seen: The Story of Reconstruction in the Words of African Americans. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.

Proposing Security for the Future

Colonel John Singleton Mosby fought for the Confederacy, but he became a supporter of General Ulysses S. Grant and the Republican party after the war. In an interview with the Richmond Enquirer in January 1873, he confirmed his support of Grant and advocated the alliance in order to restore relations between the South and the federal government.

Reporter: I see it stated generally that you have some influence with General Grant -- is this true?

Colonel Mosby: I don't know what amount of influence I may have with the president, but General Grant knows the fiery ordeal I have been through here in supporting him, and I suppose he has some appreciation of it.

Reporter: What is the policy that you have advocated for the Virginia people?

Colonel Mosby: The issues that formerly divided the Virginia people from the Republican party were those growing out of the reconstruction measures. Last year the Virginia people agreed to make no further opposition to those measures and to accept all questions growing out of them as settled. There being no longer any questions, then, on principles separating Virginia people from General Grant, it became a mere matter of policy and expediency whether they would support him or [Liberal Republican party candidate] Horace Greeley. I thought it was the first opportunity the Southern people had had to be restored to their proper relation and influence with the federal administration. In other words, I said the Southern statesmen ought to avail themselves of this opportunity and support General Grant for re-election, and thereby acquire influence and control over his administration. That was the only way I saw of displacing the carpetbag crew that represented the government in the Southern states. I think that events have demonstrated that I was right.

General Grant has certainly accorded to me as much consideration or influence as any one man could have a right to expect. I know it is the disposition of General Grant to do everything in his power for the relief of the Southern people, if Southern politicians will allow him to do it. The men who control the policy of the Conservative party combine with the extreme Radicals to keep the Southern people arrayed against General Grant. As long as this course is pursued, the carpetbag crew who profess to support the administration get all the Federal patronage. This is the sustenance, the support of the carpetbag party in the South. Deprived of that, it would die tomorrow. I admit, as every Southern man must admit, the gross wrongs that have been perpetrated upon the Southern people. I am no apologist for them, but neither party proposes any atonement or indemnity for the past. I propose at least to give security for the future by an alliance between the Southern people and General Grant's administration....

Reporter: Has the president ever tendered you any position under his administration?

Colonel Mosby: Shortly after the presidential election the president said something to me on the subject of giving me an office. I told him while I would as lief hold an office under him as under any other man who had ever been president, yet there was no office within his gift that I desired or would accept. I told him that my motives in supporting him had been assailed, and my accepting a position under his administration would be regarded as a confirmation of the truth of the charge that I was governed by selfish motives. But my principal reason for not accepting anything from him was that I would have far more influence for good by taking nothing for myself....

Reporter: Colonel, I have heard that you are now promoting claims against the Government, --is that a fact?

Colonel Mosby: It is not. I have filed one claim for a citizen before the Southern Claims Commission. I shall turn this over, however, to a claim agent. I have had hundreds of claims of all sorts for prosecution against the Government offered me, but have declined them all, as I have no idea of bartering my political influence.... I do not think that any man nominated at Lynchburg will stand the most remote chance of success, because he will only be supported by the negroes of the state, led by a few white men. No matter what my relations to the administration may be, I wouldn't assist in putting this set in power.

Excerpt from John S. Mosby, The Memoirs of Colonel John S. Mosby. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1959.

With the White People, Right or Wrong

Called to testify about murderous violence in Louisiana, white planter B. W. Marston explained the attacks by pointing to widespread poverty among whites, and his sense that Northern exploiters, led by Freedman's Bureau representative marshall Twitchell, had arrived to tyrranize him and others in the planter class. In Marston's view, Twitchell was working "to organize the freedmen element against the interests of the white people." Marston condoned violence as a means of restoring the pre-war social, economic, and political climate.

Coushatta, Louisiana, June 7, 1876

The campaign of 1874 opened... The cotton-worm had destroyed the crop again. The people were very much impoverished. I remember speaking on one occasion to Captain Twitchell and telling him I believed this country was suffering more today than it ever had since it had been a country. I know it was very hard with me and every one I could hear from to get along....

All the paying offices of the parish have been held by strangers from abroad, who have been put in, I suppose, through the influence of Mr. Twitchell...

[He] called on me at my private residence, and we had a long conversation on the state of affairs. Among other things, I recollect telling him distinctly... that if he proposed to rule these people with a rod of iron he could not do it; that these were American people, and they would never be made serfs of... I told him that my planting interests were such that I did not want any excitement... I wanted him to understand that I would always go with the white people of our country right or wrong, because I would not place my judgment against them; that I was one of them and would share their fate...

[My] proposition was this; that he would guarantee us a reform government, and as a guarantee of that government give the bona-fideresidents of this parish one-half of all the offices, his party could take the other half, and we would have no political excitement during the campaign of 1874... My object was reform, and to avoid a war in this parish, which was approaching. Twitchell remarked, "Well, it is very natural that the minority should wish to be represented." That is all that was done about that proposition...

Mr. Twitchell controlled everything connected with the affairs of this parish. There was no doubt about that. He controlled the tax-collector's office; his brother was tax-collector. He was leader of this country. There was no doubt but that everything was done that he wanted...

I consider the assessment of 1873, for which we held him responsible, as one of the most tyrannical things that ever happened. I consider him a tyrant, because he has been representing these people and has betrayed them; because he held the position of state senator; president of the school board; president of the police jury; controlled the tax collector's office, and was everything connected with the affairs of the parish... took the money paid for taxes for his own use, and settled with himself; and if that is not tyranny in America; there is no tyranny anywhere.

If I should take Mr. Twitchell's position and undertake to organize the freedmen element against the interests of the white people... I would not be as safe as if I should undertake to organize the white element. If I were to make incendiary speeches and collect the Negroes in the night like it was done here before the riot, when one of the most respectable citizens in this community was shot in the back, I do not think I would be safe in this country, because these people are Americans, and they will defend themselves as quick as any other people in the world. If they suppose a man is coming here for incendiary purposes, they will deal with him promptly...

There is a very severe feeling against Mr. Twitchell among these people... Republicanism or democracy has nothing to do with it; it is from the fact that these people believe they have been plundered by him, and their property has been attempted to be confiscated by him; that he has undertaken his way to make a serfdom of this country.

Excerpts from Testimony of B.W. Marston Re: The Coushatta Affair. House Reports, 44th Congress, 1st Session, No. 816, 645-727.

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