The end of our Civil War and Reconstruction unit is nearing and as we enter our discussion concerning Reconstruction we looked briefly at Sherman’s Field Order Number 15. To me this represents so much about Reconstruction. William T. Sherman clearly issued the order as a practicality to take care of the issue of all those new Southern laborers in need of subsistence, but also it furthered his desire to punish the Southern plantation elite. Some students did wonder if Sherman was capable of seeing this order as doing good for those former slaves [first and foremost] who desperately wanted their own land, and I felt that was a legitimate question that I could not answer. Sherman’s order is convoluted in terms of potential interpretation, is it not? It held so much hope for those poor Freedmen and in the end so much heartbreak. So in a way, the hope and failure of Sherman’s order represented, in a microcosm, the failure of Reconstruction.
Any thoughts here that I could pass on to my students. This is a very frustrating end to the unit as its hard for them to get past the failure of Reconstruction and focus on understanding what happened and why. Isn’t that the goal, understanding and not judgment? Or is it?
I am making my way through Eric Foner’s excellent book.
Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).