By May 10, 1865, when U.S. President Andrew Johnson declared armed resistance at an end, vast areas of the South lay in ruins. Four years of brutal combat had taken the lives of an estimated 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, shattered illusions, and fueled social reform movements. In the South, the war gave birth to the “Lost Cause” mythology that idealized Southern life and Confederate principles.

Four million Americans who had been considered property in 1860 would be recognized as American citizens with ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. Yet this fact did not erase prejudice. After all eleven Confederate States were readmitted to the Union and the turbulent Reconstruction Era came to a close in 1877, the limited progress some black Southerners had made during the immediate postwar period was largely reversed. It would be more than a century before the promise of equal rights embodied in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution began to be fully realized.

Yet the Civil War did resolve the primary issues that sparked the conflict. After more than 200 years, slavery was forever outlawed on American soil; and this terrible struggle determined that the great experiment in representative democracy—the United States of America—would not perish from the earth.

Flight and Capture of Jefferson Davis

After Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured by Union cavalry near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865, a rash of popular, satiric prints appeared in the North exploiting unfounded allegations that Davis was apprehended in women’s clothing. Though Davis was imprisoned for two years at Fort Monroe, he was never prosecuted for treason as originally intended. After traveling abroad, he settled in Mississippi, where he wrote The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881).

F. Welcker. Jeff’s Last Skedaddle Off to the Last Ditch, 1865. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (201.00.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-33128]

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Davis in Drag

When the press and popular graphics lampooned Jefferson Davis for supposedly being dressed in women’s clothing when he was finally captured, his wife Varina Davis described the scene in a letter to her old friend Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General in Lincoln’s administration. As the Federals approached she had covered Davis with her black shawl but adamantly denied that her husband had worn any female disguise. She was yet more indignant at their treatment by Union soldiers, who she claimed robbed them at every opportunity.

Varina Davis (1826–1906) to Montgomery Blair (1813–1883), June 6, 1865. Page 2 - Page 3. Blair Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (202.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0202, cw0202p1, cw0202p2]

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The End

With the fall of their government, ardent Confederates faced a future without their nation, slavery, and often their homes and investments. Some faced the years ahead with determination; others with despair. Native Virginian Edmund Ruffin claimed to have fired the first shot on Fort Sumter in 1861, but the farmer and agricultural reformer reserved his last bullet for himself. Afraid of being a financial burden to his children and unwilling to live under “Yankee rule,” he finished his diary with “The End” and then committed suicide.

Edmund Ruffin (1794–1865). Diary entry, June 18, 1865. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (205.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0205p1]

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Frederick Douglass on the Meaning of the War

Frederick Douglass feared that national reconciliation after the war seemed to require Americans to forget what the conflict had been about in the first place. In a Memorial Day address given at Arlington Cemetery in 1871, he lamented that for the sake of patriotism Americans were asked to honor all the men who fought, regardless of the side they had chosen. But after so much blood and sacrifice, Douglass wondered, what was worth remembering if not the death of slavery and the triumph of the Union?

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895). Address at the Graves of the Unknown Dead at Arlington, Virginia, May 30, 1871. Page 2 - Page 3. Frederick Douglass Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (211.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0211, cw0211p1, ]

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Left-Handed Penmanship Contest

William Oland Bourne, the editor of The Soldiers’ Friend newspaper, recognized that men who lost the use of their right hands through amputation or disability during the war faced challenges learning to use their left hands in their postwar lives. His paper sponsored two left-handed penmanship contests, the first contest offered cash prizes totaling $1000 and the second $500, for previously right-handed Union veterans. Submissions typically recorded the soldier’s own story, as in the entry by John F. Chase from Augusta, Maine, but sometimes also include poetry or patriotic sentiments, and occasionally a photograph. In Washington, D.C., an exhibition of all entrants opened to large crowds on May 1, 1866.

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A Soldier’s Advocate

Clara Barton achieved renown as “the angel of the battlefield” following her heroic efforts to care for the wounded and dying at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and numerous other battles. In March 1865, President Lincoln appointed her to start what was eventually known as the Office of Correspondence with the Friends of Missing Men of the United States Army—the first instance of a woman heading a United States government bureau. Corresponding with thousands of grieving families whose husbands and sons were still missing at the end of the war, Barton eventually determined the fate of 22,000 soldiers by reviewing casualty lists, parole and prison rolls, and publishing “Roll of Missing Men” lists that were displayed across the country. Her efforts included the identification of bodies interred in unmarked graves at Andersonville prison.

Clara Barton (1821–1912). Roll of Missing Men. No. 1. Washington, D.C.: 1865. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (204.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0204]

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Veterans' Associations

Not long after the armies disbanded, veterans of the Civil War began holding reunions. Veterans groups formed on t, and national levels, with the two best-known organizations being the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed in 1866 and the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) founded in 1889. These associations not only provided a social outlet for veterans to share their stories and often lobbied on behalf of their members, especially for funding pensions. Officially the GAR accepted black veterans, but due to racial tensions in the late nineteenth century, black veterans usually formed their own GAR posts.

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  • Co. B, 53rd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Ribbon, n.d. Silas W. Browning Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (209.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0209]

  • Winchester Camp No. 4. Ribbon, n.d. Jubal Anderson Early Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (210.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0210]

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A Civil War “Movie”

This toy contains a panorama of twenty-two Civil War scenes mounted on two rollers that can be turned by a key, causing the scenes to pass across the proscenium and allowing the viewer to see a performance of selected events from the war. Titled the “Myriopticon,” the toy was modeled on popular mid-nineteenth-century, larger-than-life moving dioramas. This compact Milton Bradley toy allowed children to replicate those popular entertainments on a much smaller scale, complete with a poster advertising the performance, admission tickets, and a script.

The Myriopticon, A Historical Panorama of the Rebellion. Springfield, Massachusetts: Milton Bradley Company, [before 1890]. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (212.00.00) [Digital ID# cw0212]

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The National Symbol

Even as the war raged to determine the fate of the United States, new states sought admission to the Union. In 1863, West Virginia became the 35th state. This United States flag, printed as a color woodcut on linen, was created between the admission of Nevada as the 36th state on October 31, 1864, and the addition of the 37th state, Nebraska, in 1867—after the continuing existence of the United States of America had been assured.

[Thirty-six star flag], between 1864 and 1867. Color woodcut on linen. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (201.00.00) [Digital ID# pga-02834]

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