SUBMITTED BY: Judith O’Connor
Excerpt from a book written by the late Hattie Caldwell Davis, titled “Civil War Letters and Memories from the Great Smokey Mountains.” Copyright 1999 Hattie C. Davis, Second Edition.
In the late spring and summer of 1865 our soldiers came home, some crippled for life, others ill and heartsick. Ragged, dirty, weary, war-worn, battle-scarred, they came struggling home. There was no time to be lost for those who were able to work, so after they had rested a spell, they set about getting their crops taken care of.
After four years the farms were run down and the homes and barns in need of repair. No road work had been done, fences had fallen, ditches had filled with dirt and debris. Many chores had to be done, such as cutting wood for the oncoming winter and harvesting crops their wives had been able to plant. Times were very hard, but they knew things would get better.
The so-called Reconstruction was soon to cast its dark shadow, beginning in 1867. Vice President Andrew Jackson, who became president after Lincoln’s death, believed there was no need for Congress to pass a reconstruction act to put the South back in the Union.
But the Northern Republicans led by Butler and Seward caused all kinds of trouble for the South for about three years. There was a mis-rule and political corruption the like of which, perhaps, has never been known.
The Carpetbaggers and Scalawags regime was so called because the northern office seekers and exploiters flocked here, carrying little more than a change of clothing in a carpet bag. They were taking over without the Oath of Allegiance, and our people and our people were not permitted to vote or hold public office.
The blacks had been misled, they had been told that all of the land would be taken by the government and divided up among them. They were promised forty acres and a mule for every family. The politicians, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags had the blacks believing them. The blacks wound up being pawns, with hatred starting, caused by outsiders. Before, the blacks and whites had been peaceful.
The blacks did not receive forty acres of land and a mule as they had been promised but were free to do as they pleased. They had been told life would be better up North. Many who had liked their masters stayed on, but others left, catching the train to New York, Chicago, and other places. When they arrived, there was no roof to cover their head nor food to eat. Some got low-paying jobs, but it was very hard for them to provide for their families. However, some did get better jobs and stayed in the North.
Many blacks came back to the only home they had known. They took the name of their favorite masters and worked together just to have enough food to eat. The blacks would be paid then, if there was enough money.
Before the war there had been many wealthy plantation owners. Now, after the war was over the Confederate money had no value. Only gold coins were of value, and they were few. Trunks full of Confederate money would later be used to paper the walls of homes because of its lost of value. (From W.C. Medford’s history of Haywood County.)
Money in those days came from cattle, hogs, turkeys and other animals the drovers took to market. Those who did not know how to barter, trade, and swap, soon learned how and helped each other. In the 1880’s Hiram Caldwell (the writer’s grandfather) worked as a teamster, driving a wagon with four horses back and forth to Greenville, South Carolina, for ten cents a day.
Life was very hard here all over the Great Smoky Mountains: pretty much the same in all areas. The roads had never been good; now they were in terrible condition. They had been neglected for four years–they were rough, rocky, and deeply rutted out by narrow steel wagons hauling heavy war supplies.
Asheville had a plank road which went all the way to the Georgia line. It was the only good road here in the Smokies, which was sparsely settled in 1860-1865, sometimes referred to as the “Back of Beyond.” (Information gleaned from the writer’s grandparents, Hiram and Lizzie Caldwell.)