I’ve gotten quite a bit done over the past few weeks, including a very rough draft of my essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia which will appear in Virginia at War, 1865, edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson (University of Kentucky Press, 2010). This has not been an easy project given the dearth of sources that specifically address the journeys home for those who surrendered at Appomattox. I’ve made good use of a number of published studies that examine the social dynamics of the Army of Northern Virginia as well as community studies. Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing around with our tendency to draw sharp distinctions between the war and Reconstruction; needless to say that distinction has become much more fluid for me. Anyway, this should give you a sense of some of the questions I’ve been thinking about. Feel free to offer your own observations. More importantly, I would very much appreciate references to any primary and/or secondary sources that you think may be helpful.
Lawrence Taliaferro’s civil war should have ended on very familiar ground when he crossed the Rappahannock River by Fredericksburg shortly after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Instead, Taliaferro was struck by the drastic changes to the landscape. Abandoned and rusting war machinery littered the ground as well as the bones of old mules and horses. The surrounding forests had been leveled to serve the needs of warring armies throughout the conflict. As Taliaferro traversed those final twelve miles to what he hoped would be the comforts of his family’s estate he became disoriented by the numerous paths that obscured a well-known road. Eventually he lost his way and was forced to ask for directions. An elderly black man, who Taliaferro later learned was an ex-slave of the family, escorted the confused and tired young man to his home.
Once home Taliaferro reunited with his father and sister and shortly thereafter an older brother who also served in Lee’s army. With only a mule, horse, and a few ex-slaves who remained with the family the Taliaferro’s began the process of rebuilding their estate by collecting old bones and iron from the surrounding area, which they resold. The Federal army, in recognition of the family’s hospitality during the war, supplied mules and food, which no doubt furthered the process of rebuilding and perhaps even a sense of optimism that a brighter future was possible. No amount of succor from the Federal army, however, would have blinded Lawrence Taliaferro as well as his family to the challenges they would face in the immediate future.