In the documentary Reconstruction: The Second Civil War, Parts I and II, the personal stories shared are intriguing because they have not been told in detail for most students. This era of US history had as much impact on subsequent events as did the Civil War itself. It was largely the result of the actions of small numbers of people, rather than the masses of men involved in the Civil War itself.
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Among the most compelling personal narratives were those of Tunis Campbell and the white people with whom he clashes; Jacob Waldburg and Fan Butler. Another compelling story is that of Marshall Harvey Twitchell. These are all names that are not as well-known as some others in civil rights history, and their efforts intriguingly foreshadow many of the conflicts and advances later on.
The story of Tunis Campbell is fascinating because the settlement on St. Catherine’s Island represents the actual aspirations of freed former slaves. Campbell had many detractors at the time, frightened and offended by the idea of his leadership (PBS Episode I, 00:40). After St. Catherine’s Island properties were taken back at the point of guns wielded by black soldiers, he ran successfully for political office.
Threatened by white politicians when he tried to enter the legislature, he was eventually charged with malfeasance in office, and sent to a convict labor camp. He died in Boston in 1891, having written several books, met with the great and mighty, been elected to public office, and established a self-governing colony of formerly enslaved persons, albeit briefly (PBS Episode II, 1:19).
Accounts of his life and accomplishments vary widely, with some observers attesting that he actually raked off most of the income that his settlers made, or that the settlers subsisted on the largesse of the Freedman’s Bureau (LIberty County Historical Society), while move quickly past his settlement efforts (New Georgia Encyclopedia).
This makes his tale all the more intriguing. The strivings of Tunis Campbell and the formerly enslaved persons he led prove that neither the condition of slavery nor post-emancipation racism was enough to stamp out their initiative.
Jacob Waldburg’s protest of the taking of those coastal Georgia lands represents another interesting story in the documentary (PBS Episode I, 00:42). He had ownership of those lands, insofar as anyone of European ancestry could be said to have ownership of lands that were originally used in common by Native Americans and First Nation peoples.
He resented the way that his lands were given to others, especially to former slaves. This Waldburg’s outrage foreshadows the outrage of more recent landowners when they feel that their property is taken at government order, without appropriate remuneration, for whatever reason. Waldburg got his property back, apparently, because the black settlers would not fight black soldiers.
The story of another white landowner who was dealing with the problem of freed slaves in new roles was Fan Butler (PBS Episode II, 00:12). She was less successful in the long term even than Waldburg. She was from a prominent family, with a history of abolition-based conflict between her actress mother and her planter father. Thus, she must have been more than usually informed about the issues involved.
She came back to her family’s coastal island properties to restart rice production, and found the process of negotiating with former slaves as paid labor too difficult. The suspicions of the former slaves and the racist assumptions of the planter ended up sending her to England to start over with her British husband.
Harvey Twitchell, a white Union veteran assigned to run the Freedmen’s Bureau, is intriguing because he literally gave his body to trying to help freedmen claim their rights in the Red River area of Louisiana (PBS Episode II, 00:20).
He served as judge, labor negotiator and school board for a fractious and dangerous area (Tunnell). This instance of white commitment to the redress of the wrongs of slavery reminds the viewer of how complex the situation was. He ended up as a double amputee, but serving his nation as consul to Canada.
All of the stories illuminate areas of Reconstruction that are less than exhaustively well known. Those discussed above provide a more detailed view of the complicated process that led us to our racial situation today.
LIberty County Historical Society. “Tunis G. Campbell.” 2013. LIberty County Historical Society. Web.
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New Georgia Encyclopedia. Tunis Campbell (1812-1891). 2013. Web.
Reconstruction: The Second Civil War. PBS. 2003. Web.
Reconstruction: The Second Civil War, Part II. PBS. 2003. Web.
Tunnell, Ted. “Marshall Harvey Twitchell and the Freedmen’s Bureau of Bienville Parish.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association Publication Info 33. 3 (1992). Web.