On this day in labor history, the year was 1865.
That was the day Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.
Grant’s Union army successfully cut off Confederate forces at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Historians agree the terms were generous to the Confederacy.
The surrender marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War, with three more key surrenders before the end of May.
Half the country was in ruins, with as many as 750,000 dead.
In the North alone, millions more lay seriously injured.
At least 40,000 formerly enslaved blacks died fighting for their freedom.
It was considered the country’s turning point.
The Civil War ended the slave system, forged a centralized federal government and created a national structure for the institutional development of public health, veteran care and aid programs.
The Era of Reconstruction ushered in a period of hope and opportunity for black freedom, equality and prosperity.
But historian Gregory Downs argues in his book, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War that the war did not really end in 1865.
The South was essentially under military occupation until at least 1871.
Downs states “By severing the war’s conflict from the Reconstruction that followed, it drains meaning from the Civil War and turns it into a family feud, a fight that ended with regional reconciliation… Once white Southern Democrats overthrew Reconstruction, they utilized the Appomattox myth to erase the connection between the popular, neatly concluded Civil War and the continuing battles of Reconstruction.”
For Eric Foner, the period was one of revolution and counterrevolution, “a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent.”