(August 9, 2017) By early May 1865, a month after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, most of the remaining Confederate soldiers had laid down their arms. While some Southerners were angry, and others were relieved, nearly all were apprehensive about the future. Many moved west and north; some decided to leave the United States completely.
Many Southerners were pessimistic about the region’s economic future. Partly because of the monetary value of slaves, in 1860 seven of the 10 states with the highest per capita wealth would join the Confederacy. Much of that wealth was wiped out, and today Virginia is the only former rebel state to rank among the top 10 in per capita income, while five of the bottom 10 are former Confederate states. The classic example is Mississippi, which ranked No. 1 in 1860, and 50th in the 2010 census.
It took 85 years for the South’s per capita income to return to where it was in 1860 — an already low 72 percent of the national average. (The delay partly reflected protective tariffs, which were injurious to the South’s export economy and lasted until after World War II.) Not surprisingly, such concerns put Southerners on the move, either outside the region or to less war-torn parts of it, like Texas. In 1860 Texas ranked ninth among the Southern states in population; 20 years later it was first.
Above all, many leaders feared being tried for treason. Although the Appomattox agreement stipulated that surrendered soldiers could return home, where they were “not to be disturbed by US authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside,” many Northern politicians wanted to ignore those provisions. Confederate civilian politicians were even more vulnerable, because they could not lay claim to a defense under the army’s surrender terms.