Reconstruction Timeline

Reconstruction, the period where the nation struggled to find the proper place for newly freed slaves, played out extensively in South Carolina.

Here are some milestones:

1861 - About seven months after the war began, the Union captured a chunk of what is now Beaufort County, and planters fled, leaving their slaves behind.

1862 - The Union army establishes Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island as a refugee camp; it would become an early Reconstruction settlement and a town of 1,500 freedmen by the war's end.

1863 - President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, a war-time measure freeing slaves in the 10 Confederate states. Hundreds of freedmen from Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands celebrate it with federal officials on a plantation owned by John Joyner Smith, near today's U.S. Naval Hospital; the state's first black regiment was formed.

1865 - The war ends, and the 13th Amendment is ratified, abolishing slavery. Union Gen. William T. Sherman issues Special Field Order 15, giving confiscated plantation land on South Carolina's and Georgia's sea islands for black families to settle in 40-acre plots. Some 40,000 freedmen and women were living on the land. The Freedman Bureau is established.

1866 - Tennessee is the first former Confederate state readmitted to the Union. Race riots occur in New Orleans and Memphis. The Ku Klux Klan is formed.

1867 - Congress divides the former Confederacy into five military districts and requires elections where African American men can vote. They are held in every southern state except Texas.

1868 - Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama are readmitted to the Union. The 14th Amendment is ratified, revoking the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution and creates a new federal category of citizenship.

1870 - The 15th Amendment, which grants African American men the right to vote, is ratified. Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas are readmitted to the Union. Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina takes his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first black to serve in that chamber. Hiram Rhodes of Mississippi becomes the nation's first black Senator.

1871 - President Ulysses Grant declares martial law in South Carolina; mass arrests follow and prosecutors are indicting Ku Klux Klan members under newly passed Klan and Enforcement Acts. The U.S. House now has five black members, including Rainey and Robert Carlos DeLarge of South Carolina

1872 - The Freedman's Bureau is abolished. P. B. S. Pinchback of Louisiana briefly becomes the nation's first black governor.

1874 - For the first time since the Civil War began, Democrats win control of both houses of Congress. Robert Smalls of Beaufort, a Civil War hero who sailed the Confederate ship Planter out of Charleston Harbor and turned it over to the Union, is elected to Congress.

1875 - The Civil Rights Act passes, guaranteeing equal rights to African Americans in public accommodations and jury service, but it is ruled unconstitutional in 1883.

1876 - The U.S. Presidential election is disputed, and Democrat Wade Hampton's election as South Carolina's governor shows the South is not committed to Reconstruction. The election was marred by violence from the Red Shirts, a paramilitary group that worked to suppress black voting.

1877 - A political compromise results in the Union pulling its troops out of the South, specifically South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. Reconstruction ends, though its larger goals - figuring out African-Americans rights in the nation - remain unfinished.

BEAUFORT - Only 209 days after the Civil War began up the coast at Fort Sumter, the Union Army and Navy captured Port Royal Sound and the first stirrings of Reconstruction took root as the United States government decided how to handle freed slaves.

The 4-year-long war's fighting has been written about in depth, and many of its major battlefields are now national parks and monuments, but the history of the dozen years that followed has been relatively ignored.

Mayor Billy Keyserling is among those trying to change that.

"I've been trying to build a framework and identity for Beaufort as the model Reconstruction site, the initial Reconstruction site," he said. "It happened here."

This effort has been under way for a decade, and it got a shot in the arm earlier this month.

The National Endowment for Humanities gave University of South Carolina-Beaufort history professor Brent Morris a $200,000 grant to create a special program here next summer to teach school teachers about this overlooked period of the nation's history.

The institute will take place next summer, and Keyserling hopes that more developments fall into place by then.

"I'm delighted that he (Morris) has got the grant," he said, "but I think that's just a piece of the momentum that we now have moving forward."

Highlighting Beaufort's role

Morris has identified at least 49 separate sites in Beaufort County that tell part of the larger story of Reconstruction.

The city has been pushing for the National Park Service to create a series of Reconstruction monuments here that would highlight the most prominent of them.

They include the U.S. Naval Hospital site, where the Emancipation Proclamation was read to hundreds of freed slaves in January 1863, to Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island, a refugee camp that became one of the South's first freedmen towns.

This part of the Lowcountry was among the first places in the nation to deal with freed slaves, and Port Royal Experiment allowed former slaves to work plantation lands for compensation.

The city tried to get the Park Service to build a monument more than a decade ago, but the effort got bogged down in opposition from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "The partnership that was going after it didn't make an inclusive request," Keyserling said, "and so those who have a different view than some of us on Reconstruction felt left out and they felt bullied."

Randy Burbage of the Sons of Confederate Veterans remembers the 2003 controversy, saying, "We felt like it was something that the people of South Carolina really wouldn't want to have because it was such a terrible time in our history."

Whether a new Reconstruction monument effort would be welcomed today would depend on its content, he added.

"If it's inclusive, if it includes the horrible part as well - as far as what happened to the Confederate soldiers and their families, as well as the progressive things that happened to blacks - I think it would be accepted," he said.

Keyserling said he is optimistic that the next effort ultimately will succeed. "The question is how we take the next step forward," he said. "I think it will happen. When it will happen is hard to tell."

Teaching Reconstruction

What definitely will happen is that next summer, 30 K-12 teachers will arrive here for a three-week institute entitled, "America's Reconstruction: The Untold Story."

The effort will bring together the university's Beaufort campus with the city, the Beaufort Museum, Penn Center and the University of South Carolina's College of Education.

Morris will direct the project, which will involve historians Lawrence Roland, Stephen Wise and Eric Foner of Columbia University and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning history, "The Fiery Trail: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery."

"We're expecting hundreds of applications (for the 30 slots), and it will be an intensive process," he said. "We're hoping for a lot of diversity, and we hope for a lot of applications from the Lowcountry where this history unfolded."

The group will visit significant sites, such as Penn Center on St. Helena Island, Sapelo Island, Ga. and Mitchelville.

Morris called Mitchelville "the first place where African-Americans were really able to govern themselves. A lot of people were really skeptical of that ... (but) the Mitchelville settlement really did prove a lot of outsiders that, given the opportunity, African-Americans can function and govern themselves like other people can."

Keyserling said he hopes the content of next summer's institute will be published or somehow made available to other teachers and history buffs. "What they say should be in the public domain," he said. "I have to work out the details."

In the big picture, Morris said most people don't know much about the nation's history between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War I.

"Reconstruction is when the United States really did pick up the pieces of the Civil War and literally tried to reconstruct the nation," Morris said. "This was the time period where the United States had to change the way of thinking of an entire region."

While Reconstruction's goals fell short, Morris noted it still was a deeply significant era, one that led to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments abolishing slavery, clarifying that African-Americans were full citizens and granting men of all races their voting rights.

"It was a foundational period of American history because it set the groundwork for the modern day Civil Rights movement," Morris said. "A lot of scholars would say the ideas of Reconstruction still haven't been fully accomplished."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.