@Book{ campbell1997,
	author = {Randolph B. Campbell},
	title = {Grass-Roots Reconstruction in Texas, 1865--1880},
	address = {Baton Rouge},
	publisher = {Louisiana State University Press},
	year = 1997,

Campbell’s study is a county-level exploration of political Reconstruction, focusing on six counties as case studies—Colorado, Dallas, Harrison, Jefferson, McLennan, and Nueces. His focus is primarily on reconstructing election results, economic measures, and political conflict in each county. His goal is to argue that Reconstruction was variable across the state, and he ends with a word of caution: “Be very careful in generalizing about events and developments from 1865 to 1880 in so large and varied a state” (220).

p. 8:

Texas escaped the terrible destruction of the Civil War for a simple reason—United States troops never invaded and occupied the state’s interior. Coastal areas from Sabine Pass to Brownsville fell to invading forces at various times beginning in 1862, but when the war ended in the spring of 1865, all inland towns, plantations, and farms remained untouched. Texans paid a huge price for the war, of course, primarily in terms of lives lost and ruined in the Confederate army and, to a lesser extent, in the privations of families left at home. The conflict also disrupted the cotton trade and drained essential livestock from plantations and farms. Nevertheless, Texas in 1865 had nothing to compare with the scenes of devastation in Old South states such as Virginia and South Carolina.

Colorado County

p. 30:

the county, like all interior regions of Texas, escaped federal invasion and, although the site of considerable Confederate supply activity, was not occupied by either a defending or attacking army. In at least one way, the war even proved an economic boon as Alleyton became the eastern terminus for a cotton-exportation route that ran from south-central Texas to the Mexican port of Bagdad on the Gulf of Mexico below Matamoros. During 1863, observers reported that Alleyon looked like a boom town; its streets filled with cotton sellers and buyers, speculators, and teamsters.

Change came slowly to the county in early months of Reconstruction because of appointment of officials who had been slaveholders on the commissioners’ court. Emancipation freed 4,000 in the county, but “most, after a brief testing of their freedom to move, wound up working on plantations in the county for wages or a share of the crop” (33), though Christmas rumors of redistribution made their way to the county. Their situation worsened by Black Code of 1866 and lack of strong Freedmen’s Bureau leadership in the county.

Nonetheless, the new commissioners’ court of 1866 featured only one (of four) who was a slaveowner before the war, and “Unionists in the county had relatively few complaints about their situation. Upon Congressional Reconstruction, Republicans also controlled the county until the 1880s. Freedpeople were active and able to defend themselves, as shown by the”Eagle Lake Riot," while the white population was more divided (60).

Dallas County

Unlike Colorado, not a part of the cotton kingdom at all. Democrats controlled the county from 1870 through redemption, but “overall, the period was one of rapid expansion and notable prosperity,” and its population “most than doubled in 1872 and 1873 when the Houston and TExas Central and the Texas and Pacific railways arrived” (94). Yet “blacks in Dallas County received relatively little help in adjusting from slavery to freedom” (95). While “the Reconstruction era marked dramatic change in Dallas County, … Reconstruction itself did not cause the change” (96).

Harrison County

“Harrison was the most southern of all the state’s counties. Natives of the South headed more than 90 percent of its households in 1860, and nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of the heads of households owned slaves” (98).

During the war, Marshall—the county seat—also “became increasingly important as a center for Confederate military operations. A powder mill and ordnance works moved there from Arkansas in 1863, and once Union forces split the Confederacy along the Mississippi in July of that year,” Kirby Smith located many of his offices in Marhsll (101). As the war wound down, however, the town was pillaged by many disorganized and demoralized Confederate soldiers stationed there.

Freedpeople were frequently subjected to intimidation and abuse, and their expectations of a Christmas-time distribution of goods were disappointed. Even federal troops stationed at Marshall in 1865 and 1866 showed antipathy to black residents. “A bad crop year soon made matters worse” (111).

p. 112: “More than likely, most of the county’s black majority were left alone to lead peaceful lives so long as they did not challenge white supremacy; but violent incidents occurred, and the threat was always present.”

Congressional Reconstruction unleashed political struggle between white conservatives who urged freepeople to remain loyal to former masters, and radical Republicans who returned to the state, like George W. Whitmore. But strong resistance of white conservatives typified by appointment of S. R. Perry as sheriff. And “even the first representative of the Freedmen’s Bureau to arrive in Harrison County, Col. H. Seymour Hall, indicated that African Americans could expect little more than simply not being enslaved any longer” (106).

Ultimately, Redeemers won a spectacular victory in the county. “When the era closed … other than accepting the absolute destruction of slavery, Harrison County had not undergone any radical changes of a permanent nature” (138).

Economic conditions contributed to political conflict, for “the local economy, in spite of greatly improved railroad connections, remained overwhelmingly rural and dependent on cotton and was slow to recover from wartime disruptions and the end of slavery” (139). Total assessed value of taxable property rose about $600,000 between 1865 and 1876, to $2,414,958, but that was still less than the value of non-slave property in 1860 (139). The elite class also left the county or dropped off between 1865 and 1880.

p. 139:

Almost certainly the lack of economic expansion in Harrison County stemmed much more from its great reliance on slavery before the war and its location in an older region of Texas than from Reconstruction policies; nevertheless, the two coincided, and angry whites could easily claim the existence of a relationship.


Though he cautions about over-generalization, he draws several conclusions:

  1. Federal authority had significant local impacts.
  2. Scalawags, not carpetbaggers, provided Republican party strength at local level.
  3. Rate of population and economic growth helped determine local Reconstruction. For the most part, economic elites maintained their affluence.
  4. Presence of foreign-born populations mattered.
  5. Proportion of blacks in the county played the most important role in determining county’s experience of Reconstruction, with larger proportions guaranteeing “great bitterness in local politics after 1865” (229). Though strength in numbers also allowed freedpeople in these counties more opportunities to seize some control of their own fates.

p. 231: “Reconstruction at the grass roots in Texas, although it varied greatly from one locality to another, hurt whites far less than is often claimed and benefited at least one generation of blacks a good deal more than is often recognized.”