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From Our Past XXVI

Contributor’s notes:

An eighteen year old, Ruby Walker, of Gurley Alabama, wrote the following narrative on March 5, 1908. It reflects the general feelings and sentiments of a young girl of North Alabama about the Civil War, reconstruction, recovery, and the current state of affairs in 1908 as seen through her young eyes. It also reflects the innocence and inexperienced viewpoint of a new generation of young people as they see things in a more truthful and more hopeful way than that of her elders. Although it was not indicated, it can be assumed this narrative was probably written as a school paper. (The photo at right is Ruby Walker Lawler at about age thirty- two)

Ruby Walker

    The Effects of the Civil War on Alabama as Seen through the Eyes of an Eighteen Year Old Girl in 1908

The Civil War was then forty-three years past and most of the veterans were now in their sixties and seventies. There were enough veterans around to keep everyone reminded of the war and a new generation of Southerners listened to the stories first hand, from those who had actually experienced it. Ruby Walker’s father was Captain Elijah F. Walker of Gurley, a former Confederate cavalry officer. She was born 1890 and raised in a modest white frame house, in Gurley and enjoyed the unpretentious lifestyle from a father who was a landowner and successful Gurley businessman. This narrative was written in a very philosophical and rambling manner, as was the style back in the nineteenth century and early into the twentieth. It is also written with the innocence of youth.

March 5, 1908, Madison County, Alabama
By Ruby Walker

How did the Civil War affect Alabama? It is a question today’s young people are not that familiar with and they do not give it the thoughts that they should. It is interesting indeed to gather around the fireside on a winter evening and listen with attentive ears, to the stories of our parents and grandparents, what they went through during the years 1861 to 1865. However, the stories they tell do not seem to impress a correct picture on the minds of the young. Only those who have gone through the scourge of war can recall vividly to memory, with tear-dimmed eyes, the scenes of the past. People of those days, enjoyed health, wealth, and partook to a large measure of the luxuries as we now do. Farming and slave trade were the main dependence of a living before the war.

In discussing the effects of the Civil War on Alabama, the subject naturally falls into two divisions, the immediate and the future. Although more than a generation has passed, the event is still too fresh in the minds and hearts of our mothers and fathers for the children to view the situation in the proper perspective, yet the mitigation of time and circumstances will enable us to perceive a proper understanding.

Forty years ago, it required rose-colored glasses and abnormal imagination to discern any hope for the state. At the close of the great struggle, her (Alabama) condition was equal to those ancient Gallic tribes, who after their conflict with their German neighbors, found themselves with “nothing but the bare soil”. The invincible Germans, already in possession, had not slept under a roof for fourteen years. It seems like fifty since that great army of Carpetbaggers came here and tried to get possession of our soil (more information). Their allies, for whom homes had to be provided, are the newly liberated slaves (more information). Those, while possessing all the qualities to be desired, are haulers of wood and drawers of water, possessed not a single qualification to make them acceptable as co-workers or ever as neighbors. In the struggle for readjustment, it was found that the state was about to fall into worse than anarchy. The same men, who had fought vainly for four years to secure states rights, went quietly to work to establish their rights in the state. This was done by the means of the Ku Klux Clan, an order so mysterious in its origin, so terrible in its working, as to crush, with scarcely one blow, the towering civil rights aspiration of the wards of nature. So thorough was the work of the Klan, and so dark the mysteries surrounding it, that a generation passed away before the secrets of its organization and methods were divulged. The monumental accomplishment of the dreaded Klan was the limit it set to the vaulting conditions of the Negro showing him the line beyond which it said, “Thou shall not go” (more information). Within this one restriction, the citizens of Alabama have wrought faithfully to raise the Negro to a higher moral and intellectual plain, but few have attained a semblance of a higher ideal, only to emphasize the blackness of the mass that have sunk deeper into indolence and vice. Formerly they were producers, well cared for and happy, now they are only consumers, not well cared for, but happy, for the “white folks” still furnish them with the means of subsistence. If there were any ultimate effect of the Civil War, it is beyond the reach of the most powerful of rose-colored lenses, assisted by the liveliest imagination.

However, the darkest side of this picture is that which shows the condition of the women and children of Alabama. Thousands of women, who have never known a care, were left without natural protectors and had to go out into the world and battle for existence at a time where strong men were barely able to wrest the means of subsistence from almost impossible conditions. When reconstruction had done its worst, people began to adjust themselves to the new conditions even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles (more information).

During the administration of Governor Houston, who placed the state on an honorable basis, men then went to work in earnest to build up the common wealth. The mineral interests, which had been pointed out thirty years before, began to be developed. This was a time when new railroads were built and new towns established. It was during the years from 1831 to 1833 that the first railroad was built in Alabama, it being only forty miles in length. This added to the pleasures and comfort of the weary travelers and the old stagecoach gladly gave way to the puffing locomotives. Many investors in these enterprises acquired great wealth. The agricultural districts also begin to prosper and vast public improvements have been brought about.

The great institution of “Learning” begins to create interest about this time. Among the first schools founded in the state was St. Joseph’s College in Spring Hill during the year 1830. There was yet no system of public schools in Alabama though the state was not too far behind other younger states in this matter. Even in many of the older states, the duty of the government, to prepare the young for citizenship was not clearly recognized. Many of the early schools of those days were of a sort that the fortunate children should be glad to escape, because the methods of teaching were as barbarous as punishment. Today the government is promoting an excellent public school system, which has since evolved, and opportunities for a good education now lie at every door.

The fires of the Civil War and reconstruction have left many fields unplanted and the one inexhaustible crop throughout the state has been the abundance of weeds. With the wonderful development of new industries has come a change of sentiment and today the ultimate effect is a complete change of standards and ideals. Attitudes no longer ask the questions, “What is right?” but ask, “What is expedient?”, also we do not ask, “How we can best develop our state to the best advantage of the citizen?” but “What class of investors or immigrants will put more money into our pockets. A gentleman of the old school, although appreciated and loved by old friends, has now been made ridiculous in fiction by persons, who in their zeal for local color have produced a picture that is decidedly “off color”. Everybody desires to make money but it must be by a “get rich scheme” while few aspire to be learned or good. The force of commercialism has crossed Mason’s and Dixon’s line and stalks abroad to claim, not the few, but the many. While the immediate effect of the Civil War has been material prosperity, it has also brought about intellectual and spiritual starvation for the masses.

As we have viewed the ultimate and immediate effects on Alabama, we will take another survey. It was in the year 1861 when the war commenced, the people were enjoying prosperity that partook to a large measure, of luxury at that time. As we have said, they enjoyed wealth and comforts and as time has passed, other mere necessities were added to it.

Much of the population, during the days of our forefathers, existed under the institution of slavery, which were set free and rioted throughout the state, and at the end of four years struggle between the North and South, found Alabama prostrate, helpless, and absolutely impoverished. It is hard to imagine all of the young enterprises of so young a state to be at a standstill. This was also true for all the other southern states with nothing pushing forward except for the cause of this great struggle. Just think of the legislature of Alabama that assembled in Montgomery at the beginning of the reconstruction days was composed of more than three-fourths Negro and the balance made up of vulgar and dishonorable carpetbaggers from the North. They ran the debt of the state up to more than thirty million dollars, the great bulk of which they had stolen. However, a few white people in Alabama could vote at that time. Negroes had been enfranchised and attended the polls heavily armed with guns and pistols (more information). A reign of terror prevailed throughout the state, and with a great many of the best people of the state, it was a serious question of getting enough to maintain their families. After enfranchisement, the Negroes were fed by the Freedman’s Bureau. Carpetbaggers used every ingenuity to intimidate, mortify, and impoverish the people of the state.

You may say the state was not on its feet until the year 1875 and by that time, many of the energetic and high-toned citizens of our own state inaugurated the policy of developing the mineral resources of the state proved a success. How does Alabama rank in the mineral world today? Near the top, she took out of her soil last year as much coal as was taken out of the ground in the United States in the year 1860. Today our farmers realize 25% more profits upon the crops grown in Alabama than the same crops grown in Northern states.

Let us take a hasty survey of what Alabama was before the war and what she is in the twentieth century and what progress has she made? It is uplifting in every respect, she offers more advantage to the people and is better equipped to meet and overcome the obstacles of the future. We cannot realize what Alabama and the South have gone through in climbing the steep ladder of time. Alabama has been one of the great sisterhoods of states rights for about forty years when the great questions of states rights plunged our country into the horrors of national strife. Until this time, her history had been one of peaceful development. So great was the upheaval that some of her crowning glories were entirely submerged while the “mud sills” that were brought to the surface have never quite succeeded in obliterating the stains and smears of their humble origin. Since that time, every step in the history of Alabama has been connected with the Civil War. Since 1865, every step in her march has been conditioned by two momentous circumstances, the surrender and reconstruction.

Contributor’s Summary:
As you read this paper, you will find, as I did, a narrative that is somewhat confusing, where many of the sentences lack a simple meaning and seem to ramble along with lots of adjectives and flowery words. One has to realize these are the words of an eighteen-year girl in 1908 trying to explain a very complex subject that even she had great difficulty in understanding. One assumes her comments about the freed slave issue and current state political situation came from remarks she may have heard from her parents or grand parents. We can visualize however, the enormous influence the war had on a younger generation forty- three years later. There is no doubt everyone in the South suffered deeply, both during and after the war. Northern Carpetbaggers and other Northern officials treated the general populace with contempt and scorn and the people hated them for it. It took many years for the hatred to subside and even today, there are still Southerners who have resentment for Northern arrogance. In many areas of the state, the period of reconstruction was difficult but in time, cities and towns were rebuilt, farms were replanted, new industry developed, and folks put their lives back in order.

Ruby Walker Lawler died in 1972 and lived to see Alabama rise from the ashes of reconstruction and take its place as a vibrant and progressive part of this great country we live in.

William Walker 2006

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