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Fighting the Civil War

“I finally told them they must take their choice of enforcing their own laws or having them enforced by the military.”
  —W. P. Pease, Capt. 17th Infantry, commanding Post of Sulphur Springs, Texas, report to Commanding General, 5th Military District, Austin, Texas, 3 October 1868




Federal troops were stationed throughout the defeated Confederacy to maintain order and ensure compliance with federal law. It was no easy task for small army detachments in isolated regions, such as Capt. Thomas Tolman’s (Class of 1865) unit in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

A central issue was the place of freed slaves in the reconstructed South. Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 to prepare newly liberated slaves for responsible citizenship. The reality was different. Headed by O. O. Howard (1854) and backed by military force, the bureau’s chief function became protecting freedmen against racist violence. Later it helped organize the black vote for the Republican Party.

African American soldiers had become a significant part of Union armies during the war, 12 percent of total manpower by 1865. They continued to serve as part of the postwar regular army, and in 1870 Congress directed West Point to admit African American cadets.


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Oliver Otis Howard




Key Figures






Oliver Otis Howard
Oliver Otis Howard
1830–1909
Class of 1854



Robert Edward Lee
Thomas Murray Tolman
1841–1883
Class of 1865





Smithsonian National Museum of American History


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West Point in History Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue Introduction 1802–1860 1861–1870 1866–1914 1914–1918 Epilogue Choosing Sides Organizing for War Fighting the Civil War The Army in Reconstruction