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Aftermath of the Civil War
Erika Lindemann

Together with other states in the South, North Carolina was devastated by the Civil War. The loss of life touched virtually every family. The practice of organizing military units with troops from the same town meant that some communities no longer had any surviving young men, all of them having died in the same battle. Of the 3.5 million men who fought in the Civil War, on both sides, 620,000 died. One in ten Confederate soldiers had come from North Carolina. Of the 125,000 North Carolinians who fought for the Confederacy and the 8,000 who joined the Union army, 20,000 died in combat. Another 20,000 succumbed to injuries. University students, of course, were among these statistics. "Of the 1592 UNC alumni alive when the war began, 1060 served in the Confederate forces" (Vickers 64). Over 300 died. Another thirty residents of Chapel Hill also lost their lives. Among the many who lamented their deaths was Kemp Plummer Battle , who had himself lost two brothers in the war. The historian who eventually became president of the University knew many of these students and their families:
Probably no community in the South took deeper interest in the military operations than Chapel Hill. No community experienced more acute griefs on account of the tragedies of battlefields and hospitals. The inhabitants were so few that the students were known to all, either personally or by reputation. Their careers were watched with the interest which followed the movements of near friends and brothers. Great was the joy over victories and promotions of "our boys" to higher rank for gallantry in fighting or talent in strategy or tactics. And then came the gloom and the tears over the killed and wounded, sometimes over the mournful burials of bodies brought home (1:745).
Each debating society subsequently memorialized its dead by printing in its directory a "Roll of Confederate Dead," listing not only its own members but also those students belonging to the rival society.
Apart from the loss of life, considerable as it was, southerners experienced other immeasurable consequences of a war fought in their towns and the surrounding countryside. Property damage was extensive, if not in Chapel Hill, elsewhere throughout the South. Many political leaders and potential leaders had been killed or remained prisoners of war. Gov. Vance was arrested by Federal authorities in Statesville, NC, on his thirty-first birthday and was imprisoned in Washington, DC, until July 1865. The economy was in shambles. The University, which had invested in Confederate securities and bank stocks, now found them worthless. The institution was over $100,000 in debt and $7, 000 in arrears for faculty salaries (Battle 1:754). Because most families could ill afford to send their sons to college, tuition receipts were not forthcoming. Many of Chapel Hill's stores and boarding houses, so dependent on students to sustain them, went out of business. Slaves whose labor had supported the local economy were now free, and many left their former masters. Other blacks worked out arrangements to be paid for their work or rented land to farm. For those former slaves whose owners could not afford to employ them, the future held a level of poverty deeper than that experienced by whites.
The assassination of President Lincoln also prompted great uncertainty about the future. People knew that the Confederacy was finished, but they did not know what would take its place. Lincoln's plan, tentatively designed, was to accept the seceded states back into the Union as quickly and as easily as possible, and President Johnson attempted to follow Lincoln's intention. With Gov. Vance in prison, Johnson appointed William Woods Holden as provisional governor of North Carolina on May 29, 1865. Supported by Federal troops who continued to occupy North Carolina until 1877, Holden called for a convention to nullify the ordinance of secession, abolish slavery, and repudiate the Confederate debt. These actions were taken in October 1865, but developing a new state constitution proved to be a difficult task. Voters rejected the constitution drafted in 1866, some people objecting to provisions that disenfranchised blacks, others protesting the cancellation of wartime debts. A new constitution would not be approved until 1868.
Meanwhile, Gov. Swain attempted to keep the University from going under. He applied for Federal funds legislated by the Morrill Act of 1862, but was unable to claim them until North Carolina had been readmitted to the Union. In Fall 1865 twenty-two students enrolled, but by Spring 1866 the students damaged the University's standing when the commencement ball managers selected some of the most conspicuous Confederate leaders—including Confederate President Davis, Gen. Robert E. Lee, and ex-Gov. Zebulon B. Vance —as honorary managers. Though the students consulted neither the faculty nor the honorees in making their selection, Swain was able to do little more than discuss the matter with the trustees, who agreed that the selections were in poor taste. Having weakened his political base with conservatives by allowing his daughter to marry a Yankee, Swain now found himself at the head of an institution that appeared hostile to rejoining the Union. There were only three graduates in the class of 1866, but four additional students, whose studies had been interrupted by the war, received honorary BA degrees (Battle 1:753). Foreseeing the collapse of the University, Professor John Kimberly left Chapel Hill in early 1866 to become a farmer in Asheville, NC.
Fall 1866 saw enrollments increase to seventy-five students, and by Spring 1867, ninety-one students were present. Some of these students had interrupted their educations to join the army and were resuming their studies, sobered by their experiences during the war and uncertain about what the future might hold for them. Others were enthusiastic about college life, describing with pleasure their life on the Hill, which included the new sport of baseball, popularized by the war.1 As "The Legend of Chapel Hill, 1866" reveals, students had not forgotten how to play pranks on the faculty. Written in King James English, "The Legend" tells the story of unfortunate Professor Hildreth Smith , whose students tried to blow him up in his classroom [see this primary document].
On March 14, 1867, Professor James Phillips died suddenly, falling to the floor of the chapel where he had gone to conduct morning prayers [see this primary document]. Phillips had taught mathematics and astronomy for over forty years, and townspeople, the faculty, and the students all expressed deep regret at losing so prominent a citizen of their community. The following fall Charles Phillips assumed his father's professorship.
At about this time, the community that had symbolized enlightenment in the state became the growing center of Ku Klux Klan activity. Though many Chapel Hillians deplored the Klan and sought to help blacks establish churches, schools, and new lives as free people, others regarded blacks with hatred, suspicion, and condescension. Between 1867 and 1870, the period of the most intense Klan activity in the region, masked raiders rode through town at night, their horses' hooves muffled, to terrorize blacks. Stoning houses, beating those who attempted to stand up to the Klan, and intimidating inmates at a local poorhouse for blacks were among some of the outrages perpetrated by Klansmen (Vickers 80). Most historians believe that the leader of the Klan in North Carolina was William Laurence Saunders , son of a Raleigh minister and a Confederate soldier under Gen. Lee. Saunders was an honor graduate of the University.
The 1867 Commencement was attended by President Andrew Johnson and several Federal officials, including the military governor of North and South Carolina Gen. Daniel E. Sickles. The President, a North Carolina native, had come to Raleigh to dedicate a monument to his father in the city cemetery and became Gov. Swain's guest for the commencement exercises. Though only eleven seniors received degrees, the ceremonies were as elaborate as they had been before the war. The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies initiated the special guests as honorary members.2 Gov. William Woods Holden , however, was conspicuously absent. He had not been invited, probably by design (Vickers 77). The faculty and trustees had been fairly outspoken in their criticism of the new Republican Party in North Carolina, and just as President Johnson would face his own difficulties with a Republican Congress intent on impeaching him in 1868, the University would come to understand that slighting the state's new leader was unwise.
By Fall of 1867 the financial straits of faculty members and their families had prompted them to seek positions elsewhere. Though the legislature in 1866 had appropriated a one-time payment of $7,000 in much needed faculty salaries, for some the relief had come too late. John Kimberly , professor of agricultural chemistry, had already resigned, and Solomon Pool had taken a leave of absence in 1866 to become a deputy appraiser with the revenue service. In Fall 1867 Andrew D. Hepburn , professor of metaphysics, logic, and rhetoric, took a position at Miami University of Ohio. William J. Martin , professor of chemistry, mineralogy and geology, also left Chapel Hill for a school in Columbia, TN, then an appointment on the faculty at Davidson College. Most of the tutors had been killed in the war, and afterwards, low enrollments did not warrant appointing new ones. The last tutor of the antebellum period was the son of Professor Manuel Fetter , Frederick Fetter, who had taught Latin since 1859 as well as classes in military tactics. He was not reappointed after 1866.
It became clear in 1867 that the University was on the verge of failure. Its endowment was lost, and it owed large debts for property it had mortgaged. Though enrollments had risen slightly, tuition receipts were inadequate to paying faculty salaries. It had lost its old friends in the legislature and gained powerful enemies in the new era of Reconstruction. The classical curriculum, so heavily oriented toward Latin and Greek, no longer appealed to prospective students or, indeed, to some of the faculty. The post-war South would need fewer ministers and politicians and a great many more professionals with backgrounds in the sciences. The regular progression of students through a lock-step curriculum had lost favor together with the notion that a college education was the privilege of the influential, monied class. A complete remodeling of the University was in order.
To enable the trustees to enact financial and curricular changes that might save the University, Gov. Swain and the remaining members of the faculty tendered their resignations to the board of trustees on August 22, 1867. They agreed to finish out the school year, and most expected to be reappointed when a new, elective curriculum and higher admissions standards went into effect in Fall 1868. On March 16, 1868, however, the new state constitution was adopted, and by July 20, 1868, North Carolina had been readmitted to the Union. The new constitution swept away the old board of trustees and replaced them by members elected, not by the General Assembly, but by a new Board of Education. Out of the seventy-eight new trustees elected, only four had belonged to the old board, and on July 24, 1868, the new trustees declared the faculty resignations final.
Gov. Swain was stunned. Faculty members were despondent, though perhaps not surprised that their days of teaching in Chapel Hill were over. The last commencement had taken place as usual in early June 1868, with twenty students receiving diplomas.3 By early August classes at the University were suspended.4 Professor Charles Phillips , writing to his friend Kemp Plummer Battle on July 29, 1868, reported that Ceburn L. Harris, the superintendent of public works, had "demanded" of Professor Fetter the keys to all University buildings: "He [Harris] came in the rain—at night—sent for Prof F. in the rain & asked to be shown over the buildings at once—so that Prof. F. got as wet as a rat" (Battle Family Papers, SHC). The following Sunday Harris retrieved the keys to the debating society halls and gave students two days' notice to vacate the buildings.5
On August 4, 1868, Swain protested the board's refusal to reappoint him or any members of his faculty. Protocol required him to send his letter to Gov. William Woods Holden , a man who had denounced the University as "a center of aristocracy and rebellion" (Russell, The Woman Who Rang the Bell 83). Holden did not respond. On August 11th, before the board had a chance to meet again, Swain and Professor Manuel Fetter rode six miles out of Chapel Hill to inspect Swain's farm Babylon. They were riding in Swain's buggy, drawn by the horse Gen. Sherman had given him. On the trip back home, the skittish horse bolted, throwing both men out of the buggy and onto the ground. Though they recovered rapidly from their physical injuries, Swain continued to be weak from the accident. He died on August 27, 1868,6 and was buried in his garden next to his daughter Annie .
The remaining faculty dispersed quietly. Fordyce Hubbard went to teach in a boys' school in Manlius, NY. Manuel Fetter took a teaching job in Henderson, NC. Hildreth Smith headed for Lincolnton, NC. Judge William Battle moved his law practice to Raleigh. Charles Phillips was at a loss what to do. He had grown up in Chapel Hill; his father and two infant children were buried there; his mother was ailing. He worried about the University's property, the protection of its scientific apparatus, the security of the debating societies' papers and libraries, the furniture and other belongings of students who had expected to return to classes in the fall. Finally he accepted a faculty position at Davidson College, eventually returning to the University when it reopened in 1875.
He left behind a sister Cornelia Phillips Spencer , a teacher whose newspaper articles and private correspondence with friends and alumni would be crucial to the rebirth of the University. As she sat beneath the oaks in the center of campus in late November, watching a black girl lean against the well, the gravel walk rain-washed and overgrown with grass, the surrounding buildings guarded by soldiers, Spencer realized how desolate the place had become. "Chapel Hill," she wrote, "is the Deserted Village of the South" ( Selected Papers 610).


1. James P. Rives (b. 1849), writing to Seth Speight on September 8, 1867, reports on a baseball game held the previous day between the University Club and the Crescent Club of Raleigh: "The sum total of the (University) Club was 54 runs, 16 Fly catches, 3 Home runs, and 27 outs, The sum total of the Crescent club was 36 runs 6 Fly catches, No home runs and 27 outs" (John Francis Speight Papers, SHC).

2. Secretary of State William H. Seward , in attendance on President Johnson, accepted the honor but declared that he objected to joining secret societies. Minorities in both societies blocked the admission of military governor Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, whom they regarded as a symbol of northern aggression (Vickers 77).

3. In addition to twenty graduating seniors, eighteen juniors, thirty-five sophomores, thirteen first-year students, and two "partial course" students—a total of eighty-eight students—enrolled during the 1867-68 academic year (Battle 1:819-20).

4. As it happened, classes were suspended through the Fall 1868 semester and resumed on March 3, 1869. The University struggled for two more years, then closed on February 1, 1871, not to reopen until September 15, 1875.

5. The Philanthropic Society met for the last time during commencement week, on June 3, 1868; the Dialectic Society, on June 4, 1868. The societies would not meet again until September 15, 1875, when faculty members and alumni from both groups convened in their separate halls to plan the societies' revitalization (Philanthropic Society Minutes, Vol. S-17, UA; Dialectic Society Minutes, Vol. S-13, UA).

6. Judge William H. Battle , in an August 27, 1868, letter to his son Richard describes Swain's death: "He died suddenly this morning about 9 1/2 Oclock. Dr Phillips went over at the usual hour to have prayers with him, and found him sitting up, and learned that he had been up nearly an hour and during that time had eaten his breakfast and did not appear to be any worse than he had been. He was soon after laid down when he immediately complained of a difficulty of breathing and asked to be raised up, but not feeling easy in that position asked to be let down again. That was the last word he spoke, and they discovered at once that he was dying. The Doctor (Mallett) was sent for, and arrived just as he was making his last gasp" (Battle Family Papers, SHC). Swain subsequently was reinterred in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.