Reconstruction Efforts of May 1865

May 9, 1865 – President Andrew Johnson continued efforts to quickly restore the Union by approving the installment of Virginia’s new pro-U.S. government.

17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit:

The process of restoring the conquered states to the Union began accelerating this month with the surrender of most Confederate troops. In Tennessee, Arkansas, and Louisiana, restoration was already well under way in accordance with former President Abraham Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan. The plan was also implemented in Missouri, where delegates to the state constitutional convention voted 43 to 5 to replace all significant state employees with those “loyal” to the U.S. Consequently, Governor Thomas Fletcher bypassed legislative and popular approval by replacing the state supreme court and some 800 other state officials.

Early this month, a Pennsylvania delegation met with Johnson to discuss his restoration policy now that Lincoln was gone. The delegation was dominated by Radical Republicans seeking harsh retribution against the South. The Radicals had initially been pleased by Johnson’s condemnation of “treasonous” southerners, but they were disappointed by Johnson’s clarification that while he intended to punish Confederate leaders, he also intended to offer leniency to Confederate soldiers whom he felt had been forced into service by Confederate draft laws.

The Radicals were further displeased to learn that Johnson intended to carry on Lincoln’s Ten-Percent Plan to restore the Union. He started off by formally recognizing the new governments of Arkansas and Louisiana, and on the 9th he issued an “Executive order to reestablish the authority of the United States, and execute the laws within the geographical limits known as the State of Virginia.” This included the proclamation:

“That, to carry into effect the guarantee of the Federal Constitution of a republican form of State government, and afford the advantage of the security of domestic laws, as well as to complete the reestablishment of the authority of the laws of the United States and the full and complete restoration of peace within the limits aforesaid, Francis H. Pierpont, Governor of the State of Virginia, will be aided by the Federal Government, so far as may be necessary, in the lawful measures which he may take for the extension and administration of the State government throughout the geographical limits of said State.”

Pierpont had been the provisional governor of a quasi-Virginia state government loyal to the U.S. while the popularly elected government in Richmond had allied with the Confederacy. Under Johnson’s order, no state official who had been part of the pro-Confederate government could serve in the new regime, and all those serving had to swear allegiance to the U.S.

The next day, Johnson issued a proclamation that “armed resistance to the authority of this Government (from) the said insurrectionary States may be regarded as virtually at an end…” The Federal naval blockade was gradually lifted, and the military was slowly demobilized. This despite there being one last major Confederate army still in the field: General Edmund Kirby Smith’s west of the Mississippi River.

Also this month, Johnson appointed Major General Oliver O. Howard to head the new Freedmen’s Bureau, which was to provide government aid to newly freed slaves. On the 22nd, Johnson announced that all seaports except for some in Texas would be opened for commerce, and all commercial activity east of the Mississippi River would resume. Five days later, Johnson ordered the liberation of those imprisoned by military authorities for various offenses, including protesting the war. By month’s end, Johnson prepared to issue his official plan for restoring all conquered states.



Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16947-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 568, 570; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 290; Ferrell, Claudine L., Reconstruction: Greenwood Guides to Historic Events, 1500-1900 (Greenwood, 2003), p. 18; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 21343-67, 21743-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 590-93; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 686-89; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265


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