Creation of the District
As a result, the radical Republican majority in Congress passed several important bills over the president's veto. One of them, enacted on March 2, 1867, was the Act to Provide for the More Efficient Government of the Rebel States, sometimes referred to as the First Reconstruction Act. It divided the states of the former Confederacy, except for Tennessee, into five military districts. Each district fell under the command of a general officer empowered to replace undesirable civil officials and use military force to keep the peace and protect residents' rights, including trying violators before military courts. Before Congress would seat senators and representatives from a state and fully restore it to the Union, the law also required that each state hold a constitutional convention, adopt an acceptable new state constitution, and ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. The act designated Virginia as the First Military District, although in most of the historical literature it is called Military District No. 1.
During the military rule of nearly three years, white men, most of them native Virginians, filled nearly all the public offices in Virginia. The army seldom intervened in operations of local and state courts, and because the General Assembly did not meet during that time, the generals had no occasion to influence policy makers other than the governors. Schofield worked with Governor Francis H. Pierpont to bring about reconciliation and to obstruct radical proposals barring experienced white men from participation in government. When Pierpont's elected term expired in the spring of 1868, Schofield appointed Henry H. Wells, a New York native then living in Alexandria, to succeed him.
In the spring of 1868 when what was known as the Underwood Convention, for its radical Republican president, federal judge John C. Underwood, voted to disfranchise former Confederates and enfranchise all adult black men, Schofield tried without success to persuade the delegates to change their minds. He then refused to schedule the necessary ratification referendum on the pretext that the assembly had appropriated no money to conduct the election.
Stoneman further alienated the Conservatives early in 1869 after Congress voted to require the dismissal of all public officials in Virginia, Texas, and Mississippi who could not take the so-called Iron-Clad Oath that they had never supported the Confederacy. In their places, Stoneman appointed white native Unionists (at the time called by the pejorative name of scalawags) and a small number of northern- and foreign-born men (called carpetbaggers), including three former U.S. Army officers, to seats on the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. For a variety of reasons, probably deriving only in part from Stoneman's brusque manner of administering his military district and the resentment he generated, he was reassigned to the West in April 1869. Brigadier General Webb filled the post for about two weeks until General Canby took office.
During Canby's tenure, a committee of nine leading Conservative politicians, under the chairmanship of a distinguished former Whig, Alexander H. H. Stuart, negotiated a compromise allowing voters to ratify the new state constitution. President Ulysses S. Grant and congressional leaders permitted the delayed ratification referendum to isolate voting on the clauses that disfranchised former Confederates with the understanding that the clause enfranchising African American men would remain intact. On July 6, 1869, the state's voters ratified the constitution and rejected the disfranchisement clauses.
Legacy of Military Rule
One important consequence of the brief period of military rule in Virginia during Congressional Reconstruction was that the constitutional right of African American men to vote was firmly, if briefly, established. Eighteen to twenty black Virginians won election to the General Assembly in each of the elections in 1871, 1873, and 1875. Systematic disranchisement dismantled black voting rights in the following decades.
March 2, 1867 - The U.S. Congress passes the Reconstruction Act, ushering in the period of Radical Reconstruction in the South. This act, among other provisions, required former Confederate states to grant voting rights to black men—a measure later made inalienable by the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870.
March 13, 1867–June 2, 1868 - Major General John M. Schofield commands the First Military District, overseeing civilian government in Virginia.
April 4, 1868 - General John M. Schofield appoints Henry Horatio Wells provisional governor of Virginia, succeeding Francis Harrison Pierpont.
June 2, 1868–March 31, 1869 - Major General George Stoneman commands the First Military District, overseeing civilian government in Virginia.
April 2–20, 1869 - Brigadier General Alexander S. Webb commands the First Military District, overseeing civilian government in Virginia.
April 20, 1869–January 26, 1870 - Brigadier General E. R. S. Canby commands the First Military District, overseeing civilian government in Virginia.
October 8, 1869 - Both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
January 26, 1870 - An act of Congress ends Reconstruction in Virginia, readmitting Virginia into the United States and restoring civilian rule.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B. First Military District. (2015, August 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/First_Military_District.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "First Military District." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 11, 2015 | Last modified: August 27, 2015
Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.