Here's an example of the kinds of insights I'm getting from the Reconstruction course I'm taking. This is an illustration taken from a contemporary (1868) book about the fall of Charleston:
The accompanying description is even grimmer:
Taken from “Leaving Charleston on the City Being Bombarded,” image from J.T. Trowbridge, A Picture of the Desolated States, 1865-1868
(Hartford, Conn.: L. Stebbins, 1868).
Look at the tone of the accompanying text: "crushed fragments," "monotonous gloom," "a roost for buzzards," "deserted and solitary."
These are the words of a white male, visiting a city that he sees as having been attacked by War, Famine, Pestilence, and Fire. How terribly sad it is.
But is it the truth? Maybe. But is it the whole truth? Maybe not.
Consider this interpretation of the surrender of Charleston from the black point of view.
The original document (Resolutions adopted by a meeting of the colored citizens of Charleston, South Carolina, March 29, 1865. Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University)
is faded and difficult to read, but here is a transcription:
"At a meeting of the colored citizens of Charleston, So.Ca. held at
Zion’s Presbyterian church March 29th 1865 the following preamble and
resolutions was unanimously adopted.
Whereas it is fitting that an expression should be given to the
sentiments of deep seated grattitude that pervade our breasts, be it.
Resolved 1st That by the timely arrival of the army of the U.S. of A.
in the city of Charleston on the 18th Feb. 1865, Our city was saved
from a vast conflagration, Our homes from Devastation, and our persons
from those indignities, that they would have been subjected to.
Resolved 2d that our thanks are due and are hereby freely tendered to
the District Commander Brig. Gen. Hatch, and through him, to the
Officers and Soldiers under his command, for the protection that they
have so readily and so impartialy, bestowed since their occupation of
Resolved 3d That to Admiral Dahlgreen U.S.N. we do hereby return our
most sincere thanks, for the noble manner in which he cared for and
administered to the wants our people at Georgetown, So.Ca. and be he
assured that the same shall ever be held in grateful remembrance by us.
Resolved 4th That to His Excellency (the President of the U.S. of A.
Abraham Lincoln) we return our most sincere thanks and never dying
gratitude, for the noble and patriotic manner in which he promulgated
the doctrines of Republicanism, and for his consistency in not only
promising but invariably conforming his actions thereto and we shall
ever be pleased to acknowledge and hail him as the champion of the
rights of freemen.
Resolved 5th That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted to Brig.
Gen. Hatch, Admiral Dahlgreen, His excellency the President of the U.S.
of A. an that they be published in the Charleston courier.
Moses B. Camplin - Chairman
Lesson Learned: Truth is in the eye of the beholder.