Carpetbagger was the pejorative term applied to Northerners who moved to the South after the Civil War, specifically those who joined state Republican parties formed in 1867 and who were elected as Republicans to public office. Southern Democrats immediately saw that the newcomers were corrupt and dishonest adventurers, whose property consisted only of what they could carry in their carpetbags (suitcases made of carpeting), who seized political power and plundered the helpless people of the South. This assessment of the carpetbagger became standard in late-nineteenth-century histories and retains its currency among some historians today. Since the 1950s, however, revisionist historians have challenged the validity of the traditional view and assessed the carpetbaggers more favorably. [Ed. note: It is a well-known maxim of war that ‘to the victor go the spoils.’ The victor in the War for Southern Independence has claimed, as part of his spoils, the right to record and enforce his point of view as the official and accepted history of the war.]
The Reconstruction Act of 1867 placed Southern governments under military rule. The South was divided into five military districts, each run by a general in the U.S. Army. The five districts were (1) Virginia; (2) North and South Carolina; (3) Georgia, Alabama, and Florida; (4) Mississippi and Arkansas; and (5) Texas and Louisiana. Tennessee was the only prior Confederate state that was not placed under military rule. Around 200,000 troops were placed in the South to enforce military rule.
Thousands of government officials were removed from office in the South and replaced with military commanders. Different commanders ruled in different ways. Some were very good at their jobs, and some were not. They had very few restrictions. They could be cruel and unfair and get away with it. It was a very harsh time for the population in the South.
One thing all military commanders did because they were told to do so by Congress was to place former slaves in positions in government. These former slaves knew nothing about government or money. They were not trained for their jobs. Nearly all were puppets under the control of army officials. The reaction was the KKK.
Military rule in the South lasted for 10 years, until 1877, when the Republican party agreed to return Southern states to home rule in exchange for their support of the Republican candidate for president, Rutherford B. Hayes.