Although indexed and widely available, the records of the U.S. House and Senate are not as 'instantly' rewarding as the Population Census or Marriage and vital records. They are only background noise to many, even today.
Recording our ancestors' births, deaths, marriages, occupations and images is only the first step. Understanding the structures within which their lives survived and, often times, blossomed, add a fourth dimension of understanding.
Congressional Records offer a brief glimpse into some of our country's major conflicts, one of which was the Civil War and its aftermath - Reconstruction.
A. Congressional Records ¹
From the 39th Congress, 1865-1867:
Memphis Riots and Massacres (1866)
A special committee convened in Memphis in May, 1866 to investigate the Memphis riots.
"It was called in derision the '[n] riot,' while, in fact, in the language of General Stoneman, the negroes had nothing to do with it after the first day, except to be killed and abused. They assembled in no bodies, and were engaged in no riotous proceedings. ... The killing of men, women, and children - the innocent, unarmed and defenceless pleading for their lives and crying for mercy;"²
A List of witnesses appears in the Index to this Document.
Also mentioned are those:
1) Wounded during the riot
2) Robbed and Raped
4) Who lost their property (stolen or burned)
The testimony of over 150 witnesses filled over 1000 pages. The chilling summary reports(opinions of the majority and of the minority) will forever be etched in the annals of history through the U.S. Congressional reports. ²
A more positive note from the 42nd Congress (1871-1873)
"Refered to the Committee on Freedman's Affairs...to appropriate money to the Georgia Infirmary of the city of Savannah..."
The bill futher mentions that a primary benefactor left money to build a hospital for the "colored citizens" . Congress appropriated an additional sum to supplement the original gifts. ³
¹ "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875", Lib. of Congress, Washington, online website [hereafter cited as LOC Online]
² LOC Online, Serial Set,H.R. No. 101, 39th Cong., 1st Sess. (1866)
³ LOC Online, Bills and Resolutions, H.R. 954, 42nd Cong., 2nd Sess. (1872)