DAY LIGHT’S AMERICA
A Look at the Time and Place of Bruce R. Coleman’s World Premiere Drama
by Dustin Curry
Junction Pass, Texas, and the Poteet family may be figments of fiction, but the world in which they lived was very much real. Day Light takes place in a small, fictitious town in the Texas panhandle in February 1867—less than two years after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, where Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee surrendered to conclude the main theatre of the American Civil War.
Although Texas wasn’t a major battleground state during the Civil War, it did provide a number of troops and supplies to the Confederate effort. In Day Light, Ada Poteet explains that her long-lost eldest son is one of the soldiers stationed far from Texas to fight the Union forces. Over 60,000 other young Texans had joined the Army of the Trans-Mississippi by the spring of 1865. Morale was low and continued to deteriorate to the point of desertion and insubordination.
The Army of the Trans-Mississippi continued to muster even after news of Lee’s official surrender
confirmed that Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas were then essentially alone to continue the Confederate cause. By May of 1865, however, the Army’s commander, General Edmund Kirby Smith, had almost entirely disintegrated, prompting Smith to condemn the deserters who left him “a commander without an army—a General without troops.”
The era following the Civil War is known as the American Reconstruction. During this time (following the Emancipation Proclamation), the American federal government imposed several harsh terms and policies against the southern states designed to return the South to normality as quickly as possible. Under the leadership of President Andrew Johnson, thousands of Northerners came to the South as missionaries, teachers, businessmen and politicians—referred to colloquially as “carpetbaggers” by many of the less-than-enthusiastic southerners—to attempt to restore the southern economy, rebuild the dilapidated railroad and work to enfranchise newly freed slaves.
Federal troops arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865, when 2,000 Union soldiers arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce the new freedoms of former slaves—a Texas holiday now celebrated as Juneteenth.
American Reconstruction has historically been deemed a failure. The South was left poverty-stricken, and many white Confederate-sympathizers quickly succeeded in re-establishing dominance over society, politics and economy. The Texas in which the Poteet family of Day Light exists is a Texas scarred by America’s bloodiest war and crippled under some of the South’s oldest prejudices that continue to reverberate into the present.