There are many historical accounts on the relationship between the two opposing camps during the Civil War. However, Stephen V. Ash offers a unique insight into the life of the real witnesses and participators of the sorrowful events. In “A Year in the South” the author describes the tense and hostile relations between the Southerners, both black and white, and the Northern soldiers in 1865 as well as explains the influence of the Yankees’ victory on the relations between mentioned groups of the population.
The events of the Civil War caused dramatic changes in the relationship between the Southern whites and the Northern soldiers. Almost in every corner of the Southern states, any mention of the Northern army instantly raised the dreadful recollections about destroyed cities, numerous losses and overall poverty in the Old South. The Civil War irreversibly altered the life of the widow of the Confederate soldier, Cornelia McDonald, who had to leave the ravaged native town and seek fortune in less troublesome Lexington. As the larger part of the family property laid in ruins in the Shenandoah Valley, the McDonalds faced the fear of the near bankruptcy. The death of Cornelia’s husband only worsened the financial situation of the family because they no longer could rely on the husband’s wage. The fate of Missis McDonald is only one of many instances of miseries caused by the war. The numerous raids and proceeding occupation of the Southern territories of the Union army spread fear and anxiety among the dwellers of plantations. According to Samuel Agnew’s records, the small county of Tippah lived in the alarming expectation of new arrests and food expropriation. Moreover, the incapacity of the federal army to extend its authority beyond the fortified post left the countryside “unpacified, crawling with secessionist guerrillas and frequently raided by Confederate cavalry”. The strained tensions between the federal government and the Southern citizens provoked the massive opposition to the Northern invaders. In the midst of Tennessee rebellion against the Confederacy, the secessionist home guard outfit captured the unionist guerrillas and turned them to the local authorities for prosecution. “In this manner,” the sixteen years old soldier, John Robertson recalled, “we were constantly adding enemies to those we all ready had”. The young man admitted that the unionists had been quick to retaliate with harassing the secessionist families. However, by the end of the war the hope of victory faded and gave way for desperation, as financial scrutiny and lost battles of the Confederate army presaged the collapse of the Old South “under the heel of “insolent enemies”. Similarly, the occupied South could not rely on the help from abroad. It was the first time in the American history that the country became a battlefield in the costly war between the two parts of the same nation.
During the Civil War, the Southern slaveholders were more than ever determined to uphold the slavery institution as the entrancing hope of freedom inspired the blacks. According to a former slave, Louis Hughes, the news of the victories of the Union inspired the whispered rumors about the possible liberation from slavery. However, the Union raid in 1864 and the subsequent escape and appropriation of a large number of slaves drastically increased the need for improved supervision over the black population. In the anticipation of another raid the Southern planters often sold or sent the slaves to the further South. On the other hand, they kept maintaining slave patrols to apprehend any runaways. The dwellers of the Old South abhorred the very idea of abolition of slavery and upheld the racial prejudices. The young John Robertson also shared the common views of planters on the matter of slavery, repeatedly expressing his contempt towards the black population. Being a strong believer in the inferiority of the black population to the whites, Robertson reflected the stereotypes of the described period. Therefore, only the the prospects of freedom and decent life for the black population heavily depended on the outcome of the raging war.
Nevertheless, after the Civil War each group of population endured different outcomes of war. The common sense of humiliation and pessimistic expectations after the defeat of the Confederacy dominated among the white residents of the Old South. According to Samuel Agnew’s recollections, the sudden collapse of the Confederacy authority resulted in the complete chaos in his native county of Tippah. The minister was deeply concerned with the occasional outbursts of burglary and looting in the midst of the dominating anarchy. The disintegration of the local government only deepened of the existing crisis in order, labor and food. The white population experienced the sense of uncertainty in relation to the future of the slaves in the light of the upcoming enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. In addition, the widespread famine threatened to take more lives of the defeated Southerners. As the railroad refused to accept the Confederate money, the scarce supplies of corn from the further South could not sustain the hungry population of the occupied states. Similarly, Cornelia McDonalds describes the sorrowful events in Lexington. While enduring the difficult circumstances of insufficient food provisions, the citizens, including the McDonalds, witnessed as the city had drowned in the political disorder while the remnants of the Confederate army struggled to return to native homes. However, the citizens of Lexington decided to take effective measures in restoring the order rather than idly to wait for the coming Northern troops. In May, the local officials formed a volunteer police force and reorganized the slave patrols for resuming the control over the slave population. Others lived in restless hopes for the possible adoption of the reconstruction strategy for the ruined South. Witnessing the grain shortage and the fruitless efforts of the Union army to feed the needy population, Samuel Agnew, in particular, clearly placated the hope of the economic recovery of the South in the foreseeable future. The reactions to the arrival of the Yankee troops to the conquered territories, nevertheless, varied from subtle expression of contempt to the open hostility. For instance, Cornelia McDonald writes about the general disliking of the Yankees as the intrusion was unwelcome for the citizens of Lexington. In other cases, the legislative initiatives of the new state governments raised the sense of hatred among the former Confederates. John Robertson was especially resentful towards “the rebels… being stripped of their political rights”. However, the common irritation rarely acquired the form of social protests. Apart from the humiliation of defeat, the Southern citizens had to endure the ever suspicious treatment of the Northern occupants. Driven by the fear of new demonstrations of civil disobedience, the Yankees and unionists joined forces in order to banish or imprison those who publicly declared the loyalty to the Confederacy, while confiscating and destroying the property of the secessionists and executing the suspected guerrillas. The most aggravating cases of brutal treatment included retributions towards the former officials of the Confederacy, harassment, killings, and the forced exodus of the rebelled Confederates, aimed at annihilation of any threats to the federal government. Samuel Agnew bitterly acknowledges that “what the former Confederates regarded as an honest effort on their part to accept defeat and come to terms with the new realities was seen in the North as defiance and intransigence”. Overall, the Southerners applied every effort to adapt to the new realities.
Meanwhile, the black population seemed to rejoice at the upcoming changes. Having obtained the status of freedmen, the former slaves became quite aware of the opportunity to dictate the demands of fair treatment and equal rights. Samuel Agnew and his compatriots recognized the new slave legislation as the inevitable solution and struggled to reach compromise with the freedmen. In other cases the prospects of the racial equality, however, faced the furious opposition of the Southern planters. While the black population enjoyed the opportunity of receiving the education, the white teachers in black schools became the victims of constant harassment and outbursts of outrage. Nevertheless, the black population sought for the ways of escape from the planters’ abusive treatment and finding refuge in the areas under the federal control. The story of Louis Hughes’s successful riddance of enslavement is the vivid example of the striving for the better life. The rescue of Louis’s family, however, and a subsequent long search for well-paid job before the final settlement appeared to be a complicated task. Only the previously acquired skills that exceeded the agricultural ones allowed Louis to provide the more or less decent living conditions for his numerous family members. Due to the increasing number of unemployed and unskillful former slaves in the big cities, in Louis’s word, “for the most of the freedmen opportunity was proving elusive”. However, the enforced abolition of slavery gave hope for further eradication of social issues.
In conclusion, the events and the end of the Civil War had profound effect on the relationships of the Southerners and the Northerners. While the troubles of war caused the economic stagnation and the sense of humiliation in the Southern states, the black population looked forward to the upcoming changes. Later on, the former Southern planters generally preferred to be left alone and continue the long process of recovery from the war devastation. The freedmen, however, anticipated the new perspectives the freedom offered.