Ordinary People in Extraordinary Time
The end of the Civil War in America symbolized a victory of freedom over the slavery. However, it was the beginning of a new era for the citizens of the country. Certainly, the Southern States suffered the most fundamental changes. The Union Forces penetrated into the daily and casual affairs of the southern people. Actually, it was formation of the New Southern order. Citizens faced the external and internal conflicts when the superior position of educated and elegant South became different. In opposition to it, people had to change their style of life and attain new working and communication habits. The book by Stephen V. Ash A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865 describes four different ordinary people with their personal experience of surviving during the key period of shaping of the New South. Among them were a slave, a planter’s son, a Confederate soldier, and an officer’s wife. The end of the war as well as the background of the heroes affected their lives and possibility to adjust differently, since for some people it was a privilege while a serious obstacle for the other.
The background of Louis Hughes helped him to overcome many troubles and survive in harsh conditions, which made him understand the true nature of slavery and the Southern masters’ intensions. Louis Hughes together with his wife was hired as a slave. The man worked on the salt works, though he quickly achieved new skills being trained as a butler. Naturally, Lou was quite successful and happy about his position and perspectives in selling the tobacco plugs. His master made huge profits from his commercial activity. In reality, he was well-educated and skilled enough to be able to cope with any kind of physical or mental activity. The invasion of the Union Forces brought significant changes and less pleasant consequences for Lou. Although it was associated with an era of freedom and emancipation, the man was faced with new sufferings and challenges. He was sent to the field as well as the other slaves. It is possible to assume the level of humiliation and disappointment for an educated and a skilful person to return to the lowest stage of the slavery again. The Lou’s master refused to give freedom for his slaves and submitted new conceptions. It was an evident proof how the protocols and laws were ignored in the intimacy of communal life. It was a controversial period when slaves had the right to be free, but their emancipation had no power in the South. In fact, as the war was over it did not bring any positive effects in his life and even made daily affairs worse. Nevertheless, his knowledge and attained skills helped him to adjust and easily survive even in the most complicated conditions. Lou was quite progressive in his views trying to improve own position by himself and immigrate to Canada. Consequently, the end of the war revealed the essence of slavery and made Lou fight for his emancipation. Despite the fact that it was quite complicated, it gave him hope for the better future.
The end of the war appeared to be quite a complicated period of depression and necessity to survive for Samuel Agnew. He was a rich son of a planter from Mississippi, and he inherited strong patriotism and devotion to Confederacy. The man was sure that the possibility to give the slaves freedom contradicted the reality. He used to live in the world where only the slaves could perform all kind of work on plantation and in the house. Samuel worked as a minister in the community at the beginning of the war. He was ready neither to its beginning nor to its end. His high and powerful position saved his life and helped to avoid military service. Sam was exempted from the Confederacy army because of his occupation. This person faced experienced troubles concerning the affairs on the plantation and had to take care about the fields himself. However, he was not very skilled and ready for it. The slaves helped him yet he lost everything. Sam’s daily life was significantly affected as he was not prepared for those changes and could not handle them. Samuel was a traditional representative of southern masters and the Confederacy patriots who were not able to conduct their business successfully without slaves. Moreover, Sam could not adjust to the end of the war due to his carefree background. Therefore, since he was not skillful enough to survive in the postwar South, he lost everything. In comparison with Lou, who could adapt himself to any circumstances, Sam was an intelligent person who, however, turned to be absolutely incompetent. Undoubtedly, the end of the war revealed the true reality and showed people who they were. It helped Southern masters understand that they were disabled as they failed to adjust to the New South. Thus, the end of the war brought dramatic changes of the Samuel’s life and made him revise his understanding of reality and his possibilities.
Although John Robertson was quite skillful and could adjust to the end of the war, his Confederate background was a serious obstacle. John seemed to be the most interesting personality of the book who was significantly affected by the war. It was not only because of the daily life transformations but also as a result of the changes inside his mind. He was a young and brave man from the southern state who served in the Confederate army. This person was able to observe the struggle from inside and hate that war. John was a Confederate patriot similarly to Samuel, though his position later transformed into another direction. Anyway, the soldier’s past fueled a feeling of deep moral exhaustion and hatred. He tried to satisfy his spiritual needs with the help of church and religious issues. John desired normal life with a wife and children. He was a skillful man and could work on the field. However, his background eventually became a serious hindrance to his dreams. Robertson was an enemy for the Union authority, which established their power in his native state Tennessee. It was the onset of a new struggle. The man escaped and tried to survive in other states far away from native land. In spite of the fact that the end of the war influenced John’s daily life and made him suffer morally and physically, he attained new experience and significantly changed his position toward the Confederacy. John Robertson’s life experience exemplified the essence of postwar changes in human mind. Hence, the background of the ex-Confederate soldier did not promote his ability to easily adjust to a new order, though he was quite professional and could have a normal life in a transformed working South. John reconsidered the attitude toward the Union army and its ideas. His enemy achieved new character in his comprehension at the end of the struggle and attained new association with freedom. Consequently, postwar changes have completely altered his life and consciousness.
Cornelia was a victim of the new changes and conditions being not able to adapt to the situation due to the lack of skills and emotional exhaustion. Cornelia McDonald was a wife of a wealthy Confederate officer. She had seven children and her huge family was the only thing she appreciated. Cornelia depended on her husband and relied only on his money having no additional source of profit. Naturally, the husband’s death left her feeling absolutely helpless. In addition to it, she did not do domestic chores as she had no skills for that. Thus, she had to hire a slave for household work. Cornelia was not able to perform even such women duties as cooking. It was normal for the southern lady, since there was no vital necessity to achieve such skills of simple domestic work. Thus, the end of the war becomes a challenge or even an ordeal for her. It was the period of total destruction and economic decline. A woman without basic skills could not survive in that society. Moreover, her talent for painting, foreign languages, and intelligence were unnecessary in the postwar South. However, her friends’ respect toward her husband as a noble Confederate officer and a low-paid job of a teacher helped her to survive. Cornelia’s background affected her possibility to adjust through transforming her untroubled life into existence and constant fight for surviving. It influenced her consciousness negatively and caused deep depression and disappointment. She felt humiliation watching her children performing dirty labor. New changes in the postwar South affected her life, but she did not assimilate to the new political order, economic depression, and destructions. It is possible to assume that she was faced with reality being totally segregated from it, living in a separate safe world, where all the duties were performed by the slaves. Therefore, Cornelia could not adapt and enjoy her life being useless for the postwar society as she could not accept new political and economic changes.
In conclusion, the book portrays the destinies of people of different social strata. The author described their lives and process of adjusting to the new conditions. Even though the end of the war brought significant changes and proclaimed emancipation, many people experienced different troubles because of their personal background, which affected their possibility to adjust to new South. It was a privilege for some people and a serious obstacle for the others. Moreover, it concerned not only physical activities and skills but also ideology, convictions, understanding of the reality, and apprehension of the changes. Therefore, the end of the Civil War had impact on all spheres of human existence and damaged the lives of free people and slaves alike.