Masters without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Masters without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Masters without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Masters without Slaves: Southern Planters in the Civil War and Reconstruction

Excerpt

For more than a century, Americans have been fascinated by the antebellum world of plantation slavery. Novelists, whether they have come to praise or to revile, have transformed the cotton kings, rice barons, and sugar lords into legendary figures. In recent years, this nation's foremost historians have been drawn to the Southern plantation, often with immensely important results. But historians have tended to follow Southern folk tradition and divide the South's history into halves—"before the war" and "after the war." With only a few notable exceptions, studies of plantation slavery break off abruptly with the firing of the first shot at Fort Sumter. It is unfortunate that historians have paid so little attention to the behavior of planters after 1860. The Civil War was the critical moment in the planters' history, and their responses to events provide valuable insight into the mind and character of the South's antebellum aristocracy. To some degree, of course, wars and revolutions distort and refract traditional values and behavior, but more significantly, they magnify essentials. The intensity of extreme situations triggers primary values. Ideology, which in normal times often remains obscured, is thrust to the surface. As the whirlwind of the Civil War made a shambles of the world of the plantation elite, it forced planters to establish their . . .

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