A Year in the South, 1865
A Year in the South, 1865 is a written narrative based on the lives of four individuals living in the South after the Civil War. These people represent the reassertion of community relations under widespread destruction and the awakening of the southerners. Although the author does not show the thematic connections in the lives of these four individuals, it is clear that they represent the struggles common to all southerners in the post-war period. Stephen Ash based his narrative on the lives of Louis Hughes, Cornelia McDonald, John Robertson, and Sam Agnew. The story compares the lives of the southerners in pre- and post-war period. In essence, the year 1865 was characterized by future uncertainties for the Blacks. The southerners during this year lived double-edged lives. On the one hand, there was despair and restlessness while, on the other hand, there was hope and serenity. Although the narrative is based on the lives of four individuals, each has its own compelling evidence in relation to the unfolding of the year 1865.
The first person in the narrative is Louis Hughes. During the Civil War, he was working at salt mines along Alabama. Louis earned extra income by selling tobacco plugs within the local slave community. However, the fall of Confederacy marked another turn in Louis’s life as a slave (Ash 10). His master took him together with his wife from the salt works to a remote area in the northern Mississippi. He was subjected to months of slavery and hard labor during the summer months of 1865 (Ash 18). Although the Emancipation Proclamation was among the leading steps to end the Civil War, the federal troops did not arrive at remote areas to enforce it. Therefore, Louis’s master refused to submit the new order and continued with practices of slavery (Ash 22). As a result, Louis tried and managed to escape to Memphis where he summoned two union officers to free his fellow slaves working on the plantation. Though the war had ended, Hughes worried that his freedom will not be guaranteed in the post-war America and thus decided to migrate to Canada (Ash 23).
Based on Louis’ experiences, it becomes clear that the ordinary southerners faced a lot of hardships. For instance, most of the Blacks in the South worked as slaves on the agricultural plantations. Their masters occupied a privileged position depending on the number of the slaves owned because the latter were treated as personal property (Ash 25). Most of the plantations were owned by the Whites who lived in urban areas. Moreover, even after slavery was abolished, most of the masters did not agree to free their slaves. The poor Blacks continued working on the cotton plantations. Those slaves that managed to escape had to migrate to other areas to avoid being recaptured back to the plantations (Ash 27). Furthermore, the issues of racial discrimination are evidently represented through Louis’s experiences. In essence, the Whites occupied privileged positions while the Blacks were forced to work on cotton farms. All in all, the life of Louis and his wife shows that the slaves were determined and ambitious to gain their freedom and engage in other income-generating activities (Ash 28). Further, most of the slaves were united in their fight for gaining freedom. For instance, when Hughes managed to escape from his master, he summoned some union officers to liberate the other slaves that he had left in the remote part in Northern Mississippi.
Unlike Louis, Sam Agnew’s experience is based on the economic strains following the events of the year 1865. On the one hand, the slaves were struggling to liberate themselves from free and forced labor on the plantations. On the other hand, ending slavery had an adverse effect on Agnew’s life (Ash 82). In addition to the drought that affected the productivity of his crop, the slavery was prohibited on the lands where they maintained labor flow. Moreover, the federal troops responded quickly to ensure that the slavery could be abolished. These experiences are symbolic of the events that marked a new life for the southerners (Ash 85). First, the abolition of slavery meant that the ordinary southerners could no longer be forced to work for free. Secondly, the author brings forward a point that slave owners suffered significantly in the year 1865. For instance, as the slaves became free, the plantations of their masters were drained of the much needed source of labor (Ash 92). It also meant that the owners had to pay wages for the workers employed to work on these farms. The masters suffered financial loss and were excluded from a privilege class that was marked by the number of the slaves owned. Therefore, Sam Agnew’s story is about the life in the South after the war ended (Ash 95).
Another experience is based on the life of Cornelia McDonald. She became a widow after losing her husband shortly after he was released from a military prison in 1864. Being a widow with seven children, Cornelia faced a lot of financial hardships. For example, the house she lived in was full of rats that made her move to Lexington (Ash 139). At some point, she was forced to hire her boys to chop wood to army quarters. Surprisingly, she supported the practice of Confederacy. Therefore, when the practice collapsed, she was deeply affected. She did not like the reality of the situation that was marked with large numbers of refugees along the streets of Lexington (Ash 148). Furthermore, Cornelia felt contempt for the new order that liberated slaves that made her sons work as farm laborers. Although they required these jobs to survive, according to Cornelia, it was degrading to work as a farm laborer. She became silently defiant of the Union officers that were enforcing the order to abolish slavery (Ash 159).
The narrative touching on Cornelia’s life depicts that although there was a high demand for slaves, their owners despised them. They were only concerned about having a steady flow of free labor and ignored the well-being of their laborers (Ash 90). Although the productivity of the farms depended on the slave labor force, the masters did not care to pay wages and other allowances. Some slaves tried to escape; they had to migrate to other areas to avoid being captured and punished by their masters. In addition, the opponents of the Emancipation Proclamation preferred working on other jobs that were not perceived to be degrading (Ash 160). As for Cornelia, she preferred hiring out her boys to work in the army quarters rather working on the plantations. She also depended on communal help before being employed as a teacher. Such attitude shows that the slaves faced all sorts of hardships in the year 1865. However, the efforts of the Union authorities played a significant role in liberating the slaves that could be seen in Lexington town (Ash 161). The authorities visited the Whites’ plantations to ensure that the slaves are free from oppressive forces of slavery and hard labor
The life of John Robertson is also depicted in the narrative. He was a Confederate soldier in the East Tennessee. Therefore, the establishment of the Unionist authority threatened his position. In 1864, he surrendered and took an oath to join the Union administration (Ash 175). However, the unionists did not allow former Confederates to retreat to a private lifestyle. In this light, John was accused of taking part in Confederate raids. Knowing that his life was in danger, John went to Indiana because he was afraid that he could not survive in the post-war period (Ash 180). These experiences show that the events of the year 1865 influenced each person. Although the events are largely centered on slavery, there were other groups affected too. In the case of Robertson, despite taking an oath to join the Unionists, false accusations were laid on him. He was forced to migrate to escape from the local Unionists (Ash 205). Although Robertson was not a slave like Hughes, he was forced to migrate to another area that could guarantee his freedom.
In conclusion, although the lives of individuals in the story A Year in the South, 1865 are narrated in a different way, they share a common similarity. They are symbolic of the struggles that the ordinary citizens in the South faced during this period. For instance, on the one hand, the slaves were struggling to liberate themselves from their masters. They were forced to provide free labor. On the other hand, the supporters of Confederacy struggled to come to terms with the establishment of the Union authorities. They were afraid that the Unionist administration could force them to perform degrading jobs. Some people like Robertson had to migrate to another area to flee from threats posed by the Unionists while Hughes moved to avoid being recaptured back to slavery.
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