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A Year In The South Book Review

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Autor:  cat_91  14 November 2009
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During the course of Civil War people faced many different hardships and challenges. As the war began secessionist hopes were high and they had control over the unionist. However, as the war progressed this began to change. The men that fought for the Rebels were beginning to come home and the same was true for the men who fought with the Yankees. Since many of all these men lived in the same towns and fought for different sides during the war hostility broke out. Even though there was an enormous amount of hostility between the two sides they still had one thing in common, family. Through the lives of Louis Hughes, Cornelia McDonald, John Robertson, Samuel Agnew, one can see the importance of family through hard times and good times.
Throughout the life of John Robertson, his family and friends played a major role in his life. At the age of 18, having just returned from the war fighting for the Confederates, John was starting a new life. He called himself a seeker. “But it was not riches he sought nor was it adventure. Although he was only eighteen, he had seen, as a rebel soldier and a home guardsman, all of the excitement and danger he cared to see. What he thirsted for now was spiritual fulfillment”(Ash 47). So on New Year’s Day he went to a Baptist church not far away from his aunt and uncles house. What he found when he went there was a preacher who was talking about baptism, not what young John wanted to hear. No, what he wanted to hear was a message that would change his life and help him get to know Jesus. Therefore, for the rest of the service John zoned himself out and sat quietly. The next day, he and his friend George Whillock had to mend a carriage wheel that had gotten broken on the way up from Roane Country. After repairing the wheel he went to see some old friends, the Browns. “He had lived with this family on their little farm for a time in late 1863 and early 1864, while he was employed in supplying firewood to the Yankee troops in Knoxville” (Ash 49). The Browns invited him to a revival that was being held at a local schoolhouse nearby. To say the least, John did not find what he was looking for that night. He kept going to the revival and he finally found what he was looking for, and if it were not for the Browns he probably would not have found it. “In the days and weeks following his conversion, John felt nearly overwhelmed by the sense of transformation” (Ash 51). Toward the end of winter John said that Knoxville was about as awful of a place that he could imagine (Ash 57). He decided to go to the place where he had made his home since October with another one of uncles, Allen Robertson. While he was there he learned about a revival being held at the Blue Springs Church, it is here that he started his goal at becoming a minister. In the spring of 1865, John had put the war totally out of his mind (Ash 87). He had decided now to devote all of his time to the Lord. He visited frequently the Reverend Payne, who helped start off John down the path of becoming a minister. All was going well until he met her, Margaret Tennessee Robertson, a distant cousin of his. “They found that they had much in common besides their age and family connection. Politics for on thing: her family were secessionists, and her older brother was a lieutenant in the Confederate army (Ash 91). Over time he tried to profess his love to her but he was scared that she did not fell the same as he did, so he promised himself that he would tell her in the upcoming summer months. During the months before Uncle Allen had gotten sick, so John had to start helping out in the field. Though the work was hard he still managed time to go see Tennie, this was the nickname that which he called Margaret. Finally on July 9, he decided to profess his love to Tennie. She told him that she needed six days to think about it. He returned on the sixth day during his lunch break and she told him that if she thought she would make him happy then she was his (Ash 175). Not long after at a church service, an event happened that would change his life forever. A man with a pistol riding a horse came up to John and asked to go back home with John for dinner. When the two were walking on the road, through a place where the brush was very thick, the man pulled his pistol on John and said that he was going to kill him, because John had bushwhacked him during the war. John begging with the man for his life managed to talk him into letting him go back to his house and eat. After eating the man and John made a deal that if John gave the man his pistol and his watch then they would leave him alone. Since John wanted to see the sunrise the next morning he agreed and the man and his companions left. Knowing that the men would be back soon John made the decision to leave Tennessee and go to Iowa. “It was having to leave Tennie that he dreaded most. When he told her of his decision to go, she did not try to dissuade him. They both knew that if they wanted to get married one day that this was the best thing that John could do. Later on John, his Uncle John, and his family left for the long journey to Iowa. After getting there John noticed that the people in the North in general were not as friendly as they were in the South, and they did not talk or make neighbors like in the South. Soon after moving he found a local school and enrolled. He was having a hard time getting used to living in the North. The weather especially got to him. On New Years Eve he thought “ How many more Yankee winters must I endure before he go home” (Ash 196). Throughout the year that we spend with John we find out that if it were not for his family and friends that he may not of made it through the year.
Samuel Agnew was a preacher from Tippah County, Mississippi. At thirty-one he had seen his fair share of Yankee alarms, so when the word came around that the Yankees were coming, he and his father, Enoch, knew what to do. From help with the slaves, they would take all the mules and cattle to the woods and hide until the scare was over (Ash 61). “The woods of Tippah County were dense with pine and oak; in many places there was a thick undergrowth of blackjack, too. Even in the leafless winter, men and livestock could safely hide from Yankee scouts (Ash 61). Sam had a diary, which he wrote in every night about the things that went on during the day. Food was a major concern in Tippah County during the war; with what seems to be a blessing from God the Agnew’s were very blessed. They had been able to produce enough food in the previous season to get by (Ash 63). Sam was always looking for someone to talk or find a newspaper that talked about the war. One day, when he saw a numerous amount of Rebel soldier and supply wagons passing by, he questioned every one that he saw to find out what was going on. Finally he got the news, bad news. “Confederate general John B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee had suffered disaster in a battle at Nashville in December and was now in headlong retreat. The army was not just defeated, it seemed, but wrecked. Hood had ordered what was left of it to concentrate at Tupelo… (Ash 65). The whole issue of slavery at the Agnew plantation was still going well and in Tippah County as a whole (Ash 67). Since he owned a large plantation it required a lot of attention from Sam’s father. Sam did not get involved much in the farming of the plantation. During the winter he spent most of his time indoors with his family (Ash 69). In addition, during the winter he spent time growing opium. Every Sunday he usually had a preaching appointment, so he would go to where ever that he was needed to preach. Late in the winter news got to Sam that a large part of Hood’s army was being sent to the Carolinas to try to stop Sherman’s advance. “This leaves Mississippi without the shadow of defense” (Ash 71). As soon as spring came another rumor of Yankee forces moving in to Tippah County arose, Sam, hearing it from a friend who heard it from a friend did not take the rumor to heart. Right after the rumor came about, his wife Nannie went into labor. Not long after the birth of his new son, Enoch, the war came to the Angew’s again. A trusted friend of the family reported that the Yankees were even closer than before. “This news,’ Sam wrote, �impelled us to be off to the woods” (Ash 77). Food was still a problem for the family as spring progressed, so a group of families came together to get two men to go down into south Mississippi in search of corn. They were successful and brought the families a fair amount of food. Another problem that surfaced concerning food was the abrupt end to the Confederacy. The Confederate money was now worthless and finding specie or Yankee greenbacks was hard to do. “Greenbacks had been circulating in Tippah for some time, as a result of the clandestine trade with Tennessee, but never in large amounts” (Ash 84). In early June, Sam learned about the Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Act. This granted political absolution to those who had supported the Confederacy (Ash 145). There were the selected rich planters that this Act did not apply. If you had taxable property that was worth over twenty thousand dollars, you had to apply for a special pardon from the president. Besides the political problems that Sam was facing, his family life was going very well. His new son, who was sick during spring, was now doing well and got baptized soon after recovering. Food was still a continuing problem during the late spring. “The only thing the Agnews could see to do for now was to go to Tennessee and buy provisions” (Ash 149). The trip was very successful and they thought that it might hold them until the fall harvest of their corn. The one thing on their mind was if the harvest was going to be fruitful or not. On August 2, Sam spent the entire day drawing up contract for each black family on the family plantation (Ash 153). Soon after he found out that he had to draw up one contract for all the families. In later part of August came a much-needed break, for the crops had grown strong enough to fend for themselves. In early September rain plagued the family, but when it finally pasted, Sam went to Ebenezer Church. “He remained at Ebenezer for nearly a week, staying with various friends and acquaintances in the area” (Ash 219). He spent the week preaching in the mornings and some afternoons. Not long after harvesting became a major part of their lives. People all around the area where having the same problem, trouble with the help from the blacks. Another issue surfaced, it was rumors of blacks planning some sort of uprising against all of the former slaveholders. This made the Agnews afraid. “One by one, in the days that followed, the blacks packed up and left the plantation” (Ash 231). Throughout the year spent with the Agnew family we see that without the bonds that they had with themselves and the other families that were around them that they would have had a hard time dealing with the issue of food.
Louis Hughes was a thirty-two year old mulatto slave in 1865. He had a black mom and a white dad (Ash 1). He was sold for the first time at the age of eleven to a man who lived nearby. Not long after he was sold again, this time he ended up in Richman. The young boy was always getting sick, and his Richman owner got fed up with him and put him up for sale again. He was sold to a man by the name of Edmund McGehee, a Mississippian. He would later call him �Boss’ (Ash 1). When they arrived in Pontotoc County, Boss presented Louis as a gift to his wife for Christmas. About ten years later Boss sold his plantation in Pontotoc and bought an estate outside of Memphis. At the start of the Civil War he had been married for two and a half years to his wife Matilda, who a cook at the estate (Ash 3). Lou, as he was more commonly called, did a good job as a butler and was noticed by the state salt commissioner, Benjamin Woolsey. Since he had a connection in the trade business, Lou asked the superintendent about getting some tobacco, Brooks was a friend of Lou and was happy to get it for him (Ash 21-22). Lou did not want the tobacco for personal reasons, he wanted so that he could make money. “Within an hour he had sold every plug at five dollars apiece, for a profit of eighty dollars” (Ash 21). Over time he earned a great deal of money. Lou also got to use another skill that he had acquired, nursing (Ash 25). During his time as a nurse he not only learned about medicine but about bedside skills. He was a very well talented slave that could do many jobs that other slaves could not do. In late March the superintendent informed Lou and his wife that the salt works was being evacuated. They returned home days after leaving. After coming home they found out that they would not be working for Boss because he had died, they would be working for Master Jack. Lou’s hope of freedom was growing smaller by each day. One-day Lou and his friend, and slave, George deiced that they were going to try to escape. Therefore, in late June they made their break right before sunset. “The two men would go alone, heading to Memphis (Ash 129). They ran into an officer in Memphis and he sent them to Senatobia, Mississippi. In Senatobia they meet two soldiers who helped them free the other slaves back at Master Jack’s Plantation. A while later Lou and his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. He could not find a job there so they moved to Lexington, Ohio. There he was always in constant fear of being caught, so hr decided to take his family to Canada. With out the help of free white men and women Lou would not have been able to make it to Canada a feel like a free man.
Cornelia McDonald lived a rented house in Lexington (Ash 29). She and her seven children lived by themselves since the death of her husband in the war. Cornelia had a strong love for her children and would do anything in her power to make them happy. Besides the fact that they did not have a father figure, they had other problems like money. Since the death of her husband she had no source of income, the way that she got money was through the generosity of the people that lived by her. Over time things were just not coming together, so she had to go get a job. A fellow neighbor knew that Cornelia was a talented artist and gave drawing lesson to a few people in town who could afford it. At first she did not like the job but she soon gave in because she knew that if she wanted to make money this was the only way to do it. She made around fifty dollars a week teaching lessons in her parlor (Ash 36). Harry her eldest son got a job chopping wood for around thirty dollars a week. Since he chopped wood all day, for every three chords he chopped he got to keep one (Ash 36). Harry was in charge of the firewood and that just meant that it was one less thing to do or to pay for. Unlike before the war when they had an estate in Winchester, half a dozen slaves, and Angus’s other investments were together worth over seventy thousand dollars (Ash 31). Since the fall of the Confederacy some people had stopped accepting Confederate money, the thing to do now was bargain. Since she did not have anything to bargain with this was a hard process for them. In July a more tragic event happened not only to the McDonalds but also to the entire town of Lexington, Union occupation. However, at first she opposed the succession, but at the start of the war she got on the Confederate side of the fence real quick. In the end of March, Harry announced that he was leaving to join the army (Ash 100). “If Harry must go to the army, Cornelia decided, she would see to it that he was uniformed like a proper solider. She dug out on her last remaining pieces of fine clothing, a crepe shawl, and talked a shopkeeper into taking it as payment for a few yards of gray cloth” (Ash 100). Harry returned and he was sad that he did not even get shot his gun in a battle. During the occupation of Lexington the union army put a First Lieutenant C. Jerome Tubbs in charge of the town. It took him no time to gather every one of Lexington and Rockbridge County together (Ash 196). He was convinced, for the most part, that the citizens had spiteful feelings towards the blacks (Ash 197). To the McDonald’s it seemed like her family were now slaves themselves.
Throughout the entire book the family life is one of the most important thing that all of these people had in common. On many occasions some of these people would no have survived the war if it were not for the close support of each member in their family. The friends of the family were also a very important to each of the four people discussed. In every on of the people in the book there was always a strong bond between the main character and his neighbors and friends. During this book each one of the characters had evolvement with their friend and family and if we did not have that today we would have a hard time getting through those tough situations.















Works Cited
Ash, Stephen V. A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2002

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