“A Year in the South,” is a book written by Stephen Ash, and narrates the fall of the Confederacy and the emergence of the New South in 1865. The author, Stephen Ash, is a professor of History at the University of Tennessee since 1989. During that period he acted as the managing editor of the Journal of East Tennessee History from 1993 up to now. Ash is a fictional writer and has authored many books about the Civil War, such as “When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South”.
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In “A year in the south”, Ash presents an intimate look at four Southerners; A slave determined to gain freedom, Louis Hughes; a widow battling poverty and despair; Cornelia Mc Donald; a man of god grappling with spiritual and worldly troubles, Sam Agnew; and a former Confederate soldier seeking a new life, John Robertson, (Ash 12). These individuals saw from various angles the dusk of the old South to the time of the dawn of the now South. Ash tells a dramatic story of everyday people scrambling to survive with their daily lives, fears, frustrations and triumphs as they watch their world collapse. Ash tells a tale illuminating important historical events in the South.
Ash bridges the historiographical gap between war, peace, slavery, freedom, disunion and reconstruction, starting from the winter of 1865. The book narrates the occurrences in these individual’s lives, while connecting with the broader world, that is, political and economical matters. The book also brings in the ideologies that characterized this era, for example the impact of the war on women and children, slaves and the big influence of Christianity. These events are explained chronologically from the start of the year to the end.
Ash draws subjects from different backgrounds, classes, races and religions to show distinct impacts of the war on each one of them. Louis Hughes, a slave born of a black mother and a white father, was sold away on auction to a Mississippi planter. He was motherless with no friends, he grieved for a long time but eventually adapted to his new life, which turned out to be hard and demeaning. Before the war he tried to escape four times each time being caught and returned to his master. When the war started, Hughes’ boss died and he was forced to move in with his family, although he managed to get a job later as a hack driver. The book explains in details his tribulations and changes in his life (Ash 40).
The author introduces Cornelia McDonald, in 1865 at the time, she was forty years old and was living in a rented house with seven children, a widow and a war refugee. Cornelia’s father was a physician, and her mother died when she was young. She was married to a lawyer who was often going for business trips, although she proved to be a capable manager and woman of immense strengths. Angus, her husband, was commissioned as a colonel in the army, hence left his family living under the enemy rule where people were evicted everyday and so happened to Cornelia.Her husband eventually died of rheumatism leaving the family heavily depended on Angus’s salary and problems set in. Ash explains of her struggles with her children and her agonizing life, she even wished for death and in an incident she tried to commit suicide (Ash 75).
John Robert had spent his life on his father’s farm and he felt he needed a new life. The war had changed him from a wicked boy to a decent young man.There is detailed chronological information about his childhood in the book. In 1862, at the time violence erupted in his community he was enlisted in the Confederate army. John’s parents declined him and he ran away from home. In the army, he often fell sick and with his father’s help, he went back home.
John went back home as attacks had intensified but yet again he fell sick and was allowed to go home. The situation at home had changed, Yankees had invaded his community. Unfortunately, he was kidnapped and taken to a military prison where he suffered until he agreed to his captor’s demands, that was to take allegiance to the enemy. Thereafter, he did odd jobs like chopping wood for the US government, buying goods and peddling them, teaching and also worked for his uncle who he lived with. There is more about how his life changes as he decides to take up a bible (Ash 105).
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Sam Agnew was a decent man born in South Carolina in 1833.He concentrated on his ministerial career, studying theology and preaching; and led a low profile life. He witnessed the happenings of his community slowly getting into war, faced with food shortage, caused by the invaders. Sam spent nights out protecting his family’s animals from raiders while still praying for God’s help. The community was raided by federal troops at least sixty times, and was forced into hiding and when he came back he found his father’s farm turned to a battlefield full of corpses and carcasses. Sam lived in a awe state wondering when this troubles would end (Ash 134).
Ash eloquently presents each of these people’s lives and integrates them with the terrifying happenings in the South to creates a vivid picture of the broader themes involved. For example, the problems facing women and children, food shortages, captives, freed people, deals, contracts and treaties being signed, population and geographical changes taking place. The four characters traveled for distances seeking to reconstruct their lives from their dilapidated condition.
In conclusion, ‘A year in the south’ is a highly creative and brilliantly written book, covering the civil war in the south America during 1865 a year that saw war hostility slavery, destruction of properties ,homes and deaths of many. The author uses the lives of four characters to portray a glimpse of life in the south; the start of the crisis to the early days of reconstruction.
Ash, Stephen. A year in the South, 1865: the true story of four ordinary people who lived through the most tumultuous twelve months in American history. Chattooga, GA: Perennial, 2004. Print.