Contrary to Mitchell's contention that the old families were destroyed by the War, their places being taken by adventurers like Rhett Butler and trash like the Slatterys, the majority of the old families bounced back and recovered their fortunes.
Some died out or were killed in the War, of course, and some left no male descendants and so married into other families. But if you look at the actual records (land records, tax records, wills, guardianships, trusts, etc.) you find that the same families by and large owned the land and paid the taxes in the 1870s and 1880s as did in the 1850s and 1860s.
My theory is that industrialization, especially the railroad, did a whole lot more to change things than the War. Historian Eugene Genovese, no conservative (he was actually a Communist) posited that slavery would have fallen of its own weight as a result.
It's true now as it was then -- prosperous people keep on doing the things that make them prosperous, and poor people keep on doing the things that make them poor. If you took all the money away and started over, in a few years everybody would be right back where they were when you took it. And so it was after the War. One gg grandfather had nothing left but an old blind mule, but when he died in the 1920s he was once again a wealthy man. Another gg grandfather was a lawyer and banker before the war, but since there was no money and no litigation he drove a delivery wagon using two of his artillery horses for a few years. But when he died in 1917 he was once again a lawyer and a banker.
So many grand themes in the novel! I love the idea of the poor and the rich ending up exactly where they were before the war.
You probably know that Mitchell was influenced by her mother who took her out of Atlanta one day and into plantation country. She pointed to the ruined homes and said: “one day your world will explode. You need to have skills and education to survive.” She then pointed out that some of the people in those grand homes had gone under because they did not know how to do anything. That’s where the character of Ashley, I guess, came from.
Thanks for the reply! I don’t disagree at all with your contention that Margaret Mitchell overemphasized the plight of the genteel Southern families, not because it was totally true, but because it was necessary for Scarlett’s story. When I said the book was accurate, I meant in terms of the battles, the dates, the Generals, the casualties, etc.
I guess when I talked about the “mood” I was more referencing the feelings of resentment that so many Southerners had regarding “The War of Northern Aggression” (Yes, I know the South fired first but that seemed immaterial to many people, even today! : )
By the way, have you ever read a book called “For Cause and Comrades”? It is a collection of letters written by soldiers on both sides explaining why they were fighting. My son is a history major and it is probably one of his all time favorite books!
What is a gg grandfather?