The Civil War is usually defined as a clash between armies, with those in uniform as the sole casualties of the conflict. In reality the war touched the life of virtually every American, particularly those citizens who lived in the shadows of battlefields. Most of those people lived in the South.
One Virginia farmer described his part of the state as “a desert” in 1865. “We had no cattle, hogs, sheep, or horses or anything else. The fences were all gone. The barns were burned; chimneys standing without houses, and houses standing without roofs, or doors, or windows.” On many Southern farms, the labor force – enslaved African Americans – had also disappeared into an unknown future.
White Southerners faced a host of problems as the Civil War ground on. The Union blockade severely restricted the importation of consumer goods, and devastated the Southern export economy. Farm income and wages soon became inadequate to supply the necessities of life, let alone the luxuries, and many destitute citizens relied on welfare from local governments to heat their homes and feed their families. Battles destroyed private property, but so did armies that merely encamped in or marched through neighborhoods. Everyday life deteriorated in myriad ways as shortages, inflation, and cruel news from the battlefields sapped the resources and spirits of the embattled South.
The legacy of the Civil War in the former Confederacy extended well beyond the soldiers’ graveyards. The once wealthy were reduced to humiliating poverty. Southern cities filled with former slaves, rejoicing at their freedom but without employment or the means to sustain their lives. Roads and bridges had fallen into disrepair. Southern railroads were wrecked. Land that had once sold for $50 per acre now commanded less than $5.
Pamplin Historical Park has restored Tudor Hall Plantation to its appearance at the beginning of the Civil War. The two-hundred-year-old home is furnished both as the Boisseaus might have known it and as South Carolina General Samuel McGowan’s headquarters. An exhibit entitled “A Land Worth Fighting For” explores lifestyles in the Old South and outlines the tragic fate of Tudor Hall. Nearby, a reconstructed livestock barn, tobacco barn, and slave kitchen help suggest the farm’s appearance and function. Costumed interpreters tend to farm animals, gardens, and crops, and prepare meals in the slave kitchen as the Boisseaus and Southerners like them would have done in the 1850s and 1860s.