Following the end of the Civil War, Southerners worked rapidly to change the narrative of why the war was fought. Most historians have reached a consensus that the central cause of the Civil War was slavery. Today it is not uncommon to see white Americans, Southern or not, flying a Confederate flag. Anyone who has traveled on I-95 South crossing into Virginia from Maryland can attest to the large, conspicuous displays of the Confederate flag. There have been numerous debates regarding the removal of Confederate statues and memorials. Many Americans, especially white Southerners will argue that the Civil War was not fought because of slavery, but it was in fact fought over states’ rights and as an attempt to resist the overreaching of the federal government in matters that Southerners felt should be left up to the states.
In addition to this rewriting of history, the plantation south has been romanticized. Movies like Gone with the Wind have painted an inaccurate image of what life was like in the plantation south. In an effort to defend the peculiar institution of slavery, images of happy and loyal slaves have been shared over and over again to disprove the argument that slavery was a brutal institution, and to further prove that slaves were content with their situation. In Tara Revisited: Women, War, & the Plantation Legend, American History professor Catherine Clinton details how this plantation legend and the rewriting of history transpired. Furthermore, she addresses how the rise and fall of the Confederacy affected women, both black and white, who were there to witness it.
Clinton addresses the lack of historical scholarship on the women involved and how important their role was during and following the war. She also addresses how the plantation legend was born and its implications for historical understanding today and what role the women of the south played in the creation of that legend. Her analysis is spot-on, drawing from a number of sources including letters and diaries written by those very women.
With the image of Gone with the Wind’s heroine Scarlett O’Hara imbedded into the minds of many, she notes that although women like her existed, they were few and far between. Clinton’s goal of painting a more realistic picture of the “Old South” is accomplished. She effortlessly shows how important it is to acknowledge the illegitimacy of these legends and to further acknowledge the truth about that era.
Clinton, Catherine. Tara Revisited: Women, War, & the Plantation Legend. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1995.