Antebellum South

Historical content: 
Civil War and Reconstruction
Historical skills: 



Read the passage below and answer the questions that follow.


Introductory remarks for a memoir written by a Southerner in 1923. In his memoir, Edward J. Thomas describes the South as he remembers it before and after the Civil War.

Title page of Memoirs of a Southerner.
Source text: 

“My young manhood having spent in the South just before, during and after the War of Secession, I may say I lived in two distinct periods of our Southern history, for this war completely severed the grand old plantation life, with all its peculiar interests and demands, from the stirring and striving conditions that followed. The first was a life complete in all things to foster intelligence and honor; the second simply, for me, a constant struggle and a hard fight to keep the proverbial wolf from the door, but with pluck, frugality and endurance the fight was won, and now, in my old age, with kind relatives and good friends, I have found happiness and contentment.”

Question 1:  How might Thomas’s memoir be useful as evidence of how the South changed after the Civil War?

Question 2:  What about this source might make it less useful as evidence of how the South changed after the Civil War?

About the Assessment

Like the Slave Quarters assessment, this question requires students to consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of a document as historical evidence.  Students with a sophisticated understanding of how to source a document will be able to explain that Thomas's testimony is useful as a first-hand description by a man who experienced how the South changed.  They will also recognize, however, that the document is limited as evidence of the period. Students may understand that author had an incentive to embellish memoirs, which could limit the reliability of the account.  Students might also point out that the document is limited because it was written decades after the events it describes.