I'm researching middle class family life in Georgia immediately after the US Civil war. What was life like for middle class families? What were the common themes/experiences?

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    You may wish to review the discussion here
    – MCW
    Jun 3, 2016 at 16:30
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    Thanks, but it's not exactly clear if it is allowed/not allowed/frowned upon to ask this sort of question on this SE. I wish someone would just make it clear... Jun 3, 2016 at 20:58
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    If there were a clear answer, we'd offer it; that is the hazard of a community moderated site. It can take a long time to come to an agreement on a clear policy. The consensus is that requests for sources/references are out of scope except in very limited circumstances. Might I suggest you rewrite the question to focus on "what you want to know", rather than "where you think you can find it?" Good answers should provide both facts and sources. I'll attempt an edit.
    – MCW
    Jun 4, 2016 at 12:08
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    Ah, OK, I understand. I will keep it the way you have edited and will hope to get the sources together with the information itself. Jun 4, 2016 at 12:39
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    I have seen the term "middle class" used in the modern literature to describe families of professional men in the South rather than planters... Jun 6, 2016 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


There is a brilliant Yale online course on the Civil War and Reconstruction instructed by David Blight. It gives a great modern historical perspective on the lives of Southern citizens during that period. It includes reading lists as well if you'd like to immerse yourself in the course.

You can start on just the Reconstruction period in the middle of the course and get plenty of insight as to how all classes of Southerners' lives were affected after the war. I recommend listening to the whole thing.

There was no middle class as we know it today in the South. You had the plantation/planter class, the slaves, and everyone else. The top 1% of Southern whites owned 27% of the wealth and the bottom 50% shared 1% of the wealth in the South. (I don't have a citation on this but it is mentioned in the above course).

As you can imagine, things were pretty bleak; and to do so, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the white Southern people. Sherman's Army had devastated much of the state, including the largest city burned to the ground. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million (about $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars). This march was particularly remarkable because his army went deep into enemy territory without the usual supply lines. To achieve this, they took whatever they needed from farmers along the way, and it takes a lot of food to feed a marching army of that size, leaving farmers with little to no food. These were also mainly elderly men, children and women as the fighting age men were all conscripted, with exceptions of slave owners of 20 or more. The small railroad system was completely destroyed. Many of the young were either dead or mangled at a time when physical labor in the form of farm work was how you survived. Current estimates are that the South lost about 10% of it's white population to the Civil War. That would be around 32 million military casualties today. There were many widows and orphans also due to this. About half of the wealth in the form of slaves was erased, their currency became worthless, and their economy had to be rethought and rebuilt with little to no money. This lead to deep poverty that was only mitigated through the new deal in the 1930s. There are signs of this to this day.

The South was subjugated by the country they were just defeated by, each state with a Union General running things installed as governor (though not always a General). With the assassination of Lincoln (by a Southerner no less), the Radical Republicans weren't as welcoming of the Southern states back into the union and wanted to punish the region for their part in the war. The white Southerners lost all their voting rights as well as rights to hold office, so they were governed not only by the people who were subjugating them in the form of Carpetbaggers, but the people they believed were subhuman (former slaves). There was also a heated, deadly rift between pro-Confederate Southerners and Southerners who supported reconstruction who were labeled Scalawags. White Southerners were also greatly affected by losing the war, and were the only part of the country to have suffered a devastating loss in war at the time and up until Vietnam 110 or so years later. This held a deep psychological effect on many Southerners.

Georgia didn't have nearly as many war casualties as Virginia, Alabama, North and South Carolina which were the top four, but theirs were still significant. During the time of the civil war, soldiers from the same town served together in the same unit, so some towns could lose much more of their population than others, depending on what battles the unit served under. I would imagine PTSD was prevalent as it is in any war, but since it wasn't a known problem, it probably wasn't treated well if at all. Also, Andersonville Prison Camp was in Georgia, though I'm not sure as to the affect on Georgians there (additional shame, mass graves, etc).

This is a very complex question and I've only touched the surface of answering it. I'm sure many people will feel I've left things out like the rise of the KKK, and how former slaves did a pretty good job governing. The first public school in the South was funded by black politicians in South Carolina. The freedman's education was also a significant improvement to the freedman population that can't be overstated. I've also left out many of the specific effects to former slaves, which were of course significant. They finally got their freedom, but at great peril with the rise of the KKK and the general distain from white former citizens.

Here is an article specifically about Georgia during reconstruction.

This is a great question and Reconstruction is a lightly discussed but very significant part of our history often overshadowed by the war itself. I recommend anyone interested to study it more, as there is a lot more to it. Some of the worst brutality I have ever heard of happened during this period. I just barely touched the surface. There are also two perspectives, the Northern one (most common today) and the Southern one (popular by people raised in the South). I tried to be as neutral as I could, but I am from the South, so that perspective might have inadvertently bled into my response. I recall my mother being threatened that "Sherman is going to get you if you don't clean your room," in the 1950s, so it's effects and lore were felt years after the fact. It's an amazing period to study and I highly recommend a deep dive into it.

Diaries from Georgians during the period:

A Woman's Wartime Journal: an Account of the Passage over Georgia's Plantation of Sherman's Army on the March to the Sea, as Recorded in the Diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt (Mrs. Thomas Burge)

Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation Since the War: Electronic Edition Leigh, Frances Butler, 1838-1910

New Georgia Encyclopedia: History & Archaeology Civil War & Reconstruction, 1861-1877

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    Although relevant to the subject at hand, this does not seem to be an answer to the question asked. If this video contains materials that answers OP's question, please include a summary of it in your answer.
    – Semaphore
    Aug 27, 2018 at 6:47
  • Ok, I elaborated.
    – Tombo
    Aug 27, 2018 at 14:47
  • By the middle class I meant professionals ( e.g. doctors ) who were not planters. If you know any memoirs/letter collections written by people of this background at the time, I'd be grateful if you added those to your answer. Aug 28, 2018 at 13:10
  • I added three links at the bottom. Two are online diaries, and one is the landing page for the subject from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
    – Tombo
    Aug 29, 2018 at 2:14

I'm researching middle class family life in Georgia immediately after the US Civil war. What was life like for middle class families? What were the common themes/experiences?

The first common experiences in the South immediately following the Civil war were:

  • drought
  • flooding (see below)
  • starvation
  • Wave of terror targeting African Americans across the south leading up to the presidential election of 1868.

Famine conditions existed in significant parts of the South during the years 1866 – 1867 immediately following the American Civil War. This was a result of weather(first drought, then flooding ), the disruption of the southern economy during the war, and the shortage of manpower in the post war South.


Drought, Flooding, Famine

Southern Famine Relief Commission in 1867


Daily Alta California - April 17, 1867
“But in Northern Alabama, Georgia, the flooded district of East Tennessee, and Central North and South Carolina, where little cotton is raised, where there are few wealthy men, and where the drought of last summer, coming sharp upon the complete desolation left in the track of large contending armies, the distress and suffering are appalling. Their wheat was almost a total failure, and their corn amounted to just nothing at all. They were lacking in implements of husbandry and in horses and mules to propel the plough. Hence bad cultivation, concurring with a very bad season, caused the famine.”


New York Times - April 29, 1866
We have already had accounts of lamentable destitution in Marshall and Blount Counties (Alabama). From this statement it will be seen that the suffering is yet more widely extended. It probably affects all the north-eastern and mountainous section of the state. …. The suffering of the destitute white classes of Cherokee County is becoming frightfully alarming. The disasters of war and adverse seasons of 1865 were the controlling causes of the present scarcity. The cry for bread is heard in all sections, and actual starvation is imminent. ….


New York Times - February 26, 1867,
“No southern state is probably suffering so generally and so severely as South Carolina. Fully one-fourth of her population are in distress from want of food. …. A letter received yesterday from the Southern Relief Commission, dated Lancasterville, Lancaster District, Feb. 18 says: “This district owing to the disasters consequent upon the war, and the almost total failure of the crops is in a most deplorable state of destitution of the necessaries to support its people and live stock. The district contains about ten thousand population, and not more, perhaps, than twenty families of the whole number have a supply of food for the season. There are about 500 individuals in a very alarming state of want, and unless immediate relief is afforded, many of them must perish by starvation.”


Western Democrat (Charlotte, NC) - April 30, 1867
“The corn crop in Union having completely failed last year, the most of the people are suffering for grain for man and beast. We know men who always had corn to sell heretofore, who are now dependent on charity or their personal credit for supplies for their families. Many cannot obtain corn on credit, and as the donations so far have not proved sufficient, we fear that there will be much suffering among the women and children. …. To make matters worse, the corn crop was almost a failure in those counties or the portion surrounding Union – such as Mecklenburg, Stanly and Anson; and in the adjoining Districts of South Carolina the distress is as great as anywhere. Therefore help must come from abroad.”

From memory, I remember reading in Col John Mosby's memoirs (Partisan Ranger, former Chief Calvary Scout for J.E.B Stuart) that after the civil war he and his family went through a time when they were starving in Virginia. Which is odd because they owned a farm. Mosby told of a tutor hired by his father when Mosby was a young man, a Miss Abby Southwick of boston, sent his family a wagon load full of supplies after the war, which Mosby credits with saving his life and that of his family. But I only have that in hard copy.


Massive Relief Efforts organized in the North

The next common experience would be experiencing the mass relief efforts of the other Union States as they were.

Famine in the Post-War South
Relief from the disaster was provided first by the U.S. Army. Shortly thereafter the Freedman’s Bureau was authorized to distribute food to all in need regardless of race within the constraints of their existing budget. Commissioner Oliver O. Howard was able to free about $500,000 for the effort. Private agencies began to spring up in the north, among the more prominent of which was the Southern Famine Relief Commission. By the end of 1867 the famine largely abated.

Wave of Terror

Grant, Reconstruction and the KKK At the time of Ulysses S. Grant's election to the presidency, white supremacists were conducting a reign of terror throughout the South. In outright defiance of the Republican-led federal government, Southern Democrats formed organizations that violently intimidated blacks and Republicans who tried to win political power.

The most prominent of these, the Ku Klux Klan, was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1865. Originally founded as a social club for former Confederate soldiers, the Klan evolved into a terrorist organization. It would be responsible for thousands of deaths, and would help to weaken the political power of Southern blacks and Republicans. ...
Across the South, the Klan and other terrorist groups used brutal violence to intimidate Republican voters. In Kansas, over 2,000 murders were committed in connection with the election. In Georgia, the number of threats and beatings was even higher. And in Louisiana, 1000 blacks were killed as the election neared. In those three states, Democrats won decisive victories at the polls.


  • re "the presidential election of 1867.": Which election was that exactly? Aug 27, 2018 at 10:55
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    @PietterGeerkens my bad, election took place 1868 grant took office 1869. Change it when I get to my computer.
    – user27618
    Aug 27, 2018 at 11:34
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    @PieterGeerkens, thank you for the correction.
    – user27618
    Aug 27, 2018 at 12:20

It was certainly very different than pre or during civil war life. Widows that lost husbands to the war gave a kind of broken atmosphere, especially because Georgia was a confederate state which lost, and its loss was devastating to everyone except for union sympathisers. All around the south and the old confederacy there was a broken and lonely feeling as if someone had lost a loved family member, that member being the confederacy and a hope for a better future, but in comparison imagine what it was like for people in Richmond or Vicksburg; it would have been much worse as most of those once great cities had been destroyed and famine and sickness riddled the cities.

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    Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Aug 11, 2017 at 22:11

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