This essay examines the reading habits of young white southern readers, a segment of the region's educated class who frequently wrote about their reading habits in diaries. Analysis of these readers, ranging in age from early teens to early twenties, reveals that reading provided considerable continuity across periods. Young men and women socialized as readers in the antebellum years carried with them certain cultural assumptions about literature, literacy, and reading as they headed into secession and war. These assumptions included attitudes about reading for self-improvement and anxiety about appropriate genre selection as related to age, class, and gender. Heightened sectionalism, secession, and the war caused young men and women to adjust antebellum modes of thought and engagement with intellectual life to wartime exigencies. Accordingly, this essay explores how southerners used their literacy, and how they experienced intellectual life across eras, moving from the Market Revolution through secession, and into war. This cultural history of intellectual life should challenge historians to reexamine the era's conventional periodization as well as its claims about southern regional exceptionalism.