South Carolina’s Piedmont has undergone dramatic environmental change since the mid-1800s. This article uses the Union County mansion of South Carolina governor William H. Gist to trace how radical changes in its natural setting influenced locals’ presentation of the history of Gist, the house, and the Civil War. In the decades after the war, as exhausted fields gave way to gullies, and free African Americans began working the land and living in the house, white Southerners portrayed the mansion as crumbling proof of the tragedy of emancipation. In the 1930s, however, when the federal government bought thousands of acres surrounding the house and transformed the visibly worn land into a national forest, white locals regained control of the house and changed the moral thrust of the narrative. The trees that covered the once-conspicuous wounds of the land made it possible to reimagine the mansion as a testament to the glory of the Confederacy—a verdant monument to the Lost Cause. Scientists researching the ecology of the area in recent years, though, have excavated a telling irony: the soil continues to suffer from a century of cotton cultivation, despite what the green trees and interpretation of the restored house might indicate.


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pp. 19-38
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