Why did people's daily lives change in the decades following the Civil War?

Expert Answers
mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The daily lives of Southerners changed more drastically than those of Northerners in the years following the Civil War.  The Southerners faced personal financial difficulties, as well as a severely weakened economy.  The Northerners experienced a period of prosperity after the Civil War.

The South once again joined the Union after the Civil War.  The Confederate States were dissolved and the Southern states became part of the United States again.  Slaves were freed, which caused significant economic changes in the South.  The agricultural industry had relied heavily on slave labor.  Slaves had planted and harvested crops on large plantations.  Planters had to hire laborers for the first time after the war ended.  Many were already suffering economic ruin from the war and did not have the cash to pay workers.  Sharecropping became a common solution to this lack of funds.  Many formerly wealthy planters became poor.  Rather than produce crops like tobacco and cotton on smaller scales, they had to produce mass amounts to make enough money.  Many people had to borrow money and debt grew in the South.  Families who had previously lived comfortably had to do without.  Some people even went hungry.  Members of entire families had to do their share to help provide.

Former slaves were able to attend school for the first time after the Civil War.  Some former slaves also were able to own land for the first time.  They were able to live with relative freedom for the first time, though racism made their lives difficult.  Some slaves also faced uncertainties as they lived independently for the first time.  They were freed, but not given any money, food, or shelter.  They had to find ways to provide for these basic necessities for the first time in their lives.

In the Northern states, there was economic prosperity.  Factories were built and jobs were plentiful.  Railroads were built throughout the northern United States.  Railroads expanded to the West from the North, as well.  These railroads were federally funded, and they also provided many jobs.

Soldiers on both sides returned home.  The male workforce resumed, so many women who had served as nurses and in other capacities had to return home.  Many former soldiers in the South had trouble finding work and were forced to live in poverty, while former soldiers in the North were able to get jobs in factories and for the railroad companies.