Excerpt: First published in History Magazine
“Home from their last adventure came the tattered Cavaliers. . .
Grimly they came hobbling back to the desolation that had once been a
land of grace and plenty, and with them came another invader. . .
more cruel and vicious than any they had fought . . . the Carpetbaggers.”
Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind
Although Gone With the Wind painted a romantic version of the antebellum South, it did accurately capture the hatred post-Civil War Southerners had for Carpetbaggers—the Northerners who came South after the war, seeking political or financial gain. The Carpetbaggers were the archvillains of Reconstruction, seen as scheming, money-hungry paupers who carried all of their belongings in one bag made of carpeting.
Mitchell’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, faced the same difficulties as real post-War plantation owners—they were land rich, cash poor, and at the mercy of Carpetbagger tax collectors and their scalawag friends—Southerners who supported Northern rule.
Disenfranchised, the real Scarlett’s and their families scratched a hard living from their native soil, or lost their plantations to back taxes. Their husbands, impotent to stop corrupt lawmakers, vented their frustration by joining “law and order” societies. These “society” men rode in the night, beating or lynching blacks and anyone who dared help them—especially Carpetbaggers. To them, Carpetbaggers were far more villainous than blacks, as most Southerners considered blacks as hapless children being led astray by unscrupulous Northerners.