On the Plantation
On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures during the War (1892), written by famed New
Origins and Influences
Portrayal of War
On the Plantation closely parallels Harris's adolescence on Turnwold Plantation between 1862 and 1866.
The ways in which Harris chose to remember his Civil War experience and, in turn, to fictionalize it often do not conform to reality. Many salient aspects of Harris's life on the home front are omitted and/or significantly downplayed, creating an account that does not accord with the memories of most middle Georgians who lived through similar experiences. Although On the Plantation chronicles life on Turnwold during the Civil War years, Harris does not introduce details of the conflict until well into his work, and when he does, they receive cursory treatment. Particularly surprising, considering the magnitude of the event for both whites and blacks, is Harris's scant attention to Union general William T. Sherman's march to the sea. The left wing of Sherman's army—led by General Henry Slocum—did, in fact, raid areas of Putnam County in November 1864. Turnwold was invaded on November 20-21, 1864, and Union soldiers stole horses and other valuables from the plantation. Neighboring properties suffered more extensive damage; however, Harris, through Joe Maxwell, characterizes these invaders as good-natured and sometimes even benevolent. Few, if any, Georgians would have concurred with Harris's depiction of Sherman's troops, and the reader has little sense of the hardships and deprivations that Georgians suffered during the war.
In the final chapters of On the Plantation, after Sherman vacates middle Georgia, Turner frees his slaves. However, in Harris's version of events, most of the Turnwold slaves choose to remain with their master, where "peace and quiet reigned on the plantation." In point of fact, "peace and quiet" most probably never typified Turnwold prior to hostilities and certainly did not typify it afterward; financially ruined by the Civil War, Turner lost his plantation and died in 1868 at the age of forty-one.
While writing On the Plantation and numerous other stories, Harris doubled as an associate editor for the Atlanta Constitution. Along with Henry W. Grady, his close colleague and friend, Harris was a significant voice for the New South. Together, as highly placed journalists, Harris and Grady promoted racial and especially regional reconciliation, hoping to soften northern animosities toward the South. Harris's arguably sanitized portrayal of the Civil War in On the Plantation may have helped to foster some harmony between the North and South at a time when it was most needed.
Paul M. Cousins, Joel Chandler Harris: A Biography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968).
Joel Chandler Harris, On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures during the War (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1892).
John C. Inscoe, "The Confederate Home Front Sanitized: Joel Chandler Harris' On the Plantation and Sectional Reconciliation," Georgia Historical Quarterly 76 (Fall 1992): 652-74.
Lucinda Hardwick MacKethan, The Dream of Arcady: Place and Time in Southern Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980).
Jim Miles, To the Sea: A History and Tour Guide of Sherman's March (Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 1989).
Katherine E. Rohrer, University of Georgia
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