Purdue University Graduate School
Molly C. Mersmann Dissertation.pdf (3.05 MB)

"Bricks Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again": Rebuilding the South in the Wake of the American Civil War, 1861-1875

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posted on 2022-04-27, 21:37 authored by Molly C MersmannMolly C Mersmann


This dissertation explores how Black and white, men and women in ex-Confederate states physically recreated or created their environment after four long years of war. Through rebuilding and building homes, businesses, churches, jails, and infrastructure, southerners remade their landscape in a way that reflected their aspirations and fears for life in the postwar South, and in ways that reflected expectations about new alliances and relationships. For instance, white southerners used their kinship networks as well as state governments to rebuild jails, courthouses, and grand churches to reconsolidate their elite, Old South status. This process of rebuilding has received little attention from historians, and the existing literature has instead emphasized the social, political, and economic narratives of the Reconstruction Era. While that scholarship is essential to understand the contentious and fraught nature of the period, the unexplored story of rebuilding adds to these histories by recovering the motivations of the laborers and financiers who rebuilt the South after the Civil War. In addition, this project illuminates how Black and white southerners tried to exert control and influence over their space and place in the postwar world, and in doing so, reveals that the work of rebuilding mattered just as much to southerners as did the political reunification and Reconstruction of the Union. More broadly, it posits the process of rebuilding as a moment of transition for both the South and the nation, as it bridged the gap between the Old and New South, wartime and peacetime, and the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras.  


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • History

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Caroline E. Janney

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

David Atkinson

Additional Committee Member 2

Frederick Rowe Davis

Additional Committee Member 3

Jonathan Lande

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