Southern History Series: The Ice Age South

I’ve mentioned this before here.

I will share this again though because these climatic and environmental differences within the United States decisively shaped the Old South.

The following excerpt comes from William A. Link’s book Southern Crucible: The Making of an American Region:

“From 100,000 BC to about 10,000 BC, much of the Northern Hemisphere was submerged in ice and glaciers, but glaciation stopped at approximately the Mason-Dixon line. That the South was nonglacial made its soil and geography distinctive from that of the North, and helped create a distinctive ecosystem with common environmental and geographic characteristics. A warm climate encouraged the development of staple-crop agriculture; tobacco, cotton, rice, and sugar were well adapted, while grasses and small grains did not survive well. Typically, southern soil is either heavy clay or sand, characteristics resulting from the varying impact of the last ice age.”

There is still this dumb idea that floats around even to this day that slavery alone made the South distinct from the North, not the underlying differences in climate and geography that made the South more hospitable to slavery and cash crop agriculture.

The differences between the North and South pile up when you start studying the physiography and environmental history of the respective regions. The fact that much of the North was covered by glaciers for thousands of years is one of the biggest differences. There are huge differences in animal and plant life because the South is more biologically diverse.

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  1. Northwest America was shaped by the ice age versus the climate and terrain of the the southern west America. From Montana, which has glaciers year round at its national park, to Arizona with erosion of the Grand Canyon. It took Hardy whites to settle civilize the great North!
    In Europe, Asian, North America, South America Antartica The Antarctica, Hell Tasmania Australia South Island New Zealand. To be a strong hardy white, you must endure a a winter,never impressive to watch southern folks drive in nasty winter conditions! It’s a hard skill to learn!

  2. A fact you may find interesting, in the Bankhead forest in Winston county and surrounding areas, there are still hold outs of Carolina Hemlocks from the last Ice Age. They generally are found in very specific geographic areas. Beautiful trees.

  3. I’ve noticed that most untraveled Northerners actually don’t understand that the South is literally, in terms of geography, climate, weather, plants, animals and agronomy, nothing at all like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc..

    More than a few of them seem to think that Texas, for example, is just a hotter, more humid version of Iowa, but with cotton and more cattle and horses. It’s not.

    They make cultural references that are completely foreign to Southrons’ life experience. Like basements, for instance. Basements in the South are virtually nonexistent, because Southern houses are designed to cope with extreme heat, not extreme cold. We have root cellars, or tornado shelters, instead. Which aren’t part of the house at all.

    Reading gardening and farming magazines, I see articles that imply that, yes, you really can grow watermelons and okra in Maine. Or yes, farmers can coax cotton, peanuts, sugar cane, rice, ,milo and citrus fruits from the colder, wetter soils of the northern Great Lakes.

    Which brings up another important fact, the average growing season in the South is eight to nine months. Four in the North. A few year ago, Texas had a growing season of 361 days.

    The reason for all of this, I believe, is because of post 1865 Nationalism and the North’s total control of the national narrative.

    All of this “we’re all one people/nation,” is at the heart of it.

    From a natural history standpoint, we’re not all one country. And most people don’t know it.

  4. “Typically, southern soil is either heavy clay or sand,”

    Here in the Blackland Prairie region of Texas, we have black gumbo soil, which, I believe, extends all the way to Florida and Georgia.

    They grow hard red winter wheat, corn, milo, cotton, soybeans, lespedeza and alfalfa here in North/Northeast Texas. And on the Oklahoma side of the Red River valley, too.
    Outside of cotton and soybeans, the local agronomy is like that of the upper South, where most North Texans’ ancestors came from.

    We have some sandy loam, too, which is good for watermelon.
    Like everywhere else in Dixie, vegetable gardens are real popular.

  5. The Brandywine, by Henry Canby, part of the Rivers of America series, says you can see the exact point where the North ends and the South starts. It’s in Wilmington DE. Brandywine Creek, which for its entire length looks like a typical Northeast river, carving a narrow valley through rocky forested hilly land, empties near Downtown Wilmington into the Christina, a completely different, Southern river, deep, alluvial, slow, looping. It’s a river made for plantations, just as the Brandywine is made for mills and industry (Dupont gunpowder).

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