One day a Yankee cavalryman rides up to Tara and enters the house with his pistol drawn, looking for loot. Scarlett shoots him point-blank with Charles’s pistol. As he falls down dead, she sees Melanie at the top of the stairs carrying Charles’s sword. For the first time, Scarlett feels admiration for Melanie. They discover money in the Yankee’s pockets. Though shocked by the thought that she has killed, Scarlett feels justified in defending Tara and happy to have the Yankee’s precious money and horse.
Scarlett visits the nearby Fontaine plantation and finds the women eager to share their meager supplies. Scarlett tells her troubles to Old Miss Fontaine, who warns Scarlett to save something to fear lest she become too cold and hardened. To Scarlett’s chagrin, Old Miss Fontaine says that at one point in her life she picked cotton to support her father and she never considered herself white trash for doing so. Scarlett returns to Tara and takes up the work of picking cotton, which she considers humiliating “slave work.” Only Dilcey helps her. Mammy and Pork insist that, as house workers, they will not perform field hand labor. Melanie is still too weak for laboring. Still, now that she has food, money, and a horse, Scarlett believes the worst is over.
In mid-November the family learns that the Yankee army is again marching toward Tara. Terrified of losing the food and the house, Scarlett sends everyone into the swamp to hide with the animals and the food. She keeps Melanie’s baby with her. Scarlett refuses to abandon Tara and meets the Yankees at the front door. A swarm of soldiers pours in around her, destroying everything they do not steal. One soldier tries to take Wade’s grandfather’s sword, which is now Wade’s birthright, but Scarlett persuades the Yankee sergeant to stop him. The enraged soldier runs into the kitchen and sets the place on fire as the Yankees stream out of the house. With great effort, Scarlett and Melanie succeed in putting out the fire. Scarlett’s contempt for Melanie once again gives way to grudging admiration.
Around Christmastime, a man named Frank Kennedy and a few Confederate soldiers visit Tara, looking for food for the army. Frank tells Scarlett and Melanie that General Sherman has burned Atlanta to the ground, although Aunt Pittypat’s house escaped the destruction. Frank confides in Scarlett that the end is near, and he finally becomes engaged to Scarlett’s sister Suellen after years of courtship.
By April the war is over, and Scarlett, relieved rather than dejected, makes plans to plant cotton for next year’s market. The roads are safe once again, and neighbors help each other get back on their feet.
Streams of returning Confederate soldiers begin passing through Tara, and Scarlett grudgingly offers them hospitality, sharing Tara and her food with them. A soldier named Will Benteen, a working-class Georgian with a wooden leg, stays on to help with the plantation. He is a godsend, quietly and competently assisting with the land. He falls in love with Scarlett’s sister Carreen, whose devotion to her prayer books and memories of Brent Tarleton prevent her from noticing Will’s attentions. One day, Uncle Peter, a slave, comes from Aunt Pittypat’s house with a letter from Ashley. Ashley is alive and walking home from Illinois. Anxious weeks pass, and Ashley finally arrives. Melanie runs down the front path to meet him and Scarlett starts to run after her, but Will grabs her skirt to stop her. He gently reminds her that Ashley is Melanie’s husband.