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Civil War and Reconstruction


The Civil War was undoubtedly one of the most important events in American history.  The war challenged not only the issue of slavery, but the also the balance of federal versus state powers and the power of constitutional government.  In the end, not only did the war preserve the Union as Lincoln had spoken of, but it also freed nearly four million African Americans from slavery.  The war also highlighted stark differences in regions of the country. These differences ranged from political to religious to economic.  There were many cases of brother fighting brother, neighbor fighting neighbor, and men who had previously been in the United States military service choosing to fight for the Confederacy, most notably, Robert E. Lee.  The war also saw an increase in battlefield news coverage and photography, along with the first assassination of an American President.

Following the war, the nation was faced with the problem of Reconstruction. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were aimed towards providing full equality for African Americans, but did face opposition on many levels.  Despite headway, the North and the South both had strong objections to Radical Reconstruction and full social and racial democratization. Many Americans opposed the idea of redistributing wealth and were still in favor of strong local rights and government.  In some cases, Reconstruction increased the racial divide, giving rise to movements such as the KKK.

Learn more in the National History Content Standards.

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Distribution of Virginia's Slave Population, Map, 1861

In1860, a census was taken to determine the Enslaved population in the state by county. The information on the census provided insight into how counties voted to name representatives to the Virginia Convention. Enslavement was a major factor in the…

Adolphus, Contract to Be Hired Out, 1865 <br />

Enslaved Virginians were often hired out by their owners throughout the course of their lives. The owner of the enslaved person would be paid, and terms would be outlined in the contract for service. Industries, such as the Tredegar Iron Works in…

Culpeper County Cohabitation Register, 1866<br />

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land (Record Group 150), also known as the Freedman’s Bureau, was established by an act of Congress in 1865. The Bureau supervised and managed all matters related to refugees, freedmen, and lands…

Jefferson Township School Census and Map, 1870

Prior to the Civil War, Virginia did not have a comprehensive public school system. Lawmakers passed various measures to fund public schools, but these measures were primarily directed toward the creation of schools for a small segment of the…