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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

The importance of slavery in the secession crisis and as a cause of the Civil War was well understood in 1861. Voters in the counties where the enslaved population was greatest elected more supporters of secession to the Virginia Convention than did…

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

Enslaved Virginians were often hired out by their owners during the course of their lives. Industries such as the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond and the many iron and woolen mills throughout the state employed skilled and unskilled slaves to augment…

Culpeper County Cohabitation Register, 1866<br />

Cohabitation registers are among the most important genealogical resources for African Americans attempting to connect their family lines back through the oftentimes unrecorded past to their enslaved ancestors. The registers date from 1866 and…

Jefferson Township School Census and Map, 1870

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