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Civil War and Reconstruction

Virginia Slave Population_Map_1861_LVA00215.jpg

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 Abraham Lincoln had spoken of, but it also freed nearly four million African Americans from enslavement. The war also highlighted stark differences in regions of the country. These differences ranged from political to religious to economic. The war saw an increase in battlefield news coverage and photography that visually presented military carnage in a way not seen before. The Civil War's outcome brought the first assassination of an American president.

During the postwar period known as Reconstruction the nation faced the challenges of readmitting formerly Confederate southern states back into the Union as well as integrating African Americans into the political, economic, and social fabric of the country. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were aimed towards providing full equality for African Americans, but faced 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 groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and spurring violence against African Americans.

Learn more in the National History Content Standards.

Recently added items

Distribution of Virginia's Slave Population, Map, 1861

Using the data from the 1860 census, this map was created in 1861. It shows the distribution of enslaved Virginians in each of the state's counties, with the darker shades showing the counties with the highest percentage of enslaved men, women, and…

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

Hiring out enslaved men, women, and children was a common business arrangement among Virginians during slavery. This practice, which occurred in rural and urban areas, enabled owners of slaves to profit from their labor when they could not employ all…

Roanoke County Cohabitation Register, 1866<br />

Prior to the Civil War, enslaved men and women were not legally allowed to marry. However, during slavery many men and women did consider themselves to be married despite the lack of legal protection and recognition, which meant that husbands and…

Jefferson Township School District Map, 1870

Prior to the Civil War, Virginia did not have a comprehensive public school system. Some localities provided some "free schools" or "charity schools" for the children of indigent white families. African Americans, free and enslaved, were excluded…