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U.S. Era 5

Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

General Information

  • National Park Service:  Hispanics in the War.  Newsletter article discussing the little known role of Hispanics in the American Civil War. Text adapted from interpretive brochure by Parks and History Association, Washington D.C., 1991 in cooperation with the NPS.
  • Mexicans in the Civil War.  Website includes pictures and information about the role of Mexicans in the Civil War including a line to an April 1979 New Mexico Historical Review Article:  Hispanos in the Civil War in New Mexico A Reconsideration.

Primary Sources

  • African-American Pamphlets from The Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, 1820-1920 [Eras 4-7]
  • Common School Period: digital images and essays about American education from 1840 to 1880, including Horace Mann, controversial anti-Catholic textbooks, McGuffey Readers, and the development of kindergartens. [Eras 4-6]
  • Letters from the Slave States: excerpt from a book by a British traveler who interviewed plantation owners and former slaves in 1857. [Eras 4-5]
  • Moving Uptown, 19th-Century Views of Manhattan: annotated exhibition of 19th-century images that explore New York City’s urban growth from 1800 to the construction of Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge. (Eras 4-6)
  • The Avalon Project
  • Civil War at the Smithsonian – website devoted to examining the Civil War through the use of the Smithsonian's extensive collection of documents since the war.
  • University of Virginia Library: Electronic Text Center - primary source material on the American Civil War, including letters, diaries, and newspapers. Letter collections include searchable transcriptions as well as digital images of the manuscripts.
  • The Civil War and New Jersey: Electronic New Jersey - primary sources, mainly letters from New Jersey soldiers’ letters, journals and photographs, students examine the Daily Life of a Soldier, Glory on the Battlefield, a Soldier’s Monetary Value and a Soldiers Care Package.  Includes teacher resources and teaching suggestions.
  • Making of America - a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction.  The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion and science and technology.
  • Freedmen and Southern Society Project - The Freedmen and Southern Society Project is supported by the University of Maryland and by grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The website includes an emancipation timeline and a sample of chronologically ordered primary documents tracing the history of emancipation.
  • The Freedman’s Bureau Online – Established in the War Department by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1865, the Freedman’s Bureau supervised all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedmen, including issuing rations clothing and medicine.  Transcribed records of the Freedman’s Bureau, including extensive information about violence directed against African Americans.
  • Secession Era Editorials Project of the History Department of Fuhrman University -transcriptions of secession era newspaper editorials about three major events of the period:  the Nebraska bill debates, Dred Scott, and John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry which were selected because of their universal prominence in historical writing.  A fourth incident, the attack on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina representative Preston Brooks, was included because of special importance to South Carolina history and because of the ways that the Sumner incident shocked politics in the Northern states away from Know-Nothingism, the so-called "immigrant question," and liquor prohibition to a new emphasis on slavery and sectionalism.
  • Hearts at Home:  Southern Women in the Civil War – An Exhibit in the Tracy W. MacGregor Room.  University of Virginia Library.  Originally a museum site exhibit, the exhibit is now on-line.  Includes letters, photographs, newspaper articles, music, and printed documents written by and about Southern women during and after the Civil War.
  • Civil War Women: On-line Archival Collections, Special Collections Library, Duke University. Includes scanned images of the papers of Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow; Southern Union sympathizer and spy, Sarah E. Thompson; and the diary of  Southern schoolgirl, Alice Williamson.
  • Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet - Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library.  Duke University Libraries. Website containing links to Civil War women’s letters, diaries, and other documents, together with detailed search information for finding Civil War women’s photographs and prints in the Library of Congress.
  • The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War - a digital archive of primary sources that document the lives of people in Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, during the era of the American Civil War. It contains thousands of original documents that allow one to see what life was like during the Civil War for the men and women of Augusta and Franklin.”   Includes lesson plans for social studies grades 7 through12, as well as suggested paper topics for high school and college classes.  Also a link to how “one high school teacher in Baltimore makes use of the Valley of the Shadow site to help prepare his students for the Document-Based Question portion of the AP History exam. The article, by Daniel Kotzin, appeared in the August 2001 issue of The History Teacher.
  • Library of Congress:  American Memory
    • Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project. more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Links to teacher resources.
    • First Person Narratives of the American South - a compilation of printed texts from the libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill documents the culture of the nineteenth-century American South from the viewpoint of Southerners. It includes the diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, travel accounts, and ex-slave narratives of not only prominent individuals, but also of relatively inaccessible populations: women, African Americans, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans. Links to teacher resources.
    • From Slavery to Freedom:  The African American Pamphlet Collection 1822 -1909. presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics. The materials range from personal accounts and public orations to organizational reports and legislative speeches. Among the authors represented are Frederick Douglass, Kelly Miller, Charles Sumner, Mary Church Terrell, and Booker T. Washington. Links to teacher resources.
    • Civil War Maps provides students an opportunity to study the history of the American Civil War era through cartographic data. The maps of this collection portray the overall course and specific battles of the war between North and South. They also portray the issues of territorial expansion, slavery, and secession, which surrounded the genesis of the conflict. In addition, students can use the maps to study railroads, naval battles, and the history of cartographic mapping in the U.S.  Includes teacher resources.

Lesson Plans

  • Library of Congress: American Memory -  The Learning Page:  Civil War and Reconstruction 1861-1877 – provides an overview of Reconstruction with links to primary and secondary resources on the Freedmen, Senate debates on Reconstruction, Reconstruction and Rights and Reconstruction in the South.
  • Gilder Lehrman Institute  - Modules on Major Topics in American History Civil War related modules include:  The Coming of the Civil War, The Civil War and Reconstruction.  Modules each include an overview, interpretation of primary sources, primary source documents with classroom questions and recommended lesson plan as well as visual aids.  Links to resources.
  • EDSITEment: the humanities website of the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the National Trust for the Humanities, and the Verizon foundation.
    • Families in Bondage – two-part lesson plan that draws on letters written by African Americans in slavery and by free blacks to loved ones still in bondage, singling out a few among the many slave experiences to offer students a glimpse into slavery and its effects on African American family life. (Grades 9-12)
    • The Red Badge of Courage:  A New Kind of Courage - Stephen Crane presents war through the eyes—and thoughts—of one soldier. The narrative's altered point of view and stylistic innovations enable a heightened sense of realism while setting the work apart from war stories written essentially as tributes or propaganda.(Grades 9-12)
    • Lincoln Goes to War –explores the decision-making process that precipitated the Civil War, focusing on deliberations within the Lincoln administration that led to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. (Grades 9-12)
    • The Red Badge of Courage:  A New Kind of Realism – students examine: What connections can be made between The Red Badge of Courage and paintings, photographs, and first-hand accounts of the Civil War? What elements of Crane's style in The Red Badge of Courage created a sense of realism? (Grades 9-12)
    • Slave Narratives:  Constructing U.S. History Through Analyzing Primary Sources - students research narratives from the Federal Writers' Project and describe the lives of former African slaves in the U.S. -- both before and after emancipation. From varied stories, students sample the breadth of individual experiences, make generalizations about the effects of slavery and Reconstruction on African Americans, and evaluate primary source documents. (Grades 9-12)
    • Before Brother Fought Brother - designed to help students develop a foundation on which to understand the basic disagreements between North and South. Through the investigation of primary source documents —photographs, census information and other archival documents—students gain an appreciation of everyday life in the North and South, changes occurring in the lives of ordinary Americans, and some of the major social and economic issues of the years before the Civil War. (Grades 6-8)
    • A House Dividing:  The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America - trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states. (Grades 9-12)
  • University of North Carolina’s “Documenting the American South.” The Southern Homefront, 1861- 1865 - Contains links to classroom resources and lesson plans.
  • North American Slave Narratives –primary documents and a wide variety of lesson plans focusing on African American life in the South through the 1920’s. Sample lesson titles: Fugitive Slave Law Simulation, Plantation Life in the 1840’s:  A Slave’s Description, Slavery and Childhood, etc.   On-line access is provided to all documents used in a given lesson.
  • Civil War Recipe lesson at Education World.  Recipe and lesson plan.  Students bake hardtack the staple of a Civil War soldier’s diet.  Links to other Civil War era recipes.
  • Not Just A Man’s War:  Women in the American Civil War (1861-1865) - A Civil War unit written with the sheltered and special needs populations in mind, it can be used with all students populations. The lesson length would vary depending upon your students and time per class period. Instruction is "chunked" or broken into manageable pieces for special needs learners to experience success and enjoyment.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe Center – The Fugitive Slave Law and The Issue of Individual Morality. Lesson plans developed from primary source documents during a 2001 institute for teachers at the Center.  Site includes primary source documents and a printable bibliography of slavery as well as on-line archives.
  • Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment - monumental gilded plaster version of the Memorial by the nineteenth-century American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is featured in this program. On long-term loan to the National Gallery, the relief depicts Colonel Shaw and the Fifty-fourth, the first African-American infantry unit from the North to fight for the Union during the Civil War, marching into battle. This was the regiment whose courageous assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, was recounted in the movie Glory. 20 slides and illustrated booklet.”    Program is available through museum loan or on-line.  Both versions include a teaching packet.  See online version.
  • National Geographic:  Underground Railroad.  On-line interactive simulation of a slave’s journey on the Underground Railroad which includes a history of slavery, pictures, resources and links. Individual classroom activities tailored to various age groups.  Grades K through 4, 5 through 8 and 9 through 12.  Teachers may prefer to review all of them to see which are most appropriate for their students.
  • The History of Jim Crow -  Award winning website with in depth essays written by educators, lesson plans, and history.
  • The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson at Harp Week –  An on-line simulation of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial and the events leading up to it. The purpose of any simulation is to encourage students to understand the issues involved in a specific historical moment and not simply to replicate it. This simulation has the additional goal of having students experience the challenge of using primary source materials to understand history. In this case, using Harper’s Weekly provides a double challenge. First, it is written for a highly intelligent readership and thus its vocabulary and levels of explication will not be easy for many students. Second, it has a clear bias which the instructor will have to address before his or her students begin the simulation
  • History Central - Links to transcriptions of primary source documents applying to Reconstruction.
  • America’s Reconstruction – An on-line exhibit of the University of Houston’s “Digital History” website.  Includes a time-line, primary source documents, and teaching modules about Reconstruction.
  • Emma Spaulding Bryant Letters –  Ten letters from the Duke Special Collections Library written by Emma Spaulding Bryant to her husband, John Emory Bryant, in the summer of 1873. They recount Emma's activities during that summer when she and her daughter, Alice, were visiting relatives in Illinois and Ohio while her husband tended to his political affairs in Georgia.


  • Abraham Lincoln’s Crossroads is an on-line educational game based on the traveling exhibition Lincoln: The Constitution & the Civil War, which debuted at the National Constitution Center in June 2005.The online game is intended for advanced middle- and high-school students. It invites them to learn about Lincoln’s leadership by exploring the political choices he made. An animated Lincoln introduces a situation, asks for advice and prompts players to decide the issue for themselves, before learning the actual outcome. At the end of the game, players discover how frequently they predicted Lincoln’s actions. A Resources Page keyed to each chapter provides links to relevant Websites on Lincoln and the Civil War, permitting students to explore issues in more depth.