Prosperity and Despair: Civil War and Reconstruction

Prosperity and Despair: Civil War and Reconstruction


The Civil War and the years of Reconstruction that followed are linked together in American history producing a period, which embraced both prosperity and despair, triumph and failure, and jubilation and disappointment. These eras not only overlap in time, as the war stretched from 1861 to Union victory in 1865, and the effort to rebuild and reshape the defeated South lasted from 1863 to 1877, but also thematically, as the war’s two central issues, national unity versus southern independence, and more pressingly black freedom versus slavery, shaped Reconstruction as well. Too often thought of as separate entities, this text set on the Civil War and Reconstruction aims to invites students to analyze how the two eras are related, pushing their minds to go beyond entrenched assumptions, and forces students to use evidence to reach their own conclusions. The documents included reflect a variety of contemporary points of views and topics ranging in interest, which may be analyzed from various perspectives and in a variety of contexts.
I chose this text set to replace the monogamy of traditional historical textbooks, while still teaching the same content articulated in the Virginia State History SOL 7 on Civil War and Reconstruction. In accordance to this standard “the student will demonstrate knowledge on the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and their importance as major turning points in American history by

a) evaluating the multiple causes of the Civil War, including the role of the institution of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict
b) identifying the major events and the roles of key leaders of the Civil War Era, with emphasis on Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Frederick Douglass
c) analyzing the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the principles outlined in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
d) examining the political and economic impact of the war and Reconstruction, including the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States
e) examining the social impact of the war on African Americans, the common soldier, and the home front, with emphasis on Virginia
f) explaining postwar contributions of key leaders of the Civil War.”

This text set incorporates speeches, official records, pictures, battle accounts, and perspectives of soldiers in the ranks, noncombatants, and men and women on the home fronts, while simultaneously demonstrating the affect the war and Reconstruction had on American history. In the end, the goal is to provide the most vital of the official records, while including a broad range of other testimony pertaining to the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

Description of Students

Though United States history is generally taught in the eleventh grade, this text set includes a range of reading levels extending from seventh grade to students reading like college students, according to the Fry Readability Graph and the Qualitative Textbook Analysis. This text set is unique, in that, it allows students to access a multitude of primary sources from the era. Students will have to untangle poems, and pictures, firsthand home front accounts, and in some cases, try to analyze speeches in which the language is reflective of the era. This text set will not only improve the student’s reading skills, but also inevitably improve their critical thinking and comprehending skills as they are forced to use only primary sources to understand the era.

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