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Identifying the effects of Reconstruction on life in Virginia.



  • In this lesson, students will learn what Virginia was like during Reconstruction and how life in Virginia was affected during this period following the Civil War.

  • Explain that following the war, Virginia and other former Confederate states had to rebuild.

  • Guide students to understand that Virginians faced serious problems in rebuilding the state after the war.

  • Introduce the term Reconstruction. Explain that Reconstruction refers to the period following the Civil War in which Congress passed laws designed to rebuild the country and bring the southern states back into the Union.

  • Identify the following problems faced by Virginians during Reconstruction: millions of freed slaves needed housing, clothing, food, and jobs; Virginia’s economy was in ruins because money had no value and banks were closed; and railroads, bridges, plantations, and crops were destroyed.

  • Tell students that during the Civil War, Virginia used Confederate bills as money. Now that the war was over, this money had no value. If available, share examples of Confederate money with students. (Examples can be found in Virginia: The History and Culture of a Commonwealth from The Library of Virginia.) Ask students what would happen to the banks of Virginia today if money no longer had any value. Help them conclude that banks in the former Confederate states had to close.

  • Explain that Virginia and other former Confederate states had many problems that needed to be solved. Congress passed laws designed to rebuild the country and bring the southern states back into the Union. Congress set up a government agency called the Freedmen’s Bureau, which would provide food, schools, and medical care for freed slaves in Virginia and in other states in the south.

  • Identify the following measures taken to resolve problems. The Freedmen’s Bureau was a government agency that provided food, schools, and medical care for freed slaves and others in Virginia. In the rest of the south and Virginia, sharecropping was a common system after the war in which freedmen and poor white farmers rented land from a landowner by promising to pay the owner with a share of the crop.

  • Use the following Web sites for additional resources on the Freedmen’s Bureau:
    “Freedman’s Bureau Records: An Overview” at http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/freedmans-savings-and-trust.html
    “Brief Overview” at http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/VoS/fbureau/aboutbureau.html

  • Have students recall who did the labor on the plantations in Virginia. Lead them to understand that without labor to assist with raising the crops and refurbishing farmland, plantations of white farmers were likely to fail. Ask, “How could the freed African Americans, poor white farmers, and the landowners of large farms help each other?” Lead discussion to sharecropping, in which land was rented from a landowner with a promise to pay with a share of the crop. Sharecropping was a common system in Virginia.

  • Use the following resources for student research:
    “Reconstruction: the Second Civil War” at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/index.html
    “Overview of Reconstruction” at http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraID=8&smtID=1
    “Virginia Center for Digital History on Reconstruction” at http://www.teacherlink.org/content/social/vcdh_lessons/
    “New Southerners” at http://www.vahistorical.org/ . . /explore-story-virginia/1861-1900/new-southerners

  • Share with students the information from the exhibition, The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, which showcases the incomparable African American collections of the Library of Congress including Reconstruction and its aftermath.



Produced by Prince William County Public Schools in collaboration with
the Virginia Department of Education. All rights reserved. Filnet Inc.
Updated on August 11, 2008.