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Reconstruction and the Move Westward, 1866-1880

Because everyone who died on both sides was an American, the Civil War cost as many U.S. lives as all the other wars the country has ever fought combined. Both sides lived for years with chips on their shoulders. And what about those 4 million newly freed slaves? The Civil War resulted in Reconstruction and also set the stage for U.S. expansion west.

After the Civil War, industry grew, and even farmers started using machines. More people moved to the cities, trading all-day farm chores for nighttime bright lights. Railroads crossed the country, American Indians were pushed onto reservations, and immigrants streamed onshore. Hard-to-remember presidents debated about hard-to-remember things like tariffs and silver coinage. Meanwhile, the rights of women and labor advanced in fits and starts. This chapter covers the beginnings of all of these things. Pay special attention to social trends that can be useful for both multiple-choice and essay success on the big test.


What with the actions of Union Generals Sherman and Grant, plus the South's own destructive fighting (see Chapter 12), the Cotton Belt was badly torn up after the war. Southern plantations needed five years to get back into full cotton production. The Reconstruction (1865-1877) of the South was done by new national and local governments, as well as by charitable helpers. And the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) turned Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation into a national ban on slavery.

Slaves who were worth billions of dollars to plantation owners before the war were now officially free, so how was the South going to plant and harvest its valuable cotton? After the Civil War, blacks with only the clothes on their backs and no education, food, or places to live weren't really all that free. Former slaves often didn't have any choice but to sign up to work for very low wages, often for their former masters.

The issues of Reconstruction included the changes that Southern states would have to make to be readmitted to the Union, how much help the former slaves would have from the federal government, and how Northern troops could contain Southern terrorist attacks by groups like the Ku Klux Klan.


Expect a question about Reconstruction on test day, especially about the amendments that I discuss in this section. Remember that the amendments were passed in the order you would expect if you freed someone: The Thirteenth abolished slavery, the Fourteenth granted citizenship, and the Fifteenth provided the right to vote.

The Freedmen's Bureau

A month before the Civil War was even over, Congress created the Freedmen's Bureau (1865) to help educate and take care of freed slaves. By the time the bureau stopped work, it had taught 200,000 former slaves to read with the help of volunteer teachers from the North. In one classroom, four generations of a family, from child to great-grandmother, all learned to read together. Union Gen. Oliver Howard ran the Freedmen's Bureau and later started Howard University in Washington, D.C.

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