What did you find most interesting about the Civil War and Reconstruction period of U.S. history?What did you find most interesting about the Civil War and Reconstruction period of U.S. history?

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rrteacher's profile pic

rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Rejecting the beatification of Abraham Lincoln in our historical memory, something most professional historians did a long time ago, doesn't necessarily entail a blind defense of the South.

As a white southerner, what is most interesting to me is the "lost cause" mythology that emerged from Reconstruction. This is reflected first in the obvious absurdity that slavery was not central to Southern calculations in leaving the Union in the first place, and second in the notion that Reconstruction was a hostile, tyrannical act against innocent white Southerners, reflected in some of the posts on this thread.

While corruption and graft were rampant among Northern carpetbaggers, what emerges from the Reconstruction period, and the Civil War itself, is the swiftness and brutality with which white elites reimposed their hegemony over blacks in the form of Jim Crow laws and economic degradation. The tragedy of Reconstruction is that it was not more thorough in terms of guaranteeing basic rights for African-Americans.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that what I find most interesting, and sad, is that Abraham Lincoln was a man who wanted to gently heal the division between the states. He was like a forgiving father. Had he lived, I believe that the South would have been cared for like a child, not punished like a criminal. I have lived in the North all my life. And I abhor the way slaves, and later free black Americans, were treated in this country primarily in the South. However, the resentment many Southerners experienced came from the Northern leaders who felt it was important to punish the South. Losing a war and a way of life was enough punishment. Taking and destroying all the people of the South had—setting them back perhaps a hundred years from the rest of the country—had far-reaching consequences that the unfeeling and overly entitled members of the Northern government seem never to have considered. I would guess that African-Americans might have had much better lives than they ultimately lived at the hands of raging, resentful and vicious people who really had their faces rubbed in the mud, so to speak.

 

I don't know which Abraham Lincoln is being discussed here as "a forgiving father," but it is not the Abraham Lincoln who encouraged slaves before the war to kill their white owners; it is not the Abraham Lincoln who was responsible for 650,000 people being killed.  It is not the Abraham Lincoln who violated the Constitution of the United States by suspending the writ of habeus corpus by unlawfully incarcerating two state senators so that they were unable to vote for secession; and, it was not the Abraham Lincoln who allowed Atlanta to be burned to the ground and a sadist like General Sherman to command!

Thank you for at least recognizing the cruel destruction of the South, a destruction which took decades and decades for recovery. But, it was the ethnic carpetbaggers and other people from the North who did much of the exploitation of the former slaves (false promise of "a mule and 40 acres," setting them free with nowhere to go, no  food, etc.) during Reconstruction, not the Southerners.

The question was on Reconstruction, was it not? Not the 1960s?

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marbar57 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The thing I find most interesting about the Civil War is the enthusiasm with which young men went off to war!  They truly thought they were going to be back in a few weeks, months at best.  Then, it's truly tragic to see them come home dragging their feet, worn and sick, or maimed for life.  The fire had gone right out of their eyes; they had seen horrors no man should EVER see!

The most outstanding thing about the Reconstruction was that it was misnamed!  A better name for that period of time should have been "The Retribution", or "Let's make the South pay for leaving the Union!"  I'm sure there were some who truly tried to help the southern states, but most just wanted to make them suffer. 

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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I think that what I find most interesting, and sad, is that Abraham Lincoln was a man who wanted to gently heal the division between the states. He was like a forgiving father. Had he lived, I believe that the South would have been cared for like a child, not punished like a criminal. I have lived in the North all my life. And I abhor the way slaves, and later free black Americans, were treated in this country primarily in the South. However, the resentment many Southerners experienced came from the Northern leaders who felt it was important to punish the South. Losing a war and a way of life was enough punishment. Taking and destroying all the people of the South had—setting them back perhaps a hundred years from the rest of the country—had far-reaching consequences that the unfeeling and overly entitled members of the Northern government seem never to have considered. I would guess that African-Americans might have had much better lives than they ultimately lived at the hands of raging, resentful and vicious people who really had their faces rubbed in the mud, so to speak.

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stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I am in awe of the determination of the former slaves who were able to build new lives for themselves in the face of sometimes incredible obstacles. From a nationwide perspective, I find it interesting to think about how persons who had been fighting on opposite sides went about putting the conflict behind them and came together to rebuild. We could use those lessons from history in various parts of the world today if the lessons would translate to Middle Eastern and Asian cultural practices.

belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I think another very useful topic would be the comparison of Reconstruction with African Apartheid. Both involved the separation and devaluation of a certain "class" of people ("class" used here in the sense that blacks were considered inferior, but there were some who were very wealthy and influential; therefore, the servant class was different from the elite class).

A couple of points:

  1. The Jim Crow Laws allowed blacks to be educated in public schools and hold elective office, but also gave them an inferior status in the public eye. Separate-but-equal means "some are more equal than others."
  2. Similarly, the Petty Apartheid laws in South Africa gave lip service to education and equality while overtly discriminating against non-whites; blacks were not allowed to own businesses without a permit, and segregation occurred in hospitals and transportation.

See this eNotes article for some valuable insight.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I agree with #3. The notable elements of this period of history to me is the personal stories of figures such as George Washington and the crucial role that they played in this period of American History. Although we should be rightly wary of proclaiming such individuals as being "heroes," at the same time, it is clear that it was the drive and ambition of such figures that helped make America what it is today.

 

wrong era

lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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I have always been drawn into the stories of the former black slaves and the free black men of the North who were organized into formal military units to fight in the war. I am intrigued by how they were treated; who led them; the contribution they made to the North's win; how they felt about the experience; how they were changed by their participation.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I guess I was always fascinated by the people who continued to struggle for civil rights after the initial fight for legal abolition had been won.  Those 1500 volunteers in the Freedman's Bureau, for example, who went into a hostile South and made a real impact on the literacy on former slaves had to have an amazing amount of guts.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The most interesting thing to me is the introduction of slaves to society.  There was so much prejudice against them, and they started with nothing.  Yet they managed to make their lives somehow and some were successful.  To me, that's the real story.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I suppose the thing that has always impressed me most about Reconstruction is the drive and determination of such figures as George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington.  I read Washington's autobiography not long ago and was struck by his absence of rancor and his abundance of positive ambition.  He accomplished a great deal after having risen from very humble beginnings. His legacy is sometimes debated, but he did have a real legacy.

http://www.google.com/#ds=bo&pq=books&hl=en&sugexp=kjrmc&cp=17&gs_id=1y&xhr=t&q=booker+t.+washington&qe=Ym9va2VyIHQuIHdhc2hpbmc&qesig=2ooP2E7urfZfp8RQKKJnvg&pkc=AFgZ2tmU9n0oUpDMzIf62xl-b-rlxVjoOCDiQL76WSNSF9xCr_UUz0U7NbhBwW66xiRnvabJeBFICMUnDy3ishv_tYahsjrqtw&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&tbm=bks&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=booker+t.+washing&aq=0&aqi=g2&aql=f&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=1b29ab093c2426ae&biw=1366&bih=600

 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What I found most interesting when I studied this period in college was the different ways in which Reconstruction has been interpreted over the years.  I found it very interesting to learn how the same set of facts had been interpreted very differently based on the historical era in which scholars were studying.

Originally, Reconstruction was seen as a really terrible thing in which inept black governments and unscrupulous whites really did a bad job of ruling the South.  This was during the time when racism was quite acceptable.

Then, during and after the Civil Rights Era, historians started to say that Reconstruction had been a "splendid failure."  They said that African Americans did the best they could but were let down by white Northerners who did not care about them.  This looked at blacks much more sympathetically because of the era in which the writing was done.

Finally, some recent scholars (many of them African-Americans) have come to put blame on blacks again.  They argue that elite blacks did not care enough about "common" blacks to do anything for them during Reconstruction.  This shows both elements of Marxism (class-based analysis) and an idea that we should look at African-Americans not as victims but as people who had responsibilities and are fair game for blame.  In other words, this view treated blacks more like whites, looking critically at what they did well and what they did badly.

This was one of the first times that I was exposed to the idea that different eras bring about different interpretations of history.

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