Lecture Description

This lecture and discussion explores the importance of the Reconstruction era for understanding the American Civil War. Once firmly linked in the public’s imagination, the Civil War has been divorced from Reconstruction over the past half-century in popular culture. The public has become comfortable ending the story of the Civil War at Appomattox with the Union secured and slavery destroyed. They have been much less comfortable with the story of Reconstruction, which is now understood as a tragic era without a happy ending. Yet, it can be argued that Reconstruction shaped the United States far more deeply than did the Civil War. It was Reconstruction that gave meaning to the Civil War. Reconstruction determined what kind of Union had been preserved, what the end of slavery meant, and what types of violence would and would not continue in the former Confederacy. In sum, Reconstruction determined exactly what the deaths of so many had actually accomplished. In exploring the significance of Reconstruction, the session will deconstruct some of the myths about the period that have emerged among the general public, myths that make students disinterested in studying this critical era in American history.

CATEGORIES

Civil War and Reconstruction Public History and Memory

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