Reconstruction Era: What Happened After The Civil War That We Didn't Learn In School?

By | October 25, 2020

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Dressed in period clothing, Viola Stoops of Woodville, Texas walks past Civil War reenactors gathered in Gettysburg to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the famous three-day battle. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The years following the American Civil War, from 1865 to 1877, is a period known as the Reconstruction Era, but the name is a bit misleading. It sounds like a time when battle-decimated infrastructure was rebuilt, plans for the future were hammered out, and political and social relationships were mended, but the reality was that freed slaves faced a new set of obstacles, violence was widespread, and citizens were divided.

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Julian Scott, 1873, Surrender of a Confederate Soldier, oil on canvas. (Smithsonian American Art Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

Political Division Of The Reconstruction

When the Civil War ended on May 15, 1865, the United States was a mess. The 11 states that had seceded from the union were brought back into the fold, but there was still a lot of work to be done to repair the division in the country. Without a free labor force, the agriculture industry of the South, the predominant industry of the region, could not turn a profit, and as once-wealthy plantation owners watched their money dwindle away, they grew resentful of the factories and manufacturing facilities of the North. In turn, Northerners tended to view Southerners as unruly, disobedient children who needed to be disciplined and kept in check, so the South's leaders were often ignored.