Civil War and Reconstruction

Books & Media

These are just a few books that teachers of this unit could find useful in providing background information on this topic. They highlight some of the important aspects of the period such as why soldiers believed they were fighting, the role of African-Americans during the period, and how the war came to an end. This list also includes a wonderful reference source for this era of American history.

Berlin, Ira, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867, Selected From the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series II The Black Military Experience. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
This work offers a variety of primary sources relating to the African-American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction era.

Berlin, Ira, Steven Hahn, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Rowland. “The Terrain of Freedom: The Struggle over the Meaning of Free Labor in the U.S. South” History Workshop Journal, Issue 22, Autumn 1986.
This work examines the issue of what “freedom” was going to mean for African-Americans after the 13th Amendment. It offers some primary sources on this topic from various perspectives to help illustrate the points the authors make.

McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass. New York: Norton, 1991.
This is a comprehensive bibliography of the life of Frederick Douglass, from his days as a slave to his death. It covers his role in the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and his efforts to earn African-Americans the right to fight for the U.S. Army. The book also covers the personal life of Douglass.

McPherson, James M. What They Fought For, 1861-1865. New York: Doubleday, 1994. 9-46.
This reading discusses the motivation for those who did the fighting on either side of the Civil War. There are many similarities and differences between why Confederate soldiers believed they were fighting and why the Union soldiers believed they were fighting. These primary sources use journals and letters of the era to place the reader back in the minds of those who fought this war.

Wagner, Margaret E., Gary W. Gallagher, and Paul Finkelman, eds. The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
This is an easy-to-use, thorough reference book on all issues surrounding the Civil War. It covers the events leading up to the war, battles, weapons, the homefront, medical care, and even art that is related to the Civil War. Reconstruction is also discussed. Small biographical sketches are also provided on people who played key roles during this era. It includes many types of visuals including maps, photographs, and paintings.

Winik, Jay. April 1865. New York: Perennial, 2001.
Winik addresses this all-important month, not just in the Civil War, but in all of American history. Had a few people reacted a little differently to the events that took place during this month, the course of American history would have been much different. Winik highlights commonly-known events such as Appomattox, Lincoln’s assassination, but goes into much more detail than traditional textbooks on this era.


McDougal Littell, The Americans, 2003.
This is the textbook that Alexandria City Public Schools uses for the eleventh grade US/VA History course. In the chapters on the Civil War and Reconstruction, there are excellent visuals including charts, battle maps, political cartoons, photographs, and other artwork of the period. There is a special focus section on Matthew Brady’s photography.

The Nystrom Atlas of United States History. Nystrom: 2002.
This atlas contains maps related to various events throughout American history. For the Civil War, the atlas has several maps and charts related to battles, slavery, and Reconstruction efforts in the South following the war.


Civil War Journal: The 54th Massachusetts, History Channel/TimeLife, 1993.
This is a 48-minute documentary on this famous Union regiment of African-American soldiers. It summarizes the hesitancy of whites to include African-Americans in the military aspect of the war and battles in which this regiment participated, but it also studies the social impact of African-American soldiers on the U.S. at this time.

Freedom: A History of US, Disk 2, PBS, 2003.
This series, based on Joy Hakim’s book of the same name, discusses the Civil War and Reconstruction period in the context of the issue of freedom. The episodes “What is Freedom” and “Whose Land is This?” from this disk are especially helpful in illustrating the effects of Reconstruction on African-Americans in the South.

Gettysburg, New Line Cinema, 2003.
This film, based on Michael Shaara’s book The Killer Angels, is about the Battle of Gettysburg and those personalities surrounding it. While the film is too long to show in class (254 minutes), certain scenes could be used. One of the highlights of the film is the fight for Little Round Top.

Glory, Columbia Tri-Star, 1989.
This film is about the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the Union’s first all-African American volunteer regiment. It covers the discrimination the regiment faced, the regiment’s development and preparation for battle, and the inter-personal relationships that develop among the soldiers themselves and between the soldiers and their white officers. The film ends with the 54th’leading a heroic charge on Ft. Wagner outside of Charleston, SC. This is also a long movie, so if time does not permit, selected scenes could be shown.


1863: Crossroads of Freedom,
This site features images and information relevant to African-Americans in the Civil War. It argues that the war was at a stalemate in 1863, but Lincoln’s decision to enlist African-Americans dramatically changed the nature of the conflict. This site is especially relevant to this unit as it features a Currier and Ives print of the Massachusetts 54 Regiment.

America’s Reconstruction,
This site features images and information in a comprehensive look at the Reconstruction period. It examines early Reconstruction efforts even before the war ended and also connects Reconstruction with the Civil Rights era of the 20th century. If another day is desired on this unit, this would be an excellent web resource for your students to use. It could also be used later in the year to review Reconstruction before working on the Civil Rights SOL.

Although many commercial sites can be problematic, this one offers some primary sources on the surrender at Appomattox. The focus is on the letters written between Grant and Lee leading up to Lee’s surrender. In between the primary material, background information is inserted to put the sources in context for the students. This site includes a link to the surrender terms.
This site addresses Lee’s surrender to Grant at the McLean House and also mentions other military leaders who surrendered in the following months. This site discusses the details of the Gentleman’s Agreement between Lee and Grant and also supplies a diagram of who was present during the signing of the surrender.

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,
This website covers the assassination of Lincoln in several chapters. It includes many links to primary sources from sources such as the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Surratt House Museum. This could be used if you want to spend more time on this topic than the SOL Crosswalk of Content allows.

Colored Troops — American Civil War,
This page examines the role of African-Americans serving in the Union and Confederate military. It also provides links to information on Frederick Douglass and Medal of Honor winners among the USCT.

The Fight for Emancipation,
This website focuses on Frederick Douglass during the Civil War. It addresses the issues surrounding emancipation of slavery and also the enlistment of African-Americans in the U.S. Army.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,
This website offers modules for units related to this unit as well as for other units. The modules provide suggested activities, primary sources, visuals, and other resources.

History Matters,
This website offers some information on the history of photography and the role it plays in understanding events of the past. It also addresses the ways photographers could manipulate their subjects. It does have some specific information relevant to Civil War photography. This could be a teacher resource or a more advanced student resource.

History Study Center,
This website requires a subscription. Our school is currently accessing it through a free 30-day trial period. It is a database of various online reference sources. The site provides information on battles, maps, and biographies of key figures in the war. It also provides primary sources related to key historical events and figures.

A House Divided,
This website provides a general survey of the Civil War through Abraham Lincoln’s eyes, including events that led up to it, wartime decisions, and the aftermath of the war.

Map —1860 America,
This is an outline map of 1860 America helpful for students to use as a reference. The teacher can use it as a handout for students to color in the Union, border, and Confederate states.

Map — A House Divided
This map shows the color-coded breakdown of Union, border, and Confederate states. The teacher could direct students to this as a reference map for the unit.

National Archives,
This website has a wealth of primary resources from all periods of American history (and analysis question to evaluate them), but two pages are especially helpful for this era:

  • Emancipation Proclamation,
    This page offers the student the opportunity to see the actual hand-written draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The student can click on each of the four pages for a closer look. The page also offers a summary of this document and the events surrounding it.
  • Gettysburg Address,
    This site shows the actual hand-written draft by Lincoln and allows students to click on it to increase its size and examine it more closely. The site also offers a summary of events surrounding this important speech. Students can access other primary documents from this page including the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil War amendments.

The Price of Freedom,
This website covers all of America’s wars, but it has a vast amount of information and objects related to the Civil War and Reconstruction. There is a short movie that provides an overview of the conflict and its aftermath. Students can then view a slide show of images related to the period with explanations of how they relate to the war. The slide show addresses battles, key figures, regular soldiers, causes of the conflict, and Reconstruction. Images range from portraits, weapons, uniforms, and other paraphernalia. This is one of the best sites on the Civil War and on other American conflicts.

Reconstruction: The Second Civil War,
This website offers lots of information and resources on the Reconstruction period. The highlights of this site are the video clips, mini-documentaries, and primary sources related to various aspects of Reconstruction including the issues of free labor, racial violence, and new rights for African-Americans.

Reconstruction and Its Aftermath,
This website addresses various issues African-Americans faced during Reconstruction. It uses visual aids from the Library’s collections to illustrate topics such as voting, employment, and population distribution in the years following the Civil War. The visuals include artwork, maps, broadsides, and other materials.

Selected Civil War Photographs,
This website provides historic photographs from the Civil War. Students can search by keyword or browse the subject index to find photographs of interest. The website also provides information on Matthew Brady and an activity in which students examine how some photographs during the period were staged for dramatic effect.

Valley of the Shadow: Two American Communities in the American Civil War,
This website provides resources related to two communities during the Civil War and Reconstruction period: Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. This site features interactive battle maps, letters, newspaper articles, and information about the soldiers who came from these two communities.