The World the War Made


The devastation of the Civil War and the revolutionary ideas behind Emancipation and Radical Reconstruction changed the United States and the lives, circumstances, and opportunities of nearly every American. Centered on "The World the War Made," Part One of Facing History's video series about Reconstruction, and enhanced with activities and readings, this lesson will help to frame some of the ways in which the lives of Americans changed after the end of the Civil War. By watching the video and reading and analyzing historical documents, students will reflect on their own identities, what factors influence those identities, which parts of their identities are determined by their own choices, and which parts are determined by forces beyond their control.

This lesson is part of Facing History and Ourselves’ work on the Reconstruction era, and is part of a series of video-based web lessons. Use this lesson at the beginning of a unit on Reconstruction to engage students in discussion about the many changes to Americans’ identities and the effects of those changes during this time period.

In addition to the suggestions below, see Lessons 1, 3, and 4 in The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy for background information about the ways that the lives of Americans changed in the aftermath of the Civil War.



The Civil War and its aftermath changed the United States and the lives of nearly every American, their circumstances and opportunities, in numerous ways. Before looking at this moment in history, it will helpful for students to reflect on the factors that shape their circumstances, opportunities, and choices. Have students write short reflections to the following question:

  • What and who shapes the choices and opportunities you have in your life?

After they have spent a few minutes recording their thoughts, use the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy to help students discuss their ideas.


The video "The World the War Made” explains many of the ways that the American society, government, and economy changed after the Civil War, as well as the way that these changes influenced the choices and opportunities individual Americans perceived in their lives.

Show the video "The World the War Made”. Before showing the video, share the following questions with students to guide their note taking:   

  • According to Eric Foner, Americans in 1865 believed they were living in a different country than the one they inhabited before the Civil War. What were some of the fundamental changes that occurred as a result of the war?

  • According to the scholars in the video, how did the war affect the experiences and perceptions of white southerners? How were their lives different after the war?

  • According to the scholars in the video, how did the lives of African Americans change as a result of the war? What were some of the opportunities that made freedpeople feel like they might be included as full members of American society?




After watching the video, begin a class discussion with the following question:

  • How did the lives of Americans change as a result of the Civil War?


A variety of documents from The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy shed light on how the lives of individual Americans were affected by the enormous changes of the Reconstruction era. Analyzing some of these documents will help deepen students thinking about what they learned from the video.

Ask students to read one or more of the following documents:

Race in US History

Changing Names

Three former slaves discuss their names and the changes they underwent after Emancipation.

Race in US History

Letter from Jourdon Anderson: A Freedman Writes His Former Master

Former slave Jourdon Anderson responds, with a hint of sarcasm, to a request from his former master to return to work for him.

Race in US History

A Day of Triumph

Northerner Caroline Bartlett White celebrates the Union’s victory and the end of the Civil War.

Race in US History


Southerner Kate Stone mourns the Confederacy’s defeat and expresses her fears for the future under a Union government.

After reading each document, ask students to create an identity chart for its author. Once they complete the identity chart, ask students to use what they learned from the video and circle attributes that they think were most important in shaping the opportunities that individual experienced in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Next, ask students to create an identity chart for themselves. Prompt them to circle the attributes on their identity charts that are most important in shaping the choices and opportunities in their lives.

Finally, begin a class discussion by asking students for examples of connections they have found to the choices individuals were faced with during the Reconstruction era and where they see differences.

Reconstruction CTA to the Unit text

Looking for more lessons and primary source documents to teach the Reconstruction era? Get our complete unit on this important history, available in print, ebook, and free PDF.

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