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  • The Saga of Reconstruction

    Historians Cliff Kuhn, Marcellus Barksdale and Gene Hatfield describe the chaos and uncertainty resulting from the devastation wrought upon the South during the Civil War. Cities were destroyed, houses and slave quarters were burned, farmland was ruined and one out of every five men who went to war never returned. For former slaves, the situation was especially dire. Economic plans and the battle over ownership of land is discussed as well.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Explain some of the effects of the Civil War on the state of Georgia.

    2. Why was this a difficult time for former slaves?

    3. What had slaves been promised? Why did the promise go unfulfilled?

    4. Compare and contrast life as a slave and as a sharecropper. 

    Expansion

    1. Brainstorm with classmates to create a list with this heading: “Problems in the South after the Civil War.” After you and your classmates generate entries for the list, break up into a small group. Each group will get one entry to develop a potential solution to the problem.

    2. You are a teenager during the Civil War in the south. Your daddy fought and died during the war, and you and your mother, brothers, and sisters are left to rebuild your lives. Write a story telling about your life during the Reconstruction years, where and how you are living, and your ability to make a new life for yourself. (Gone With the Wind is a good example of this kind of story. Yours does not have to be this long!)

    Vocabulary

    indebted: owing something (such as money or thanks) to someone or something
    Reconstruction: the period from 1867 to 1877 when the southern states joined the northern states again after the American Civil War
    sharecropping: working (planting, weeding, tending, harvesting) someone else’s land in return for a share of the crop, a place to live and the tools with which to work the land

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Explain some of the effects of the Civil War on the state of Georgia.
    The state suffered a dramatic population change as one out of five Georgians who went to war never came back. This meant the workforce was greatly diminished. The formerly fertile land was devastated and laid waste, leaving minimal space for farming. There were not enough people to work the land, because the slaves were free, but homeless. There was no money, because Confederate money was worthless, and that was all some Southerners had. At the start of Reconstruction, Georgia had lost 75% of its wealth because of the Civil War. 

    2. Why was this a difficult time for former slaves?
    They had to make their own way in the world. They were free but homeless. They had no money and no land.

    3. What had slaves been promised? Why did the promise go unfulfilled?
    At the end of the war, Gen. Sherman had met with black leaders and promised the slaves “40 acres and a mule.” The sea islands along coast of Georgia that had been abandoned by their former slave owners fleeing from northern troops were going to be given to these former slaves. The promise was unfulfilled because the white owners received a pardon from Pres. Johnson and reclaimed their land.

    4. Compare and contrast life as a slave and as a sharecropper. 
    Like slaves, a sharecropper had no land, no home, and no tools and they worked someone else’s land. Unlike slavery, however, sharecroppers were able to keep 1/2 of the crop while the other half went to the landowner. In return, sharecroppers were given a place to live and the tools to work the land. While technically sharecroppers were free, they often owed debt to the landowners, forcing them to stay on the farm. 

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