Lesson Plan: Overview

The World the Civil War Made!


Grade Level: 8th

The Freedmen's Bureau

Academic Standards

Social Studies Standard 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.

8-4.2 Summarize Reconstruction in South Carolina and its effects on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, small farmers, freedmen, women, and northern immigrants.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.

O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories.

P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps.

S. Interpret and synthesize information obtained from a variety of sources – graphs, charts, tables, diagrams, texts, photographs, documents, and interviews.
Essential Questions

1. How were Plantation Owners forced to change in dealing with the freedmen and women during the Reconstruction period?

2. How did the lives of Freedmen change during Reconstruction period?

3. How did southerners feel about northern immigrants to the south during the reconstruction period?

4. How did small white farmers feel about competition with the freedmen during Reconstruction?

5. How did the lives of white women differ during reconstruction as compared to slavery days?

Historical Background Notes

Reconstruction is perhaps not so simply the results of the world the Civil War made.  Although, not specifically fought to free the black population in the South, it resulted in its freedom none the less.  The era known as Reconstruction in the South had a profound impact, not only on the daily lives of plantation owners who relied on slave labor for their livelihood, but also on the lives of freedmen, northern immigrants, small farmers, and women.

With emancipation of the slaves, planters lost their work force which was a large part of their wealth.  Since these newly-freed slaves were no longer their property, former owners had to make adjustments in an attempt to continue their former way of life.  They were forced to negotiate and enter into work contracts with their former slaves in order to plant and harvest their crops.  These planters “wanted men, women, and children to work, just as they had in the past” with the same “accustomed hours” (Fitzgerald 50).  Something the newly-freed slaves were unwilling to do.  Many planters “universally complain[ed] that freed people left work whenever short-term opportunities appeared.  Hands reportedly neglected maintenance that didn’t directly contribute to their crop share, whatever the contract provisions said” (Fitzgerald 57). In absence of slavery, many former “masters” were required to personally oversee and supervise this new labor arrangement in order to protect their own interests. 

While difficult for the planter elite, freedom was not easy for the freedmen either.  Emancipation did not bring to these newly-freed men and women the one thing they wanted most which was their own land.  Many were forced to work for their former “masters” as sharecroppers.  “Generally, sharecroppers retained one-third of the year’s crop if the planter provided implements, fertilizer, work animals, and seed” (Foner, Short History 79-80).  This system allowed the freed slaves to move away from their old slave quarters and offered some independence, but they would remain economically tied to their previous owner.  While the freed people had hoped freedom would bring more equality and land ownership, it was not to be; and while they “lost their illusions [they had but] few alternatives, at least their day-to-day reality had changed in gratifying ways” (Fitzgerald 70).

Although many northern immigrants were women who came south as teachers during Reconstruction, many were men in search of political or economic opportunity.  This latter group was reviled in the South as “Carpetbaggers,” and white southern society refused to accept them.  Many perceived carpetbaggers were castigated “as representatives of the ‘lowest’ and most dishonest class of northerners, who packed all their belongings into a soft-sided valise, or carpetbag, and ventured South to reap the spoils of office” (Foner, Forever 138).  While there were only a few “unscrupulous men who enriched themselves through political corruption” (Foner, Forever 139) during Reconstruction, any individual from the North was seen as unwanted with a singular purpose of taking advantage of a situation seen by many as untenable.

Prior to reconstruction, small white farmers had a sense of superiority toward enslaved blacks.  Following emancipation, these same small white farmers not only saw their superiority slipping away but also came to resent the competition that these newly-freed slaves presented in obtaining lands and benefits.  Many small white farmers reacted to the newly-freed slaves with anger and resentment, with many turning to violence.  As white supremacy groups became more decentralized, these terrorist groups “became more identified with the concerns of white small farmers and tenants.”  These white farmers sometimes took steps to rid an area of Freedmen seen as “rivals for access to land” (Fitzgerald 69).

In some ways, the wives of wealthy planters had a more difficult situation to contend with during Reconstruction than did their husbands.  Prior to emancipation, these women oversaw their household's domestic help.  After emancipation, these same women were forced to either negotiate with their former slaves for household services or perform the tasks themselves.  This latter was sometimes with disastrous results as seen in the case of “newly destitute widow Cornelia Peake McDonald. When she tried to cook, she nearly set her clothes on fire, and she disabled herself for weeks with a pot of boiling water” (Fitzgerald 146).  With limited funds, negotiating for and keeping household servants was extremely difficult as seen in the case of Esther Palmer. “One couple agreed to work for her as domestics, but they quickly concluded they could do better in the fields.  Peggy had already left, Lucy was restive over absent children, and Tenny wanted a shortened work week, a request that struck the mistress as presumptuous.  Other domestics left to pursue apparent romances, and still others were acting like they intended to leave” (Fitzgerald 147). It was very difficult for women who had no cooking or household skills to care for themselves and their families during Reconstruction.

Reconstruction was a difficult time in our history, not only for the large plantation owners but for every group living in the South.  The lives of the wives of plantation owners, small white farmers, northern immigrants, and freedmen and women were extremely difficult as well.

Cultural Institution Partners

Greenville County Library
Spartanburg County Library


Primary Sources

Agreement between Thomas B. Ferguson and Freedmen and Women workers at Dean Hall Plantation, 20 Feb. 1866. Heyward and Ferguson family papers, 1806-1923. Lowcountry Digital Library, College of Charleston Libraries, Charleston, South Carolina. Accessed 28 November 2009.

“Carpet-bagger and Immigrant.”  The Daily Southern Guardian (Columbia), 6 April 1870. South Carolina Room, Greenville County Library System, Greenville, South Carolina.

Chestnut, Mary. A Diary From Dixie. New York: Gramercy, 1997.

Deas, Elias Horry to daughter, 20 October 1866.  Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Diary, 1864-1865 (Transcript of the Manuscript) Electronic Edition – LeConte, Emma (typescript). Documenting the American South. Manuscripts Department, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Accessed 4 December 2009. 

“Greeley on the South and her Carpet-baggers.” The Daily Southern Guardian (Columbia), 6 April 1870. South Carolina Room, Greenville County Library System, Greenville, South Carolina.

Journal of Meta Morris Grimball, South Carolina, December 1860 – February 1866 (typescript). Documenting the American South, Manuscripts Department, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Accessed 4 December 2009. 

“Keep your Lands.” Carolina Spartan (Spartanburg), 21 June 1866. Headquarters Library, Spartanburg County Public Libraries, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“Land for the Negroes.” Carolina Spartan (Spartanburg), 2 August 1866. Headquarters Library, Spartanburg County Public Libraries, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Nast, Thomas. 'The man with the (carpet) bags [Caricature of Carl Schurz carrying bags labeled, "carpet bag" and "carpet bagger South"],' Caricature.  Harper’s Weekly, v. 16, (November 9, 1872): 880. Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. American Memory. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Accessed 28 November 2009.

“The Great Labor Question from a Southern Point of View,”  Illustration.  Harper’s Weekly, v. IX, (Jul 29, 1865).  Internet, Son of the South. Accessed 28 November 2009.

Wales, James Albert. 'The "Strong" government 1869-1877,'Cartoon. Puck (May 12, 1880): 168-169. Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. American Memory. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Accessed 28 November 2009.

Waud, Alfred R. “Richmond ladies going to receive government rations,” Wood engraving. Harper’s Weekly (Jun 3, 1865): 340. Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. American Memory. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Accessed 5 December 2009.

Waud, Alfred R. “The Freedmen’s Bureau,” Caricature. Harper’s Weekly (Jul 25, 1868): 473. Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. American Memory. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Accessed 28 November 2009.

Secondary Sources

Fitzgerald, Michael W. Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007.

Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.

Foner, Eric. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.


• Plantation Owner Folder (containing)

• Freedmen Folder (containing)

• Northern Immigrants Folder (containing)

• Small Farmers Folder (containing)

• Women Folder (containing)

• Group illustrations for promethean board or overhead for use by groups as they present their information to the class as a whole.

• Colored pens for use by the group if using an overhead for writing of quotes.

Lesson Plans

1. Students were placed into 5 separate groups based on ability, leadership skills, and student interest

2. Each group was given a folder (see Tools section above) designated small farmers, women, northern immigrants, freedmen, or plantation owners with the Group Instruction Sheet stapled to the outside.

3. Students chose their group leader, speaker, writer, and reader according to the Group Instruction Sheet and noted student assignments at the bottom of the sheet.

4. The group leader then read the instructions and completed each task as directed, removing one assignment from the folder at a time.  As each task was completed, it was returned to the back of the folder.

    • First, the Illustration Sheet (see Tools section above) containing an illustration related to the group topic was removed, analyzed, discussed, and completed.
    • Next, the Document Analysis Sheet (see Tools section above) was removed with the primary source stapled to it.  After analysis of the document and completion of the top portion of the analysis sheet, students removed, and the reader read a-loud, the document transcript (see Tools section above).  Students then analyzed, discussed, and completed the analysis sheet.
    • Next, the Bio-Poem Assignment Sheet and rubric were removed, discussed, and completed. Each group's Bio-Poem (see Examples of Students Work section below) was required to give information on the daily life of their topic group during reconstruction.
    • Lastly, group members discussed and completed the Student Presentation Note Sheet for their group topic.

5. Students then organized a presentation for the class.  Bio-Poems were shared.  Each group discussed the daily life of their topic group and provided a quote relevant to their group during reconstruction.

    • Since I have a promethean board, groups presented their topic group in front of a projection of their group illustration and were able to utilize the illustration in their discussion of the daily life of their group topic.  Students also were able to use the writing feature on the promethean board to write their quotes for the class.

6. As presentations are made, students asked questions, and completed their Student Presentation Note Sheet noting what life was like for each group during the reconstruction period.

This lesson took two entire class periods for group work and then presentations.

Teacher Reflections

As I arrived for the first session of the Teaching American History in South Carolina Summer Academy, I had no idea what to expec, but hoped I would walk away with at least one or two new ways to teach my 8th grade Social Studies classes.  I walked away with much more than I had hoped.  The Academy introduced me to the importance of utilizing primary sources in my classroom to promote student understanding of historical events.  It not only told me of their importance in teaching but gave me the tools necessary to find the documents, as well as, strategies for using them in the classroom.  I walked away with so many ideas and lessons; I could not wait to get back to school at the end of the summer to share what I had learned with fellow teachers and begin planning the incorporation of primary sources into other lessons.   It was at the end of the first day of the Academy that I knew what I wanted to do for my required lesson.  I wanted to focus on the daily lives of five groups during the reconstruction period, which coincided with the 8th grade Social Studies Standard 8-4.2.  As we attended meetings in Greenville, Pickens, Oconee, Clemson, Pendleton, and Anderson, I searched for primary source documents, as well as information to utilize in my lesson.  

At this Academy, our Master Scholar's, Paul Anderson, knowledge of the reconstruction period, his lectures, and his enthusiasm for the content information was infectious.  I thoroughly enjoyed his humor and his excitement for teaching.  Through his lectures, I was introduced to the use of primary source documents to promote historical curiosity in my students.  He not only provided background information for reconstruction but tied that period of time to more modern events.  For instance, Professor Anderson compared the failure of reconstruction to the recent 2008 US election.  The election which ended reconstruction was similar to our election of President Obama which held an underlying hope that we would get out of Iraq.  Over the 10-day Academy, he tied the understanding of many historical events to modern events and consistently promoted digging deeper to encourage understanding.  Professor Anderson helped me to see parallels in history and deepened my understanding of events and curiosity of how events are connected and repeated over time.  This curiosity allowed me to obtain a deeper understanding of events and helped me to understand that teaching South Carolina History is more than just teaching historical facts, it is teaching students how to think and dig deeper for meaning in historical events.

Tami Finley’s Master Teacher sessions were phenomenal.  She did a fantastic job in presenting different ways to incorporate primary source documents into various types of lessons. During her first session with us, she introduced illustrations paired with primary source documents to promote discussion, analysis, and understanding of an event or element in history.  It was such an incredible way to introduce primary sources that I tailored her concept to the lesson I taught following the Academy.  During my lesson, I was able to give students an illustration of a sharecropper and his previous owner as well as a copy of a Sharecropping Agreement.  As the students viewed the illustration and then read the Agreement, I was in awe of the excitement and curiosity shown by the students as they read and discussed the document.  I realized that if I had simply told them about sharecropping and given them an example of the types of agreements made between freedmen and their previous owners, they would not have gained the level of curiosity or understanding of the feelings and emotions between the freedmen and their previous owners during that period in our history.  Thanks to Mrs. Finley, I was able to help my students achieve a deeper understanding of the underlying emotions and frustrations between these two groups during the reconstruction period.  In addition, she provided a plethora of strategies over the 10-day Academy, including using excerpts from several documents in one lesson and creating mini-dramas using pictures and illustrations, which will be used by me in subsequent lessons.  If there was one thing that I could suggest for improvement in the master teacher session, it would be the availability of emailed copies of documents and presentations following each session.  I would have especially liked to have had the sample presentation she presented during her photo story session.

Choosing only one cultural institute session as being most useful for the teaching of my lesson is a difficult task.  The information I needed to teach my lesson was very specific and was not easily found.  Several primary sources came from the University of South Carolina archives and were provided by the Research Assistant, Traylor, assigned to me by the Academy.   While I was not able to find much specific information at the cultural institute locations for use in my lesson, I gained valuable knowledge and experience in researching and “digging” for information which I could not have gotten without the help of this Academy.  I took the knowledge I learned from the various locations and the list I received from the UpCountry History Museum in Greenville, South Carolina, and was able to research at the Greenville County Library and the Spartanburg County Library. At these two latter locations, I was able to obtain copies of newspaper articles and other background resources which I utilized in my Historical Background Essay and in my lesson.

In teaching my lesson and grading the resulting student work, I was able to assess the viability of utilizing primary sources in the classroom.  Students were able to accurately analyze the primary source illustrations as well as the primary source documents.  They further incorporated the information they obtained from both into the final Bio-Poem product, accurately depicting the daily lives of each assigned group.  Students further learned information from other topic groups through completing a Presentation Note Sheet during the group presentations.  As can be seen in the work product from each group, it is clear that students came away from this assignment with an understanding of the trials and events experienced by each group during the reconstruction period. 

While I feel my lesson was successful, when I teach it again next year, I will allow more time for groups to analyze the primary source documents.  I feel there should have been a time for reflection built into the lesson so that students could re-read their completed analysis sheets and correct some hasty errors.  I, also, may come up with some type of further analysis which will promote a more in-depth reading of the documents and, thereby a deeper understanding of the information provided in them.  Further, I will incorporate technology into their presentations of the information by reserving the computer lab at my school and encourage a pamphlet, newsletter, or PowerPoint so that the presentation to the other students in the classroom will be in depth and promote a deeper understanding of each topic group.

Student Assessment

Bio-poems graded by rubric.
Document and Photo Analysis Sheets (see Tools section above) graded for effort and completeness of responses.
Student Presentation Note Sheet graded for completion and an individual daily grade given.

Questions pertaining to this information will also be included on an end- of-unit test.

Examples of Students Work

Plantation Owner Bio Poem
Freedmen Bio Poem
Northern Immigrants Bio Poem
Small Farmers Bio Poem
Women Bio Poem
Freedmen Illustration
Small Farmers Doc Analysis
Student Presentation Note Sheet


Cynthia Brown
Blue Ridge Middle School
Greer, South Carolina