Looking Ahead to the Civil War Bicentennial

If you are looking for a reflection of how our collective understanding of the Civil War has changed over the past few years take a look at this small sample of state SOLs.   I suspect that we will continue to see a shift away from a curriculum that is inspired and sometimes distorted by the Lost Cause in the coming decades.  Interestingly, if you are looking for some of the most dramatic changes you just need to check out the following list of Southern states.  I pulled this from an article written by Eric Robelon for Education Week.

I spent some time chatting with Eric on how the Civil War is currently being taught in the classroom and I urged him to look beyond the standard North v. South narrative.  It’s much more complicated and I am pleased to see this reflected in his thoughtful article.

Trace the development of efforts to abolish slavery prior to the Civil War:

  • Describing the abolition of slavery in most Northern states in the late eighteenth century.
  • Describing the rise of religious movements in opposition to slavery …
  • Describing the rise of the underground railroad and its leaders …

Identify causes of the Civil War from the northern and southern viewpoints. Examples: States’ rights, slave versus free states.

  • Describing the importance of the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, John Brown’s Rebellion, and the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Describing the impact of the Civil War on the social, economic, and political life of the United States.

The student will demonstrate an understanding of the events that led to the Civil War, the course of the War and Reconstruction, and South Carolina’s role:

  • Compare the conditions of daily life for various classes of people in South Carolina, including the elite, the middle class, the lower class, the independent farmers, and the free and enslaved African-Americans.
  • Summarize the institution of slavery prior to the Civil War, including reference to conditions in South Carolina, the invention of the cotton gin, subsequent expansion of slavery, and economic dependence on slavery.
  • Explain the reasons for South Carolina’s secession from the Union, including the abolitionist movement, states’ rights, and the desire to defend South Carolina’s way of life.

The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era … by:

  • evaluating the multiple causes of the Civil War, including the role of the institution of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict;
  • identifying the major events and the roles of key leaders of the Civil War era, with emphasis on Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and Frederick Douglass;
  • analyzing the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the principles outlined in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address …
  • examining the social impact of the war on African Americans, the common soldier, and the home front, with emphasis on Virginia.


  • Explain the causes of the Civil War, including sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery, and significant events of the Civil War, including the firing on Fort Sumter, the battles of Antietam, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg …
  • Analyze Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address and contrast them with the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address.

I’m not sure what South Carolina is referring to as its “way of life” but what is clear is that the fifty years since the Centennial has witnessed dramatic change to what students throughout the country were taught about our Civil War.  What do the next fifty years hold?

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

2 comments… add one
  • Nat Turner's Son Apr 21, 2011 @ 10:27

    I might make it but I will be an old man I was born at the end of the Centennial in 1965. I am middle aged now and in 50 more years I will be 95. But with continued medical advances I might be around. I just wonder what kind of rememberance they will have.

  • Gregg Jones Apr 18, 2011 @ 16:23

    I suspect I will be dead by then. Having been in the Centennial and the Sesquicentennial lessens my chances to be in the Big Bi…..

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