War for Freedom:
African Americans in the Era of the Civil War
In the four years of the American
Civil War, the United States began to redeem itself from the
250-year-long tragedy of slavery. On the battlefields of that war, and
in the buildings, artifacts, documents, and stories they contain, four
million African Americans won their freedom. These sites, many of which
have been preserved by the National Park Service, eloquently testify to
the nation’s “rebirth of freedom.”
War for Freedom brings teachers and
students close to the day-to-day lives and thoughts of black Americans
moving from enslavement to emancipation. Each War for Freedom unit
guides students to do research with original historic documents, to
re-create moments of drama and personal choice, to understand the
relevance of the struggle for their own lives, and to synthesize their
learning and imagination in creative collaborative projects.
War for Freedom opens a window to
each of these challenging situations:
- Manassas, VA Walk in the shoes of Gentleman Jim
Robinson, a free African American who makes his way in a
slave-state—and then after the war has to prove his loyalty to the
- Harpers Ferry, VA October, 1859. Moving back
into time, you are now a free black resident of Harpers Ferry. John
Brown recently raided your town, blood was spilled and he now sits
awaiting trial. Rumor has it that he hoped to bring freedom for all
enslaved people. What are you thinking? Do you support what has
happened? How has this changed your world?
- Gettysburg, PA A black homeowner, you’ve fled
the advancing Confederate troops only to return and find your home
destroyed. What is in your mind as you stand listening to Lincoln’s
ringing words in the Gettysburg Address?
- Ft. Pulaski, GA You and thousands of enslaved
peoples have fled their plantation homes and enlisted in the military
struggle against slavery. What will you need to truly live in freedom?
- Ft. Sumter, SC You’re part of a population
living under the most awful terrors of wartime oppression. How do you
and others find ways to strike out for freedom?