Emancipation

During the first year of the Civil War President Lincoln struggled, against the pressure of Republicans, to act against slavery. Recognizing why the four Border States have remained (where slavery still existed) in the Union and the fragile unity of the North. Many of the nation still clung to the view that slavery is a matter for states to decide individually. When General Butler and Fremont moved to emancipate slaves in their command areas, Lincoln overruled them at once, noting that Kentuckyís legislature threatened severe action and soldiers in some areas would refuse to fight if General Fremontís order stood. Another example of Lincolnís cautiousness was in the spring of 1862, when General David Hunter declared slaves free in South Carolina, Lincoln again countermanded his order(#4,p. 155). As war spread in the South, many African Americans left their homes and fled into Union army encampments. Many officers in these camps decided to take these people in and put them to work at a variety of military supportive tasks.

 

By the summer of 1862 Lincoln determined to call upon the seceded slave states to return to the Union or face the loss of their slaves. Over a period of weeks he began preparing a proclamation of emancipation, which would eventually be presented for the first time on July 22. Many of Lincolnís cabinet members suggested not to publicly unveil the proclamation until an appropriate time presented itself. Since the Union had just recently pulled out of the Peninsula campaign, it only made sense to wait for a Union victory. The Union triumph at Antietum supplied this special occasion. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared that those states still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, "All persons held as slaves...shall be then, thenceforward and forever free."(#4,p.135)

Lincolnís Emancipation Proclamation (page 1, page 2) gave a new twist to the war. The nation was now focused on the 4 million African Americans. In a war now for slave emancipation, this begged the question, should blacks be allowed to fight for their own freedom? Many African Americans tried to assist in the war effort in any way possible. At first Northern blacks tried to volunteer for military service, only to be turned away. As Northern forces launched attacks into the South they found to be greeted by thousands of African Americans. At Pensacola, Admiral David Porter noted "Negroes grinning from ear to ear and turning somersaults to show their delight...and true affection for the old flag."(#4, p.137) In addition to welcoming Union soldiers, Southern blacks provided practical help. Where Northern troops were new to the areas they moved into, local blacks were familiar with the land, roads, trails, streams, bridges, and towns.