The Uncertain Promise of Freedom’s Light: Black Soldiers in The Civil War | Around The Mall

Black soldiers could not officially join the Union army until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. But, on the ground, they had been fighting and dying from the beginning.

When three escaped slaves arrived at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, in May, 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler had to make a choice. Under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, he was compelled to return the men into the hands of the slaveowner. But Virginia had just signed the ordinances of secession. Butler determined that he was now operating in a foreign territory and declared the men “contraband of war.”

When more enslaved men, women and children arrived at the fort, Butler wrote to Washington for advice. In these early days of the Civil War, Lincoln avoided… The Uncertain Promise of Freedom’s Light: Black Soldiers in The Civil War | Around The Mall.

2 thoughts on “The Uncertain Promise of Freedom’s Light: Black Soldiers in The Civil War | Around The Mall

  1. Jim Wheeler

    This article, Jennifer, is all the more meaningful to me, having just finished reading Goodwin’s wonderful book, “Team of Rivals”. It set the whole context of the slavery issue, one that I have to admit I hadn’t really understood before. The principal issue of the Civil War at the outset was secession only, but of course the South seceded because of economics and slavery was the core of the South’s economy. Lincoln, the canny politician, was a master of timing. The Emancipation Proclamation was written not in high-flowing language but rather something like an Army Quartermaster’s instruction and it treated the issue of slavery more like one of property than of principle. He knew that a Constitutional amendment would eventually be required.

    Smalls’ clear signature at the bottom of his photograph reminds me how amazing is the human will to freedom and independence, that such as he and Douglass could become so literate despite the widespread efforts, both social and legal, to keep them uneducated.

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      Thank you for your comments Jim. Team of Rivals is a great book and most Americans would do well to read it. You are right, it highlights the political as well as social reasons for the Emancipation Proclamation and the battle to end slavery in America.
      If you have time, check out the Smithsonian’s overall exhibits. They have a lot of amazing online exhibits for Black History month.


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