Before and during the Civil War, enslaved African-Americans resisted their bondage in a variety of active and passive ways. This PDF explores how freedom seekers used the Underground Railroad during the American Civil War.
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 5, A White Man's War, we will learn about the first African American men who were prepared to fight in the Civil War. Many northerners were determined to keep their conflict with the South a ‘white man’s war’. Whenever recruiting offices were opened, black men offered themselves and were rejected. Nonetheless, they were confident that the opportunity to serve the Union was a matter of time. The Lincoln administration, Republican press and even some anti-slavery newspapers stated that the goal of the war was the restoration of the Union and that the issues of slavery and blacks had nothing to do with the conflict. Such actions dampened the rising enthusiasm of African Americans for the Union cause.
Image Credit: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 6, Overwhelming Numbers and Resources, we look at the difference between the North and the South in regards to manpower and resources. In 1861, 18.9 million Americans lived in the North versus 8 million Americans that lived in the South. The overwhelming numbers along with other resources had a critical impact upon the course and outcome of the war. Why was the Confederate army, with less than half the population of the North, confident they could win the Civil War?
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ppmsca-08407]
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 7, The Day of the Big Gun Shoot, we visit the Sea Islands of South Carolina, where cotton production flourished during slavery. As the Civil War unfolds, the islands become the site of the Battle of Port Royal on November 7, 1861. Armies attack, slave masters flee, and cotton and slaves remain, once again, left with the dust from where the cannon fire settles. The battle, originally a conflict over Southern seaports, becomes a training ground for future reconstruction and what to do with those enslaved.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZC2-3134]
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 8, we examine the Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862. This one battle produced the most casualties of any single day in the Civil War. The battle was a draw and neither the Union nor the Confederacy came out ahead. Nevertheless, this battle gave Lincoln the fuel and momentum to issue one of the most important documents in American History.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-pga-01841]
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 9, Port Royal Experiment, we will explore the bounds of citizenship for the newly released slaves on the Sea Islands of South Carolina during the Port Royal Experiment. If slaves were treated like freedmen, were they not citizens? And if the privileges of citizenship were extended to refugee slaves, was the Civil War indeed a conflict about slavery?
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-cwpb-00747]
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 10, Slave Rebellion and Conspiracy, we look at the continued threat of slave rebellions throughout the South. With thousands of slaves deserting plantations to claim their freedom, slaveholders could no longer convince themselves of the benevolence of slavery. Many slaveholders became nervous that the presence of the Union blockade along the Gulf Coast would inspire a slave rebellion reminiscent of Nat Turner, or worse the Haitian Revolution. As battles spread from Missouri to Virginia, white paranoia of slave resistance rises in the lower Mississippi River Valley.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ62-38902]
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 11, we look at the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. On September 22, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation after the Union’s win at the Battle of Antietam. By December 1862, northern morale was declining and many doubted that Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation as promised on January 1, 1863.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZC4-10901]
In Voices of the Civil War, Episode 12, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, after issuing a draft back in September 1862. The Emancipation Proclamation laid the foundation for what would become the 13th Amendment, issued two years later on January 31, 1865. Consequently, the proclamation marked a point of no return for negotiation, sees fire, or compromise. At nearly two years into the war, Lincoln finally focused on the heart of the issue and confronted the Confederacy where it mattered. The Confederacy held fast and continued fighting.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-pga-04067]
Just one month after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry unit was formed on February 9th, 1863. This brave regiment fought in many battles under the threat of re-enslavement, no pay, and immense scrutiny. The regiments’ most famous battle at Fort Wagner was later memorialized in the 1989 film, Glory.
Image Credit: Massachusetts Historical Society