Emancipation Proclamation, Facts and Fictions (Article 15)

There is a misconception by many, perhaps caused by educational shortcuts, that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation “freed the slaves” in the United States. In fact, when it was first issued, the document did not even affect over 400,000 slaves held in the so-called “Border States” and it freed only a few of the nearly four million slaves held throughout the South. So, why do most historians, and this Lincoln admirer, consider the document one of the most important in American history? Why, because it was a good first step!

But, it was not a quick, nor easy, decision for President Lincoln to make.

He, and his cabinet, had discussed the ramifications of such a document since mid-summer, but felt that the Union first needed a significant military victory or the public, both North and South, might see it as an act of desperation. Then came the horrific battle at Antietum Creek on September 17, 1862 which claimed more American lives in one day than any military engagement before or since. While Northern newspapers and politicians considered it a victory, because General Robert E. Lee had retreated further south, many Civil War historians consider that the battle was actually a draw. But, this “declared victory” gave Lincoln and his advisers the confidence to move forward with the Proclamation; and he published the text on September 22, to be effective on January 1, 1863.  Lincoln personally wrote most of the document, accepting a few suggestions from Secretary of State William Seward and others in his Cabinet. His handwritten final draft was titled simply “A Proclamation”, however, the Government Printing Office engraved the title as “Emancipation Proclamation.” It is unknown if Lincoln made that change, but I like to think he did.

Lincoln detractors, then and now, point out that (1) the Proclamation failed to include slaves held in parts of what is now West Virginia and the four Border States of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. (TRUE); (2) it did not, at first, free many slaves held in the eleven Confederate states (TRUE); (3) it was a deliberate and cynical attempt by Lincoln to cause slave insurrections in the South (FALSE); and (4) it was a desperate act by Lincoln who needed Negro troops to overcome Confederate forces (FALSE).

A Presidential “Emancipation Proclamation” had been encouraged by abolitionists and “Radical Republicans” (a name they embraced) in Congress beginning even before the Civil War started in April 1861. When Lincoln won the November 1860 election, many hoped the new Republican President would announce an effort to end slavery in all states. But Lincoln had said before the election, and again in his first Inaugural Address, that he had no power as President to “Constitutionally” interfere with the right of slavery in certain of the United States and that the Southern states had nothing to fear from his Republican administration. It appears that neither side was listening.

While Lincoln had always personally opposed slavery as an institution, he believed that the U.S. Constitution permitted slavery in specific states. However, after April 1861, he also took the position that the eleven states, which had seceded and initiated a “rebellion” against the lawful government, had forfeited any Constitutional protections. In the first few months of the War, Lincoln held hope that a quick military victory by Union forces would encourage some, if not all, Confederate states to petition for return into the United States; and he thought any unilateral Presidential Proclamation or anti-slavery legislation would be counter-productive to that goal. But, as the War dragged on, he began to explore the use of Presidential War Powers and the concept of “military necessity” to emancipate slaves in Confederate territory captured by Union forces. He was not yet ready to act however, as evidenced by his rebukes in early 1862 of several Union Generals who declared slaves freed as their troops entered areas of the South. A primary concern for Lincoln was the potential effect on the four Border States of any order to free slaves issued by him or his Generals. Lincoln reasoned that these states had remained in the Union and under the U.S. Constitution, therefore, they should not be subject to any anti-slavery Presidential Proclamation. So, on this point, his detractors’ comments are true!

However, his willingness to exclude these four Border States was a pragmatic decision, as he was concerned that Southern sympathizers in those states might lead a movement to also secede from the Union. Lincoln was convinced that the War would be prolonged, if not actually lost, if the Border States joined the Confederacy and provided several hundred thousand more men to fight against the Union. Lincoln did offer compensation to those four states if they would voluntarily free slaves but, while the proposal was debated, none actually agreed to such legislation.

It is also historically true, as his detractors note, that the Emancipation Proclamation did not, at first, free many slaves, since it only applied to areas of the eleven Confederate states which had already come under Union control, or would thereafter. However, over time, the Union Army accepted thousands of Negro men and established training programs to turn the former slaves into soldiers, and a few into sailors. Those new army enlistees were then assigned to all-black regiments under the control of White officers; a segregation policy very few questioned in 1863. In fact, it would be another 85 years before the U.S. armed forces were fully integrated.

It is false, however, when Lincoln’s critics claim that he hoped for slave insurrections. Lincoln actually feared that, if such violent uprisings occurred, even White citizens in the North might turn against his policies. As a precaution, he expected his Union Generals to control the risk of slave insurrections and retributions by former slaves as Union forces captured Confederate territory.

It is also false when some critics claim that Lincoln desperately needed the additional soldiers to defeat the Southern armies.  While the Negro troops certainly contributed to the War effort and performed admirably in battle (read the stirring story of Colonel Robert G. Shaw’s Black troops at Fort Wagner), the North already had superior numbers and resources.  And, at the time he wrote the Proclamation in late 1862, Lincoln was confident the Union would eventually prevail, but he did hope that the effects of emancipation on the southern economy, coupled with the added troops available to the Union Army, might shorten the war.

As he and his Cabinet expected, the Emancipation Proclamation had immediate impact on the Union (mostly positive) and on the Confederacy (mostly negative).  First, although Britain and France had abolished slavery years earlier, both had been giving some support to the South but, internationally, the Proclamation gave the North a morally superior position and left the Confederate States isolated as a government that supported the expansion of slavery.  Second, while the inclusion of thousands of former slaves as new recruits did strengthen Union forces, more importantly the Confederate Army began to lose the use of slaves to provide needed logistical labor for their fighting troops.  And third, while the North’s industrial based economy thrived during war-time, the South’s loss of slave labor decimated their regional agrarian economies.

Although some politicians and newspaper editors in the North and the South predicted Confederate forces would see a significant increase in enlistments from outrage over the Proclamation; Lincoln correctly anticipated that the Confederate army would see only a minor resurgence in recruiting because most of the South’s eligible young men were already under arms.

The one unwelcome surprise for the President and his Cabinet was the scope of new, sometimes violent, draft protests in the North, especially in Ohio and New York, as many now believed the conflict was evolving into “Lincoln’s Negro War” rather than a war to preserve the Union.

The body of the Emancipation document contains significant semantic legalese which was necessary to correctly convey the circumstances for freeing some slaves while exempting others for whom freedom would not be granted.  The document did, however, contain a few inspiring phrases such as, “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”

However, it is the simple title of “Emancipation Proclamation” which best conveys the spirit of Lincoln’s words.  As one editor wrote, “The title alone is Mr. Lincoln’s message to our nation.”  Although on January 1, 1863, there were still nearly four million Negroes held as slaves in the eleven Confederate states and the four Border States, from that day forward slavery was destined to be eradicated.

At the time, however, Lincoln was concerned that, because the Proclamation was issued under authority of his War Powers, it could be challenged in the courts after the war ended and the country was reunified.  He anticipated that there might be “drawn out legal processes” as former slave owners, who considered their slaves as chattel (property), would file claims for “confiscation” by the government.  So he worked with Republican Senators to begin the process of amending the Constitution to eliminate the original 1789 provisions protecting slavery in certain states.  The Senate passed the proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1864, the House passed it in January 1865, and the required “three-fourths” of states finally ratified the Amendment by September 1865.

But, the “stain that is slavery” began to be washed away in 1863 with Lincoln’s inspiring document, appropriately titled “The Emancipation Proclamation.” A good and necessary first step.

Gary Alan Dorris:  Contact the author at gadorris2@gmail.com.









The Partisans – Guerrilla Warriors of the Confederacy (Article 14)

They were called partisans, raiders, guerrillas, and irregulars by many; but rouges, killers, and criminals by others. They attacked Union Army troops, trains, bridges, and even an occasional fortress; but others also attacked civilians, including women and children, and robbery became a way of life for some. Although they were authorized by the Confederate government, military control was tenuous at best. While most considered themselves patriots and were proud of their Confederate alliance, others were fiercely independent and resisted any influence on their actions by the Southern military officers or politicians. Their leaders were men named Mosby, Quantrill, McNeill, White, and Monday (whose first name was Sue and was often mistakenly described in the press as a woman). Their forces operated mostly in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.

President Abraham Lincoln and his first and second Secretaries of War, Simon Cameron and Edwin Stanton, could not understand how these irregular Confederate operatives could wreak so much havoc, for so long, without being caught. But, the Union Army did try, very hard, to catch them, diverting valuable resources to the hunt with only limited success; and more than one General vowed to bring them down, only to fail. Lincoln said they were “like a bur under the saddle” and in 1863, after Confederate General Lee retreated back South after the battle at Gettysburg, Lincoln predicted that “As their rebellion grows weaker, it will turn more and more to guerrilliasm.”

Lincoln knew that the Confederate government had passed a “Partisan Ranger Act” which gave authority to designated guerrilla bands with the understanding that they would agree to place themselves under the command of a General Officer if needed for a major campaign; in the meantime they could operate with near autonomy. Some willingly accepted occasional directives to attack certain targets and became invaluable to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston and J.E.B. Stuart.  Others only remembered the “autonomy and guerrilla” sections of their authorization and never integrated or cooperated, even temporarily, into regular forces.

Unique to these groups, under the Partisan Act, was a provision that that their units would be paid by the Confederate Army for “any supplies, arms, and munitions” which they seized from the Union. With such a lucrative bounty, enlistments in Partisan bands, especially in Virginia, soon exceeded those into the regular Confederate Army.

So, who were these men, and what did they accomplish for the Confederate States of America? The following is a look at two distinctly different Partisan leaders and the results of their campaigns.

John Singleton Mosby had opposed secession and was indifferent towards slavery, but he said, “Virginia is my mother, and I can not fight against my mother.” A lawyer by training, when Virginia became the last of eleven states to secede, Mosby became an officer in the Confederate Army. He was a small man but once said, “I was glad to see that little men were a match for big men through being armed.”  Other lawyers considered him an intense competitor and one said that “he had a strong independent streak” which may explain his early difficulties with senior commanders. However, Mosby’s lack of respect for traditional military customs was offset by his courage and leadership, some said recklessness, when engaging the enemy; which led General Stuart to allow Mosby to resign his commission and recruit a partisan band.  Mosby gladly accepted the opportunity and willingly agreed to continue to aid General Johnston and General Lee, and, of course, Stuart’s forces whenever requested.

Mosby’s raiders were so effective attacking Union supply lines and then disappearing into the countryside that he was nicknamed “The Grey Ghost” by newspapers from both sides.  The northern Virginia area where he operated was referred to as “Mosby’s Confederacy,” and in one daring raid, Mosby captured Union Brigadier General Edwin Sloughton, 30 soldiers, and 58 horses.  When Lincoln was informed he said, “Well I’m sorry for that because I can make new Brigadier Generals, but I can’t make horses.”  The President was well aware that Sloughton was not well regarded by his superior officers and was later forced to resign his commission after a prisoner exchange.  Mosby was proud of his service to the Confederacy, however, after the war he wanted to again become a United States citizen and his request for pardon was approved.  He returned to the practice of law and became acquainted with President Ulysses S. Grant who appointed his old enemy to positions in the diplomatic corps and in the U.S. Department of Justice.  Mosby lived a long and productive life and died in 1916 at the age of 82.

On the other hand, hundreds of miles west, William Clarke Quantrill wanted nothing to do with the Confederate military or government; and the Southern officers in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas wanted nothing to do with Quantrill.  They were glad, however, that, as an authorized Partisan, he had decided that the Union soldiers and abolitionists were his enemy, not their Confederate forces.  In a move he later regretted, Confederate General Thomas Hindman actually conferred the rank of Captain on Quantrill believing that might bring some control over the Raider’s activities; but Quantrill promptly promoted himself to “Colonel” and never followed any directive from Hindman.  While Quantrill attacked several Union encampments and supply trains, he most frequently led raids into communities in Kansas and Missouri.  Not satisfied to plunder the few belongings of the towns-people, his band would kill several of the men as a lesson to “Unionists and abolitionists.”  On August 21, 1863, with over 400 raiders, Quantrill attacked Lawrence, Kansas which was a known abolitionist community, and gave the order to “kill every man big enough to carry a gun.”  Over 150 men of Lawrence died that day, including some boys as young as twelve.  However, in a message mixed with some chivalry and some callousness, Quantrill had directed his forces that, “No women should be shot but remove their wedding bands.”  One very drunk raider was captured the next morning and killed by a civilian, becoming Quantrill’s only casualty.

After that raid, the Governor of Missouri, despite being a strong Southern sympathizer, compared having Quantrill on the South’s side by saying, “It was like having won an elephant in a raffle.”  And Robert E. Lee said, “The evils resulting from their organization more than counterbalance the good they accomplish.”  Even many of his own raiders became disenchanted and Quantrill’s leadership began to wane, until he had fewer than thirty men left.  Of those, some became infamous after the war as they continued their criminal activity including Frank and Jesse James, and Cole and Jim Younger.  Quantrill and his smaller gang survived until the end of the war, conducting raids on Union supply lines, but he was wounded and captured while hiding in Kentucky on May 10, 1865.  He died of his injuries two weeks later while in a Union prison.  He was only 27 years old.

In my view, Mosby was a Confederate patriot who served his new country as his conscience guided him, although his post war ties to Ulysses S. Grant later turned some Southerners against him.  Quantrill, on the other hand, was an opportunistic criminal, reviled by the North, but who also eventually lost the support of almost all Confederate officials for his deliberate attacks on civilians.

But, as partisans and guerrillas, both fulfilled their missions to destroy Union resources and divert the attention of Union Commanders; and they both perplexed Abraham Lincoln.

Contact the author at gadorris2@gmail.com