Professor David Blight:
Good morning. I'm going to talk today about
turning points, and on Thursday about turning
points, and beyond that, probably, about turning points.
But let me lay out right now my own sort of selective list,
short list, of the most important turning points in the
Civil War; make the list and then we will
come back to them.
Now this is any military historian's, or any Civil War
historian's guess, of course.
But there's no question that the Antietam campaign of 1862 is
a major turning point in the Civil War, and I'll select that
as my first. There are things happening
before that that are terribly important, like the saving of
Richmond, against McClelland's Peninsula
Campaign in June and July of '62.
But it is this first invasion of the North by Robert E.
Lee, culminating in the bloodiest single day of the
Civil War; over 5000 dead,
23,000 casualties in eight hours, on fields along a little
creek in southwestern Maryland that not only stopped this first
major invasion of the North and this threat of a southern army
to northern soil, northern resources,
and northern cities, but it of course resulted in
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation,
which transformed the purpose of the war on both sides;
back to that in a second. The second major turning point
in the war, militarily, I'd argue, as most people do,
was the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863 and the day after
the three days' battle at Gettysburg.
The bloodiest encounter of the entire war, if you add up the
three days' casualties of almost 56,000 dead and wounded,
in three days--that battle, of course, stopped Lee's second
invasion of the North, and we'll come to that in a
moment, at least in brief terms. On the day after Pickett's
Charge at Gettysburg on the 4^(th) of July 1863,
the kind of citadel river town or city of Vicksburg,
Mississippi fell to Union forces,
after a siege of nearly six months.
When Grant took Vicksburg on the 4^(th) of July in 1863,
it virtually opened up the entire Mississippi River to
Union control; it cut geographically the
Confederacy in half; it isolated Arkansas,
Louisiana and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy.
It was without a question, at least in the long-term,
a decisive turning point in the war in the West.
A third major turning point, I'd argue, is the Fall of
Atlanta in September 1864; and we'll come that later on,
after the break. A fourth major turning point in
the war, politically, without any question I think,
is the Election of 1864, the only time in modern history
that a republic attempted to hold a general election in the
midst of civil war and succeeded in doing it.
The re-election of Lincoln in 1864 was absolutely crucial to
the prosecution of the war to the ends,
the Lincoln administration at least, by then,
had determined to fight it. But without the fall of
Atlanta, the first week of September 1864,
it's not at all clear Lincoln would've been re-elected,
and more on that later. And then fifth,
you could argue, I would argue,
the greatest single turning point in the Civil War,
deeply related to these military battlefront affairs,
is emancipation. The emancipation of 4.2 million
American slaves in the midst of eventually all-out,
near total war by the North on the South, to destroy southern
society and its institutions, transformed American history,
more than just transforming a war.
That's the theme of this lecture and Thursday's lecture,
and even to some extent beyond. It is those results beyond the
battlefield that ultimately it is our obligation to understand.
It's important, it's an obligation to
understand why the Battle of Antietam turned the way it did,
and it's an obligation to understand why Lee is invading
the North a second time in 1863, and why that encounter at
Gettysburg turned out the way it did.
But by then it is a war being fought for something very
different, and much, much larger than it had been at
the outset. One way into this story is a
very simple quotation in one of those interviews held with
former slaves in the WPA Oral History Narratives in the 1930s.
These were the interviews, over 3000 of them done with
ex-slaves, many of them in their eighties, some even in their
nineties. A guy named Cornelius Garner
was interviewed in 1937, at age 91.
He was asked if he had fought in the Civil War,
and Cornelius replied to his interviewer,
who was a black interviewer in this case, "Did I fight in the
War? Well if I hadn't you wouldn't
be sittin' there writin' at me today."
He then went on to describe a corner of his native Norfolk,
Virginia where slave auctions used to be conducted on New
Year's Day. "That day, New Year's Day,"
said Garner, should be kept by all the colored people.
That is the day of freedom. And they ought to remember
Frederick Douglass too. Frederick Douglass told Abe
Lincoln, 'Give the black man guns and let him fight.'
And Abe Lincoln say, 'If I give him a gun,
when it come to battle he might run.'
And Frederick Douglass say, 'Try him, and you'll win the
war.' And Abe said,
'All right, I'll try him.'"
Now that's a simplistic, homespun explanation for how
emancipation came about. Over 180,000 African-Americans
will end up in the Union armies. But old Cornelius wasn't
entirely wrong. All right, back to Virginia,
I'll put the outline back up if we need it.
I don't know if you can see all of that but I hope you can see
some of it. I left you with McClellan's
army on the peninsula having been defeated.
I thought I'd show you a couple of magnificent Mathew Brady
of course, had finally come into its own.
The Civil War would be the first major event in world
history to be photographed on a large scale,
and it's in part what made Ken Burns's film possible,
especially the use of that camera they now that have that
can go into an old daguerreotype type,
which isn't any bigger than this, and make it seem like a
This is a photograph taken behind Union troops overlooking
the Cumberland River in May 1862;
that's before the Battle of the Seven Days, that's during the
march by McClellan's army up the peninsula.
I don't how well you can see that but that's an absolutely
stunning photograph of a Union wagon train on one of these
makeshift bridges. They would build these things
in a few hours, over all these rivers,
which in May of 1862 were flooding constantly.
It's Union troops crossing the Chickahominy River,
just east of Richmond, May 1862.
Now, what happened next of course was--and this is where I
left you--was Lee's fateful decision to not stay and just
defend Richmond; so not just leave the war in
Central Virginia. Having defeated or held back
McClellan's army, and with a certain degree of
confidence that McClellan probably would be McClellan and
not move, he decided to invade the North.
Now there were all these high-level councils of war in
Richmond between Jefferson Davis, Lee and his generals.
There were arguments for and against it.
But Lee won the day, and the argument,
and he went west behind the Blue Ridge mountains and invaded
the North through the upper part of the Shenandoah Valley,
the goal of which was to not attack Washington,
D.C., by any means--I think I have a better map possibly;
yes, maybe that helps a little better--not to attack Washington
or necessarily to even threaten Philadelphia directly.
Lee had no intention of taking over any northern cities.
He couldn't do that. He didn't have the resources.
He didn't have an army big enough.
How would he have occupied them? But what he most wanted to do,
the aim of this invasion, was wanting to take the war out
of ravaged Virginia; to threaten northern cities,
especially the U.S. capital;
to try to bring about--and Great Britain was on the brink
of this, and I'll come back to that foreign policy diplomatic
story a bit later--but Great Britain was truly on the brink
of near recognition, at least a kind of
quasi-recognition of the Confederacy, and the theory here
was that if the Confederate forces could win a major
victory, somewhere on northern soil,
get into Pennsylvania, do it twice over,
live off the land, possibly even force the
evacuation of the U.S. capital, that news of that in
Great Britain might bring about British recognition of the
Confederacy as the legitimate government,
and especially give the Confederacy access to its navy,
if not even the possibility of ground forces.
And by the way, a British force had already
been sent to Canada in early 1862 for the possibility of
intervention in the American Civil War.
Now, there was also a theory here at work that is going to be
dead wrong. Lee believed,
as did other Confederate leaders, that in Maryland,
in particular, there was a great deal of
Confederate sympathy and sentiment, and a lot of young
Maryland men, the theory was,
eager to join the Confederate forces if they could just get
out of Maryland. And that marching Confederate
Army was going to attract them; at least that was the theory.
The problem was when young men actually saw that Confederate
Army, they were appalled, because that Confederate Army
that invaded across the Potomac River--they crossed the Potomac
on September 4 and September 5, 1862--was an army that had
apparently remarkable, almost miraculous morale;
they were winners. They had just defeated a Union
Army with McClellan's whole force still back on the
peninsula. The 40 to 50,000 Union troops
still guarding Washington, DC were decisively,
horribly defeated in the Battle of Second Manassas,
the last two days of August, the 29^(th) and 30^(th) of 1862.
That Union Army retreated once again--fought on the same fields
as First Bull Run, thirteen months
earlier--retreated into Washington, DC.
Washington, DC, on September 1^(st) 1862,
was like a giant field hospital.
There were some 3 to 4,000 wounded Union soldiers all over
the streets of Washington, a broken army,
with McClellan's army now retreating back up the
Chesapeake and the Potomac and this huge flotilla trying to get
to Washington in case Lee actually attacked Washington.
But the army Lee had was starving, they weren't very well
fed, and they weren't very well clad.
Here's one description of a young Marylander who saw the
Confederate Army. He said it was nothing but,
quote, "a set of ragamuffins. It seemed as if every cornfield
in Maryland had been robbed of its scarecrows.
None had any underclothing. My costume consisted of a
ragged pair of trousers,"--this guy apparently joined--"a
stained dirty jacket, an old slouch hat,
the brim pinned up with a thorn, a begrimed blanket over
my shoulder, a grease-smeared cotton
haversack full of apples and corn, a cartridge box full and a
musket. I was barefooted.
I had a stone bruise on each foot.
There was no one there who would not have been run in by
the police had he appeared on the streets of a normal city."
And there's plenty of testimony in the record,
though a lot of young Maryland men came out to see this now
famous army of Robert E. Lee, took one look or one
smell, as one put it, and went back to their farms.
Lee will get almost no real recruits, out of Maryland.
What they will do in Maryland, however, is capture several
hundred slaves and return them, or take them,
They're going to do the same thing in 1863 in the Gettysburg
campaign on an even larger scale.
Kidnapping was also part of the Confederate army's job.
Now, the battle would not have occurred at Antietam except for
the famous--and it's true--lost order.
Here's what happened. Lee went into Maryland.
The Union Army is all around Washington, D.C.;
there's really no army up in Maryland to stop him,
yet. He divided his army in three
parts, three corps, about 20,000,
roughly, men each. And they were spread out around
Maryland about twenty miles apart, over a sixty-mile
stretch. Stonewall Jackson's corps was
sent to Harpers Ferry. The other two corps,
they were separated, at least by twenty miles in
between them, these three parts of his army.
One of the cardinal rules of the old manuals they were taught
in at West Point was, quote, in the old,
in Henri Jomini's Military Manual of Conduct,
it said, "never divide your forces in
the presence of the enemy." It's exactly what Lee had done.
The problem was that the Union command was about to find out
quickly. Lee wrapped orders around three
cigars, sent his courier out to the three corps commanders,
over the course of more than a day, to deliver the orders.
But the orders were lost, and they were found by a
private in an Indiana regiment whose name was B.W.
Mitchell-- the 27^(th) Indiana Volunteers to be exact--who
picked up this bundle of three cigars,
with paper wrapped around it, and he read the orders,
and at the bottom it said, "R.
E. Lee." And he apparently said
something like, "I've heard of him."
And Lee was already a kind of budding legend because of the
Seven Days and because of Second Manassas.
And he gave it to his colonel who gave it to his
brigadier-general who quickly gave it to other generals.
Lincoln had little choice but to put McClellan back in charge.
His commander at Second Manassas had been a general
named John Pope, who had been thoroughly
defeated and had had a nervous breakdown;
seriously, he had a mental breakdown during the Second
Manassas battle, and Pope was out of action,
to say the least, and he would've been put out of
action anyway. So Lincoln puts McClellan back
in command, in Washington D.C., and within hours McClellan was
delivered Lee's orders, just as though there had been a
fourth cigar for McClellan. McClellan looked at these
orders; but they were discovered,
by the way, on the 13^(th) of September of 1862.
McClellan read them by that night.
The orders were basically to have all parts of Lee's Army
concentrate, rather slowly, but concentrate toward the area
of Sharpsburg, Maryland, which is right here
along Antietam Creek. Sharpsburg is a little town,
Antietam's a little river. But they were to congregate
there within the next, oh, three to four days.
McClellan now has at his command about 90,000 troops.
If he marched them quickly he had the opportunity to defeat
Lee's Army in parts. But McClellan was McClellan.
He sat on the lost order for about two days before he decided
(1) whether to believe it, (2) what to do about it.
Lee quickly discovered that his orders never reached his
commanders and he worried, he sent out new orders to
concentrate as fast as possible near Sharpsburg.
McClellan finally moved slowly from the camps around
Washington, up toward Sharpsburg.
They encountered each other at a place called South Mountain at
the end of the day of the 15^(th) of September 1862,
and a battle of a sort was fought there.
It was only a rearguard sort of thing.
Lee retreated out of the South Mountain pass,
down into this little valley around Sharpsburg,
Maryland, which is just above the Potomac River.
Now Lee was taking a tremendous risk here, because one of those
other rules they'd been taught was never engage an enemy,
at least in full force, with a major river behind you.
But that's exactly what happened.
They fought the Battle of Antietam on September 17,1862,
as I already said, the bloodiest single day of the
Civil War. They fought in cornfields,
they fought across open fields, they fought along a sunken
road, they fought along a famous
bridge now known as the Burnside Bridge.
I have a couple of photographs to show you.
They fought along what's known as the Hagerstown Road,
along which 48 hours after the battle one of Mathew Brady's
photographers took this awful photograph.
These are Confederate dead along that road.
There are many, many photographs taken at
Antietam. This is another one of Union
dead lined up for burial, a line of dead probably 75
Antietam was in no way necessarily a decisive or
strategic victory for either side.
I want you to see this photograph because of its irony.
You've probably seen this one before.
At the end of the day at Antietam there were about 23,000
casualties on both sides, over 5,000 dead.
And you may remember back on 9/11, in the immediate aftermath
of 9/11, the estimates were over 5,000 dead at the World Trade
Center and people were comparing this to Antietam as the
bloodiest day of sacrifice in American history.
It turned out not to be the case;
nevertheless. What happened in the wake of
Antietam was that Lee's invasion of the North had been stopped.
Now McClellan missed a tremendous opportunity to press
the day. This has always been a debate
among military historians, and you can read,
oh God, hundreds of pages on this, if you care to.
It's always been a debate as to whether if McClellan had
followed this up could he have literally crushed Lee's army
with the Potomac at his back and in effect ended the war?
There surely was that possibility but the day at
Antietam had been so devastating to both forces that McClellan
did not move; in fact, he did not move for
days. It's also true though that
McClellan kept in reserve at Antietam, and it was this act,
I think, more than anything else, that got Lincoln finally
to go out there by October 3 and fire McClellan.
McClellan kept about 20,000 of his troops in reserve at
Antietam, always fearing that he was outnumbered;
he didn't use them. And in a military sense had
someone like Grant been in charge at Antietam,
it is entirely possible Lee would've been defeated and at
least the war in the East ended. But that was not the case.
Lee retreated back into Virginia to fight again.
This is a Mathew Brady photograph, taken of Lincoln
meeting with McClellan. This is McClellan right here.
There's also a famous photo of them sitting in that same tent
you may have seen; Burns uses it in the series.
It was in this meeting that Lincoln went out to meet with
McClellan to urge him to move, to push into northern Virginia,
to push after Lee's Army in early autumn,
while the weather was so good. And McClellan did not move,
and a couple of days after that he was fired;
and fired for good.
Although McClellan will not leave history of course,
he will come back to be the Democratic Party's candidate for
president in 1864 against Abraham Lincoln.
Now it is, of course, in the wake of Antietam that
Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
Let me turn to that now and explain why and how emancipation
became the new cause of the war. Now, let's discuss Lincoln for
a moment, first. The biggest problem with
Abraham Lincoln has always been not--that is in how we interpret
him and treat him, understand him,
use him, which we do constantly.
Every president, every American politician,
as David Donald once said famously in the 1950s,
"has to get right with Lincoln."
Everybody uses him. We twist him all inside out and
make him say whatever we want him to say.
And there's no other American in our history who has been
given credit for more apocryphal quotations, than Abraham
Lincoln. A little later in the course
I'll use a few of them, at the end of--when we get to
the end of the war. But the problem with Lincoln is
indeed his ambiguity, the reality of his historical
ambiguity. There is a puzzling dualism
about him. There are two,
at least two, seeming incompatible legends,
if you want, about Abraham Lincoln.
One has him as the kind of awkward, amiable,
storytelling, rail splitting,
frontier folk hero, everybody's favorite homespun,
granddaddy with a corncob pipe, who might just tell you a
little raunchy story, and have you chuckling;
he's kind of fun. The other though is the
towering political genius, the moral leader,
the shaper of a nation's destiny, savior of the Union and
the Great Emancipator. He never quite asked for any of
those. Everybody needs to claim him
though. There's a brilliant essay on
this by an historian named Scott Sandage.
It came out about ten years ago, it's called "A Marble House
Divided." It's all about the Lincoln
Memorial. A lot of you you've probably
been to the Lincoln Memorial. It is America's secular temple.
Everybody uses it. The Ku Klux Klan has held
rallies at Lincoln's temple. Martin Luther King gave the
Dream speech at Lincoln's temple.
It's been used by every extreme of American political culture.
If you want to claim the nation's attention,
go to the nation's temple and claim old Abe,
up behind you. He was never very open about
himself, never wrote an autobiography,
didn't write many autobiographical sentences as a
matter of fact; didn't live long enough to do
that. He was never an abolitionist.
He actually had a lot of personal contempt for radical
abolitionists. He didn't like a lot of their
arguments and he didn't like their tactics and strategies.
He was a genius with language; no, no, there's no question
about that. We've never had a president who
could use words, who could find the music of
words, like Lincoln. He wrote every word and every
sentence of every one of his speeches and every one of his
great public letters. Jim McPherson even went so far
as to write an article saying how Lincoln won the war with
metaphors. I don't know whether a metaphor
can win you a war. Strongest battalions might be a
little more important in the end.
Who knows? Is he the symbol,
though, of the man who held back emancipation as a white
supremacist, or is he the symbol of the man
who outgrew his prejudices, and those of his time,
to become the emancipator? Or was he just a shrewd
politician, kind of finding the middle ground and seeing how the
wind was going to blow if he tried this or if he threw up
that balloon, or if he tried that?
Now there are many ways to reflect on Lincoln.
My own favorite expression about him--and there are
thousands of these--but my own favorite comes from W.E.B.
DuBois, the great black scholar of the twentieth century,
who I think really captured all sides of Lincoln in one
quotation. This was DuBois,
in an editorial he wrote in 1922 in The Crisis
magazine. He wrote it at the time of the
unveiling of the Lincoln Memorial.
He also wrote it at a time when he was fed up with all of the
national honoring and celebration of Robert E.
Lee. So it may have--that
celebration of Lee, which disgusted DuBois,
maybe had had something to do with how he wrote this
expression about Lincoln. But this is DuBois on Lincoln,
quote: "I love him, not because he was perfect,
but because he was not perfect, and yet triumphed.
There was something left so that at the crisis he was big
enough to be inconsistent, cruel, merciful,
peace loving, a fighter, despising negroes
and letting them fight, and vote, protecting slavery
and freeing slaves. He was a man,
a big, inconsistent, brave man."
I'd argue, my friends, that the most important thing
you can grasp about Abraham Lincoln is that he had the
capacity for growth. He was big enough to be
inconsistent, or as Emerson once put it,
consistency's a hobgoblin of simple minds.
Remember all that language about flip-flopping in the 2004
election? One of the candidates was
alleged to have been a flip-flopper all the time.
Well, if Abraham Lincoln hadn't been a flip-flopper we wouldn't
have had the Emancipation Proclamation.
So here's to flip-flopping. [laughter]
Lincoln's early record on slavery is interesting.
As early as 1837 he was one of only two representatives in the
Illinois Legislature to vote against a resolution declaring
the right of slave ownership; he was twenty-eight years-old
at that time. He has one two-year term in the
House of Representatives. During that term,
which was the Mexican War, he found himself appalled at
the slave trade in the District of Columbia.
You could go visit slave auctions, as I've said before,
I think, two or three blocks down the street from the
capitol. He called that slave market,
quote, "a sort of Negro livery stable where droves of Negroes
are collected, temporarily kept and finally
taken to Southern markets, precisely like droves of
horses." He also said during that same
term, "If the Negro is a man, why then my ancient faith
teaches me that all men are created equal and that there can
be no moral right in connection with one man's making a slave of
another." At the same time Lincoln though
was a Henry Clay Whig. He was a supporter of the
Compromise of 1850. He believed in compensation to
slave owners as a way, a hope, of setting up some kind
of gradual emancipation plan. And he believed,
as Henry Clay had founded it, in this idea--at least he did
for awhile--this idea of colonization,
of sending blacks either to Africa or to the Caribbean or to
Central America. I don't have time to stop on
those fabulous Lincoln-Douglas debates where you can find every
extreme of Abraham Lincoln. I was once given an assignment
in a junior seminar as an undergraduate.
Old Fred Williams at Michigan State sent us to the Lincoln
Collected Papers and he said, "Your assignment is to come
back with one passage demonstrating that Lincoln was
anti-slavery and believed in emancipation and come back with
one passage showing that he was a white supremacist."
Now, growing up a Lincoln lover, and I thought "oh,
dear." That's like you've been raised
in a certain religion and somebody says go read the
Bhagavad-Gita or read the Koran or study Buddhism for awhile.
I did that too for awhile; I didn't learn much but--.
[Laughter] And sure enough you can find
all those extremes in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
We also know, of course, that he was a free
soiler and he's most famous in the South,
of course, for that language of "putting slavery on a course of
ultimate extinction" in the House Divided speech,
and elsewhere. But once the war came,
the imperative about what to do about slavery was a huge and
delicate and terrible political question.
And this is the Lincoln that will be forever debated and
it'll be debated next year like it's never been debated because
it's the bicentennial of his birth next year,
and as I've warned you, it will be raining Lincoln
books and you will have to dodge them next year.
[Laughter] Now, after the war broke out
immediately some slaves began to come into Union lines.
The first were at a fort in Florida, and then as early as
May 1861, some slaves began to come into Union lines,
handfuls, near Fortress Monroe in Virginia.
And there was a Union commander there, a political general,
a former Democrat, before the war,
and anything but an abolitionist,
Benjamin F. Butler, who nevertheless when
these slaves came into his lines, he realized,
no, wait a second, the Confederates are over there
using these people to build their fortifications,
maybe we could use them to build our fortifications.
So why don't we confiscate them and call them contraband of war?
They're property under the law, call them contraband.
And the name stuck, of course, and that name will
end up in poetry and in song, and even in a law or two;
contraband property. But, at the outset of the war,
in the summer of '61, fall, winter of '61/'62,
into the spring of '62, the first year of the war,
the official policy of the Lincoln administration and of
the Union forces, across the land,
the official policy, was called denial of asylum.
It meant that any slave who escaped into Union lines,
the officer in charge and command of that unit had the
responsibility to return that slave to his owner,
if the owner--this was the impossible kicker--if the owner
was loyal to the Union. If that owner was not loyal to
the Union and was in the Confederate army or something,
then yes, you could admit that slave to your lines as
contraband of war. Now, of course if this had only
been a trickle of people here and there, coming into Union
lines, possibly this could be enforced.
But it wasn't enforceable. How's that Union commander
going to go out and figure out, hey, mister enslaved person,
is your owner loyal or disloyal to the Union?
That slave is probably going to say, "He's a Confederate,
what do you think?" And, of course, most were.
Now, Congress took the lead before Lincoln ever wrote an
Emancipation Proclamation, although Lincoln was thinking
about this and working on this all through that summer of 1862.
Congress took the lead. Now this was a Congress,
remember, that is now dominated by the Republican Party.
You got eleven southern states out of the Union.
They don't have any senators, they don't even have members in
the House of Representatives. This is a northern Republican
majority, significant majority. Now, they're going to run into
trouble in the fall congressional elections of 1862,
and they're going to lose some of those seats because of what
they're doing now. Congress took the lead;
it passed an Article of War in March of 1862 which said that
fugitive slaves must be admitted to Union camps.
It didn't say what their status would be, it didn't define
anybody. It left their legal status
vague. It just said any escaped slave
must now be admitted. Now, the reason they did that
is because this denial of asylum policy had caused chaos in a lot
of Union units. A brief example.
Remember this guy Charles Brewster whose letters I read
from the other day; this guy from Massachusetts
whose letters I edited and so on?
Well Charlie Brewster, this racist from Northampton,
Massachusetts, 28-years-old by now,
nevertheless in the late fall of 1861, he took a runaway slave
who was 17-years-old and named David,
into his personal care--he made him his personal servant.
This is after Brewster got his commission as an officer.
He even wrote home to his sister, several times,
asking his sister to send stocking caps,
socks, an old pair of pants. He even named the shirts that
he wanted to put on his David; it was as though he was
dressing him. And Brewster was determined
never to send that kid back to slavery.
But down came the orders, by January, early February
1862, that all fugitive slaves within their camps must be
returned to their owners, if those owners came to the
Union lines to retrieve them. And the fugitive named David
had his owner waiting at the camp.
There was a near mutiny in the 10^(th) Massachusetts,
which was Brewster's regiment, between those soldiers who
wanted to protect these fugitive slaves and free them,
in effect, and those who did not.
And this went on in hundreds of regiments.
Brewster was threatened with court martial and being run out
of the Army if he didn't give back this fugitive slave.
His compromise was that he took this young David out into the
woods and he said, "Get out of here,
run. I'll just tell them you ran
away." And that's what he did.
By that spring, Congress decided any fugitive
slave who escapes to Union lines must be accepted.
In April of 1862, Congress, on the 16^(th) of
April--and this was a very significant law--they passed
abolition, the end of slavery in the
District of Columbia. They gave $300 per slave in
compensation to those owners of slaves in the district.
The District of Columbia in 1862 had 3,100 slaves.
They also put up, I think the figure was about
$300,000.00 in that bill, where they provided for the
possible colonization of blacks voluntarily to foreign countries
as a result of emancipation, a policy the Lincoln
administration now was supporting.
Then third, in June of '62, Congress, by majority vote,
sort of threw a great deal of American history on the dust
heap and they abolished slavery forever in the Western
Territories; arguably the single most
important cause of the Civil War.
A stroke of the pen, in June of '62,
they ended slavery, in spite of the Dred Scott
decision. Now, remember what the Dred
Scott decision had said. Here was Congress passing a law
in direct opposition to a Supreme Court decision.
It's an argument for not having too many civil wars,
you see, because Congress might end up doing anything in the
midst of a civil war, and they surely did here.
And then finally, on July 17,1862,
Congress passed what was called the Second Confiscation Act.
There'd been a First Confiscation Act passed back in
August of '61. Even in the First Confiscation
Act--and by the way, these were acts authorizing
Union forces to confiscate Confederate property.
Even in the First Confiscation Act, back in August of 1861,
slaves were mentioned as property;
their status was still very vague.
But in the Second Confiscation Act, July '62,
the law explicitly freed slaves of all persons,
quote, "in rebellion," anywhere;
any slave of anyone supporting the Confederacy.
It did everything the Emancipation Proclamation will
later do and then some. It was in some ways more
extensive because it included all parts of the South,
including those Border States that had not seceded from the
Union. Now, with Congress already
having done these things, by July of '62--and by the way,
this is all during the Peninsula Campaign,
down in Virginia. The Second Confiscation Act was
passed in the immediate wake of the Seven Days battle.
Lee is deciding to invade the North.
Lincoln, as you may know the story--if you've read Team of
Rivals by Doris Goodwin you know it-- would hang out at the
War Department. He'd go there for some solitude.
He had a private little office there.
He began to draft an Emancipation Proclamation as a
legal brief, a legal document, and he kept it in a locked door
of a desk at the War Department. Supposedly there was one or two
guards that knew about it; I'm not sure about that.
But he was beginning to draft an Emancipation Proclamation
probably as early as June, certainly by July of '62.
The pressure now mounted from every direction.
He secretly held meetings with a delegation of Delaware,
and a delegation from Kentucky, trying to convince them to
institute gradual emancipation plans over time with
compensation to slave owners that would free slaves over a
35-year period. This was Lincoln the
gradualist, this was Lincoln trying to condition public
opinion. Delaware at that point only had
1,800 slaves. There were far more slaves in
the District of Columbia than there were in all of Delaware.
But the Delaware delegation that came to the White House to
meet with Lincoln told him unequivocally no,
they weren't going to touch slavery for fear of what it
might ignite. Lincoln waited and waited.
He was attacked by Horace Greeley in the New York
Herald Tribune, as you know.
Read the famous Greeley letter in the Johnson Collection.
This is the famous passage in August of '62 where Lincoln
said, "I will save the Union by freeing all the slaves;
or I will save the Union by freeing none of the slaves.
My aim in the end is to save the Union."
But read that entire letter, not just that quote,
I'm going to leave that to you; read the entire letter,
because he's actually honest on both sides of the semicolon.
Look for his semicolon, and judge both sides.
He's a crafty cat, you got to read him closely.
Lincoln needed a battlefield victory, he needed some kind of
battlefield success, and he gets that of course with
Antietam. In the wake of Antietam,
five days afterwards, 22^(nd) September '62,
Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
That preliminary Emancipation Proclamation said that slaves in
the United States, in the states in rebellion,
would be freed on January 1^(st).
There was a carrot and a stick. The stick was emancipation and
conquest, if the Union forces could ever do it;
and the carrot was in effect he invited the Confederate states
to throw down their arms, give up the war,
come back to the Union, by January 1^(st).
They're not going to do it, of course, but he was hoping;
or was he hoping? I'm going to leave you with
this. Back in Virginia there was a
young slave, twenty-two years-old.
His name was John Washington. He'd grown up Fredericksburg,
Virginia. Had a white father whom he
never knew, a slave mother named Sarah.
She taught him to read and write.
He grows up an urban slave with lots of skills,
highly valued, probably a brilliant young man.
He got hired out five times in the late 1850s and the first
year of the war. He married his sweetheart in
January 1862 in the African Baptist Church in
Fredericksburg. And he chose his moment of
escape at the first appearance of Union forces along the
Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg on the 18^(th) of
April, 1862. He left a narrative that he
wrote after the war that I had the great good fortune to have
lopped in my lap and have recently published a book about
it. And in that narrative he tells
this remarkable story of the day of his escape.
He even drew a map of Fredericksburg of the day of his
escape, including a glossary of sixteen sites and buildings and
crossroads on that map, as though he wanted the world
to see as well as hear his story.
And John tells this story--he's twenty-two years-old--he tells
the story of all the white people evacuating Fredericksburg
and his mistress, Mrs.
Tolliver, is literally packing her china and her silver,
and she says one day, "Now John, you'll be with us
tomorrow, you'll be with us tomorrow."
She's assuming his loyalty. And he says,
"Yes Misses, yes Misses, I'll be with you
tomorrow." And then his next scene is he's
got a hotel where he's been hired out as a steward,
almost like an assistant manager, and he describes all
the white people fleeing the hotel and fleeing the streets of
Fredericksburg, and he says he took the twelve
workers up on the roof of the hotel--and the hotel was called
The Shakespeare, I kid you not.
He takes all the black workers up on the roof of the hotel
where they could see across the river and see what he called
"the gleam of the Yankees' bayonets."
And then he brought them all back down into the kitchen and
he poured a round of drinks, and he held a toast,
and the toast was "To the Yankees."
And then he instructed his fellow workers,
he said, to get out of there. "But," he said,
"don't get too far from the Yankees."
And then John Washington walked two blocks down to the river,
he witnessed the formal surrender of Fredericksburg,
he saw the bridges being burned by the Confederate forces,
and he walked one mile up river,
and he said he crossed the river at Fickland's Mill;
and the old stone ruins of that mill are still there.
So I know exactly where he crossed the river.
He got into a rowboat, he crossed, and that night he
slept in the camp of the 30^(th) New York Volunteers.
A captain in that regiment named Ladd, l-a-d-d,
formally freed him, he said,
based on the law that had just been passed by Congress
forty-eight hours earlier in Washington,
freeing the slaves in the District of Columbia.
John Washington spent the rest of that summer as a camp hand
and a guide for the Union Army, all the way through Second
Manassas. He dated his arrival in
Washington, D.C. as part of the first great wave
of freedmen into the capital, as September 1.
And by the following year I found him in a City Directory
record, living at his first address on 19^(th) Street in
Washington. He had his wife,
his newborn child, his mother and his 68-year-old
grandmother living there with him.
Apart from, beneath, next to, underneath this great
military and political story, thousands and thousands of John
Washingtons are freeing themselves.