The Destruction of Slavery
This volume of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation examines the process by which slavery collapsed under the pressure of federal arms and
the slaves' determination to place their own liberty on the wartime agenda. In documenting the
transformation of a war for the Union into a war against slavery, it shifts the focus from the halls of
power in Washington and Richmond to the plantations, farms, and battlefields of the South. It shows how slaves, taking advantage of the opportunities opened by the war, fled their owners, worked and in many cases fought for the Union army, and resisted bondage from within the Confederacy. In so doing, they initiated a process that eventuated in the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, securing their own liberation and setting the entire nation on a new course. Organized geographically, the volume traces the demise of slavery in regions of the Confederacy that came under Union control (tidewater Virginia and North Carolina; lowcountry South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; southern Louisiana; and the Mississippi Valley), in those parts of the Confederacy that escaped federal occupation, and in the border states of Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky.
896 pp. Table of contents (pdf)
The Destruction of Slavery received the Founders Award of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society and the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the
Copies of The Destruction of Slavery may be ordered from Cambridge University Press online, by telephone (800-872-7423), or by fax (914-937-4712).
Sample Documents from the Volume
- Missouri Unionist to the Commander of the Department of the West, May 14, 1861, and the Commander's Reply, May 14, 1861
Writing to the Union commander at St. Louis, a white Missourian
sought and received assurances that the federal government would
- Commander of the Department of Virginia to the General-in-Chief of the Army, May 27, 1861
General Benjamin F. Butler, the federal commander at Fortress
Monroe, Virginia, explained his rationale for accepting and
providing for fugitive slaves who had come into his lines, even though
the Union had pledged not to interfere with slavery.
- Commander at Camp Nevin, Kentucky, to the Commander of the Department of the Cumberland, November 5, 1861; and the Latter's Reply, November 8, 1861
A general in the Union state of Kentucky found fugitive slaves
useful as military laborers, but hesitated to employ them for fear of
alienating their owners. His superior, General William T.
Sherman, directed him to avoid the dilemma by excluding runaways
from his lines altogether.
- Governor of Maryland to the Secretary of War, November 18, 1861
When a Maryland slaveowner trying to recover his fugitive slave was driven away from a camp of Massachusetts soldiers, he
appealed to Thomas H. Hicks, the governor of Maryland, who urged the Secretary of War to enforce the law,
protect slave property, and thereby ensure the state's loyalty.
- Governor of Massachusetts to the Secretary of War, December 7, 1861
Governor John A. Andrew protested when he
learned that soldiers from his state had been ordered to return
several slaves who had come into their encampment in Maryland.
- Maryland Fugitive Slave to His Wife, January 12, 1862
For John Boston, the triumph of his own escape to freedom within Union lines was tainted by the resulting separation from his wife.
First page of manuscript (image, 437K)
- Maryland Legislators to the Secretary of War, March 10, 1862, Enclosing Affidavit of a Maryland Slaveholder, March 1, 1862
Learning of incidents in which Union soldiers had thwarted
attempts by slaveholders to recover escaped slaves, a delegation
of Maryland legislators protested to Secretary of War Edwin M.
- Resolution by the Washington, D.C., City Council, April [1?], 1862
As the U.S. Congress considered a proposal to emancipate slaves
in the District of Columbia, Washington's City Council objected
that the measure would lead to an influx of an unwelcome population.
- Headquarters of the Defenses North of the Potomac to the
Commander of a New York Regiment, April 6, 1862
Citing a new article of war recently passed by Congress, General Abner Doubleday instructed a regimental commander to allow fugitive slaves into Union lines and to treat them “as persons and not as chattels.”
- Commander of the 3rd Division of the Army of the Ohio to the Secretary of War, May 4, 1862, and the Latter's Reply, May 5, 1862
When a Union general operating in northern Alabama informed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he had promised protection to slaves who had provided vital military information, Stanton approved, arguing that refusal to employ the services of slaves would handicap the Union war effort.
- Proclamation by the President, May 19, 1862
After General David Hunter issued an order declaring free all the slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, President Lincoln quickly overruled him and used the occasion to press his own plan for gradual emancipation, with compensation to owners.
- Commander of the 5th Division of the Army of the Tennessee to a Tennessee Slaveholder, August 24, 1862
Writing to a former West Point classmate, General William T. Sherman explained why he would not return fugitive slaves to their owners.
- Headquarters of a Confederate Cavalry Battalion to the Headquarters of the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, January 8, 1863
After capturing a former slave who had reached Union lines and then attempted to return home and liberate others, a Confederate officer asked his superiors how to deal with such “missionaries” of freedom.
- Military Governor of North Carolina to the Commander of the Department of North Carolina, January 20, 1863
Outraged by an incident in which ex-slave military laborers, joined by federal soldiers, had forcibly liberated the family of one of the laborers, slaveholders complained to Edward Stanly, whom President Lincoln had appointed military governor of North Carolina; Stanly conveyed their protest to the state's military commander.
- Testimony by the Superintendent of
Contrabands at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, before the American
Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, May 9, 1863
Captain Charles B. Wilder explained how fugitive slaves,
once having escaped to Union lines, worked to liberate fellow slaves and
spread the word of freedom deep in Confederate territory.
- North Carolina Slaveholder to the Confederate President, November 25, 1863
In an area not far from Union lines, a patrol guard and a pack of hounds helped prevent slaves from running away – at least until members of the patrol were drafted into the Confederate army. One slaveholder asked President Jefferson Davis to return the patrol to its former duties.
- Testimony by a Corporal in a Louisiana Black Regiment before the American
Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, February? 1864
After escaping slavery in 1861, Octave Johnson of Louisiana lived in the woods for more than a year before entering Union lines near New Orleans, after which he first worked as a military labor and later enlisted as a soldier.
- Maryland Slave to the President, August 25, 1864
Maryland's exclusion from the Emancipation Proclamation left Annie Davis still a slave. Insistent on her right to freedom, she demanded that President Abraham Lincoln himself clarify her status.
Image of manuscript (328K)
- Commander of a Black Brigade to the Commander of the District of
Eastern Virginia, September 1, 1864
When a group of ex-slave men working as Union military laborers returned home to liberate families and friends, they were accompanied by a detachment of black soldiers, whose brigade commander reported the outcome of the expedition.
- Kentucky Black Soldier to the President, December 4, 1864
A black soldier unsuccessfully sought a discharge so that he could provide for his wife and children, whose owner would not maintain them.
- Escaped Union Prisoners of War to the Provost Marshal General of
the Department of the South, December 7, 1864
Two captured Union officers who slipped their guards in Charleston, South Carolina, recounted the saga of their safe return to federal lines – abetted by black people, slave and free, and by German-immigrant unionists in the city.
- Delegation of Black Kentuckians to the President, late June, 1865
Fearing that President Andrew Johnson might lift martial law in Kentucky – a Union state in which slavery remained legal, although crippled by the events of the war – black Kentuckians traveled to Washington to acquaint Johnson with the state of affairs and present him with their petition.
- Affidavit of a Tennessee Freedman, September 13, 1865
After the war, a freedman who had attempted unsuccessfully to flee from his owner in 1864 described the horrific punishment inflicted on him after his capture.
- Testimony by a South Carolina Freedman before the Southern Claims Commission, March 17, 1873
Alonzo Jackson, during the war a slave at Georgetown, on the South Carolina coast, described for a postwar commission the assistance he had rendered Northern soldiers who escaped from the prisoner-of-war stockade at Florence, in the interior of the state.
- Testimony by a Georgia Freedwoman before the Southern Claims Commission, March 22, 1873
The Union troops who in late 1864 liberated Nancy Johnson and her husband from slavery also stripped them of property they had painstakingly accumulated, undermining their ability to support themselves in freedom. Attempting to gain compensation years later, she testified before a federal commission.
Testimony by a Georgia Freedman before the Southern Claims Commission, July 17, 1873
News of federal emancipation policies traveled fast among slaves in the Confederacy, sometimes borne by slaves who had returned home after accompanying their owners to the front lines. One such slave was Samuel Elliott, who years after the war recalled the reaction of fellow slaves on his plantation.