Civil War and Emancipation
Slavery has been cited as one of the reasons for the American Civil War. However, the Southerners were in reality fighting to keep the institution intact for several economic and political reasons. The Civil War entailed the North and South fighting each other mainly over the institution of slavery. The southern states firmly held on to slavery as it was the primary source of their income. The slaves were the most valuable part of their economy. Slave-owners could not imagine how they would survive without slaves working on their plantations. Slavery was a source of free labor, and the plantation owners incurred little expenses in their workers. The Northern states believed in the freedom of all men. President Abraham Lincoln and other Republicans were strongly opposed to spreading slavery to the western states which the southerners were vehemently opposed to. African-American slaves took advantage of the Civil War to fight for their freedom, greatly encouraged by Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration.
Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was a ray of hope for the slaves. The northerners did not believe in slavery, and this irked the southern states. Lincoln was voted in without a vote from the southern states showing that they were wholly opposed to his fight against slavery. Several accounts from slaves show how they made the ensuing war all about their freedom. In ‘Thirty Years a Slave’ by Louis Hughes, the author details how the war tore down his employer together with his family, finally allowing the slaves to escape. Before his owner, McGee, Died, Hughes had attempted to flee twice but had been captured and taken back. When the Union soldiers seized the town of Memphis, Hughes and other slaves ran to the city where they would be free (Hughes, IV). In the end, Hughes explains that while his master had been more humane than other slave owners, there could be no excuse for buying and selling human beings.
Hannah Johnson, an African-American woman, wrote a letter to President Lincoln telling the president of her son who fought in the war. She told the president that the unjust slave owners should be treated the same way they had treated their slaves so that they would learn a lesson. The slave-owners were furious that the black men used the war to fight for their freedom from the white masters. Her son was a brave man who joined the battle to fight for his country in the hope that the south would be defeated and the slaves would be free. She praised Lincoln for his role in freeing the slaves by saying, “When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises I know it.” (Johnson)
The third example of the slaves’ fight for freedom in the civil war is in the letter by a soldier, George W. Hatton. The African-American soldier explains how, during the war, they captured a notorious slave-owner named Mr. Clayton. Most of the soldiers in his regiment were from the plantations in the Wilson’s Landing region (Hatton). These soldiers invited the slaves whom the white man had whipped to do the same to him. William Harris was a soldier who had belonged to Clayton and some other women. Their position in the regiment had freed them from slavery under cruel masters like Clayton.
The Civil War paved the way for many slaves to be free. Many plantation owners in the south were furious at the Emancipation Declaration and vowed to stand their ground but were defeated by the Union soldiers. The slaves joined the regiments so that they would fight the southerners and gain their freedom.
Hughes, Louis. Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom. NewSouth Books, 2002.
Johnson, Hannah. “Letter From Hannah Johnson” Primary Sources. 31 July 1863. Retrieved from https://www.learner.org/workshops/primarysources/emancipation/docs/hjohnson.htmlHatton, W. George. “Retaliation in Camp” PBS online.28 May 1864. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3082.html