Emerging Civil War welcomed 2019 with an new cover photo on our Facebook page. Here are some details about the historic image.
The Emancipation Proclamation became effective on January 1, 1863. By declaring slaves held in states currently rebelling against the United States “henceforward and forever free,” the Proclamation formally established abolition of slavery as one of the Union’s primary aims in fighting the Civil War. No longer was the war just about preserving the Union. The Proclamation also gave the North the authority to recruit black men to fight as Union soldiers and sailors, and by war’s end nearly 200,000 had done so. After all, who had a more personal stake in the fight than African Americans?
President Abraham Lincoln first informed his cabinet of his intention to issue a proclamation of emancipation during the summer of 1862. Secretary of State William Henry Seward, a lifelong abolitionist, did not want Lincoln’s act to appear to be one of desperation, so he encouraged Lincoln to wait until the North won a significant military victory before making his intentions public. Lincoln heeded Seward’s advice, not announcing the Emancipation Proclamation until September 22, 1862—five days after the Army of the Potomac checked Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North at Antietam. That preliminary version of the Proclamation gave the Confederates until January 1, 1863 to abandon their rebellion or face the prospect of all slaves being freed if the Union won the war.
African Americans throughout the North rejoiced when the Emancipation Proclamation became effective on New Year’s Day 1863. With destruction of the “peculiar institution” now part of the North’s reason for fighting, black men and women found renewed purpose for supporting the Union and came to revere Abraham Lincoln as the “great emancipator.” Lincoln knew that the Emancipation Proclamation was historic and important, and he was confident he was doing the right thing, both for the Union cause and for America’s future. “I have never felt more certain that I was doing right,” he said as he signed the Proclamation, “than I do in signing this paper.”