The soldiers who fought during the American Civil War sacrificed their lives for the same principles our military personnel do so today. We all know the history of this major conflict in our nation's past—or do we? These facts cover some of the most famous (and most unknown) aspects of the Civil War.
The Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t issued until nearly three years into the Civil War. On January 1, 1863, the Proclamation affirmed "that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free." This did not ban slavery, but it was a start. It was specifically for those slaves who escaped from the Confederate States into the Union territory. Up until then, escaped slaves needed to be returned.
According to History, President Abraham Lincoln focused on preserving the Union rather than setting the slaves free. As Lincoln later learned, many whites would not approve of the abolition of slavery until black men joined the Union. Their joining the Army significantly helped lead to Lincoln’s decision to abolish slavery in 1862. He and his supporters were convinced that freeing the slaves would be a turning point for generations to come.
Abraham Lincoln is known to history as setting slaves free by signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, like all men, he is the subject of changing perspectives. At one time, he and some influencers wanted to deport all blacks from the country. This was met with severe rebuke from various factions, including ministers, Congress, and the legislature. It was summarily rejected.
Also, what is little spoken of are some of Lincoln’s comments. According to Snopes, here is a quotation from Lincoln:
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”
As political times change, so to do words, actions, and thoughts.
Non-whites not welcome
Back in the 1860s, the developing nation had a government of white, wealthy men. As always, there are multiple factions and voices. Some whites were racist and some fought for equality for all. At this time, however, non-whites were not welcome to be American citizens. They could not vote or hold political office in the North or the South. If the South had chosen to remain in the Union, the Civil War might have been averted.
Continued national growth and development change the composition of every nation’s people. According to The Baltimore Sun, there will be more minorities in the coming years. Non-whites are known to be the leading force in demography regarding both national and state populations. With increased birth rates, immigration, and relocation, time never stands still.
Fight for freedom
People do not willingly wish to leave their families and farms to fight. Principles, passion, and profit are fuel to risk death. The fight for freedom is always a multinational struggle. The Union Army was comprised of 33% immigrants, with 10% from Germanic heritage, 8% Irish soldiers, and the rest made up of English, Italian, Polish, Scottish, and French nationals.
The blacks fought for freedom and for citizenship rights. There were even slave states that sent men out to fight and die in the Union ranks during the war. For the first three years, the question of slavery was the initial focus of a bigger issue, that of whether the South would become an independent country.
Death and loss
Smithsonian Magazine describes the women’s bereavement tradition of the 1860s as follows:
Death of a husband: 2.5 years
Death of a brother: 6 months
Death of a child: 1 year
During this period, women obeyed behavior and dress requirements. No family was untouched by loss. Mary Todd Lincoln and the President lost their son. Mary chose to stay in deep mourning, dressing in black crepe, veils, and jewelry for more than one year. The pain and loss on the Confederate side were no different. After the death of her husband, Confederate General J.E.B., Flora Stuart continued deep mourning for 59 years until her death in 1923. To place this tradition into a gender perspective, widowers wore a black armband or hat for three months.
Sometimes we lose sight of the sacrifices made by our elders and ancestors. The people who came before us connected with their principles for their society. Time does not stand still, and respecting and learning from their evolution can bring about new revelations.
Cover image credit: Willard / iStock