Family & Freedom: Black Families in the American Civil War

The newly-found voices of the slaves caught up in the American Civil War, and heard through letters to their families, are a testimony to their tenacity and unity in the struggle for emancipation.

A photograph of Hubbard Pryor during the Civil WarNo event in, American history matches the drama of emancipation. More than a century later, it continues to stir the deepest emotions, and properly so. Emancipation accompanied the military defeat of the world's most powerful slaveholding class. It freed some four million slaves, a larger number than were emancipated in all other New World slave societies combined.

Born of a bloody civil war that raged for four long years (1861-65), emancipation accomplished a profound social revolution. It destroyed forever a way of life based upon the ownership of human beings, restoring to the former slaves proprietorship of their own persons, liquidating without compensation private property valued at billions of dollars, and forcibly substituting the relations of free labour for those of slavery. In designating the former slaves as citizens, emancipation placed citizenship upon new ground, defined it in the national Constitution and thenceforth removed it beyond the jurisdiction of the states. By obliterating the sovereignty of master over slave, emancipation handed a monopoly of sovereignty to the newly consolidated nation-state. The freeing of the slaves simultaneously overturned the old regime of the South and set the entire American nation upon a new course.

Want the full article and website archive access?

Subscribe now

Already a member? Log in now


The History Today Newsletter

Sign up for our free weekly email