Some modern hisorians have argued that the slaves essentially emancipated themselves by running away to Federal lines and by enlisting in the Federal armies. While this is a tempting proposition, it does not hold up to historical scrutiny. We do not question that slaves did play a part in their own emancipation, but without the leadership of Lincoln and other anti-slavery forces, slavery may have well survived the Civil War. Black soldiers played an important part in the Federal victory. Black regiments were especially important in the fighting during 1864 and 65. They were so important that even the Condederacy began seriously considering the raising of black regiments. It is not true, however, that the run away slaves that joined the Federal colors could not have been reenslaved.
Much has been written about the Underground Railway. This did provide freedom for several thousand slaves. Most of those who reached saftey im the North or Canada, however, fled from the border states. The possibility of slaves in the Deep South of reaching the North were very limited. And it was in the Deep South where most slaves were held in bondage. The opportunity to successfully run away changed barkedly with the onset of the Civil War. When Federal troops entered the South, slaves began running away in large numbers to reach the Federal lines. Federal Commanders callec the runaways "Contraband". A few commanders returned them. Most did not and began using them for labor. They dids not at first, however, allow them to enlist for military service.
Modern writers suggest that slaves ended slavery by voting with their feet. This is in part true. Slaves ran away in their thousands to reach Federal forces. The important point here, however, is that they did not run away in the hundreds of thousands. There were no slave insurections. Most slaves stayed put. This somewhat surprissed Lincoln. We are not entirely sure why this was. Surely one factor was that most slaves were not literate, let alone educated. Most did not have access to reliable reports on developments out side the plantation where they toiled. Another factor was there was no sure way of knowing that northern whites would be any more amemable to their nterests than southern whites. It is a verifiable fact that most blacks stayed put and awaited the outcome of the War.
Black soldiers played an important part in the Federal victory. Black regiments were especially important in the fighting during 1864 and 65. They were so important that even the Condederacy began seriously considering the raising of black regiments. It is not true, however, that the run away slaves that joined the Federal colors could not have been reenslaved. Without Lincoln's leadeship this could well have occurred after the War. The ability of white southerners to seize control of state governmnts during Reconstruction shows what could have happened. Without the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendent which Lincoln sponsored, there seems little doubt that state government could and would have moved to restablish slavery. Southern blacks even war veterans would have been no more successful in resisting this than they were in resisdting the impsition of Jim Crow laws.
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