Congress finally votes to abolish slavery, 150 years ago today

Posted January 31st, 2015 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , ,

Passage of the Thirteenth AmendmentToday, January 31, 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the narrow but momentous decision, by a bitterly divided U.S. Congress at the end of the Civil War, to abolish slavery throughout the United States.

Why the Union began to take emancipation seriously

In January 1865, the Civil War was in its final days. Yet many in the Union were still opposed to emancipation.

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What, to the slave, was the Battle of Gettysburg?

Posted July 1st, 2013 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , , , ,

'Harvest of Death,' Battle of Gettysburg, by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, between July 4 and 7, 1863What, to the slave and to free blacks, was the Battle of Gettysburg?1

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, which ran from July 1 to 3, 1863.

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most well-known events of the Civil War, and its sesquicentennial has been widely anticipated for years. Elsewhere, there are expert military historians to offer the most modern understanding of the battle’s tactical and strategic significance, as well as renowned civil war scholars to interpret the battle’s political and social significance in 1863, and to analyze the public’s memory of the battle in the last century and a half.

At the Tracing Center, we focus on the role of slavery and race in the causes, conduct, and consequences of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was certainly of strategic importance in determining the outcome of the war, namely, that the Confederacy would be re-incorporated back into the Union, and that emancipation would eventually become a reality throughout the nation.2

Beyond the battle’s military significance, though, what does the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg tell us about the role of slavery and race in the war, and about the battle’s importance at the time for free and enslaved blacks?

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  1. The title and first line of this essay are a paraphrasing of Frederick Douglass’ famous line, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”, in his 1852 July 4th address, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,”  in Rochester, N.Y. []
  2. Even so, the Battle of Antietam was arguably more significant for the course of the war, and for its role in determining that emancipation would result at the end of the war. []

Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid

Posted June 2nd, 2013 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , ,

"Raid of Second South Carolina Volunteers among the Rice Plantations of the Combahee, from a Sketch by Surgeon Robinson," Harper's Weekly, July 4, 1863One hundred and fifty years ago today, Union forces led by Harriet Tubman and Colonel James Montgomery engaged in a daring and wildly successful raid up the Combahee River in South Carolina.

The Combahee River Raid crippled local Confederate infrastructure, liberated 756 enslaved blacks, and earned Tubman well-deserved accolades as the first woman in U.S. history to plan and lead a military raid.

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