African American News and Genealogy

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Historian: Slaves became soldiers

As Juneteenth approaches, Civil War historian Dick Skidmore of Hanover put a different perspective on Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.Skidmore, speaking last night to a dozen people at a Juneteenth program in Madison, built on a theme that Columbia University history professor Barbara Fields advanced in Ken Burns’ PBS series about the Civil War: Many slaves in essence freed themselves “with their feet” by marching as Union soldiers. Eighty percent of the black Civil War soldiers had been born into slavery, Skidmore said. “And this probably is the least understood of anything we are going to talk about tonight,” Skidmore said at the program, which was sponsored by Historic Madison Inc. “For one thing, most of us have been taught at an early age that it was Abraham Lincoln who freed all the slaves with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.”That notion “bears closer examination,” Skidmore said. Lincoln issued the proclamation Sept. 22, 1862, to go into effect Jan. 1, 1863.“Generally overlooked is the fact that Congress passed, in July 1862 — six months before the Emancipation Proclamation — the Second Confiscation Act, which freed slaves as they came into the Union Army lines. It also authorized the formation of black regiments in the states. Therefore, blacks, by using their feet, were freed, one by one.”The impact of black soldiers on the Union war effort has not received the same attention as that of white soldiers, he said.

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