10 Miles of Negroes
How African Americans Revolutionized the Civil War into a War to End Slavery
Slavery ended when the Civil War began. This was neither the intention or desire of either the Union or the Confederacy. It was an unexpected and unwanted result of the war and a reaction to the pressure for freedom from four million people of African descent, slave and free. Most believe that the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. This is not only an oversimplification, it is untrue. Lincoln’s presidential proclamation only freed slaves who were still behind enemy lines. Slavery was abolished by the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution, on December 6, 1865, eight months after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the end of The Confederacy.
Slavery ended when the first runaway entered Union lines. At the first sound of canons, slaves took advantage of the conflict. War created chaos. Chaos encouraged runaway slaves. Runaways became refugees. Refugees created more chaos. Chaos encouraged more runaway slaves. The war was expected to last a few months but as it dragged on and as The Confederacy won most of the early battles, the Union Army accepted runaway slaves rather than return them to their owners to build fortifications, raise food and cotton and work supporting the war effort. The runaways were accepted into the camps but were not free. They were contraband; human “property”; captured assets in war. Men and boys were welcome, but the army was not prepared for the thousands of homeless, hungry refugees. Every successful runaway led to dozens more as large and small groups escaped in mass often led by a slave foreman. From the first three men who paddled a boat to Fortress Monroe, Virginia to the thousands who ran towards or behind the Union armies, the institution of slavery was shattered once slaves decided to risk escape and fled.
“If we hadn't become sojers,
all might have gone back as it was before; our freedom might have
slipped through de two houses of Congress and President Linkum's
four years might have passed by and notin' been done for us.
But now tings can neber go back, because we have showed our energy and our courage and our naturally manhood. “
Corporal Thomas Long First South Carolina Volunteers
War disrupted the slave control system and without photographs, fingerprints, documents or databases, it was impossible to return runaways to their owners. The genie was out of the bottle. At first the government had no interest in or respect for anyone of African descent but and as the war became longer and bloodier than anyone had imagined; Union generals, officers, soldiers and the U.S. Congress welcomed black men and boys. Those men and boys returned home to bring their mothers, wives and children to the safety of the Union Army's camps. It became clear that the Union could not win the war without the slave laborers, soldiers, sailors, spies, cooks, scouts, laundresses, hostlers, teamsters, seamstresses, nurses, grave diggers, and road builders all running to freedom. All willing to fight for their freedom . Over 200,000 men joined the Army and Navy and countless women and children fled and filled the roads and refugee camps; more than a half million were on the move. Emancipation was an unexpected and unwanted result of the chaos of war and the ways that African Americans used that chaos to create a revolution that ended slavery.
This book is important because it tells an old story from a new perspective in the words of the people who had the most at stake and the most to risk.
History is studied backwards but lived forwards. We know the outcome and analyze and interpret history armed with this "artificial" knowledge and a 21st century perspective. We judge the past with the advantage of perfect hindsight. But life is lived forwards. Participants do not know how it will unfold or how it will end. Decisions are made with limited, often inaccurate information. This book presents the American Civil War as it was lived. The reader learns the news in the same manner and time as the participants. It covers hundreds of miles and includes dozens of voices. There is no hindsight; no theory; no philosophy. There is only the immediate situation facing a person and, in their own words, what it felt like.
Combining the actual words and photographs of slaves, this book shows how the actions of African Americans, free and slave, changed a conflict to reunite the Union into a revolution that destroyed slavery. They destroyed the nearly 250 year system of chattel slavery of people with “one drop” of African blood. (10 generations). The book uses the words of slaves and free blacks to shatter all we believe we know about this era. Like a “Russian novel,” we hear voices from all over the country and follow the evolution of events. These “nameless faces” and “faceless voices” are combined to create a new narrative and perspective on a well worn subject. Scholars have strict rules and a rigid format as to how they can use historical documents. This book uses traditional scholarly research to present a different perspective on the most important five years in the history of the United States. (1860-1865).
Their stories are straight forward, honest and unapologetic.
Freedom is not only a physical, but an emotional and mental state. Human emotions are infinite, complicated and unpredictable. Slavery was experienced by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. These first hand accounts are combined with newly discovered photos, letters, and maps, to create a panoramic view of Emancipation. There are as many stories as there were individuals freed.
The American Civil War/War Between the States is the most popular era in U.S. history. There are many strongly held beliefs by scholars, and the general public. One of the most exciting and frustrating aspects of the Civil War is the infinite variety of personalities, politics, philosophies, geography and economies, demographics, resources and expectations. This combined with the unpredictability of human nature and action gives every historian, regardless their training or lack of training, plenty of evidence to support their viewpoint.
What is written about the Civil War reveals more about the contemporary period than about the past. The first historians were descendants of slaveholders. The second wave of scholars included descendants of slaves and “liberals”. Today, not only do we have hindsight and fore knowledge, we have an early 21st century mindset. We receive instant news, in great quantity, from all over the world. These are 19th century, agrarian people held in a form of slavery that has never existed in human history, and we do not and can not think like them. We can not and should not judge them. We can...listen carefully to what they have to say.
“The historian tells you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it feels like.”
The book is arranged chronologically into chapters for each year of the war. Within each chapter are four seasons and within each season are stories from all over the country. This chronology of emancipation includes the well known events and the lesser known events that cumulatively led to the destruction of slavery. Each situation is different depending on the opinions and actions of Union generals and soldiers; the geography; the battles won and lost; the type of slavery and number of slaves. A runaway could never be sure of success or death. Even simultaneous events may or may not have affected each other because of slow and undependable communications. The war was fought over a wide geography from Pennsylvania to Texas. It was June before the armies in Texas learned that Robert E. Lee had surrendered in Virginia in April, 1865. Slavery did not end because of a Proclamation or any single event. It was a five year process that evolved and changed every month and in every part of the country.
There are many photographs. A photo is embedded in most stories to show the reader what the narrator might have looked like. Modern readers are surprised at how familiar the faces are. This is a visual narrative rooted in African American oral tradition. The faceless voices and nameless faces create a sprawling “Russian novel” of the American Civil War and the African Americans, free and slave.