10 Miles of Negroes

How African Americans Revolutionized the Civil War into a War to End Slavery


When the shot rang out over Charleston


before dawn on April 12, 1861. 


The  Negro was ready. 




This is a record of that readiness.


War disrupted the slave control system and without photographs, fingerprints, documents or databases, it was impossible to return runaways to their owners. 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 and boys joined the Union 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. Millions more waited for the courage and the opportunity.


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.

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. You will learn news in the same manner and time as the people themselves. This is the American Civil War as it was lived. The stories are from Maryland to Texas.  Thousands of miles and hundreds 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.


Through eyewitness accounts and photographs, we see how African Americans, free and slave, created a revolution that changed a war to reunite the Union into a revolution that destroyed the institution of 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 great “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 of a well worn subject.   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 recreate 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 of 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 and we do not and can not think like them.   We can not and should not judge them.  We must listen carefully to what they have to say.

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 know events and the lesser know events that cumulatively led to emancipation. The situation was different in each region 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.

“The historian tells you what happened.  The novelist will tell you what it feels like.” 

E.L. Doctorow.


This book does both.

Every story is unique.  Every story is universal.

This book 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.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1  “Oh, how those people prayed for freedom.” (1860)

Chapter 2  “Den de war came.” (1861)

Chapter 3  "I reckon I'm Massa Lincoln’s slave now.  (1862)

Chapter 4  “Wherever our army has been there remain no slaves, and the Proclamation will not free them where we don't go."  (1863)

Chapter 5  “10 Miles of Negroes” (1864)

Chapter 6 “The Almighty has His Own Purposes " (1865)

Cassandra Fay Smith