Slavery In The U.S.: A Brief History

a brief history of slavery in the U.S. The steps slaves took to freedom and the hardships they faced

Perhaps the greatest event that came from the Civil War was the emancipation of the slaves. But who was in charge of this great event? We all know that Lincoln signed his name on the document, so should he be given credit? Or does it belong in the hands of another, or many others? Does it belong to the slaves themselves?

From the beginning of the war, only one group of people knew what this war would ultimately mean, and they were the slaves. If the north won, they would be freed, if the south won, they had no chance. This realization could have been the cause of their freedom. So what did they do to help free themselves? Many ran away from their owners and joined up with union troops. They were not always welcome to the troops, some were turned away, even violently, and returned to their owners to face an even worse fate. But they were persistent.

Each time they arrived at one of the union camps, they brought with them food, supplies, a map of the land, offer of labor, or offer of guidance through the southern land that was so foreign to the northern men. They also offered their lives, willing to fight, and die for the cause. While the latter was initially declined, the use of their labor was often welcomed. With the slaves completing tasks such as cleaning the camps, cooking, digging, and scouting, the white men had time to rest. The privates knew them to be invaluable. They passed this knowledge up through the ranks and even home in their letters. It was soon a widely recognized fact that with the slaves working in the camps, the union troops could last much longer.

It didn't take long for soldiers to realize that every slave that was working for the union was a double gain. Each was one extra person that the north had, and one less that the south had. It was well known that the south was in desperate need of men. It was common to see a line of slaves following union troops through the south. William Tecumseh Sherman gained 25,000 runaway slaves in his march to the sea alone. Many times generals didn't know what to do with the slaves. Odd jobs became their major task. Doing laundry, and tending to the sick allowed for more rest of the white men. Soon, however, as the soldiers in the north grew tired, sick, and run down, it was clear that the slaves would need to do more than just the occasional random task.

The slaves were now armed. This was a widely supported movement throughout the north, by both slave holders and abolitionists. One slave holder even said "When this war is over and we have summed up the entire loss of life it has imposed on the country I shall not have regrets if it is found that a part of the dead are niggers and not all white men." Indeed it was clear that the extra boost of man power, and energy was exactly what the north needed to turn the tide of the war.

Clearly the slaves did not free themselves, for it was not their signature on the Emancipation Proclamation. If it had not been for their efforts, however, and their keen sense of knowledge of what the war was ultimately about, then his signature may never have graced that wonderful paper. While they were not the final decision-makers, they were the creators of the idea that gave them their freedom, and they worked the hardest to ensure that their slavery would be lost forever. And without their efforts, it is clear that the wind would not have blown the way it did.

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