When the Union Army Arrived on a Plantation

With Lincoln’s finalization of the Emancipation Proclamation, Union forces in effect became an army of liberation. Where federal soldiers went in the Confederate South after New Year’s Day of 1863, freedom for the slaves generally followed. Civil War Emancipation previously has covered a moment when slaves gained their freedom, with images of Virginia slaves crossing the Rappahannock River to reach Union lines. These slaves acted proactively to achieve their liberation, but other slaves either lacked the opportunity or gumption to flee to Union lines. Their moment of freedom came when the Union Army came to them, arriving in force at their plantation.

The great political cartoonist and illustrator of the Civil War era, Thomas Nast, effectively captured such a moment of liberation in the April 4, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly (see below).

Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/april/camp-wedding.


Source: Harper’s Weekly, 4 April 1863.

The periodical does not give the place or time the illustration was based on, but intimated, as follows, it was based on a real event.

ON page 220 we publish a picture, by Mr. Thomas Nast, representing the arrival of one of our regiments on a Southern plantation, and their reception by the ladies and negroes of the plantation. The picture explains itself. We append, however, a newspaper extract from an officer’s letter in Dixie:

Heavy planters live all along the road, whose broad acres extend for miles, and whose aristocratic mansions show them to be the nabobs of the soil. Long rows of negro cabins are seen at short distances from the residence, indicating that the “institution” still flourishes here. These negroes, in huge numbers, men, women, and children, come and evince the most comical and unsophisticated manifestations of delight at our appearance. The older ones bow, and grin, and scrape, and throw themselves into all sorts of the most ludicrous attitudes. The younger ones dance and frisk about in high glee. “Gora-mighty bless you, gemmen — may you live allers!” exclaimed a delighted old darkey as we passed yesterday. At the same time he bowed himself almost to the ground. These poor creatures are about all the friends we have in this region. They most willingly give all the information they have.

While the illustration above no doubt emerged from Nast’s imagination as he labored in Harper’s Weekly‘s office, it nonetheless plausibly captures in a dramatic fashion something that must have occurred countless times in the months and years that followed the advent of the Emancipation Proclamation. The slaveholders’ (in this case only women because the men were at war) sullen worry matched by their slaves’ jubilation at finally being free. The Union troops’ curiosity with the slaves and amusement at their enemy’s anguish. In short, the illustration imagined well a moment of saturnalia when in an instant the antebellum world of the plantation South was turned upside down.

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What I Have Been Up to Lately

My apologies for the lack of posts of late. I have been busy lately with various thing professional and personal, which have tended to pull me away from the labor of love, which is Civil War Emancipation. Last weekend, for example, I made a quick trip east at the invitation of my principal employer, American Public University System, to be the keynote speaker at their colloquium on the use of technology to teach and research the Civil War (something I know a thing or two about). Here is a picture of me in action:


The picture was taken by a local journalist. Here is a <link> to her story, if you’re interested.

Next month, I’ll be a speaker at the Freedom Rising symposium at Harvard University (yes, that Harvard), celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and advent of African-American military service in the Civil War. They will only be giving me ten minutes of fame rather than Andy Warhol’s proverbial fifteen minutes, but it is a singular honor to be sharing the same billing with some of the top historians of the Civil War Era at the most prestigious university in the United States.

I plan to use my ten minutes to discuss the reunion of black Civil War Veterans in Boston in August 1887. That should be of interest to the local crowd, which the conference organizers have indicated repeatedly will be mostly ordinary people instead of a gathering of academics. It is  also a terrific way to discuss African-American veterans and Civil War memory. So if you plan to be in the Boston area early next month, please drop by.

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Men of Color, To Arms!

By early Spring 1863, the recruitment of black soldiers into the Union Army was finally getting underway in earnest. Although it would not be difficult for most black men of military age at that moment to appreciate the importance of their military service with millions of their race yet in bondage, nonetheless it was important for African-American leaders to encourage them to act on the desire to free the slaves by enlisting.

One important black leader making that call that spring was none other than Frederick Douglass. After briefly toying with the idea of emigration during in the early days of the Lincoln administration, as the President had swung toward emancipation, Douglass became a supporter of the war and black participation in it as soldiers. In early March 1863, he issued a strident speech to this end that was published later the same month in his periodical, Douglass’s Monthly. It read:

When first the rebel cannon shattered the walls of Sumter and drove away its starving garrison, I predicted that the war then and there inaugurated would not be fought out entirely by white men. Every month’s experience during these dreary years has confirmed that opinion. A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it. Only a moderate share of sagacity was needed to see that the arm of the slave was the best defense against the arm of the slaveholder. Hence with every reverse to the national arms, with every exulting shout of victory raised by the slaveholding rebels, I have implored the imperiled nation to unchain against her foes, her powerful black hand. Slowly and reluctantly that appeal is beginning to be heeded. Stop not now to complain that it was not heeded sooner. It may or it may not have been best that it should not. This is not the time to discuss that question. Leave it to the future. When the war is over, the country is saved, peace is established, and the black man’s rights are secured, as they will be, history with an impartial hand will dispose of that and sundry other questions. Action! Action! not criticism is the plain duty of this hour. Words are now useful only as they stimulate to blows. The office of speech now is only to point out when, where, and how to strike to the best advantage. There is no time to delay. The tide is at its flood that leads on to fortune. From East to West, from North to South, the sky is written all over, “Now or never.” Liberty won by white men would lose half its luster. “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” “Better even die free, than to live slaves.” This is the sentiment of every brace colored man amongst us. There are weak and cowardly men in all nations. We have them amongst us. They tell you this is the “white man’s war”; that you will be no “better off after than before the war;” that the getting of you into the army is to “sacrifice you on the first opportunity.” Believe them not; cowards themselves, they do not wish to have their cowardice shamed by your brave example. Leave them to their timidity, or to whatever motive may hold them back. I have not their timidity, or to whatever motive may hold them back. I have not thought lightly of the words I am now addressing you. The counsel I give comes of close observation of the great struggle now in progress, and of the deep conviction that this is your hour and mine. In good earnest then, and after the best deliberation, I now for the first time during this war feel at liberty to call and counsel you to arms. By every consideration which binds you to your enslaved fellow countrymen, and the peace and welfare of your country; by every aspiration which you cherish for the freedom and equality of yourselves and your children; by all the ties of blood and identity which make us one with the brave black men now fighting our battles in Louisiana and in South Carolina, I urge you to fly to arms, and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave.

In March 1863, Frederick Douglass was recruiting specifically for the 54th Massachusetts, the first northern black regiment, in which his sons, Charles and Lewis, would serve. He lightly castigated his adopted state, New York, for not taking the lead in recruiting black soldiers (it eventually would do so), and encouraged northern African Americans to join the 54th promising them they would be treated the same as white soldiers (they wouldn’t be, but that is the story for another time). He finished with the stirring words:

The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty. The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the plane of common equality with all other varieties of men. Remember Denmark Vesey of Charleston; remember Nathaniel Turner of Southampton; remember Shields Green and Copeland, who followed noble John Brown, and fell as glorious martyrs for the cause of the slave. Remember that in a contest with oppression, the Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with oppressors. The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time.

Besides Douglass’s stirring oration there also existed in the North in March 1863, a noticeable curiosity about black troops. The military service of African Americans was not unprecedented as they had fought in both the Revolutionary War (on both sides) and the War of 1812 (most famously with Andrew Jackson at Battle of New Orleans), but few whites were aware of these facts. So, the northern press eagerly supplied images, both illustrative and imaginative, of the seemingly novel sight of African Americans in Union blue to satisfy the northern public’s interest. Below are four examples from March 1863.

The first two images of black soldiers come from March 7, 1863 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, one of several national publications loaded with illustrated news stories (forerunners of the photographic news magazine), which were popular with Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first is a conventional and somewhat flattering image (of the soldier at attention at least) of the First Louisiana Native Guards, the earliest colored regiment organized for the Union from among free people of color in New Orleans (I discuss the background of a predecessor Confederate unit in my piece in Disunion from February 2012).


“Pickets of the First Louisiana ‘Native Guard’ Guarding the New Orleans and the Great Western Railroad,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 7, 1863. Source: http://www.mrlincolnandfreedom.org/photo_credits.asp?photoID=87.

The next image also comes from the same issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, a cartoon which sought to capture the shock which many white Southerners, slaveholders especially, must have experienced at seeing for the first time black soldiers in federal uniform. Titled “A Queer Recontre,” it depicted an armed black soldier surprised to encounter his stunned former owner, who had come to the camp in the hopes of recapturing him. The cartoon is captioned: “SLAVE CATCHER (who has strayed into a Federal camp)–’You arn’t seen a boy o’ mine named Caesar have you? (Aside) Darn’d if it arn’t the black nigger himself.’ COLORED SENTRY–’Who goes dare–advance and gib the countersign. (Aside) Golly if dat arn’t my old massa.’ (Sensation.)”

A Queer Recontre

“A Queer Recontre,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 7, 1863. Source: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/37697.

The other two images come from the March 14, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, the most prominent of the illustrated periodicals of the Civil War era. The first appeared on the issue’s cover, depicting white officers training black soldiers in the use of their muskets, an image that might have seemed controversial if not the one that followed.


“Teaching the Negro Recruits the use of the Minie Rifle,” Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1863. Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/negro-soldeirs.htm

The last illustration was truly provocative, a double-page illustration of black soldiers engaged in large-scale, hand-to-hand combat, something that still would have considered incendiary in some quarters of the Civil War North, and especially in the South, where whites still liked to equate African Americans in federal uniform with servile insurrection.


“First Black Troops in Combat,” Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1863. Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/march/first-black-troops-combat.htm

Harper’s Weekly explained to its readers that the last illustration depicted the first use black troops in battle the previous October at Island Mound, Missouri, where the First Kansas Colored Infantry (then unrecognized by the federal government) successfully fended off multiple assaults rebel militia and guerrillas. While sensationalizing what was essentially a two-day skirmish, the illustration unintentionally captured the bloody combat that would be coming soon for black Civil War soldiers at Port Hudson (May 1863) and Milliken’s Bend (June 1863) in Louisiana, and at Fort Wagner (July 1863) in South Carolina. These battles all were all costly failed assaults by African-American troops, the typical result of men charging in the Civil War at enemies equipped with rifled musket and cannons firing canister at close range. Yet while the Union Army would waste the lives of black men in these battles (as they would many times as well with white troops), nonetheless they were a morale victory for African Americans as they showed black soldiers were every bit as brave and disciplined as their white counterparts, ready to sacrifice themselves in deadly and futile frontal assaults. Race advancement at a horrific human cost.

Sources: 1) http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1863-frederick-douglass-men-color-arms; 2) http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/march/first-colored-troops-combat.htm

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Not Dead Yet

The February 21 edition of Civil War Emancipation discussed evidence of slavery as an institution coming apart in early 1863. Also included was a cowardly but wise qualifier, “While slavery was far from dead . . .” This edition of the blog considers evidence of slavery’s persistence in the middle of the Civil War. Certainly slavery was under pressure throughout the South in early 1863, with the pressure stronger in some places and weaker in others. But the peculiar institution definitely was still far from dead, even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.


Source: http://dmc.tamu-commerce.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/afamhist/id/10206/rec/31

The first piece of evidence in this regard is  a bill of sale for a slave, dated March 7, 1863. An image of the receipt is above and it states:

Received of Mary A. Greathouse sixteen hundred dollars in full payment for a certain negro woman named Charity age about twenty six years which negro we warrant sound & the title we warrant & defend against the claims of all persons whatsoever

This document does not specify the exact location where this transaction took, but the receipt can be found online at the website of the Northeast Texas Digital Collections at Texas A&M University – Commerce. So it is safe to presume this document concerns the sale of a slave in Texas. The substantial price, $1600, while reflecting in part the inflation of Confederate currency, which was on average 10 percent per month from October 1861 to March 1864, was still much more consistent with prewar slave prices, where the average valuation of a slave was about $800 in 186o, and considerably more for a female slave in her childbearing years, such as Charity.

So it is safe to say slaves were worth a lot more in Texas in early 1863, which was the area of the Confederacy at that date safest from attack from Union forces, than in Maryland where slavery as an institution was under great stress and effectively dying. Indeed, Texas was the most common destination during the Civil War for southern slaveholders from further east seeking to “refugee” or keep their slaves away from the federal army. And so slaveholders in the Lone Star State in early 1863 were still comfortable buying and selling slaves at a price commensurate with high value of slaves before the war, not the fire sale prices for slaves then prevalent in Maryland. Eventually, slaves in Texas would be liberated, but it would not occur until just after the Civil War, when Union troops finally arrived in force and were in a position to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, it also should noted that slavery was not completely dead in Maryland in the first half of 1863, despite being increasing moribund. While slaves more and more could run away from their owners with a realistic hope of becoming free, at least some slaveholders in the state had not reconciled themselves to the fact those slaves increasingly could not be recovered. Still, some tried.

On March 7, 1863, the following advertisement appeared in the Baltimore Sun:

$25 REWARD – Ran away from the subscriber, on the 2d of March, a NEGRO MAN, BILL; he calls himself Wilmot Smith. He had on when he left home a grey suit, and wore a cap. He is of a light black color and wore a slight beard. Supposed to be about five feet six inches high. I will give the above reward, provided he is placed in jail so that I get him.
BENJ. T. WORTHINGTON Reisterstown Post Office, Baltimore county, Md.

And on March 16, 1863:

$20 REWARD – Ran away on the 3d instant, from the subscriber, living near Reisterstown, Baltimore county, a negro man who calls himself BILL BROWN, aged about 55 or 60 years. He is a dark mulatto, with a scar from the cut of a knife all across his right cheek; had on a good drab cloth sack coat and trowsers, good shoes, stockings and hat, and carried with him an axe. He is probably skulking about the premises of Mr. Alexander Browne, near Brookland, Baltimore county, or Dr. Nicholas Hutchins, near Monkton, as he has a daughter hired at both places, or at Major Chas. W.Hood’s, near Sykesville, Carroll county, where he has a grand-daughter. I will give the above reward for his apprehension and return to me at my residence.

And on May 15, 1863:

$100 REWARD – Ran away from the subscriber, Baltimore county, near Reisterstown, on the 10th of May, FOUR NEGROES – One is a yellow Boy, likely and slender in his make, tall and dressed in linen trousers and cotton oanburg shirts and good shoes; about 17 or 18 years old, named Charles Williams; one other is black as a crow, about 17 or 18, and rather short; good linen pantaloons; shoes not so good; one other verly likey copper-colored Boy, aged about 15 or 16, and dressed in good linen pantaloons and cotton shirt; shoes a good deal worn; the other a dark colored Boy, named Bill,aged about 14, with the same clothes. They each took two shirts, which I expect are on their backs. I will give One Hundred Dollars reward for their apprehension, if secured in jail so that I get them again, or Twenty-five dollars for either. They may make their way to Washington, D.C.

So while slavery in Maryland was on the ropes in early 1863, it still showed signs of life. If for no other reason than at least some slaveholders had not reconciled themselves to its demise and continued to go through the motions of what slaveholders commonly did before the Civil War when slaves escaped–place an ad. And in Texas in March 1863, it was still seemingly business as usual for the peculiar institution. But there too the owners were simply in denial about what was to come.

Sources: 1) http://dmc.tamu-commerce.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/afamhist/id/10206/rec/31; 2) http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/WORTHINGTON/2000-02/0951598687

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Where the Slaves Were Located

At the end of February 1863, Harper’s Weekly, no doubt drawing on 1860 Census data, dramatically illustrated the geographic distribution of slaves on the eve of the Civil War, with a map in which the higher the concentration of slaves the darker the shade used. This map can be seen immediately below:


Harper’s Weekly, 28 February 1863

The description of the map in Harper’s Weekly read as follows:

ON page 141 will be found a chart which represents to the eye the relative slave population in the different parts of the Southern States at the beginning of the rebellion. The depth of shade represents density of the colored in proportion to the white population; and it will be perceived that the shade varies from white to solid black. In several counties in West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, Northern and Southeastern Missouri, the slaves were less than three per cent of the whole population. In Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, Northern Arkansas, and toward the northern part of Alabama, are counties in the population of which the slaves numbered less than six per cent.

The greatest proportion of slave population is embraced within the country extending along the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and bordering the Southwestern rivers. The slaves were more than fifty per cent. of the inhabitants included between the sea and Gulf coasts and a line, nearly parallel, beginning north of Richmond, Virginia, and extending southwardly to near Raleigh, North Carolina; thence southwestwardly to a little north of Montgomery, Alabama; thence northwestwardly to the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee; thence to Shreveport, Louisiana, and a little to the north of Austin, Texas. Within this region there are counties in Southwestern Georgia, Southeastern Alabama, Central Mississippi, and some parts of Texas where the slaves were less than twenty-five per cent. of the whole people. In many of the counties they were from fifty to sixty per cent.; and in nearly all the region along the Mississippi River, Central Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and in Virginia, south of Richmond, the slaves were more than sixty per cent. of the inhabitants; and in some South Carolina districts along the coast, in parishes of Louisiana, and counties of Mississippi along the Mississippi River, the slaves were over ninety per cent. of the whole population. In Central Kentucky, Tennessee, along the Tennessee River in Northern Alabama, and along the Missouri River was a slave population varying from thirty to sixty per cent., while in Western Kentucky and Tennessee it was scarcely thirty per cent., except in the region northeast and east of Memphis, where cotton is produced in abundance.

In all the Slave States, except those along the northern border, the north and west parts of North Carolina, and north and east parts of Tennessee, the density of slave population presents a proportionate abundance in the product of cotton. Along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia rice is an additional product of slave labor; and along the Gulf coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, particularly the last-named State, many slaves were engaged in the production of sugar.

In the western part of Central Georgia, in Central Alabama, Northern and Western Mississippi, Southwestern Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas, and Louisiana, and in Middle Texas, the produce of cotton was more than two bales to each slave.

This map is probably an early version of another map that appeared later in the printed report of the 1860 Census, which was published in 1864. Susan Schulten discusses the version printed in the official report in an article published in Disunion in the New York Times.

This report on the distribution of the slave population was prepared under the direction of Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Superintendent of the Census. It and similar demographic maps initially were meant for Union military commanders and other federal officials in assisting them in the war effort in the South, although the slave distribution map has since become invaluable to scholars as it is a snapshot of the geographic distribution of slaves on the eve of the liquidation of the peculiar institution.

Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/february/slave-chart.htm

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Worthy Fundraising Effort! Please Give!

Dear Readers,

The African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg, Mississippi was badly damaged by a tornado earlier this month. My good friend, Tom Ward, of Spring Hill College, has launched a fundraising drive to help pay for repairs to the museum. He has posted a page on Fundly.com as a conduit for donations. Please give to this worthy cause and give generously. The address for Tom’s Fundly page is:


Thanks in advance for helping!

Don Shaffer
Civil War Emancipation

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Signs of the Times


Harper’s Weekly, 21 February 1862. Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/february/freed-negroes.htm

While slavery was far from dead in the United States in early 1863, the signs increasingly were not good for its long-term survival. The first piece of evidence was an illustration (above) and accompanying article in the February 21, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly. The article read:

THOUGH the President’s proclamation of freedom has been so often compared to the Pope’s Bull against the comet, it seems to be producing some substantial fruits. We publish on page 116 an illustration of CONTRABANDS COMING INTO NEWBERN, NORTH CAROLINA, from a sketch sent us by an amateur, who writes as follows:

NEWBERN, NORTH CAROLINA, January 26, 1863.

I inclose a sketch of a very interesting procession which came to Newbern from “up country” a few days ago. It is the first-fruits of the glorious emancipation proclamation in this vicinity, and as such you may deem it worthy of engraving in your illustrated Weekly.

On our late expedition into Greene and Onslow Counties our company (Company C, Fifty-first Massachusetts Regiment) was out on picket duty the night before our return to Newbern, when an old slave came in to us in a drenching rain; and on being informed that he and his friends could come to Newbern with us, he left, and soon the contrabands began to come in, with mule teams, oxen, and in every imaginable style. When morning came we had 120 slaves ready to start with their little all, happy in the thought that their days of bondage were over. They said that it was known far and wide that the President has declared the slaves free.

While the article started by describing critics mocking President Lincoln’s ability, they had a point. Certainly, Abraham Lincoln could not end slavery simply by issuing a proclamation. Few, if any slaveholders in the country would release their slaves at the President’s order. Indeed, the slaveholder’s rebellion, otherwise known as the Confederacy, existed pretty much because the planter elite feared, with justification, that Lincoln and his party intended to end slavery, even if the Republicans had shown no urgency to do so early in the Civil War, when they were still seeking to conciliate the South. Lincoln had preferred that the slave owners voluntarily release their slaves gradually in exchange for federal bonds to minimize the socioeconomic disruption of ending slavery, but when even the planters that had not joined the rebellion resisted the idea of gradual compensated emancipation, Abraham Lincoln went ahead and ordered freedom for those slaves he could justify freeing on grounds of military necessity: the slaves of rebel owners.

But the critics of the Emancipation Proclamation also missed the point. Slavery as an institution in the United States was not a comet in the heavens out of reach. Slaves could be and were reached by the Union Army, whose officers and men, as the war dragged on, were increasingly eager to divest slaveholders of their human property, both in recognition of the slaves’ military value to the Confederacy and to punish slaveholders for contributing to their own suffering by supporting the rebellion. It is here that Gary Gallagher has a point. Emancipation could not and would not have happened had not the Union Army enforced it at gunpoint.

Yet it is also the case that emancipation was assisted by the slaves themselves. And the  Harpers’ Weekly article illustrates this point. The Union Army made possible the departure of slaves to the sanctuary of federally controlled New Bern, North Carolina, but it is clear from reading between the lines of the article that federal officers did not expect quite so many slaves to take advantage of their expedition into Confederate territory to seize the chance to gain their freedom. So to put this in military terms, if the Union Army made emancipation practically possible, enforcing the President Lincoln’s proclamation, the slaves in effect served as a force multiplier by taking advantage as much as possible the opportunities the army opened for them to liberate themselves.

Yet it was not just in the rebel South where the crumbling of slavery can be seen in early 1863. It also was coming apart in the loyal Border States, which were not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation. Here, as further south, slavery had been undermined by the presence of the Union Army, where from the earliest months of the war many slaves had sought and found protection from their owners. By late 1862, slaves in Maryland in particular were getting restive, acting as if they were covered by Lincoln’s proclamation, even when formally they were not. Their obvious discontent affected white Marylanders, not only resurrecting their perennial fear of servile insurrection, but also causing the value of slave property to plummet, as it became increasingly clear the peculiar institution would not survive the war.

The falling value of slaves can be seen in the disposition of the estate of Charles Carroll V. Carroll was the grandson of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, and before the Civil War, one of Maryland’s largest slaveholders. “Charles Carroll of Doughoregan” as he was known, to distinguish him from his famous ancestor, died on December 2, 1862. On January 24, 1863, a short but telling story appeared in the New York Times about Carroll’s estate. It read:

The appraisers of the slave property of the late CHARLES CARROLL, of this State, one of the largest slaveowners in Maryland, have made their returns to the Orphans’ Court, assessing the value of 130 slaves at an average of only $5 each. This, they say, was the highest rate they could name, after consulting with numerous slaveowners and dealers. One slavedealer told the Appraisers he would not give $500 for the whole lot. This is considered a striking illustration of the depreciation of slave property by the rebellion, and will have a powerful influence in this State.

When it is considered that slaves in their prime routinely sold for $1,000 or more before the war, the depreciation of prices apparent in the estate of Charles Carroll of Doughoregan is all the more striking. Slaves had not entirely lost their value, as there was still a small chance in early 1863 that slavery might survive and the remaining work of slaves until they were freed by the war still had a little residual value, but judge from the Carroll estate it was by that date 1 percent or less of what it had been before the Civil War. In other words, at about the mid-point of the conflict, Maryland slave dealers, people well qualified to judge the price of human property, already were assigning slaves a negligible value consistent with their judgment that slavery was all but doomed. Truly, the market had spoken.

Sources: 1) http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/february/escaping-slaves.htm; 2) http://www.nytimes.com/1863/02/24/news/the-slave-property-of-the-late-charles-carroll.html.

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