Disunion – White Union Soldiers and Emancipation

Yesterday’s Disunion blog in the New York Times, written by Ronald Coddington, centers on the wartime experiences of Confederate Captain David Ramsey from Wilcox County, Alabama.  This edition of Disunion would be of little interest to Civil War Emancipation except for an incident involving Ramsey related by Coddington.  Having failed in their efforts to defend Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River against Union forces, Capt. Ramsey and his men found themselves prisoners-of-war.  Coddington writes:

The Alabamians spent that day in conversation with their captors. The federals “repelled as an insult the least insinuation that the war, professedly for the Union, involved the emancipation of slaves, declaring they would lay down their arms at once if they had the remotest apprehension that such was the case. Though doubtless sincere at the time, they did not make good this declaration upon the issuance of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation nine months later,” reported the regimental historian.

This paragraph is particularly instructive because it highlights what will be an important reality in the story of emancipation.  Some white Union soldiers opposed the idea of freedom for the slaves and some of them did threaten to quit if Lincoln’s administration embraced this idea.  Yet when the time came few if any of these men actually did attempt to leave the Union army.  But the sentiments of these soldiers illustrate that when Lincoln did embrace emancipation, although there was a vocal segment of public opinion in favor of it, there still remained quite a bit of passionate opposition.

About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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