Recent Articles of Interest – June 2012

Last month saw three articles, all in the New York Times, that will be of interest to readers of Civil War Emancipation.

The first, which appeared on June 11, titled “Liberation as a Death Sentence” discusses Jim Downs recently published book, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness during the Civil War and Freedom. According to the article, Downs asserts that emancipation inadvertently initiated a public health crisis among the recently liberated slaves. The article’s author, Jennifer Schuessler, writes:

To understand the war’s scale and impact truly, Professor Downs argues, historians have to look beyond military casualties and consider the public health crisis that faced the newly liberated slaves, who sickened and died in huge numbers in the years following Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

Schuessler situates the Downs’ book as part of a “newer, darker history of emancipation,” that was the subject of an academic conference last fall at Yale University, put on by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Emancipation. I’ll be looking forward to reading Sick from Freedom in the near future and reviewing it on this blog.

The other two articles of interest appeared in the New York TimesDisunion blog, published on June 21 and June 22, respectively.

The June 21 article, by Lois Leveen, titled “A Black Spy in the Confederate White House,” describes Civil War activities of Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a black woman that worked as a servant for the family of Jefferson Davis, who passed on what she overheard in the course of her duties to Richmond Unionist Elizabeth Van Lew, who smuggled Bowser’s information to federal authorities in Washington, D.C. As Leveen points out, the greatest testament to Bowser success as a spy was that she was never caught or even apparently suspected, a tremendous feat for an educated black woman impersonating a simpleton servant.

The June 22 piece, by Daniel W. Crofts, titled “Runaway Masters,” deals with David Hunter’s unsuccessful attempt in late Spring 1862 to free on his own authority slaves abandoned by their owners in coastal South Carolina, George, and Florida. It is a nice compliment to my own posts on the same subject in the May 9, May 19, and June 25 editions of Civil War Emancipation. Along with Susan Schulten’s Disunion piece on June 20 on Congress ending slavery in the territories, which I featured in the June 21 edition of Civil War Emancipation, the New York Times last month was a laudably productive source on the history of emancipation in the American Civil War.

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
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