Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War
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Even before shots were fired at Fort Sumter, slaves recognized that their bondage was at the root of the war they knew was coming, and they began running to the Union army. By the war’s end, nearly half a million had taken refuge behind Union lines in improvised “contraband camps.” These were crowded and dangerous places, with conditions approaching those of a humanitarian crisis. Yet families and individuals—some 12 to 15 percent of the Confederacy’s slave population—took unimaginable risks to reach them, and they became the first places where many Northerners would come to know former slaves en masse, with reverberating consequences for emancipation, its progress, and the Reconstruction that followed.
Drawing on records of the Union and Confederate armies, the letters and diaries of soldiers, transcribed testimonies of former slaves, and more, Chandra Manning allows us to accompany the black men, women, and children who sought out the Union army in hopes of achieving autonomy for themselves and their communities. Ranging from the stories of individuals to those of armies on the move to debates in the halls of Congress, Troubled Refuge probes the particular and deeply significant reality of the contraband camps: what they were really like and how former slaves and Union soldiers warily united there, forging a dramatically new but highly imperfect alliance between the government and African Americans. That alliance, which would outlast the war, helped destroy slavery and warded off the very acute and surprisingly tenacious danger of re-enslavement. It also raised, for the first time, humanitarian questions about refugees in wartime and legal questions about civil and military authority with which we still wrestle, as well as redefined American citizenship, to the benefit but also to the lasting cost of African Americans.
Integrating a wealth of new findings, Manning casts in wholly original light what it was like to escape slavery, how emancipation happened, and how citizenship in the United States was transformed. This reshaping of hard structures of power would matter not only for slaves turned citizens, but for all Americans.
Praise For Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War…
–Mark Smith, The Wall Street Journal
“A vitally important book [that] settles the long-standing issue of the freedmen’s own role in exiting slavery…Manning’s emphasis on the camps is novel….and [her] research is extraordinary…An essential contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.”
–Booklist (starred review)
“Manning offers a vivid, compelling view of the struggles undertaken by escaped slaves during the Civil War [and] conveys in gritty detail the fraught alliance between refugees and their military protectors”
–Kirkus (starred review)
“Excellent…[A] refreshing work…in great detail, the author successfully proves that the road from slavery to freedom was both complex and personal.”
“The end of slavery came through an unplanned alliance between the Union army and black refugees from slavery who came within the army's lines during the Civil War. Digging deeply into a wealth of sources, Chandra Manning has provided a powerful new account of how emancipation actually proceeded on the ground and how former slaves and the army forged a new order of freedom and black citizenship.”
–James M. McPherson
Knopf, 9780307271204, 416pp.
Publication Date: August 16, 2016