Emancipation and the Quest for Freedom

Color painting of a Union soldier reading the Emancipation Proclamation to a slave family.

With the end of the Civil War came the end of slavery in the United States. Legally and constitutionally, the war resolved the single most important moral question that afflicted the young republic and hampered the emergence of the country as a moral and economic leader on the world stage.

For millions of enslaved Americans, however, the end of the war was the beginning of a complex and difficult journey. Many were persecuted for their efforts to achieve and sustain true freedom. The quest for equality by former slaves, their descendants, and other Americans of color was an issue left undecided by the war.

Showing results 11-15 of 23

  • Photograph of President Lincoln

    The emancipation of slaves in the United States was not an overnight decision, but a decision that needed to be structured in order to help win the war for the Union. Read more

  • Photo of three African American boys in a Union army camp

    For thousands of African Americans during the Civil War, Washington, D.C. was a beacon of freedom - and a place where they could work to assist the war effort. There they found themselves digging fortifications, driving wagons, or cooking, but as free men and women selling their services, many for the first time in their lives. Read more

  • Fort Sumter National Monument

    Robert Small's Journey to Freedom


    In Civil War Charleston, slave Robert Smalls commandeered a Confederate vessel, piloting it to freedom and embarking on a journey that ultimately led him to the halls of Congress. Read more

  • Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

    Slaves, Unionists, and Secessionists

    Print of General Nathaniel Lyon falling from horse after being shot during the Battle of  Wilson's Creek

    Local residents of the Wilson's Creek, Missouri area in 1861 were a microcosm of the divided nation, bringing with them different backgrounds and beliefs about slavery and Union. For example, John Ray and his wife, Roxanna, whose farm would be in the midst of the battle, were slave owning Southerners, though they supported the Union. Read more

  • Photograph of Horace Greeley

    President Abraham Lincoln, sworn to uphold the Constitution which guaranteed slavery, carried out the war for the expressed purpose of saving the Union and preventing the fracturing of the nation. The issue of abolishing slavery was not something he readily embraced. Read more

of 5