• Photo of cannon at Antietam National Battlefield

    The Civil War

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.

Stories from Emancipation and the Quest for Freedom

Showing results 11-15 of 19

  • Civil War Defenses of Washington

    Living Contraband - Former Slaves in the Nation's Capital During the Civil War

    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

  • The Changing War

    Woodcut of spectators watching a train station set fire by Sherman's troops

    Begun as a purely military effort with the limited political objectives of reunification (North) or independence (South), the Civil War transformed into a social, economic and political revolution with unforeseen consequences. As the war progressed, the Union war effort steadily transformed from a limited to a hard war; it targeted not just Southern armies, but the heart of the Confederacy's economy, morale, and social order-the institution of slavery. Read more

  • Antietam National Battlefield

    The Emancipation Proclamation

    A recruiting poster showing a Union soldier and a banner

    Toward the end of the Civil War's second year, Abraham Lincoln made added the abolition of slavery to the restoration of the Union as the principal war aims of the North along by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in the South and strike a blow to the Confederate economy. Read more