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 6-10 of 22

  • Slave family seated in front of their house

    Although the abolition of slavery emerged as a dominant objective of the Union war effort, most Northerners embraced abolition as a practical measure rather than a moral cause. The war resolved legally and constitutionally the single most important moral question that afflicted the nascent republic, an issue that prevented the country from coalescing around a shared vision of freedom, equality, morality, and nationhood. Read more

  • Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Exceeding Expectations

    Photo of African American soldier

    During the fight for freedom, African American soldiers were forced to deal with discrimination on a regular basis. For no other reason than possessing a different skin color, these men were perceived to be inferior troops. Yet over several fierce fights, men such as the Louisiana Native Guard proved their worth. Read more

  • Fort Monroe National Monument

    Fort Monroe and the "Contrabands of War"

    Wartime print of Fort Monroe

    In the early months of the Civil War, slaves were fleeing to Union lines seeking freedom but emancipation was not yet a stated war aim of President Lincoln. At Fort Monroe, General Benjamin Butler came up with a creative solution to this difficult situation. Read more

  • Fort Smith National Historic Site

    Fort Smith's United States Colored Troops

    Presentation of colors to the 20th United States Colored Infantry

    Although African-Americans served in every previous American war, it was through the decisions of specific commanders. In a controversial move, the War Department called for all Union commanders to receive black soldiers into the Union forces. This official action led to the formation of the 11th Regiment United States Colored Troops, among others, in the fall of 1863. Read more

  • Antietam National Battlefield

    Freedom At Antietam

    Photo of Civil War surgical kit

    As a result of the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln was able to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, making the Civil War a fight to end slavery as well as preserve the Union. Read more

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