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National Park Service

Confronting Slavery

The Civil War culminated 80 years of sectional tensions over economics, cultural values, the extent and reach of the federal government, but, most importantly, the role of slavery in American society.

Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 transformed the war into a holy crusade, but there was always disagreement among U.S. troops about outright abolition. Yet, increasingly after 1863, "pro-emancipation conviction did predominate among the leaders and fighting soldiers of the Union Army." Regardless of whether U.S. troops fought to limit or to abolish it, however, slavery was the issue that focused their fight, just as it did for the Confederacy. A half-century after serving the Confederate cause, John Singleton Mosby, legendary leader of Mosby's Rangers, offered no apologies for his southern loyalties. He was quite candid about his reason for fighting. "The South went to war on account of slavery," he said. "South Carolina went to war - as she said in her secession proclamation - because slavery w[oul]d not be secure under Lincoln." Then he added as if to dispel all doubt, "South Carolina ought to know what was the cause of her seceding."

Of course, Mosby was right. South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and the other states that seceded from the United States did know the reason for their action and they stated it clearly, time and time again. They named the preservation of slavery as foremost among their motivations. When such a wide variety of southerners - from private citizens, to top governmental officials, from low ranking enlisted men to Confederate military leaders at the highest levels, from local politicians to regional newspaper editors - all agree, what more evidence do we need?

This essay is taken from The The Civil War published by the National Park Service and Eastern National. This richly illustrated handbook is available in many national park bookstores or may be purchased online from Eastern at

The National Park Service commemorates a defining event in our nation's history and its legacy in the fight for civil rights. Join us.

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