Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps

Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps

Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps

Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps

Synopsis

The Civil War was just days old when the first enslaved men, women, and children began fleeing their plantations to seek refuge inside the lines of the Union army as it moved deep into the heart of the Confederacy. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands more followed in a mass exodus from slavery that would destroy the system once and for all. Drawing on an extraordinary survey of slave refugee camps throughout the country, Embattled Freedom reveals as never before the everyday experiences of these refugees from slavery as they made their way through the vast landscape of army-supervised camps that emerged during the war. Amy Murrell Taylor vividly reconstructs the human world of wartime emancipation, taking readers inside military-issued tents and makeshift towns, through commissary warehouses and active combat, and into the realities of individuals and families struggling to survive physically as well as spiritually. Narrating their journeys in and out of the confines of the camps, Taylor shows in often gripping detail how the most basic necessities of life were elemental to a former slave's quest for freedom and full citizenship.

The stories of individuals--storekeepers, a laundress, and a minister among them--anchor this ambitious and wide-ranging history and demonstrate with new clarity how contingent the slaves' pursuit of freedom was on the rhythms and culture of military life. Taylor brings new insight into the enormous risks taken by formerly enslaved people to find freedom in the midst of the nation's most destructive war.

Excerpt

Hampton, Virginia, September 1861. It was just five months into the U.S. Civil War and this once-thriving coastal town seemed on the verge of collapse. Charred stumps occupied the places where mature trees once stood; lone chimneys rose above the burned-out ruins of houses and stores and churches; and once-grand homes looked nothing like they did weeks before, having collapsed into piles of bricks. and yet, amid all the rubble and ashes, Edward and Emma Whitehurst saw more than a town destroyed. They began rolling barrels of flour into one of the abandoned buildings and dragged in bushels of potatoes. They placed pigs in the side yard to be fattened up and readied for slaughter and, as the late summer heat bore down on them, got to work baking ginger cakes. in these moments, this husband and wife, enslaved from the days they were born but now miles away from the white man who claimed to be their owner, became storekeepers. and if they could make a go of it in this warravaged town, if the Union soldiers and other people like them seeking freedom from slavery were willing to come inside and buy their goods, then they could sell their way into a new life as free people.

Helena, Arkansas, July 1863. Nearly two years later and over 1,000 miles away, this low-lying town on the western bank of the Mississippi River had been continually deluged. If it wasn’t the flooding river waters, which left knee-deep mud along the town’s streets, then it was the arrival of thousands of Union troops to occupy this cotton-trading town, as well as the intermittent appearance of Confederate forces firing on the area from passing riverboats. Eliza Bogan, a woman who had spent her life harvesting cotton under the threat of the lash on a plantation just northwest of town, was now left to figure out if she could safely remain and call this place her new home. She spent her . . .

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