in the Civil War South
There is an important pattern in the history of slave emancipation in the western hemisphere, one insufficiently specified in the historical literature and of considerable significance for the history of slave and freed women—the intimate association of war and emancipation in the modern period. From the American War of Independence to which the “first” U.S. emancipation was tied, to the Brazilian, surrender of slavery in the aftermath of the Paraguayan War, to virtually everything in between—St. Domingue, the Spanish-American Wars of Independence, the U.S. Civil War, the Ten Years War in Cuba—in every major case except the British colonies slaves fought for and won their independence in the context of war.1 It was in the context of war that slave men became particular objects of state interest, “able bodied men of military age,” the focus of intense competition between warring states for political loyalty and military service. In this respect the American Civil War was hardly unique: In those two warring states, the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, as in so many others, military service and emancipation were linked temporally and causationally, as manhood and citizenship would be when they followed with Union victory.
But if that pattern of war and emancipation emerges so strikingly from the record, historians have not accorded it much significance. Robin Blackburn, whose magisterial survey, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, affords him a bird’s eye view of the comparative landscape (he misses only Cuba), repeatedly references the context of war in the destruction of colonial slave regimes, but declines to identify it as a causational factor. “The rise of antislavery reflected pressures at every level of the social formation,” Blackburn insists, “and significant advances were only to be made in the context of crises gripping the whole system.” In another