ESSAY: Shaffer on Emancipation and “What Mattered More?”

As 1862 drew to a close, as far as emancipation was concerned the nation’s attention was riveted on whether President Abraham Lincoln would finalize the Emancipation Proclamation. They had little to worry about on that score. In the last days of 1862, Lincoln and his cabinet were not debating whether the administration should go ahead with the proclamation, but fussed over its exact wording. While these details certainly were important, it was clear from the discussions that the Emancipation Proclamation was going ahead.

Far from Washington, D.C., however, out in the country other things were happening that make the Lincoln administration putting the final touches on the Emancipation Proclamation seem not quite so important, as titanic a milestone as it was. One such place was Helena, Arkansas, west of the Mississippi River, far from the national capital. Like other parts of the Confederacy that had come under the control of federal forces, slaves in the vicinity fled to Union lines. Yet instead of finding protection, many of the slaves in Helena, Arkansas, instead found mistreatment from the Yankee soldiers and officers.

A committee of chaplains and surgeons reported these injustices to the Union commander of the Army of the Southwest, Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis, in a letter dated December 29, 1862. They wrote:

Read the rest: What Mattered More? | Civil War Emancipation.