“Immortal proofs of democracy”

--Walt Whitman, Specimen days, 1882



Thomas Nast, “The Emancipation of the Negroes,” from Harper’s Weekly. 24 January 1863.

Thomas Nast, “The Emancipation of the Negroes, January 1863,” from Harper’s Weekly. New York: Harper & Brothers, 24 January 1863.
Gift of Virginia W. Dudley (AP2 .H32)

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. It declared slaves in the seceded states “forever free,” ordered the Union Army to "recognize and maintain the freedom of" the former slaves, and authorized the enlistment of black soldiers in the U.S. armed forces.

Robert Huston Milroy, “Freedom to Slaves,” 5 January 1863.

Robert Huston Milroy, “Freedom to Slaves,” 5 January 1863.
(MSS 15577)
Featured is General Milroy’s retained copy of the order announcing the Emancipation Proclamation to Union troops and the people of Winchester, Va. Milroy’s order emphasizes that freed slaves must refrain from violence and that those “regarded as rebels” should not interfere with its enforcement. On the handbill’s verso is this handwritten note: “copy of hand-bill order putting in force the Proclamation of freedom within the limits of my command.” Six months later, General Milroy and his troops would suffer a devastating defeat at the Second Battle of Winchester.

U.S. War Department, U.S. infantry tactics ... Washington: Government Printing Office, 1863.

United States War Department, U.S. infantry tactics for the instruction, exercise, and manœuvers of the soldier, … for the use of the colored troops of the United States Infantry. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1863.
(UD160 .A5 1863)

Approximately 210,000 free blacks and freed slaves (10 percent of the Union’s armed forces) fought for the Union during the Civil War. African Americans served in segregated regiments; they earned less pay, were subject to menial labor and mistreatment, and were denied leaves of absence and promotions.

Specialized martial instructions were prepared for officers of U.S. Colored Troops. These manuals perpetuated racist assumptions of mental and physical disparities between white and black soldiers. However, military authorities also believed African Americans to be capable of training and discipline, obedience to orders, and patriotism. This copy is inscribed, “Property of Company D, 26th U. S. C. Troops.”

George Arnold, Letter to Mary and Malvina Gibbs, 4 October 1863.

George Arnold, Letter to Mary and Malvina Gibbs, 4 October 1863.
Robert and Virginia Tunstall Trust Fund (MSS 15000)

Arnold, a private and hospital steward in Company C, 4th U.S. Colored Troops, writes from Yorktown, Va., to the Gibbs sisters, noting the change in circumstances from his previous time there: “We arrived here Yesterday all well with only & for exception the chills and fever Seem to be the prevailing disease here, at present. The Surrounding Defences of Yorktown are Guarded by the 4th U. S. C. Troops and to think that two years ago I came here with the Rebel Army and Such & Change taken place it looks almost impossible.” In 1869 Arnold, a former Kentucky slave, was elected a Republican alderman in Wilmington, N.C.


Edward A. Wild, Letter to Edward W. Kinsley, 19 November 1863.

Edward A. Wild, Letter to Edward W. Kinsley, 19 November 1863.
McGregor Endowment Fund (MSS 12020)

General Wild, a Massachusetts native and a zealous abolitionist, commanded “Wild's African Brigade” of African-American soldiers recruited in Virginia and North Carolina. In this letter from his Norfolk headquarters, Wild informs Kinsley, a special emissary to Massachusetts’s abolitionist governor, John A. Andrew, of the progress in recruiting five U.S. Colored Troops regiments. The date of Wild’s letter coincides with Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of his immortal Gettysburg Address.


Waitman T. Willey, Letter to James W. Paxton, 1 January 1863.
Associates Endowment Fund (MSS 15234)

Willey writes to Paxton, a member of the governor’s council, that “the agony is over” and that President Lincoln “has signed the bill admitting West Virginia, after long hesitation and much importunity.” Willey reports that three members of Lincoln’s cabinet (Gideon Welles, Edward Bates, and Montgomery Blair) opposed the bill, and three (William H. Seward, Edwin M. Stanton, and Salmon P. Chase) favored it, pointing out that “we had the brains on our side.”