When the Civil War began in 1861, the issue of slavery was not the central focus of the war effort on the side of the Union. While it was still important to many in the North, the main war aim of the Union side was to preserve the Union and make sure it remained intact. As the war dragged on and more soldiers died on both sides, Lincoln realized he would need to entirely cripple the already weak Confederate economy, and he did this by making the Emancipation Proclamation, which became effective January 1, 1863. This executive order stated that all slaves in states currently in open rebellion against the United States were free from slavery. By doing this, he caused African Americans in slave states to cross into Union territory and into freedom from their masters, providing available laborers for the Union army. During the war, there were also African Americans who wanted to serve in the military and take part in the formation of the governments after the war, through the right of suffrage granted to African American men or through actually being representatives in the government. Following the war, newly freed African Americans took great advantage of the opportunities available to them now, including suffrage, education, and freedom of movement.
During the war, as the Union army moved south into Confederate territory, the slaves found working on plantations and doing work that would help further the Confederate cause were taken as “contraband of war”, meaning their previous owner had no right to them in the first place so they were illegal possessions, making them available to be taken away from their current state. Quite often, slaves would cross the lines into Union territory and follow the Union army where it went, causing confusion to arise. In the case of Major General Benjamin F. Butler, a large number of former slaves, mainly women and children, had fled to his lines for protection, and he had no idea what to do with them or what their state was, and...
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