There are two items of interest relative to slavery that occurred 150 years ago today on this date of March 26, 1863.

Gradual Emancipation of Slaves in West VirginiaEmancipation_Memorial

The citizens of western Virginia voted in favor of a revised constitution that would adopt the gradual emancipation of slaves. This portion of Virginia was more pro-Union than the rest of the state from the very outset of secession and hostilities. President Lincoln on 12/31/1862 had approved the admission of a state of West Virginia on condition that this emancipation element be contained in a constitution.  Statehood commenced on June 20, 1863.

Lincoln Writes to Tennessee Governor Andrew Johnson

President Lincoln faced many rumors and innuendos of all sorts relative to the depth of his convictions on the issue of slave emancipation. The Proclamation of New Year’s Day needed to be followed with action. The issue was one of restraining European powers from mediation toward an unacceptable resolution for the North. Lincoln needed to continually cast the conflict in terms of a moral cause.

Colored troops were originally raised with a view toward serving in varied garrison duties, thereby freeing white soldiers for the actual conflicts. Lincoln had been slow to originally agree with efforts to raise colored troops – cautiously walking the balance of wondering how it would be accepted by the populace in the North. But heroism on the part of blacks – particularly in Louisiana, Florida, and coastal South Carolina – along with Union commanders praising their noteworthy accomplishments eventually changed his position.

A rumor came to Lincoln that Andrew Johnson – the only Southern senator to not “go south” – was considering the raising of black units. So Lincoln fired off a letter of encouragement and support for this vision. Johnson never actually answered responded. Here is the letter:

My Dear Sir:

I am told you have at least thought of raising a negro military force. In my opinion the country now needs no specific thing so much as some man of your ability, and position, to go to this work. When I speak of your position, I mean that of an eminent citizen of a slave-state, and himself a slave-holder. The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoring the Union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at once. And who doubts that we can present that sight, if we but take hold in earnest? If you have been thinking of it please do not dismiss the thought.

Yours truly,

A. Lincoln

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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