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Practical LiberatorsUnion Officers in the Western Theater during the Civil War$
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Kristopher A. Teters

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638867

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638867.001.0001

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A Practical Army of Liberation

A Practical Army of Liberation

How the Union Army Carried Out Emancipation in the West

(p.106) Chapter Five A Practical Army of Liberation
Practical Liberators

Kristopher A. Teters

University of North Carolina Press

After the final Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in January 1863, western armies generally liberated slaves quite vigorously. But always driving this emancipation policy first and foremost were practical military considerations. Many officers supported emancipation because it would help win the war, and this was exactly how they carried out the policy. As much as possible, officers focused on freeing slaves for the army’s benefit, often targeting able-bodied men who could be of most use as teamsters, pioneers, laborers, and soldiers. Given these military priorities, officers frequently saw the slave women and children flocking to their camps as a military burden and usually sent them to hellish contraband camps or to labor for wages on plantations. In the politically sensitive border states of Kentucky and Missouri, emancipation was especially slow and conflict ridden. Yet even there, military necessity forced commanders to eventually adopt increasingly emancipationist policies. A few officers did support emancipation for moral reasons, but moral imperatives had very little influence on emancipation policies in the field. Officers’ prevailing racial beliefs help explain why many of them were more concerned with former slaves’ ability to help the army than with their welfare.

Keywords:   Emancipation Proclamation, liberation, liberated slaves, western theatre, military, pragmatism, emancipation policies, able-bodied men, slave women, slave children

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