“On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signs the final Emancipation Proclamation, which ends slavery in the rebelling states. A preliminary proclamation was issued in September 1862, following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. The act signaled an important shift in the Union’s Civil War aims, expanding the goal of the war from reunification to include the eradication of slavery” (This Day in History – History Channel).
Here’s a poem from my book Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War. In it, Private McGraw, atop a large tree, sees former slaves fight for the first time.
Shards of Night
Them Feds started pouring through
the wood like a river that run its banks.
My heart started thunking wilder than a cat’s
heart after that cat scampered up a tree
cause a dog done breathed on its tail –
and sure enough, I was up a tree.
But, hell – my jaw almost clanked
the ground when I see that flood
a might closer. I was perched on top
a whole cluster of Yankee darkies.
Shit, I says, Abe sent them damn slaves
to fight. I first guessed they’d be whooping
and shucking like a gaggle of monkeys,
but they clutched their guns like soldiers
and their faces where all chiseled from stone
solid as Zion. Our boys started popping muskets
first and a few of them niggers fell,
but the others paid no mind to that. They ran
straight at those pickets like shards of night,
screaming hell and spitting lead.
I seen one take three bullets before
he toppled. Each time blood puffed
from his belly like a red cloud at sunset.
And the one swinging the flag made certain
them stripes never scraped the ground.
I swear them darkies be men.
By God, they be men.
- The Emancipation Proclamation takes effect – History.com This Day in History – 1/1/1863 (civilwarironclads.wordpress.com)
- On This Day In 1863, The Emancipation Proclamation Takes Effect (rememberinghistory.wordpress.com)
- The Emancipation Proclamation (neatorama.com)
- The Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for the politics of self-liberation | Priyamvada Gopal (guardian.co.uk)