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The First Reading of The Emancipation Proclamation: July 22nd, 1862

By Scott Ackerman

As we move through the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, 2012 has already seen the anniversary of the bloodbath at Shiloh, and of the meat-grinder known as the Seven Days Battles. This fall, Antietam and Fredericksburg will effect commemorations worthy of the soldiers who fought and died there 150 years ago. Inextricably linked to the events at Antietam and Fredericksburg will be the commemoration of Emancipation, as Antietam provided the victory Lincoln needed to announce his proclamation to the public, while the disaster at Fredericksburg led many to wonder if Lincoln would follow through with his redefinition of the war. Amid all the celebration and thoughtful reflection, the anniversary of Lincoln’s first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet on July 22nd should not be overlooked. Although it marked neither the beginning, nor the end, of a profound revolution in American society, it was nonetheless a critical moment in the translation of slave agency into federal emancipation policy.

As we pause to remember what this mid-summer moment meant for the slaves still toiling on Southern fields, for the soldiers who would provide much of the Emancipations Proclamation enforcement, and for generations who struggled with the meaning of freedom in the war of the Civil War, let us also reflect on why Soldier’s Home proved so critical to the Emancipation saga. Gaining a respite from the crush of office seekers and social obligations of the White House, while enjoying the cool hillside breezes gave Lincoln the opportunity during those critical summer months of 1862 to fully consider the breadth, scope, and ultimately, the entire meaning of the Union war effort. Consequently, as you (hopefully) visit our site this weekend, this summer, or even this year, take a moment to picture Lincoln wandering these same rooms and grounds exactly 150 years ago, contemplating and crafting a document that would change the nature of the Union war effort, and ultimately, the nation as a whole.

Mr. Ackerman is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
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