January 1, 1863 - The Day War Was Won.

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Rhea Cole

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January 1, 1863-The Day The War Was Won.

On January 1,1863, even as the outcome was in doubt among the dark & dripping cedars along Stones River, in a very real sense the war was won with the stroke of a pen. On that day the Emancipation Proclamation became effective. It did not matter that it was a wartime measure with doubtful legality after the shooting stopped. It didn't matter that, as Lincoln had stated many times, slavery where it already existed was not affected. In fact, the endless legalistic quibbles that have stimulated so many discussion since are nothing but a century and a half long moot court.In fact, the exact wording & intent of the proclamation did not really matter.

What mattered was that the reason for fighting the Civil War, which had been to preserve the Union, became a moral crusade. The proclamation slammed the door in the face of Confederate attempts to bring England & France into the war on their side. After January 1st, any attempt to officially aid the Confederacy was going to be allying themselves to the preservation of slavery. Morally, that simply could not happen. In the North, the proclamation was celebrated with mass meetings & a renewed determination to see the war to a victorious conclusion.

19th Century racial bigotry being what it was, no doubt many people cared little if any about the fate of individual enslaved people. Those of African decent provided a ready boogyman for endless acts of bigotry. The institution of slavery, on the other hand, was almost universally despised. Beginning with the slave revolt in Santo Domingo, slavery had been abolished in the British Empire & the former Spanish empire with the exception of Cuba. In simple terms, times had changed. It was no longer morally acceptable to hold other human beings as property.

Perhaps the profoundest effect of the proclamation was its effect on the enslaved people in Confederate held territory. At last, they saw light at the end of the tunnel. With the suspension of the fugitive slave act, they no longer had to depend on the underground rail road to smuggle them to Canada. All they had to do was enter Union lines to win their freedom. Whatever the legalities, at that moment, the institution of slavery was over. All that remained to do was work out the details.

While there was discontent in parts of Kentucky & other border states, it paled into insignificance in comparison with the boost to morale & recruiting that the proclamation brought on. The 200,000 United Colored Troops who joined the fight outnumbered the Army of Northern Virginia & the Army of Tennessee combined. The combination of moral authority & men brought into the ranks when the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1, 1863 combined to make it the day the war was won.

If you did not get to see an original copy of the proclamation when it toured during the 150th, ere it is:

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Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
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Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
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Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
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