Reading Session 5: V. "Slaves No More: Civil War and the
Coming of Freedom"
This fifth chapter examines the effect of the Civil War on slaves and their
owners, including the difficult transition to freedom as well as the many ways
slaves and former slaves played a role in this crucial historical moment.
Before reading the chapter, take a few minutes to think and write about:
READING GOAL: The chapter introduction notes that the Civil War "opened
avenues to freedom, [but] it also created new trials for slaves." As you read
the chapter, try to identify these "new trials" that the war and the coming of
freedom raised for the former slaves. Why did freedom come for many "slowly
SELECTED READINGS: If you cannot read the entire chapter, reading these
particular interviews and narratives will provide an overview of the issues and
topics addressed in the chapter as a whole.
- Varying portrayals of the Civil War. Freewrite for 5-10 minutes about
those places where you've learned about or encountered portrayals of the Civil
War (ranging from school textbooks to popular books and movies like Gone
with the Wind). What aspects of the Civil War tend to be emphasized
repeatedly? What aspects are de-emphasized or ignored? Whose
perspective/experiences does each source employ? Whose are left out?
Does the source discuss or depict the role of "historical" figures like Abraham
Lincoln and Generals Grant and Lee? Does it portray the experiences of
soldiers? What about the experiences of "ordinary" civilian bystanders? How
much about the contribution and experiences of African Americans during the
war is addressed? What, if anything, about America during the Civil War and
Reconstruction would you like to learn more about? Where might you go to
discover this information?
- Barney Alford: Attests to the differing responses of slaves and owners to
the Civil War.
- William H. Adams: Recalls how a white preacher tried to include
pro-Confederate sentiments, and how they were received by the slaves.
- Katie Phoenix: Remembers coming to her own understanding of the war,
opposing the view of her owner.
- John Finnely: Describes fleeing to freedom and serving in the Union troops,
when he had an encounter with a future president.
- Thomas Cole: Describes his service in the Union army when he witnessed
some of the war's bloodiest battles.
- Katie Rowe: Recalls her master swearing he would sooner see his slaves
dead than free.
- Fountain Hughes: Tells of beginning a life of freedom with no money or
place to go.
- Rachel Cruze: Recounts the dramatic encounter between her former master
and the former slave he had whipped, now returning as a Union soldier.
- Cato Carter: Describes staying on to honor his pledge to supervise the
plantation in this master's absence.
- Felix Haywood: Recalls the jubilant mood brought on by the approach of
- Tempie Cummins: Describes how her mother thwarted her owners' scheme
to keep word of freedom from his slaves.
- Robert Glenn: Recounts his struggle to fully accept his freedom and remove
himself from obligations to his former master.
- Tom Robinson: Describes the joy of freedom when it finally came.
- In what ways did slaves' lives change drastically during and just after
the Civil War? What were the new opportunities and new trials and anxieties
for the slaves that came with the war and with freedom? In what ways was the
transition to freedom difficult? What could have been done to ease the
transition and help the slaves start a better life?
- What role did slaves and former slaves play in helping the Union army
to victory and destroying slavery? What was the contribution of the black
troops to the Union army? Why was it so important -- strategically and
symbolically -- that they participate in the war?
- How did slaves redefine themselves and their duties during this time
of war, particularly in the absence of large numbers of white men who had
gone off to war?
- How did the general devastation of the war and its aftermath affect
- Why did some masters conspire to keep knowledge of the war and
the promise of freedom from their slaves? What enabled them to control this
- How did the slaves' conception of the war differ from that of the
Union's leaders, who insisted it was a battle over national unity? How did
slaveholders and slaves differ in their response to the prospect of war?
- What role did songs play in spreading war-time propaganda and
- Why did some former slaves choose to remain in the South and, in
some cases, in the service of their former masters? Why did some former
slaves have difficulty in accepting and adjusting to their own freedom? What
helped them finally fully accept their status as completely free?
- How did the war change relations between masters and slaves?
- How do these firsthand, eyewitness descriptions of war-time battles
and the devastation left in its wake differ from other portrayals you've seen of
the war? What contribution do these firsthand accounts make to our
understanding of America's past?
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY:
- Study newspaper coverage of the Civil War in Northern and Southern
newspapers. Then write an imaginary editorial for a Northern paper and one
for a Southern paper; in each one, outline the newspaper's perspective about
the war, its causes, effects, and likely outcome.
- Re-read some of the songs the slaves sung in support of the war and
their coming freedom. Write your own song lyrics in this vein using similar
symbols and images.
- Imagine you are a soldier about to fight in a Civil War battle. Write an
interior monologue in which you describe your thoughts, feelings, hopes and
fears at this moment. (You might try reading Stephen Crane's The Red Badge
of Courage as an example).
- Read more narratives by former slaves and research their lives after
they became free. How did their lives change after the war? What
contributions did they go on to make to other people's lives?
- Civil War Battles and History
- Civil War Documents and Various Historical Sources (including letters,
paintings, drawings, diaries, documents)
- The Civil War's Impact on American Life in Different Regions
- Causes of the Civil War
- Emancipation Proclamation/13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments
- African American Union Troops
- Lives of Famous Historical Figures Associated with the Civil War