This Month in Civil War History: January 2016

By Jeff Lauck ’18

The Ordinance of Secession for the state of Georgia, signed in January 1861. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Click the play button below in order to listen to “This Month in Civil War History” for January 2016. You can also scroll down to read through the transcript if you would prefer to read it. This report is also airing on WZBT 91.1 FM throughout this month. Thanks to WZBT for their help in producing this piece.


Welcome to The Civil War Institute’s “This Month in Civil War History for January.”

In January of 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana joined South Carolina in seceding from the Union. In their articles of secession, the states made explicit references to defending the future of slavery in their reasons for seceding.

January 1st, 1863 brought perhaps the greatest and most influential piece of policy issued in the 19th century. On New Year’s Day, President Abraham Lincoln signed the landmark Emancipation Proclamation.

Contrary to popular belief, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the country. Rather, it only freed the slaves in regions of the South that were still in open rebellion. In other words, the only slaves that were freed were ones who lived in areas where the Union army had no jurisdiction and could not enforce the law.

However, the law meant that with every new gain in territory, the Union army would be bringing emancipation with them.

At the same time, many slaves did not wait for columns of blue to liberate them. Hundreds of thousands of slaves left their plantations during the war, many of which doing so without even knowing that a bearded man in a stove pipe hat in Washington had done anything at all.

The Emancipation Proclamation was also revolutionary in that it provided for the recruitment of Colored Troop units. Thousands of free blacks and former slaves joined the Union ranks and were a crucial part in the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy. By 1865, as much as ten percent of the Union fighting force consisted of African American soldiers.

Two years later, on January 31st, 1865, Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment that formally abolished slavery. The effort was led by Pennsylvania’s own Thaddeus Stevens. Thaddeus Stevens was a prominent abolitionist and landowner in Gettysburg during the war. His efforts were dramatized in the 2012 Steven Spielberg film Lincoln, where he is portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones.

I’m Jeff Lauck and this has been this month in Civil War History, a coproduction of WZBT and the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.

Leave a Reply