Emancipation and war

Yael A. Sternhell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Emancipation is the Civil War’s hallmark achievement and most enduring legacy. In many ways, it is the conflict’s distinguishing mark, the silver lining that elevates it from another pointless bloodbath to a just war. Yet while it was taking place, the destruction of Southern slavery was a long-winded, haphazard process, fraught with inconsistencies and suffused with tragedy. At any given moment and at any given place, the fate of emancipation rested on a combination of factors: the particular configuration of slavery in the area, the geographical lay of the land, the balance of power between Union and Confederate forces, the policies of both governments, the individual attitudes of local commanders, and the ability of enslaved people to seize opportunity from these shifting circumstances. On the ground, the war never was a steady march towards freedom, and the collapse of the slave system was marked by great variation across time and space. In some locales, it was quick and sudden, marked by wholesale departures of the enslaved population or by spurts of violence against masters and their property. In others, slavery died a slow and gradual death, with acts of resistance so subtle they were barely visible to the naked eye.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the American Civil War
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 3, Affairs of the People
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781316650721
ISBN (Print)9781107154544
StatePublished - 11 Oct 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Emancipation and war'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this