While the United States of America is today a place where every person - no matter what class, creed or color is equal - this was not always the case. Earlier this week, the country commemorated two major milestones that paved the way for all the freedom we now enjoy - The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam and the subsequent Emancipation Proclamation. However, before we get into the details, here is a brief history of the chain of events that led to these history-making episodes.
It all began in December of 1860, when some states in the Deep South made a decision to secede from the Union and its government and create an independent nation. By April of 1861, a total of eleven states all the way from Texas to Tennessee and North Carolina had joined and become members of the Confederate States. However, the rest of the States ('The Union') that supported the Federal Government were not going to let that happen without a fight - Leading to what we all know as the American Civil War. Not surprisingly, the former Confederate States still refer to it as the 'War Between the States', while the former Union States call it 'War to Preserve the Union'.
The first confrontation between the two sides occurred on April 12, 1861, when the Confederate forces fired shots at a Union military installation in South Carolina. After that the battles continued at a steady pace with both sides declaring small victories. Then, on that fateful day in September came the battle that changed the lives of generations of people - The one that we now call the . . .
The Battle of Antietam
Fought on September 17th, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland and Antietam Creek it was the first major battle of the Civil war to be fought on Union Soil and also, the bloodiest single day battle in American history - A day when 23,000 Americans -12,400 Union soldiers and 10,300 Confederate soldiers were either wounded, killed or reported missing in action! While the battle is considered a draw from a military perspective, President Abraham Lincoln declared it a victory for the Union - One he badly needed before delivering the . . .
Though President Lincoln had wanted to abolish slavery since 1861, it was not until Congress approved 'The Second Confiscation Act' on July 16th, 1862 that he could even consider it. This act which allowed the slaves of Confederates who did not surrender within 60 days of the act's passage, to go free, was the first step towards the end of slavery in the US.
However, the act offered did go far enough - It offered the freed slaves no civil rights but instead, made provisions for transporting and colonizing them to any tropical country that guaranteed to give them the rights and privileges of free men and women. Clearly there was a lot more work to be done!
But when the President presented his initial version of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Cabinet, he met with mixed reactions. He therefore knew that if he wanted to enforce it, he would have to do it following a military victory, when he had the support of the entire Union behind him - The successful outcome of the Battle of Antietam provided him that edge.
On September 22, 1862, just five days after the Civil War's bloodiest single-day battle, the President issued a preliminary proclamation stating that any slaves living in the Confederate State of America that were not in control of the Union by Jan 1st 1863, would be free and receive full protection from the Government. Almost immediately, 50,000 slaves became free men and women and the rest as they say is history! Thanks to the sacrifices of the people that fought in that battle and a forward thinking President, today America is truly the land of the free!