Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Remembering Lincoln

Ford's Theater 1865
On April 14, 1865, while attending the play Our American Cousin, at Ford's Theatre President Abraham Lincoln was shot.  The Ford's Theater Society commemorated Lincoln's legacy with an all night vigil from the 14th through today April 15th, with  a moment of silence at 7:22am the moment Lincoln was pronounced dead.  The assasination occured five days after the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Gen. Robert E. Lee, surrendered to Lt. Gen Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac at Appomatox Court House.

Scene of Lincoln's Funeral Procession.

Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms.  Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere."
- Lincoln September 11, 1858

Lincoln's most noted speech is the Gettysburg Address, but his presidency is marked by many historic moments including signing the Emancipation Proclamation.  His death deeply affected many Americans including the African American community, as he played a very important role in ending slavery in the United States.  Just days after his death thousands of people could be seen waiting to pay their respects at his funeral.  A New York World coorespondent wrote that the occasion was strange because it was a very significant parade but it was also very sad.  The soldiers of the 22nd United States Colored Troops, a regiment from Pennsylvania, led Lincoln's funeral procession to the train that would take his body to Springfield, Illinois were he was buried.

The nation at large was in mourning, responses can be seen in communities around the country to Lincoln's death.  The Ford's Theater Society has established a digital archive of responses to Lincoln's death, The African American Civil War Museum will post some responses to Lincoln's death, from the African American community on our Facebook page throughout the day on today April 15th.

-Briana Welch, Eastern Senior High School

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Grand Review Coming Soon

Army coming down Pennsylvania Ave
The African American Civil War Museum is delighted to be a key organizer of a huge event taking place this upcoming spring 2015, marking the 150th anniversary of one of the most important parades in the nation's history.  The Grand Review Parade will assemble 6 to 10,000 marchers and spectators in Washington, DC on Sunday, May 17, 2015.  The event will commemorate the Grand Review of the Armies, which took place on May 23, 2015.  The original event took place in a much smaller Washington, but its sense of healing and unity resonates powerfully in our own time.  At the time the nation was still recovering not just from the Civil War itself, but from President Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater the previous month.

Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, made plans for a formal review of the Union troops in part to mark the end of the war and the Union victory, but also to try to lift the spirits of citizens in the capital and across the nation.  On May 18, 1865 the army issued Special Order No. 239, calling for a Grand Review, a two day parade in Washington, DC of the main Union armies.  In all, more than 150,000 soldiers would parade through the nation's capital, filing past the president and his cabinet, as well as Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant positioned on a special reviewing stand in front of the White House.

Army filing past Presidential Review Stand, 1865
At 9:00am on May 23, a signal gun fired a single shot and Major Gen. George Meade, the victor of Gettysburg, led an estimated 80,000 men of the Army of the Potomac down the streets of Washington past thousands in the crowds.  On the following day at 10:00am, General William T. Sherman led the 65,000 men of the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia past the admiring crowds and celebrities, most of whom had never seen him before.  Within a week of the celebrations, the two armies were disbanded and many of the volunteer regiments and batteries were sent home to be mustered out of the army.

Army filing past crowd 
This parade is the culmination of a weekend of events to commemorate the end of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  The original Grand Review Parade held in May, 1865, marked the end of the war and the dismissal of many of the troops.  No African American regiments were allowed to march in 1865 but the 2015 march will correct a great wrong in history as the USCT, Volunteer and Regular Union Regiments will march down Pennsylvania Ave together.  We invite you to participate in this Sesquicentennial Commemoration and celebrate our event theme a "New Birth of Freedom and Union," inspired by one of President Abraham Lincoln's most noted speeches The Gettysburg Address.  To learn more about the Grand Review Weekend please visit the event website  Hope to see you there.

How do you plan to commemorate the closing days of the Civil War?

Briana Welch, Eastern Senior High School

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Emancipation in Maryland

   This past November 1st marks the 150th year of Maryland’s Emancipation. November 1st, 1864 is the day that Maryland freed its people from slavery within its boundaries. This was done by the creation of a new state constitution. In the summer of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln first put forward the idea of the Emancipation Proclamation, which would abolish (put an end to) slavery. This changed the focus of the war completely. According to an article written on facts about the Emancipation proclamation, “up until September, 1862, the main focus of the war had been to preserve the union. With the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, freedom for slaves now became a legitimate war aim.” Maryland was the first slave state that voluntarily freed its enslaved people. Every November 1st, there are events scheduled for Maryland’s celebration. Montgomery Park celebrates with a series of adventures such as, Underground Railroad hikes, log cabin tours and tours at museums dedicated to slavery’s legacy. Another great place to celebrate Maryland’s abolishment of slavery is Tolson’s Chapel. Like Montgomery Park, Tolson’s Chapel has a few great activities to part take in every year.
  Although the Emancipation proclamation abolished slavery, it only applied to southern states in the rebellion.  It did not apply to slave holding boarder states that were already under the control of the union. These states included Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. If these states wanted to abolish slavery, they had to do it on their own. The 13th Amendment, the Amendment that abolished slavery was not passed by congress until January 31st, 1865. The Amendment was then ratified on December 6th, 1865.

                         -  Briana Welch
                    Eastern Senior High School


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Rally on the High Ground"--Repairing the African American Civil War Memorial

It has been many years since the sound of a gun was heard on U Street. The anomalous incident that occurred in late December luckily did not result in bodily harm. Unfortunately, the gunshots managed to damage one of the most important national landmarks—the Wall of Honor at the African-American Civil War Memorial, which remains the only memorial dedicated to honoring the 209, 145 men of the United States Colored Troops who bravely answered the call of their country during the Civil War. The community remains confident in the safety of their neighborhood, and is now turning its attention to the needs of the memorial. The museum is proud to announce the start of "Rally on the High Ground", a fundraising effort to help pay for the repairs. Aside from the damage caused to the names of Adolph Ebermayer and Henry Foster, there are other issues at the memorial that need repair. Among the items on the agenda are repair of damage done by skateboarders, installation of anti-skating devices, repairs and replacements of lighting, installation of graphics and flag poles, and renewal of landscaping surrounding the memorial.

To understand the importance of the memorial, you must first know the story of the men whose names are inscribed. The passing of the Militia Act of 1862 is one of the most overlooked moments in history. When compared to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments or the Civil Rights laws that were passed a century after the war’s end, the Militia Act could seem irrelevant. Its consequences, however, changed the course of American history by not only allowing but asking “men of African descent”—specifying one of the most oppressed and mistreated groups in our nation’s history—to join the military, to fight for their freedom, and to help reunite the war-torn country. African-Americans were dramatically overrepresented in the military, and played an incomparable and decisive role in the war. The passage of the Emancipation Proclamation six months after the Militia Act allowed even more men of African descent to bravely stand up and fight to defend a country that would continue to deny their rights for more than a century after the war’s end. 25 soldiers of African descent earned the Medal of Honor, and President Lincoln acknowledged their contributions as vital to the Union’s victory over the Confederacy.

The importance of Washington, D.C. in this story stems from more than just its status as the nation’s capital. U Street became a vibrant cultural center for the African American community in the century following the war. Dubbed “Black Broadway”, the area attracted some of the greatest minds of the time, including Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington. The neighborhood suffered immensely in 1968 with the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which simply added to already roiling racial tensions, and the violent riots which followed.

With the efforts of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation, a statue entitled The Spirit of Freedom, surrounded by the Wall of Honor that displays plaques with the 209, 145 names of the United States Colored Troops, was installed at U Street. The placement of the memorial in the long-time center of African-American culture reminded everyone of the community’s past glory and the heritage of its residents, helping to revitalize the area. The memorial honors those who answered their country’s cry for help. It honors those who not only fought for their own freedom, but for the reunion, peace and prosperity of a country that had denied them their basic human rights. It honors the families and descendants of these soldiers and sailors who are here only because of the brave sacrifices of these men. It honors those who continued to fight for equality, marching for Civil Rights much like their ancestors marched across battlefields. But most importantly, it honors America, and the men that allowed it to become the country it is today.
The importance of this memorial cannot be overstated. These men remained unnamed and unrecognized for far too long, and their bravery deserves a memorial that accurately honors the devotion they showed to their country. Please join the "Rally on the High Ground" and answer this call for help, just as these men did a century ago. Any contribution you can make to help restore the memorial to its intended state will be acknowledged and greatly appreciated.

Persons interested in making a tax deductible donation to "Rally on the High Ground" may do so by making checks payable to the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation (please include memorial repairs in memo section) and address them to

African American Civil War Museum
1925 Vermont Ave NW,
Washington, D.C., 20001 

or they may donate online by going to

Friday, November 23, 2012

The “Interpretive Choice” in Spielberg’s Lincoln

In the President’s annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Abraham Lincoln proposed a 13th amendment to the Constitution that would abolish slavery. Lincoln said, “The proposed emancipation would shorten the war, perpetuate peace, insure this increase in population, and proportionately the wealth of the country.” Though Lincoln’s “personal wish [was] that all men everywhere could be free,” his commitment to emancipation has been questioned by many contemporary scholars. In Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, his commitment is clarified.

Spielberg’s Lincoln is an outstanding exploration into how the 13th Amendment got passed in the House of Representatives. The movie followed the historical script so well that it was almost boring. There were moments when my head nodded, and it was not because I was nodding in agreement. (I went to the 11:00 PM show.) The movie had a documentary quality to it that was complimented by excellent acting. The more familiar one is with the Congressional Globe and Lincoln’s papers, both accessible at Library of Congress websites, the more impressed one is with the historical accuracy of the film. However, if one seeks a certain interpretation of history, the film might be a disappointment.

On Sunday morning, a friend sent me a review of Spielberg’s Lincoln from the New York Times written by Kate Masur a professor of history at Northwestern University. Masur wrote, “It is a well known pastime of historians to quibble with Hollywood over details. Here, however, the issue is not factual accuracy but interpretive choice [emphasis added]. A stronger African- American presence, even at the margins of Mr. Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln,’ would have suggested that another dynamic of emancipation was occurring just outside the frame — a world of black political debate, of civic engagement and of monumental effort for the liberation of body and spirit.” Masur’s interpretive choice would have added affirmative action fiction to Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Professor Masur’s recommendation that Frederick Douglass be portrayed in the movie is an interpretive choice that would have made the movie less factual. The focus of the movie was on the passage of the 13th Amendment. Douglass did not have a role in getting the amendment passed in January 1865. His monthly had even ceased publication by then. The professor’s review was essentially an admonishment to Hollywood to do what Glory did and make history fiction in order to get the token Negro in the inner circle of the film’s main character. And, of course, when it comes to contemporary Civil War scholarship at our finest institutions, Frederick Douglass is the affirmative action inner circle Negro. Fortunately, Spielberg did not lend his talents to such fiction.

As it pertains to African Americans, Spielberg’s interpretive choice to include their role as soldiers is noteworthy because Lincoln truly valued their military contributions. With this choice, Spielberg chose to stay on topic and not venture to the margins in order to squeeze a selected African American into the frame. When the Confederate peace commission came through City Point, Virginia, in early 1865, thousands of African American soldiers were positioned in and around that Union stronghold. Therefore, the scene when the Confederate officials came face to face with African descent soldiers resonates with significant historical accuracy. Spielberg’s interpretive choice to note the military contributions of African Americans rather than to find a way to include an African American editor at the margins should be applauded not censured by those who seek to include the role of the enslaved in the “dynamic of emancipation” that was occurring inside the frame.

As for the overall historical accuracy as it relates to African descent soldiers, I have one minor criticism of the movie. Two African American soldiers are speaking to President Lincoln in the second scene. One shares his personal story in a Kansas regiment before being transferred to the East in a Kentucky regiment. The other a corporal from a Massachusetts regiment complains about there not being any African American commissioned officers. Though many popular scholars make that claim, it is simply not accurate. At the moment in history the scene depicts, there were over 100 African American commissioned officers who had served in the Union Army. Indeed, out in Kansas in late 1864, the Independent Battery United States Colored Light Artillery had been mustered into the Union Army commanded by an African American officer, Captain Hezekiah Ford Douglas. All the commissioned officers in the battery were African Americans. African American commissioned officers were also serving in a Massachusetts regiment.

The movie covers a time span from the fall of 1864 to April 1865. Therefore, there was an opportunity to report historically accurate events concerning Lincoln personally commissioning African American officers. Lincoln commissioned Alexander Augusta as a captain in October 1862, and Augusta was a Lieutenant Colonel (Brevet) as a surgeon with the 7th United States Colored Infantry in April 1865. Martin Delany met with Lincoln in the White House a couple of weeks after the President signed the 13th Amendment, and Lincoln commissioned Delany a major that February. The corporal’s fictitious complaint in the second scene was not consistent with the historical fact that Lincoln personally commissioned African American officers.

Because of the movie’s primary focus, I do not find fault in Spielberg’s Lincoln for not mentioning Lt. Colonel Augusta or Major Delany even though they could have been easily put in the frame where soldiers appeared not simply “at the margins” where Masur wanted her editor. Lincoln personally commissioned the highest ranking African American officer in the Civil War, Lt. Colonel Augusta, who treated wounded soldiers on battlefields Lincoln visited near Petersburg. Lincoln personally commissioned the only African descent officer to command his own regiment. Major Delany was the commander of 104th United States Colored Infantry in April 1865.

With that said, I consider my historical criticism extremely minor given the focus of the movie; and I highly recommend the movie to students of the Civil War. After you watch the film, I also recommend you compare the Congressional debates in the movie to the records of the Congressional debates that you can access online at the Library of Congress website “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.” I also recommend a visit to the Library Congress website hosting the “Abraham Lincoln Papers.” (See below for the links.) Query keywords such as emancipation, 13th Amendment, African, colored soldiers and freedom. Read and enjoy the primary sources that will give you a more expansive interpretive choice and help you understand the intelligent choices of Lincoln and Spielberg. I am certain after reviewing these primary sources you will have a greater appreciation for the historical accuracy of Spielberg’s Lincoln. The film is almost a documentary, and far more historically accurate than 50% of the documentary films I have seen on the Civil War.

As for Masur’s criticism of the film, she admits that it is not historically based. Her criticism is simply a question of interpretive choice, which actually means the historical fiction she prefers for the sake of inclusiveness “even at the margins,” and Douglass is her recommended Negro “at the margins.” Douglass was an advisor to Lincoln many such scholars argue. Yet, to be fair to Masur, she only said he attended the inaugural ball in March 1865. Though many scholars assert that Douglass was the leader of the African American community during the war, he was not. Douglass was the editor of a journal read by more European Americans than African Americans. The young African Americans who fought in the Civil War were more likely to read the journal edited by Robert Hamilton, the Anglo-African, than they were to read the Douglass’ Monthly.

Masur’s interpretive choice would have placed Douglass in the movie because she does not know who else to put in the frame. I would love to know the professor’s opinion on the movie Glory, a grossly historically inaccurate film. My guess is that she probably compliments the director’s interpretive choice because Douglass was included in that film. He attended a fictitious party at the fictitious Shaw mansion in Boston and was engaged in a fictitious inner circle conversation with Robert Gould Shaw about fighting to free the Negroes. Such fiction is justified because it reveals “a world of black political debate, of civic engagement and of monumental effort for the liberation of body and spirit,” suggesting, of course, that we must make up such stories.

Masur’s criticism of Spielberg’s Lincoln demonstrates a propensity common among many contemporary scholars who seek to provide a view of history (an interpretive choice) that is in fact tokenism. Simply stated if they do not know the Negro who really did something related to the subject matter, they put the most famous Negro of the time, their super Negro, in the story simply to have a Negro in the inner circle. Among contemporary scholars, Frederick Douglass is the affirmative action Negro of the Civil War. I wonder if he would be fond of that dubiously esteemed position.

A Century of Lawmaking:

Abraham Lincoln Papers:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What Were They Watching for on Watch Night?

What Were They Watching for on Watch Night?

With great expectations, African Americans looked to January 1, 1863, as the day of jubilee.  They congregated in churches and around “praying trees” in secret locations across the country on the evening of December 31, 1862, to “watch” for the coming of the Emancipation Proclamation; thus, the tradition of “watch night” was born.  “It is a day for poetry and song, a new song,” wrote Frederick Douglass.  “These cloudless skies, this balmy air, this brilliant sunshine, (making December as pleasant as May), are in harmony with the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn up on us.”  President Lincoln had promised a proclamation emancipating slaves in the states in rebellion 99 days earlier; and on “watch night,” Americans of African descent faithfully “watched” for his proclamation to be issued on the 100th day.  In Boston, Douglass reported that “a line of messengers was established between the telegraph office and the platform at Tremont Temple.”  When what Douglass called the “trump of jubilee” was heard, “joy and gladness exhausted all forms of expression, from shouts of praise to sobs and tears.”
In Washington, Reverend Henry M. Turner, pastor of Israel Bethel AME Church located on Capitol Hill, wrote that it was in the churches of the District of Columbia where “expressions of sentiments” for the Emancipation Proclamation could be heard.   “Watching” for the issuing of the final Emancipation Proclamation was not simply “watching” for emancipation.  African Americans were “watching” for the opportunity to fight for freedom.  The enslaved in the District had already been emancipated, but they prayed for the freedom of all.  Indeed, they were willing to fight for the freedom of all.  “Several colored men in this city,” wrote Reverend Turner, “say they are now ready for the battlefield.  Abraham Lincoln can get anything he wants from the colored people here from a company to a corps.  I would not be surprised to see myself carrying a musket before long.”  Later that year, Turner would recruit hundreds of men and become a chaplain in the Union Army.
It is important that we in the 21st century understand that the Emancipation Proclamation did not simply free the slaves.  It declared free slaves in the states in rebellion.  It was in Lincoln’s words “a fit and necessary war measure” for preserving the Union.  Lincoln wrote in the Proclamation that it “was warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity.”  The military necessity that led to the Emancipation Proclamation meant that the help of African Americans was needed to save the Union.  Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, declared in January 1863 that the “proclamation is also an authentic statement by the Government of the United States of its inability to subjugate the South by force of arms.”  In the 19th century African Americans, the leadership of the Confederacy, and the leadership of the Federal government understood that the Emancipation Proclamation was a military necessity that explicitly called on the help of African Americans.
Unequivocally, Lincoln believed that African descent soldiers were critical to Union success.  The President wrote to General Ulysses S. Grant in August 1863 stating that he believed African descent soldiers were “a resource which if vigourously [sic] applied now, will soon close the contest.”  Grant replied stating that he shared the President’s belief declaring that “by arming the negro, we have added a powerful ally.”  In response to a supporter who opposed emancipation and the use of African descent soldiers, Lincoln wrote, “I know, as fully as one can know the opinions of others that some of the commanders of our armies in the field, who have given us our most important successes, believe the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion; and that at least one of those important successes could not have been achieved when it was, but for the aid of black soldiers.  Among the commanders holding these views are some who have never had any affinity with what is called abolitionism, or with Republican party politics, but who hold them purely as military opinion.” 
Therefore, when we celebrate and commemorate “watch night” and the 150th anniversary of the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, we should appreciate the importance of African Americans in saving the Union and freeing themselves.  Such an appreciation is to understand the practical significance of the Proclamation as the people who made the history understood it.  We are commemorating the “watching for” the hour that the government’s policy aligned with prayers of liberation and celebrating African descent patriots being armed with the Emancipation Proclamation.  As we gather in churches, synagogues, and mosques in prayer across the country on “watch night;” we should appreciate that with faith and courage on December 31, 1862, Americans of African descent were “watching for” the opportunity to secure “the blessings of  liberty for themselves and their posterity” under the banner of the U. S. Constitution.  With the support of the Federal government, they were deployed as enforcers of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Indeed, January 1, 1863 was a day of Jubilee not because the slaves were set free but because the enslaved were called upon to save the Union and armed accordingly with the legal authority to set themselves free.      

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Juneteenth, A Flag day Celebration

Hari Jones, Curator
African American Civil War Museum 

Juneteenth, a Flag Day Celebration

Juneteenth commemorates the news on June 19, 1865, that slaves in Texas were free. The general order, read on the steps of Ashton Villa at 2328 Broadway in Galveston, came almost three years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862.

Houston Chronicle Friday, June 15, 2012

I like that Juneteenth falls near Flag Day for Juneteenth is truly a patriotic day if it is celebrated for the historically correct reason.  If you are celebrating Juneteenth because you believe that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation did not get to Texas until June 19, 1865, you have been co-opted by the wrong reason.  A close examination of historical events in Texas with particular attention given to the voices of African Americans who lived in Texas during the Civil War is required to get to the historical roots of the celebration.  Such an examination of facts demonstrates that the news of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was certainly in Texas in 1862, that the news of the final Emancipation was certainly in Texas in 1863 and that Juneteenth is worth celebrating for a more uplifting and patriotic reason.

In Texas, one of the earliest Union bombardments was the bombardment of Galveston in September 1861, the first year of the war. (Harper’s Weekly, September 7, 1862, “Bombardment of Galveston”)  At eighty six years old Jacob Branch remembered the bombardment, “One morning Eleck and I git up at crack of dawn to milk.  All at once come a shock what shook the earth.  De big fish jump clean out de bay and turtles and alligators run out deir ponds.  Dey plumb ruint Galveston!  Us runned to de house and all de dishes and things done jump out de shelf.  Dat de first bombardment of Galveston.”  (“Jacob Branch”, Voices From Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives, edited by Norman R. Yetman, page 41) Early in the war, African Americans in Texas like Jacob Branch felt the effects of the War of the Rebellion.

According to the 1860 U. S. Census, Galveston was the largest city in Texas with a population of 7,207 of which 1,200 were enslaved.

Residents of African descent in Galveston were introduced to Union forces in person a year after the first bombardment.   Commander Jonathan M. Wainwright, commanding the Navy gunboat Harriet Lane, took possession of the largest city in Texas and raised the Stars and Stripes over the old U.S. Customs House on October 4, 1862.  Three companies of the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry arrived there on December 25, 1862 (A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion compiled by Frederick Dyer, page 792).
The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation had been issued three months earlier on September 22, 1862. In this proclamation, Abraham Lincoln warned the Rebel states that he would declare free their slaves if they did not cease their rebellion by January 1, 1863.  There was great anticipation of Lincoln’s final Emancipation Proclamation wherever the Union held territory in the Rebel states.  Though the enslaved eagerly waited for the Day of Jubilee, an impending Rebel attack led by Confederate General John McGruder tempered the anticipation of those around Galveston.


In the early morning of January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Rebel forces under McGruder recaptured Galveston.  Disappointed by the Union’s departure, enslaved freedom seekers in the Houston and Galveston area sought other means of emancipation.  Jacob Branch reported, “After the war starts lots of slaves runned off to join the Yankees.  All dem in dis part heads for the Rio Grande river.  De Mexicans rig up flatboats out in the middle of de river, tied to stakes with rope.  When the cullud [African descent] people gets to de rope de can pull deyself ‘cross de rest of de way on dem boats.  De white folks rode de ‘Merican [American] side dat river all de time, but plenty slaves git through anyway”  (“Jacob Branch”, Yetman page 41).  Accordingly after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and Galveston was recaptured, enslaved persons in Texas emancipated themselves by escaping and joining the Yankees.

 Harriet Lane.           Rebel Gun-boats.               Owasco.           Westfield being blown up.     Mary Boardman.


In early 1863, Union military strategy demanded that efforts be focused on the control of the Mississippi River and therefore the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Three months after the Union captured Vicksburg and seven months after the Rebels had recaptured Galveston, the Union turned its attention back to Texas capturing the Gulf Coast of Texas from Brownsville to Indianola in the fall of 1863.  (Harper’s Weekly, November 28, 1863, “The Texas Expedition”, December 12, 1863, “The Texas Campaign” and January 16, 1864, “Texas”)  Henry Lewis an enslaved person residing near Liberty reported that he heard Union guns near the Sabine Pass.  The 1st Corps d’Afrique (later redesignated the 95th USCT) participated in the Sabine Pass Expedition in September 1863. (Dyer, page 2117)  Five African American regiments joined General Nathaniel Banks on his Texas Expedition in the fall of 1863. (Dyer, pages 2117 -2121)  By late November 1863, the Union Army with African descent soldiers brought the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas long before June19, 1865.  Enslaved persons certainly knew about their declared emancipation before their proclamation was enforced in June.  Lewis reported, “When de War come on I seed soldiers every day.  Dey have de camp in Liberty and I watches dem.  I heard the guns, too, maybe at Sabine Pass, but I didn’t see no actual fightin’.   Dey sent the papers down on March fifth, I done heard, but dey didn’t turn us loose den.  Dis is the last state to turn the slaves free.  When dey didn’t let dem go in March, de Yankee soldiers come in June and make dem let us go.” (“Henry Lewis”, Voices From Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives, edited by Norman R. Yetman, page 206)  The story of the Yankee soldiers of African and European descent “making” slaveholders free their slaves is the story of Juneteenth that is worth celebrating.

On April 3, 1865, the 25th Army Corps comprised of exclusively United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments, captured Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy.   After the capture of the Rebel capital, the Army of Northern Virginia was is full retreat.  In the early morning of April 9, 1865, a brigade of African descent soldiers of the 25th Army Corps led by the 41st USCT skirmished with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia south and west of a small Virginia town called Appomattox Court House.  After a five-hour skirmish, Lee decided he could no longer continue to prosecute the war.  Later that day he surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia because that is where Union soldiers of African descent stopped his army.  Thirteen USCT regiments witnessed Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865.  The war was over in the minds of most soldiers, but most of the Rebel states did not surrender immediately; therefore, the Emancipation Proclamation still had to be enforced.  By the end of May 1865 all but one had surrendered.  The Confederate government in Texas still refused to submit to Federal authority.  The Rebel governor Pendleton Murrah hoped to make Texas the seat of the new Confederacy, but the Lone Star State had become the priority of Union efforts.
From November 1863 to May 1865, seven United States Colored Troops regiments were among the Union troops on occupation duty along the Gulf Coast of Texas.  The occupation troops in Texas needed reinforcements in order to completely suppress the rebellion there.  On May 22, 1865, the then famed 25th Army Corps received embarkation orders.  Thomas Morris Chester, an African American war correspondent, wrote:  “That the negro corps, under General Weitzel, has received marching orders is well known throughout their camps, and they are beginning to put on the war-paint with the impression that they are going to Texas.  They look forward to the period of embarkation with a great deal of satisfaction.”   (Thomas Morris Chester, Black Correspondent: His Dispatches from the Virginia Front edited by R.J.M. Blackett, page 353)  By June 13, 1865, nine regiments of this famed “Negro Corps” that had captured Richmond were in Texas.
Unable to repulse the Union Army comprised of mostly African descent soldiers, Governor Murrah along with his two top generals, McGruder and Smith, accompanied by 10,000 Rebel troops crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico in the early morning of June 15, 1865. (Cortina: Defending the Mexican Name in Texas by Jerry Thompson, page 150)  Chased out of Texas by Yankees soldiers who were largely of African descent, the Rebel government surrendered the Lone Star State in fact to these sable Yankees.  On the next day June 16, 1865, Texas officially surrendered to Federal authority; and the last state in rebellion was finally brought back into the Union.  The Stars and Stripes was returned to the Texas state house that June.  The Union was preserved that June.  That June a victorious Union Army with African American soldiers as standard bearers liberated the enslaved of Texas who were declared free by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

Given these facts, Juneteenth is not at its historical roots “when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation got to Texas.”  The news was in Texas in the persons of African descent Yankee soldiers and sailors in 1862 and 1863.  Juneteenth is when such Yankee soldiers and sailors brought Texas back into the Union and freed the enslaved by enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation.  As Henry Lewis reported, “Dis is the last state to turn the slaves free.  When dey didn’t let dem go in March, de Yankee soldiers come in June and make dem let us go.” (“Henry Lewis”, Yetman, page 206)  Throughout Texas the news and most importantly the enforcement of the Proclamation arrived at different times.  Bill Homer of Fort Worth reported, “After surrender, Missy reads de paper and tells we’uns is free, by dat we’uns kin stay till we is adjusted to de change.” (“Bill Homer”, Yetman, page 170)  The change to be adjusted to was brought on by a military victory in which Americans of African descent played an important role. 

If you are celebrating Juneteenth because you believe that June 19, 1865 is the day “when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation got to Texas,” you are celebrating for the wrong reason.  When I celebrate Juneteenth, I am celebrating a military victory over the Texas Rebels that resulted in the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in all the ten states that were in rebellion in 1863 as well as the successful effort to keep the Republic indivisible.  School children in Texas pledge allegiance to the Stars and Stripes because of the military victory that brought Texas back into the Union.  That’s why I like that Juneteenth falls near Flag Day.

According to the Houston Chronicle, there are 41 states that “recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and Maryland currently has legislation pending that could make it the 42nd state.”  In each of these states the Juneteenth holiday according to legislation was established because the news of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t get to Texas until June 19,1865.  While advancing and getting this false explanation into legislation across the country, the leader of the national campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday believes that this maybe “the year for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday observance in America, like Flag Day and Patriot Day."  Before the nation takes on the expense of another Federal holiday, we should at least get the history correct.  The Federal legislature should not be as careless and loose with the history as 41 state legislatures have been.  Falsehoods embedded in the law are not worth celebrating, but Flag Day and Juneteenth together are worth celebrating.