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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Matthew Gailani
Have you heard of the Emancipation Proclamation? On September 22, 1862, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln said, “all persons held as slaves within any states…in rebellion against the United States, shall be…free.” This led to the Emancipation Proclamation being enacted a few months later, on January 1, 1863. This meant any enslaved person in a state fighting against the United States was now free. This was a very important step in American history, but it did not free everyone. In fact, it did not include Tennessee.
The Civil War started in 1861 when several southern states broke away from the United States, which was also known as the Union. The southern states formed the Confederate States of America, also known as the South. Tennessee was a Confederate state. This meant that Tennessee voted to leave the Union. Tennessee and the rest of the country were now at war. Nashville was a Confederate capital, but it did not stay this way for long. After victories at the battles of Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson, the United States Army captured Nashville in February 1862. Many citizens who supported the Confederacy left the city as a result. Soon after, many enslaved men and women escaped to Nashville.
Photograph of the Tennessee State Capitol during the Civil War. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Nashville was now under Union control. President Abraham Lincoln sent someone to govern the capital city and the captured areas of Tennessee. He chose the politician Andrew Johnson to be the Military Governor. Johnson was a Tennessean, a former governor, and a slave owner. Most importantly, he supported the Union during the Civil War. In fact, he was the only southern senator to keep his seat in congress when the war began. This meant that Andrew Johnson was a Unionist. When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he and Johnson decided it would not include Tennessee.
Political card for the 1864 election showing Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Lincoln and Johnson did not think Tennessee was in “rebellion” like the other Confederate states. This was because Nashville and the capital had been controlled and governed by Andrew Johnson since early 1862. Johnson and the Union government had even payed Unionist slave owners in Tennessee if their slaves worked on military projects. This meant that all enslaved men and women in Tennessee were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Instead, many enslaved men and women had to free themselves. They escaped from plantations. They ran to cities like Nashville and Memphis. This was extremely dangerous. If they did not reach Union lines or safety, they could be captured, sent back to slavery, or killed. One Tennessean who escaped to freedom was John McCline. He was an enslaved child at a plantation in Davidson County. One day, a group of Union soldiers marched by McCline and invited him to join them and he did. He participated in major battles during the war. McCline and thousands of other former enslaved Tennesseans joined the United States’ war effort.
Tintype of Hannah and Adam Watkins. Adam served during the Civil War in the 16th USCT Regiment. Adam escaped enslavement and enlisted in the Union Army. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
On October 24, 1864, Andrew Johnson finally said all enslaved men, women, and children were free in Tennessee. It was added to Tennessee’s constitution on February 22, 1865. This was over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. While the Emancipation Proclamation was important and changed the war, it still did not apply to many. Many enslaved men and women in Confederate states, separated from the Union Army, remained in slavery until the war’s end and the ratification of the 13th Amendment. In the end, thousands of enslaved Tennesseans and enslaved African Americans were forced to free themselves. We should remember this when we study the history of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War in Tennessee.
Emancipation Proclamation – A presidential proclamation (order) issued by Abraham Lincoln. He originally issued it on September 22, 1862 and it took effect on January 1, 1863. It declared “that all persons held as slaves "within the rebellious states" are, and henceforward shall be free." However, it did not apply to everyone.
Enslaved – A person who is forced to be a slave. Someone whose freedom and choice has been taken away.
Unionist – Someone who supported the United States or Union during the Civil War.
Issued – To distribute or release something.
When was the Emancipation Proclamation first issued? When did it take effect?
Who was the President who issued the Emancipation Proclamation?
Who was the Military Governor of Tennessee during the Civil War?
What limits did the Emancipation Proclamation have?
Why do you think that the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to “rebellious states”?
Try reading this part of the Emancipation Proclamation (it may be difficult but that’s ok! You can ask an adult for help). Is Tennessee mentioned? Which states/areas are?
“…the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”
For the full text, go here:
Matthew Gailani is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.