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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Workshop 4 - Concerning Emancipation: Who Freed the Slaves?homesitemap
introduction -you are on this page Before You Watch - link LECTURE AND ACTIVITIES Classroom and applications

Workshop 4: Lectures & Activities

Activity Two:
Did Lincoln Lead or Follow?

Review the second set of documents below. Consider the forces acting upon Lincoln for and against emancipation, as well as the role of the enslaved in attaining their emancipation. Use the questions below to guide your reflection. Be sure to refer to specific documents. Link to facilitators' notes

Note: This activity has two sets of questions: those that relate to specific documents and appear on each document page and more general, "big picture" questions listed below. You may begin with general or specific questions depending upon your preference.

Consider These Questions


What outside forces were pushing Lincoln for and against emancipation?


What were the enslaved doing to attain their freedom?


Why did Lincoln resist allowing free African Americans and runaway slaves to join the Union Army?


How did runaway slaves' insistence on freedom and willingness to work in the Union army change the course of the war?

Union African American Soldiers From the Civil War

"The slaves proclaimed the war won for abolition, long before government leaders did. They spread the word from plantation to plantation that Lincoln intended to set them free, and you can see this in the documents themselves. Thousands responded to the news. What did they do? They ran away. They left plantations. They ran and searched for Union Forces. They delivered themselves up, announcing that they were free."
— Louis Masur

  Primary Sources: Documents

(Click here for information on using primary source documents)


image of a generic historic documentFrederick Douglass' "How To End the War," May 1861

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass echoes the sentiments of most of his fellow African Americans who, from the beginning of the war, have advocated general emancipation and their right to join the armed forces.

image of a generic historic documentLetter from John J. Cheatham, May 4, 1861

An educated, white male from Georgia writes to the Confederate Secretary of War, portraying some of the concerns Southern whites have about slaves during the Civil War.

image of a generic historic documentLetter from Major George E. Waring, Jr., December 19, 1861

A Union regimental commander writes about enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act with regard to runaway slaves behind Army lines in the border states.

image of a generic historic documentLetter from General Benjamin F. Butler, May 27, 1861

The Union commander of Fortress Monroe in Virginia writes to his superiors, inquiring as to what should be done about slaves who have escaped to the Union Army camp.

image of a generic historic documentLetter from John Boston, January 12, 1862

A runaway slave who takes shelter with a New York regiment of the Union army writes to his wife, Elizabeth, who had remained in Maryland.

image of a generic historic documentLetter from Hannah Johnson, July 31, 1863

The mother of an African American soldier in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry writes to President Lincoln to appeal for equal treatment of African American soldiers taken as prisoners of war.

image of a generic historic documentLetter from Corporal James Henry Gooding, September 28, 1863

A freeborn corporal of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry writes to President Lincoln, protesting the unequal pay of African American soldiers in the Union Army.

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