Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





James Oakes

Committee Members

David Waldstreicher

Gunja SenGupta

Subject Categories

Military History | Political History | United States History


Civil War, Emancipation, Union Army, Black Soldiers


This project provides a new history of the implementation of federal emancipation policy by the Union armies during the Civil War. It examines five geographic regions occupied by the Union army—the Mississippi River Valley, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and Kentucky—focusing on the activities of officials whom I term the “middle managers” of federal emancipation policy. Though often overlooked by historians, officers such as Union army Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, Commissioner for the United States Colored Troops George Stearns, and Major William Sidell were specifically designated by the Lincoln administration to superintend the implementation of emancipation policy in the disloyal states. As such, examining their activities allows us to pay careful attention to both the policy directives coming from Washington, as well as what implementation of that policy looked like on the ground, thus connecting “top-down” and “bottom up” history in ways that are absent from much of the existing scholarship.

A fundamental component of this project is the relationship between the development of free labor plantations, humanitarian care for black refugees, and military emancipation. Although historians have tended to separate out the development of free labor plantations and military emancipation out into discrete streams of analysis, Union officers recognized how freeing slaves and turning plantations into sites of free labor would be instrumental in destroying the power of the planter class. In detailing this relationship, this project does not take an uncritical view of the Union army’s relationship with these formerly enslaved persons, who were often subject to physical abuse, neglect, and the whims of army movements. I do however, make the argument that an understanding of the workings of federal emancipation policy at the departmental and local levels belies the simplistic conclusion that the Union army did not care about African Americans.