The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper


By Hannah Van Ree

Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation 150 years of change

Nebraska impacted greatly by the war, territory left unprotected as soldiers joined Union Army


Jan. 1, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which some say is the crowning achievement of his presidency.

Emancipation Proclamation analyst Douglas Miller summed up the proclamation as a declaration freeing all slaves in enemy territory, meaning any territory inhabiting people in rebellion against the federal government.

Miller wrote that few slaves were freed immediately after the proclamation because the proclamation did not apply to slaves in border states fighting for the Union, or southern areas of the country that were under Union control. Naturally rebelling states did not free slaves in response to the proclamation either.

However, Miller wrote that the Emancipation Proclamation did bring to light the idea that the end of the Civil War could bring the end of slavery.

According to historians covering the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, early into Lincoln’s administration radical Republicans and abolitionists pressured him to issue the proclamation.

Historians at the library wrote that even though he agreed with the idea he still postponed any lawful action until he felt he had gained more citizen support.

Lincoln had drafted a “Preliminary Proclamation” that he initially read to secretaries William Seward and Gideon Welles in July of 1862, according to historians. The secretaries were left speechless and though his first responses to the proclamation were not the best that did not prevent the President from raising the issue again just nine days later.

The president brought the issue up during a scheduled Cabinet meeting and met mixed reaction. Some of the members, including Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton saw the proclamation as a way to deny the Confederacy of slave labor while recruiting more soldiers for the Union and wanted the proclamation to be released immediately, historians wrote. Others saw the proclamation as the demise of the President’s fall election.

At the Cabinet meeting a month later, Lincoln’s “Preliminary Proclamation” was refined politically and literary into the final Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln composed and signed on Jan. 1, 1863.

The year 2013 not only holds the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation but also the 150th anniversary of one of the most notorious battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg.

According to Gettysburg Foundation historians, “The Battle of Gettysburg started on July 1, 1863, when Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia met Gen. George Meade’s Union Army of the Potomac. During the three-day battle, about 165,000 soldiers clashed in and around the small town of Gettysburg (battle-era population: 2,400).”

The battle of Gettysburg still serves as the largest battle ever to be fought in North America.

The battle concluded on July 3, 1863, leaving approximately 51,000 Soldiers killed, wounded, missing or captured, historians wrote.

According to compiling historians at “The History Place,” among the missing, wounded and the dead were approximately 28,000 Confederate soldiers and 23,000 Union soldiers.

General Lee was forced to withdraw what was left of his Confederate troops, giving the Union the battle victory. Months later Lincoln traveled back to the battlefield of Gettysburg to dedicate the site as a military cemetery; the same day that he gave the infamous Gettysburg Address.

Myrtle D. Berry wrote in a Nebraska State Historical Society educational leaflet titled, “Nebraska in the Civil War” that though slavery was less of an issue in Nebraska the war affected the state greatly.

“Slavery was not an explosive issue in Nebraska Territory. There were few slaveholders; the U. S. Census of 1860 listed only 15 slaves in the entire territory, and there was none of the violent strife between Abolitionists and proslavery men that gave Kansas territory the name ‘Bleeding Kansas,’” she wrote.

Berry wrote that the state of Nebraska, being loyal to Union efforts, sent 3,300 men to the aid of President Lincoln’s call for troops.

In 1860 the new territory of Nebraska had a population of 30,000 and only 9,000 males between the ages of 20 and 50.

The deployment of Nebraskan troops to the war effort however left the badlands of Nebraska vulnerable to Indian attacks, she wrote.

According to Berry, the Nebraska City News in April of 1861 printed, “We think the government did a great wrong and injustice in removing the troops. The only way to repair the injustice is to order the forts garrisoned by our citizen soldiers.”

The new regiment formed regardless, being designated as the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry and fighting in its first major battle in Feb. of 1862 at Fort Donelson, Tenn.

The most important engagements that the First Nebraska saw were the Battle of Shiloh and Pittsburg Landing, Berry wrote.

John Thayer served as colonel of the First Nebraska, and the regiment was mounted in Oct. 1863, becoming the First Nebraska Calvary, according to Berry.

Berry wrote that while Nebraska soldiers were fighting the South, Indian attacks on the Nebraskan frontier appeared.

“On August 7, 1864 the Cheyenne Sioux, and Arapaho, operating in small bands, made a concerted attack on stage coaches, freight, and emigrant wagon trains, stage stations and road ranches from Julesburg east for 250 miles along the Platte and Little Blue rivers,” she wrote.

More than 50 people died as consequence and stage stations and road ranches were burned as much property was stolen or destroyed, Berry wrote.

According to inserts from Merrill Mattes, Margaret Wagner and Eugene Fare in Thomas Philip’s 2009 book, Battlefields of Nebraska, volunteer troops from the Seventh Iowa and Eleventh Ohio cavalries in the final year of the Civil War were recruited to help secure the Nebraskan home front from Sioux and other Plains Indians.

Confederate prisoners called “Galvanized Yankees” were also recruited.

“The incursions of Indians, and the vast damages which they had done in Nebraska, raised such am outcry that the Government had to send Nebraska troops home for the protection of Nebraska,” Fare wrote.

Berry wrote that on Aug. 15, days after the attack, the First Nebraska Calvary returned to Omaha to reorganize as the First Nebraska Veteran Volunteer Calvary. Small detachments were then sent to protect the home front.


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