Book Review: The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom


by Glenn David Brasher

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. viii, 288. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $42.00. ISBN: 0807835447

The Campaign that Sparked Emancipation?

Prof. Brasher (Alabama) argues, rather convincingly, that although Antietam is usually associated with the Emancipation Proclamation, it is the Peninsular Campaign to which we should look to more fully understand the process by which Lincoln came to issue his charter of freedom. Using official documents, newspapers, letters, and diaries, Brasher demonstrates how African-Americans – enslaved, fugitive, or free – contributed to military and political events.

Brasher identifies several factors that led many soldiers, journalists, and military and political leaders to see emancipation as necessary to the furtherance of the Union war effort. These are: the role of slave labor in strengthening the Confederate war effort, the threat, more apparent than real, of armed black troops in Rebel ranks, the greater loyalty of slaves to the Union than to the South, and the many willing and valuable contributions of African-Americans of all circumstances to Union intelligence gathering, as well as, to a lesser extent, the encounter with the realities of slavery by common soldiers. 

As he makes his case, Brasher also rejects the Neo-Confederate “thesis” that masses of blacks willingly serving the South as combatants, albeit a handful did, and also the trendy thesis that the slaves were themselves the sole actors in their emancipation, although of course by their actions they did play a critical role in helping bring that about. 

Brasher has provided a very readable and important contribution to Civil War studies.

Note: The Peninsular Campaign & the Necessity of Emancipation, a volume of the UNC series “Civil War America”, is also available in paperback, $27.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-1750-3, and in various e-book editions.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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