By C.J. Johnson
After the bloodbath at the Battle of Antietam, the outnumbered Confederates pulled out for Virginia in the evening of September 18, 1862. The Union forces far outnumbered the number of Rebel troops, but Union General McClellan chose not to pursue Lee, missing an opportunity to punish Lee’s army.
While not a clear-cut victory, Antietam gave Lincoln the window of opportunity to go forward with his plans to end slavery in the “States of Rebellion.” The District of Columbia slaves had previously been freed in the spring of 1862. However, slaves in the rest of the Union were not impacted by this preliminary announcement of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
With this decision, the Union basis for the war was not only to reunify the country, but now would put an end to slavery. Addressing both his political and humanitarian concerns, on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln announced his plans to abolish slavery in the Southern states, in addition to “saving the Union.” Technically, this initial announcement did not free slaves, but set the stage.
Using vacated seats in the U. S. Congress to determine which Southern states would be targeted, as of January 1, 1863, enslaved persons in those states would be free. In reality, it would not be until these specific states were recaptured or rejoined the Union that the slaves in those states would be free persons. Only slaves in those areas under Union occupation at the beginning of 1863 would be free persons.
History.com states, “The proclamation was a shrewd maneuver by Lincoln to brand the Confederate States as a slave nation and render foreign aid impossible. The measure was met by a good deal of opposition, because many Northerners were unwilling to fight for the freedom of blacks.
But it spelled the death knell for slavery, and it had the effect on British opinion that Lincoln had desired. Antislavery Britain could no longer recognize the Confederacy, and Union sentiment swelled in Britain. With this measure, Lincoln effectively isolated the Confederacy and killed the institution that was the root of sectional differences.”
Meanwhile, in north Mississippi, following the Battle of Iuka on September 19, 1862¸ the Army of West Tennessee was created from the two Rebel armies, now under the command of senior general Earl Van Dorn. Preparations were initiated for an attack on nearby Corinth, Mississippi.