The above photo of a slave family coming into Union Army lines happened to be in Arkansas, but similar scenes were repeated in Mississippi and across the South. More than 5,000 slaves followed Sherman out of his Meridian campaign in 1864.

The above photo of a slave family coming into Union Army lines happened to be in Arkansas, but similar scenes were repeated in Mississippi and across the South. More than 5,000 slaves followed Sherman out of his Meridian campaign in 1864.

Five of the individuals on the Poore farm had reason to cheer Union Major Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman raid into Southeast Mississippi on February 14-20, 1864.

These individuals were the family’s five slaves. In all likelihood, the Poores’ slaves rejoiced because God and Sherman seemed about to answer their prayers for freedom.

We don’t know the slaves’ names. But the oldest, a 34-year-old woman, could have been the mother of the others: a 20-year-old man and three girls aged 16, 14 and 9. Or they may not have been related at all.

County tax records show that after Sherman’s raid, either the 34-year-old woman or the 16-year-old girl no longer lived on the Poore farm.

Whichever individual left, she may have used Sherman’s raid to escape to the Union lines and to freedom. More than 5,000 other slaves did so. In his written report, Sherman said his military column returned from Meridian with “a string of ox wagons, Negro women and children behind each brigade that equaled in length the brigade itself, and I had 12 brigades.”

Escaping required braving many dangers. Slaves risked being sighted by Confederate cavalry or captured by local slave patrols as they made their way several miles north toward Union troops always on the move.

Historian Steven Hahn has pointed out that slaves also knew that fleeing to the Yankees did not ensure safety or freedom. He noted that the slaves’ grapevine news networks told them that fugitives could be forced into military service or contracted labor, physically and sexually abused by Yankee soldiers, “and generally treated with contempt.”

Weighing their choices, the family’s other slaves may have decided to wait. At any rate, freedom came to all of them a little over a year later.

Did you have slaves in the family? Have you looked at how the Civil War affected them?

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