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The Emancipation  


Purpose of Lesson: This lesson is meant to be used as a supplement to teaching students about the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It is assumed that students have already studied the basic history of the Civil War.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Understand the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation on Indiana society and politics
  • Describe some of the viewpoints of Hoosier Civil War soldiers regarding slavery, emancipation, and the Proclamation

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Eighth Grade Social Studies)

Social Studies

8.1.21 Analyze the causes and effects of events leading to the Civil War, including development of sectional conflict over slavery.

8.1.22 Describe the importance of key events in the Civil War, including the battles of Antietam, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg, and the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address (1861 to 1865).

8.1.27 Recognize historical perspective by identifying the historical context in which events unfolded and by avoiding evaluation of the past solely in terms of present-day norms.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

Historian Emma Lou Thornbrough begins her discussion of Indiana Civil-War-era politics with this statement:

“The most sensational and controversial aspects of the war years in Indiana arose out of claims that disloyalty to the Union cause was widespread in the state and that thousands of Indiana residents were members of secret societies which were engaged in conspiracies to aid the Confederacy. At the same time Indiana was acquiring a reputation as one of the states which responded most willingly to repeated calls for manpower to crush the rebellion. It is difficult to reconcile the tradition of people who were willing to make unlimited military sacrifices with the tradition of a state which was honeycombed with treason.” [ Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880 ]

During the Civil War years, the Democratic and Republican parties in Indiana quickly became and remained divided, and their fortunes rose and fell quickly during this brief period of time. In 1860 the majority of Indiana voters voted for Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln as well as for a Republican governor and legislature. Governor Oliver Morton was a strong supporter of Lincoln's war policies, even when he did not personally agree with every one of them. For example, although Morton personally opposed emancipation of the slaves, he publicly defended the president's right to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Throughout the war, Indiana Republicans (a majority of whom who were not abolitionists) supported not only the war for the Union but (in general) the policies of the Lincoln administration on a federal level and the Morton administration on the state level.

Indiana Democrats divided on several issues. There were many so-called War Democrats who supported the war for the Union but opposed both Lincoln and Morton, claiming that both the federal and state governments were using the war to increase government control over ordinary citizens. Democrats opposed the state's first and subsequent draft calls; the abolition of slavery and hence the Emancipation Proclamation; new taxes and tariffs created to pay for the cost of war; and restraint on public speech about the war, in particular the Morton administration's crackdown on the editorial content of many state newspapers.

There were other Democrats, a smaller but still significant number, who were sympathetic toward the aims and the suffering of the South. They opposed the war entirely and as it progressed they became more outspoken and more organized. In the 1862 state elections, Democrats regained control of the state legislature. After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, some of these copperheads (as they were named by their opponents) began to call for Indiana and other midwestern states to secede and join the South.

Morton and other Republicans struck back, often publicly labeling all Democrats as traitors; and the governor and Republican legislators did everything in their power to block Democratic legislation. Morton began shutting down newspapers that criticized policies of the federal and/or the state government; he also sent state militia into towns suspected of harboring large numbers of copperheads.

Through the spring and summer of 1864 Democrats began to anticipate victory on a national as well as a state level. Lincoln's popularity was low; the war seemed without progress or end. McClellan, the Democratic presidential candidate, ran on a platform of negotiated peace with the South. But in the early fall, the war took a turn. Sherman captured Atlanta and the Union army was finally advancing in Virginia. Morton also chose the months just before the election to hold a well-publicized trial of a group of Democrat copperheads charged with treason. For a variety of reasons, the Republicans were again victorious in the 1864 elections, and the party controlled the state through the end of the war.

Ideological divisiveness was not limited to politicians. Many ordinary Hoosiers, men and women, debated the issues, wore buttons proclaiming their political allegiances, and wrote letters detailing their thoughts and ideas. Hoosier soldiers debated politics over their evening campfires and exchanged letters with friends and family on issues from the most mundane to the most profound. The lesson and activities that follow are based on the letters of four Indiana soldiers, all of whom expressed decided, and differing, opinions on abolition and emancipation.


Lesson Activities:

1. You may wish to review briefly with your students some of the major reasons for the Civil War, including the Northern and Southern views on slavery.

2. Students should read a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. You may hand out hard copies to each student or read the Proclamation aloud, with a copy projected in front of the class. A useful, brief historical introduction to the writing of the Proclamation can be found on the Library of Congress website. You may wish to read it out loud to the students.

3. Explain what happened in Indiana before and after President Lincoln issued the Proclamation
(see Historical Context above).


1. Break students into smaller groups, and designate one group for each set of letters. If you plan to assign the optional essay below, each student should be given copies of all of the letters; otherwise, each student will need the letter for his/her particular group. In addition to reading the letters (out loud to the group or to themselves), students should complete a short study guide.

Allow students time to read and answer the study guide questions. To conclude, one student from each group should report on their letter(s) and the answers to the study guide questions to the entire class.


Letter Set 1 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

George W. Lennard, New Castle (Henry County), Indiana, 57th Indiana Vol. Infantry

In Camp, March 30, 1862

Dear Wife

After a very hard days march of fifteen miles over a very dry dusty road, I sit in my open tent with a light on a camp stool and a book on my knee to pen a few lines for my dear wife, but when it will reach you, or when I will have a chance to mail it is more than I know at this time. We are now twenty six miles from Nashville and I believe about fifteen or sixteen from Columbia. The Country on every side is most beautiful. The farms are large and in a high state of cultivation. The farms are generally from 500 to 1,000 acres, with from ten to 50 slaves. The negros look very clever at us and want to go along. I could get 50 every day to go with me, but we have nothing to do with them. The General forbids them coming into the camp and if they do get in they must be given up to their masters, or turned over to the civel authorities w[h]ich means putting them in jail. I do pity the poor creatures. After the “white folks” have told them all kinds of stories about us taking them to Cuba and selling them and taking them out and shooting at them for fun, they still flock to us, and I do assure you it is pretty hard to put the poor creatures off, but we have it to do. I think if a John Brown was to get among them now it would not be such a failure as it was at Harpers Ferry. All they want is a leader, when I have no doubt they would rise and destroy every thing before them.

I have not had a letter from you for several days. It is growing late and we have to be on the stur at 4 o'clock in the morning, so give my love to the children and believe me as ever your loving and affectionate husband.

Geo. W. Lennard

Excerpts from letter of April 17, 1862, Shiloh Battlefield

Dear Wife

[A]fter the terrible ord[e]al through which I have passed in the last two weeks without hearing from you, you can scarce imagin the great pleasure it give me to hear from you. I was very glad to hear the children were having the measels while they are young and at home where I know they will have the care and attention of kind Mother. Many a poor soldier now sleeps his last sleep from that simple but fat[al] disease . . . . Every one is praying to be moved from this ter[ri]ble scene of death and distruction. I think if we are not soon moved many will be sick.

I suppose certainly by this time you have received the $100 I sent you by Col. Bridgland. I am glad you are fixing up our home and making things look neat and sweet. I feel that every thing will be nice and in good style when I come home.

We had a little brush with the enemy on the next day after the battle here when I captured two negros who had been cooking for the 9th Arkansas Regiment. One of them, “Dick,” I have appropriated to my own use. He is rather a smart good negro, and says he will stick to me while he lives. The other one, “ Monroe,” the General claims. If some one dont steal Dick from me I will fetch him home with me and set him free. And if possible I will do the same by Monroe. Just imagin[e] how Gertie & Sallie would look if Pa was to bring a negro home with him from the war.


Lennard's regiment fought, among other battles, at Shiloh in April 1862, at the Battle of Stone's River in January 1863, and at the battle for Missionary Ridge in November 1863. While on the march to Atlanta, Lennard was wounded on May 14, 1864, and died that same day.

Lennard must have kept his promise to “Dick.” In June 1864, the New Castle Courier published a letter dated May 29, shortly after Lennard's death, written by a man named Richard Lamb. In the letter, Lamb stated: “I have the honor to say to the Union friends of this vicinity, that Colonel Geo. W. Lennard who was killed near Dalton, Ga., that I accompanied him through the siege of Corinth, Miss., Perrysville, Ky., Stone River, Tenn., as a body servant. . . I shall ever regret the loss of my best friend who brought me to the land of liberty.” The editor noted that Lamb was a young African American man who had attended school in New Castle during the winter of 1863 to 1864.


Letter Set 2 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Andrew Bush, Owen County, Indiana

Note: The original letter was written in one single, long paragraph. Breaks have been added for clarity.

February 11, 1863

Dear Mary

This little bit of a note leaves me in the best of health James and Samuel are allso well and I truly hope that this may find you and the rest of the folks well. Wee have not much news here but much anxiety is felt for Northern news amongst some of the Soldiers in regard to the welfare of old Hoosier. It is reported frequently amongst us that Indiana is about to form a government of her own with some other of the western States. I trust that it aint so for if it is so us pore soldiers will have to Suffer. Some of our boys are jubelant over the news; they think that if old Indiana would slip out of the Union they would get to go home; but they will find that they are in mistake for us Soldiers dont belong to Indiana for we are sworn to obey the president of the United States and wee are in his servis and he can hold us in spite of anything that wee and our friends can do.

I dont like old Abe's proclamation but I cant help myself at this time. If I had thot that it was the idea to set the negroes all free they would not have got me to act the part of a Soldier in this war. But as it is I am willing to fight for the union if it will cause the freedom of the last beastly negro in the South for I do not think that they are human. I am in for anything that will cause Union and peace of our once happy government. If peace is ever established they will be one class of men that will know how to enjoy it and that will be the Soldiers. If the big men that made this war would have to do as the common Soldier does peace would be made in less than two days.

I will just state here in this place what we have had to do altho wrong it may be to right some things tho it is the truth. We have had to march forty five miles in two days and carry all of our Couterment which weigh eighty pounds with us. When wee done that wee had no bread or Salt: all that we got to eate was hogs tht we would get after we came to a half at night and sometimes there would be Some that would not be lucky enough to get any; this is as true as the rizeing and setting Sun; When wee were on that march I thought that if I was at home I could ask a blessing at the table in good faith; both horrors upon horrors are to be experienced and seen; no one at home can form any idea of how things are; I thought that before I left home that I had drawn a true picture but I was mistaken, a picture cant be drawn; know man can tell all; I have seen men die in the Hospital and know [one] to lay them straight and they would [leave] them lay on the cot on which they died on for to and three days before they would be burried; I will not write any more of this at this time; if I will ever get home I will tell it all to you.


Andrew rejoined his wife Mary after the war. They farmed in Indiana for a time and raised two children; they later moved to Nebraska, where they had three more children.


Letter Set 3 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Samuel Hilligas, Owen County, Indiana

February 12, 1863

To John and Mary Hilligas

I have no good news to write at this time, all the news that we get is horror upon horror. It is the news here in camp that the western States are about to form a separation; or draw from the federal government and I heard that it may be the democratic party that is doing it but I cant think that it is so; and I hope it may be a false rumor for I cant think that the people of the western States would go against there interest and against us . . . in a way that would cause the destruction of the greatest army that ever the sun Shone on; it has bin Sayd and rumered in camp that if Indiana would draw off from the federal government wee would get to come home but I think they will finde it to be a mistake about going home for I think that old Abe has got us in his possession and he can hold us and take us where he pleases let the western States do as they are wont to; but I am in hope that things will take a diferent turn when the next congress comes in session; I trust that the negro question will be [?] forever to never to be reserected again; I am getting more against the negroes every day. They are a detestable rase of man kind . . . made to be despised. But by some they are worshipt. I hope the day will come when all men can view the Negro in his true light and place . . . that is where they are and the condition that they are in; I think it will [?] them the best; all that I have seen yet were well clothes and well fed and lived in good houses. I have never seen one living in a house that was any wors than the one that you live in; it kneed never be suggested to me any more that the Negro is fed on Cotton Seed and polk greens for I seen that it aint the truth.


Letter Set 4 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Ara Fraizer, Owen County, Indiana

Note: The original letter is written with extra spaces in place of periods. The text below adds periods but otherwise retains Fraizer's spelling and punctuation.

May 16, 1863

To Abner and Rachel Fraizer [Ara's parents]

It is with pleasure that I can say that I am ingoying better health than when I last wrote to you. I hope when these few lines comes to hand they may find you all in good health and engoying Divine blessings to the fullest extent. As I havent much to write I will say a few words on the negro subject. My views is this. It is the policy of the administration at present to arm and equip all negroes who are willing and fit for the service, and put them into the United States army. The Adgutant General of the United States is here now raising all the negro companies and regments he can, & I tell you, they dont come in slow, for he has raised five regments already, he has not been with us over two weeks, he has full power to grant commissions to white men as officers over them. All those negroes who do not go in the army, are to be put upon the plantation of their masters who have gone into the rebel army, their to gain support for themselves and families, and see how it will seem to breathe free air awhile, & be masters instead of slaves ---

Now no doubt, some of our copperhead frends almost swoon over such an abolition doctrine, and think it an unpardonable sin both personally & nationly, but I can endorse the whole plan, & with my hand upon my hart, say with strong emphasis --- Amen! I can stand it very well to have the negroes take the place & proerpty of their secesh masers & take their muskets & shoot them (if need be) for I certainly think more of a good union Negro than of any white traitor, be he whom he may. I want to say a word or two, in as kind a maner as I can to some of those tender toed gentleman who are willing to stand still & for the sake of political strife, cry out at the top of their voices, stop the war! Grant an armistice; never free the negroes – it is unconstitutional --- it is not Democratic; it is a negro abolition war! Now my opinion is that all this hue & cry is to try & discourage us, & to cause as many to desert as possible & as we are about to drive the rebels to their last hole, it is to give them time to fortify against us.

I want it distincly understood that I am for putting down this abominable rebellion, let it cost what it may; for I consider that I, with thousands of others, have left home, frends, & relations & everything that makes life Comfortable -- & not only that, but periled our lives – for the sole purpose of putting down the rebellion & to maintain this Government, the best that the world ever knew; and I know that it is not to gain political power or a great name or to get the Greenbacks . . . but it is to fight for the Union negro or no negro, I will tell you that we are not fighting in vain, for we are as sure to make the rebels get on their knees to ask our pardon, as that their are fish in the ocean or fowels in the air.


Fraizer, weakened by disease, was later discharged from the army. He returned home, married in 1866, and died at age 32, shortly after the birth of his fourth child.

Optional Extended Lesson Activities:

Most Civil War soldiers wrote letters to their wives, sweethearts, family, and friends. Many also wrote letters, specifically intended for publication, to their local newspapers. Some letters were designed to allow folks on the homefront to understand the life of a soldier; others described specific battles or offered an opinion on an important social or political issue of the day.

Assign each student to write a three-page essay, following these guidelines. The first two pages of the essay should be in the form of a “Letter to the Editor,” written by a fictional soldier (who should be some sort of composite of the men they studied in the class exercise) and dated just before or after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Some questions to consider: How does your soldier view black people in general? What is his view of slavery? Of emancipation? What might he say about a society in which black and white people lived together with equal rights? And finally, are there other important points about the war that your soldier might want to add to his letter?

In the last page of the essay, the student should try to analyze the soldier's views. Did he have pre-existing opinions or prejudices? Did he do or see anything during the war that might have influenced his views? Do you think your soldier had a good understanding of slavery, or are there aspects of slavery that he either disregarded or did not witness?

Sources for Soldiers' Letters:

"Civil War Letters of Amory K. Allen," IMH, 31 (December 1935)

"'Give Yourself No Trouble About Me': The Shiloh Letters of George W. Lennard," IMH, 76 (March 1980)

"'Please Send Stamps': The Civil War Letters of William Allen Clark," IMH, 91 (1995)

"'I Take My Pen in Hand': Civil War Letters from Owen County, Indiana, Soldiers," IMH, 93 (June 1997).