Embattled Freedom: Journeys Through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps



The Civil War was just days old when the first enslaved men, women, and children began fleeing their plantations to seek refuge inside the lines of the Union army as it moved deep into the heart of the Confederacy. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands more followed in a mass exodus from slavery that would destroy the system once and for all. Drawing on an extraordinary survey of slave refugee camps throughout the country, Embattled Freedom reveals as never before the everyday experiences of these refugees from slavery as they made their way through the vast landscape of army-supervised camps that emerged during the war. Amy Murrell Taylor vividly reconstructs the human world of wartime emancipation, taking readers inside military-issued tents and makeshift towns, through commissary warehouses and active combat, and into the realities of individuals and families struggling to survive physically as well as spiritually. Narrating their journeys in and out of the confines of the camps, Taylor shows in often gripping detail how the most basic necessities of life were elemental to a former slave's quest for freedom and full citizenship.

The stories of individuals--storekeepers, a laundress, and a minister among them--anchor this ambitious and wide-ranging history and demonstrate with new clarity how contingent the slaves' pursuit of freedom was on the rhythms and culture of military life. Taylor brings new insight into the enormous risks taken by formerly enslaved people to find freedom in the midst of the nation's most destructive war.

Product Details

University of North Carolina Press
Publish Date
November 26, 2018
7.83 X 1.07 X 9.76 inches | 1.47 pounds

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About the Author

Amy Murrell Taylor is T. Marshall Hahn Jr. Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and author of The Divided Family in Civil War America.


A fine example of the latest approach to the study of the Civil War. . . . An important book because it shows clearly that, despite Civil War mythology, the conflict did not result in immediate freedom.--Civil War Book Review

A welcome addition to the recent Civil War scholarship that highlights the experiences of people who lived on the fringes of the war. . . . Embattled Freedom brings to life an aspect of the Civil War that many scholars have glossed over . . . well-researched and well-written.--H-Net Reviews

A well-written, thoroughly documented, thought-provoking, if not always uplifting, book about an overlooked aspect of America's Civil War.--The Journal of America's Military Past

Gracefully written and exhaustively researched, Taylor's book offers the reader a vivid and convincing narrative of these slave refugee camps as 'an elemental part of the story of slavery's destruction in the United States, ' one that deserves a broad readership among not only Civil War enthusiasts but anyone interested in the history of race and slavery in the United States.--Publishers Weekly starred review

Converts a triumphalist tale of enslavement ended by emancipation into a more realistic one of an ongoing journey toward a contingent and uncertain freedom that was far from complete in 1865.--Journal of American History

A compelling account of how African American refugees' search for freedom pushed the nation toward abolition. . . . Taylor meticulously recovers the history of these erased settlements and the African American lives transformed therein. . . . An essential text for scholars and nonacademics alike.--Journal of the Civil War Era