The end of slavery in the United States led to anarchy and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of black Americans claims a new revisionist history of the Civil War.
Instead of a granting former slaves a glorious moment of freedom, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation condemned millions to a life of disease and hunger says historian Jim Downs in his new book, ‘Sick from Freedom’.
Scouring through obscure records, Professor Downs has revealed that freed slaves were subject to outbreaks of cholera and smallpox as they attempted to start new lives for themselves and that thousands starved to death.
Writing about the period of 1862 to 1870, Professor Downs claims that one million of the four million salves former slaves freed by Lincoln’s 1863 executive order died or got sick.
As the anniversary of President Lincoln’s order approaches, Mr. Downs, 39, is part of new school of thought re-addressing commonly held beliefs about the history of emancipation.
‘Some did not care and abolitionist, when they saw so many freed people dying, feared that it proved true what some people said: that slaves were not able to exist on their own.’
Professor Downs paints a desperate picture of freed families staggering away from southern plantations and finding themselves in Union run ‘contraband camps’ struggling for food and living in unsanitary conditions.
His book points out the irony that these camps were sometimes no better than the freed slaves previous living conditions and that the only way out was to offer to return to the same plantations from which they had escaped.