Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Negroes Leaving the Plough"

I came across the above drawing, titled "Negroes Leaving the Plough," while browsing through the Library of Congress online images for a project at work. The image shows what are apparently four slaves who have unharnessed and then mounted plow horses in a field as Union troops pass by on the road. It is obvious that the slaves planned to leave their field work and the plow behind and follow the troops to experience some level of freedom.  

The image was sketched by noted Civil War battlefield artist Alfred R. Waud. It was reprinted as an engraving in the March 26, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly shown above. 

We should all feel fortunate that artists such as Waud followed the armies so closely and captured moments like this that were probably too fleeting for period photography to catch, but yet likely happened quite often as the Union army moved into slaveholding areas. The Harper's Weekly picture is part of a collage titled "Scenes Connected with General Custer's Movement Across the Rapidan [River]." 

We will never know for sure the grand total of slaves that took advantage of the proximity of the Union army to make their escape from bondage during the Civil War. But they certainly understood that the war provided occasions to end the slave life they had known and the opportunity to see what it was like to make decisions for themselves and earn a wage for their labor.

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