[ Random Image ]

Hearing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

September 22, 2021

Hearing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Click on image to enlarge

On this day in 1862, five days after the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Below is a short piece about it, by our Historian in Residence and Guest Blogger, Dr. Emilie Amt.

Issued in Washington, DC, the preliminary Proclamation declared that slaves would be freed in rebellious states that did not surrender by January 1. It made no promises to enslaved people in Maryland. Nevertheless, people of color everywhere found the Proclamation exhilarating and suggestive of better things to come.

Eliza Steward Miles, who had been born into slavery in Washington County, gained her freedom in 1846, and moved to New York in 1860, was among those paying attention. After hearing of the preliminary Proclamation, she began praying “that the war might continue until the stated time. That the President issue his promised proclamation of emancipation… The slaves are bound to be free; God lives and will hear our prayers. I am praying.”[1] Her enslaved former neighbors, still living in Washington County, must have lifted up similar prayers, for themselves and for some other means of emancipation.

Lincoln meets with Union officers in the front yard of Mount Airy. Photograph: Alexander Gardiner, LOC, LC-DIG-cwpb-04352.
In early October came further excitement. President Lincoln traveled to Sharpsburg to inspect the battlefield, visit wounded troops, and confer with his generals. One of his stops, on October 3, was Mount Airy, where the enslaved workers—probably including Jane Sinclair—had a chance to glimpse the President. A young daughter of the white Grove family later remembered “that the President rode up on horseback, a tall, thin figure in his high hat.” She also “vividly remembered … that the President … stood under the fan-shaped doorway” in Mount Airy’s front hall.[2]

We can imagine the enslaved house servants making sure to catch this same sight of the nation’s leader as he arrived at the house, or perhaps that they even lined up with the family to receive him. Lincoln also reviewed troops at Mount Airy and spent time with the wounded from both sides. This was the President who had signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation less than two weeks earlier. No doubt the enslaved people felt the special significance of Lincoln’s presence as he moved around the grounds where they lived.

Black Antietam is scheduled for publication by The History Press in summer 2022.


[1] G.H. Miles, “Grandma,” Or the Life of Mrs. Eliza Miles… (Carthage, NC: privately published, n.d.).

[2] Wilmer T. Mumma, Antietam, the Aftermath (privately published, 1993), 35.

Photo: Lincoln meets with Union officers in the front yard of Mount Airy. Photograph: Alexander Gardiner, LOC, LC-DIG-cwpb-04352.