The Escaped Slave

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The Escaped Slave
July 2, 1864
T. B. Bishop (Photographer)
Artist Unknown (Engraving)
Page 428
Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Vol 9 No. 392.
Engraving (from photograph)
Folio A 5 .392 Vol. 8
Newberry Library

These two engravings, created from photographs taken of the same man, show the transformation of an escaped slave into a free Union soldier. Almost 200,000 African American soldiers fought in the Union army after the Emancipation Proclamation allowed blacks to enlist. Most of these soldiers were former slaves like the one depicted here.

Harper’s Weekly Magazine explained in an accompanying article that the man had fled slavery in Montgomery, Alabama, and travelled hundreds of miles to the Union army at Chattanooga, Tennessee. For Harper’s, which was a staunch supporter of the Emancipation Proclamation and the United States Colored Troops, the image offered evidence of the heroism of black soldiers, evidence that the magazine believed should silence those who doubted the wisdom of Lincoln’s war policy.

During this time, photographs were often copied as wood engravings so that the images could be reproduced in magazines and newspapers. Look at the top image of the man just after his escape from slavery.  What do his clothing, expression, and posture reveal about his life prior to reaching the Union lines? Compare this image of the man with the one below it. How has the man’s appearance changed between the two photographs?

1. Compare the bottom image to Scrimshaw with portrait of black soldier. In what ways are they similar? How do they differ?

2. Compare the top image to the The Effects of the Proclamation, a sketch of runaway slaves at Newbern, North Carolina, especially their clothing. Why do you think these images might have been so different?

Further reading:
Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, Steve F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Newberry Library. "We Are Coming from the Cotton Fields." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago