Remember 153rd anniversary of freedom from slavery

Published 12:03 am Thursday, July 14, 2016

As Natchez Commemorates its tricentennial all year long in 2016, July 13 was the 153rd anniversary of freedom from chattel slavery in the Miss-Lou

One hundred fifty-three years ago on July 13, 1863 the Union army occupied Natchez and surrounding areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. Less than two weeks earlier, separatists Confederate States’ armies at Vicksburg (July 4, 1863) and Port Hudson, La., (July 9, 1863) had surrendered to Union forces.

A year and half earlier, Union forces sieged New Orleans and Memphis.

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By summer of 1863, aided by newly-enrolled soldiers and sailors, consisting of non-enslaved “persons of color” and former enslaved persons, who fought valiantly at Port Hudson and decisively at Fort Butler and Milliken’s Bend, La., in the “Vicksburg Campaign” the United States gained control of the Mississippi River.

After the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, enslaved persons intentionally self-emancipated by running away from their places of enslavement up and down the Mississippi River by the thousands. This event of self-emancipation I call “The Freedom Summer of 1863” when thousands of “slaves” ran away to Natchez, Vicksburg and others places in Mississippi and Louisiana to be free.

Up and down the Mississippi River and its many tributaries, thousands of able-bodied “ex-slave” males deliberately became Union Army soldiers, sailors and freedom fighters.

Beginning July 13 in summer of 1863, Natchez was occupied by both “white” and U. S. Colored Troops as they were officially designated by U. S. Congress on May 22, 1863.

Throughout the Civil War and beyond U. S. Colored Troops were an integral part of the United States occupation forces based in Natchez and Vidalia. They had the charge of putting down Confederate guerilla activities, protecting the landings, liberating “slaves” in outlying areas, building and maintaining defense forts in Natchez and Vidalia.

Professor Ronald F. Davis author of “The Black Experience in Natchez 1720 to 1880” wrote, “The Union Army turned The Forks of The Roads into an Army camp. In the summer of 1863, when Vicksburg fell to the Union Army on July 4, thousands of African Descendants broke free in ways that showed once and for all they were not content to be held in bondage. The conviction of white Southerners that their bonds people were basically contented had always been belied by the number of runaways, malingering and sabotage by slaves, and occasional acts of violence against whites.”

Thousands and thousands of enslaved and so-called free African Descendant captives rushed to Port Hudson, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Donaldsonville, Carrollton, Milliken’s Bend and Davis Bend in Louisiana.

To be free behind Union Army lines, they ran away to Vicksburg and Natchez in Mississippi, to Memphis in Tennessee and to Pine Bluff in Arkansas along the Mississippi River.

This was seven months after the presidential Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, which took effect on January 1, 1863, had emancipated them.

Thousands of able-bodied African descendant males joined and were recruited into the Union Army as freedom fighting Union Army soldiers.

“Black soldiers patrolled where only white nightriders once rode,” Davis wrote.

Thousands of other African Descendants men, women and children served the cause of the Union and freedom fighters as spies, scouts, nurses, cooks, laundresses, servants, teamsters, stevedores, foragers, general laborers, field hands, blacksmiths and builders of forts, breastworks and roads.

African descendant soldiers were stationed in army barracks across the river in Vidalia, at Natchez Under The Hill and at the Forks of The Roads in Natchez, the very site where many had been sold into enslavement only two or three years earlier.


Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-CM Boxley is the coordinator of the Friends of the Forks of the Road.