Visualizing Emancipation

This is one of those days when I desperately wish I was in the classroom teaching my course on the American Civil War.  Yesterday the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond released Visualizing Emancipation, which allows you to track individual emancipation events on a timeline.  As it stands you can track different types of emancipation events along, filter results by different kinds of records and even add your own events to the database.

The project will surely yield insights that are not discernible through traditional sources, but what emerges at first glance is the importance of both railroads and waterways as avenues of emancipation as well as the Union army.  Congratulations to Scott Nesbit and the rest of the team at DSL for producing such an incredible resource.

In other news, for those of you in the Richmond area there will be a slew of events on Saturday as part of their Civil War and Emancipation Day celebrations.  Check it out.

11 comments… add one
  • Brooks M. Barnes May 17, 2012 @ 12:08

    I regret to report that on the Visualizing Emancipation map only one of the four emancipation events supposedly occurring on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (Accomack and Northampton counties) actually occurred there. Two of the three took place on Virginia’s Western Shore and the other near Cape Fear, North Carolina.

  • Vicki Betts Apr 13, 2012 @ 18:10

    I’d also urge caution. Hey, if northern Texas had really had two railroads across it, we wouldn’t have had as much of a distribution problem with flour. I found a Brashear event in northeast Texas–Brashear is actually in Louisiana. And I found an event listed for San Fernando Creek, and they chose one up in the Hill Country instead of down in the Rio Grande Valley. I wish I could click on all of the blue spots–I’ve never seen so many “Union army locations” in Texas outside of the coast and the Rio Grande. And for Texas many of the “emancipation events” are actually enslavements, use of slave labor by the army, or transportation of slaves from Arkansas and Missouri.

    The links back to the OR are great.

    There’s a place to report errors, and I’ve submitted a few.

    Vicki Betts

  • Scott A. MacKenzie Apr 13, 2012 @ 12:20

    I’d urge caution using this source. My work is on West Virginia. The map lists several “emancipation events” in the future state based on Official Records and newspapers from Confederate territory. These sources must be used critically. One from the Official Records from in July 1861 says that General Porterfield had been “reliably informed” about two companies of African Americans drilling around Fairmont. A second cites the Stanton Spectator of March 24, 1863 to say how “armed Negroes” performed guard duty in Kanawha County. I find both hard to believe given the racial attitudes among white Northwestern Virginians at the time. Both most likely are exaggerations designed to please Porterfield’s superiors or the Staunton public leery of the ‘abolitionists’ forming a new state next door. I know for a fact that white Kanawhans united against any breach of racial norms. They do not indicate any real sense of emancipation, though they speak of the ways in which the issue infected the thinking of the time.

    At the same time, the other two reports are more credible. One, actually three reports, from Carnifex Ferry reports that runways helped federal troops in the area. Another, written by Col. R. B. Hayes himself no less, cites two residents of Kanawha County fleeing westward with their slaves. He wanted each treated as rebels. The names he mentions, Ward and Blain, appear in the census. In fact, Moses Ward (owner of 31 slaves) was the first name mentioned in it, while William C. Blaine (owner of 3 slaves) was the census taker! In my opinion, that report is highly reliable.

    So this is a good source if used carefully.

  • Rob Baker Apr 12, 2012 @ 3:41

    Thanks for these links Kevin.

    I pity you on this day. We are currently going through Civil Rights and I am using some of the videos of H.K., Byron Thomas, VA Flaggers etc. to talk about the different perceptions of the flag. Sparked some interesting conversation.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 12, 2012 @ 4:47

      That sounds pretty cool, Rob. You also need to introduce them to H.K.

      • Rob Baker Apr 12, 2012 @ 5:22

        Oh absolutely. I’ve got a video of H.K of my hometown of Ringgold, GA. They really don’t know what to say about that one.

        • Billy Bearden Apr 12, 2012 @ 14:48


          No need for videos, I live just down the road in Carroll County from Ringgold,
          and am both a Georgia and Virginia Flagger as well as SCV member.

          I offer my services for free to speak to your classes, and Q&A from both you and your students. Absolutely no need for speculation and assumptions.

          LMK when I might come visit. Arrangements for contact info can be sent thru my good friend Kevin.

          Thanks and God Bless

          • Rob Baker Apr 12, 2012 @ 18:31


            Thank you for your generous offer. You’ll understand if I have some reservations about this. One is the logistics. I don’t live in Ringgold. I am from Ringgold yet that is not where I teach. I am in Gwinnett County. Another issue is the time. By the time a schedule can be worked out, the class will have moved on into the Vietnam War, Modern Republicanism and so on.

            My last reservation is your qualifications. You, being a SCV member and VA and GA Flagger makes you as qualified to teach as my 5th grade certificate for “Best Speaker.” The only comments/arguments of yours I have witnessed online are usually well within parameters of talking points seen time and time again. We watched videos today of those same parameters and arguments. I appreciate your attempt or willingness to prove yourself, but you’ll have to excuse me if I think a Q&A with a bunch of 16 and 17 year olds with circular arguments sounds silly. However, I would like to still take you up on the Q&A in a more official setting. Perhaps you could hold a forum, either in Carrol County or in Catoosa County which ever. Make it an open event and not an SCV or Flag event. Don’t worry they can still come. But also invite local school teachers, historians, professors from local colleges and other members of the community. Then you can give your speech and have Q&A. Maybe after seeing this I can feel more assured of your qualifications and allow you to talk to my class and maybe a few others as well.



            • Kevin Levin Apr 13, 2012 @ 1:53

              I wouldn’t bring Billy into my class as a subject expert either. He has demonstrated his lack of understanding on multiple occasions, most recently in holding up a banner that references Grant as a slave owner.

              You could use him to discuss issues of memory.

              • Rob Baker Apr 13, 2012 @ 4:54

                That’s my issue as well. I am in favor of guest speakers but I prefer to know their qualifications ahead of time.

          • Ken Noe Apr 13, 2012 @ 4:11

            I’ve thought about using a few guest speakers the next time I teach Civil War Memory. Drop me a line at Auburn, Billy, it’s too late for this semester but I think a Q&A or panel discussion in my Spring 2014 class could be interesting.

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