Compiled By Eddie Griffin
Who can tell you better about Juneteenth than a down home black Texan like me? You see, most folks got it mixed up about Juneteenth.
What is Juneteenth? Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.
The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger's regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
The Legacy of JUNETEENTH: Part 2
WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
Since Texas was the last slave state to fall, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln, freeing all the slaves living in the Confederate states, went into effect on January 1, 1863, but did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865, two and a half years later.
Orders were issued on December 3, 1864 authorizing the formation of the Twenty-Fifth United States Army Corps. The Corps was the first and only Army Corps in the history of the country made up almost entirely of black infantry regiments, 30 U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments. In addition, 2 U. S. Colored Cavalry Regiments and a Battery of U. S. Colored Light Artillery were assigned to the Corps.
On April 9, 1865, three U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments from the Twenty-Fifth United States Army Corps (29th, 31st, and 116th) were positioned along the advance line of 17 Union regiments that moved from the west towards Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia to prevent the Confederate forces from escaping westward. Three other U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments (8th, 41st, and 45th) also assigned to the Corps were positioned in the rear.
It was here that General Robert E. Lee surrendered. Thirty-six Blacks with the Confederates, mostly slaves were paroled at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
December 31, 1862: WATCH NIGHT
But what happened on the night of December 31, 1862 was as important in history as the Emancipation Proclamation itself, which Lincoln had signed in September. The day freedom would come to slaves in the slave states would be January 1, 1863.
All night, that New Year's Eve in 1862, Negroes all over gathered in church houses to Watch And Pray. Until this day, the all-night New Year's Eve worship service in black churches across the country is known as Watch Night.
The Legacy of JUNETEENTH: Part 3
January 1, 1863: EMANCIPATION DAY
On January 1, 1863, Magruder's forces won the Battle of Galveston, recapturing the city and port for the Confederacy. The First Confederate Congress published its official thanks:
...The bold, intrepid, and gallant conduct of Maj. Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder, Col. Thomas Green, Maj. Leon Smith, and other officers, and of the Texan Rangers and soldiers engaged in the attack on, and victory achieved over, the land and naval forces of the enemy at Galveston, on the 1st of January, 1863, eminently entitle them to the thanks of Congress and the country. ... This brilliant achievement, resulting, under the providence of God, in the capture of the war steamer Harriet Lane and the defeat and ignominious flight of the hostile fleet from the harbor, the recapture of the city and the raising of the blockade of the port of Galveston, signally evinces that superior force may be overcome by skillful conception and daring courage.