Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why the slaves in Texas were not set free until Juneteenth

By Eddie Griffin

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Texas is full of tall tales, folklore, myths, and lies, and the story is Juneteenth is one of all of the above.

Why were the slaves in Texas the last to be set free? What really prevented them until June 19, 1865?

Some speculate that slaves lived behind a veil of ignorance in a Dark Age Confederacy throughout the Deep South and therefore knew nothing of their freedom until it was handed to them on a silver platter. Some, on the other hand, believe that the word of the Emancipation was delayed by the still raging Civil War.

Most historians highlight the fact that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. By contrast, the slaves of Texas were not set free until Gen. Gordon Granger reached Galveston on June 19, 1865. This is the premises and origin of the celebration that became known as “Juneteenth”.

What history lies between the dates January 1, 1863 and June 19, 1865 remains much of an unappreciated mystery.

On New Year’s morning of Emancipation Day, the Confederates staged one of the most brilliant counteroffensives in history.


In October 1862, Galveston was all but a ghost town. The gas company was closed, so the few remaining civilians made do with candles and oil lamps. Food was in short supply. The waterfront was occupied by some 260 Massachusetts infantrymen, who arrived in the city on Christmas Day. Otherwise, the town was held by six Union ships that patrolled the harbor.

WATCH NIGHT-December 31, 1862, Freedom's Eve- On that night, black people around the country came together in churches, gathering places and private homes throughout the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law. When the bells toll at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and according to Lincoln's promise, all slaves in the Confederate States were legally free.

In the early morning hours of January 1, 1863, John B. Magruder and William B. Scurry staged a New Year’s invasion, leading several thousand troops across the abandoned railroad bridge from the mainland and surprising the Union garrison at the Galveston waterfront.

At the Battle of Galveston, Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder took back Texas before the Emancipation took effect under Union control, thereby making the state the last stronghold in the Confederacy.

For the rest of the comprehensive history of Texas during the War through June 19, 1865, see the Texas State Library and Archives Commission at

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