Big news was buried on page two in 1863
Editor’s note: As part of the nation’s 150-year anniversary of the Civil War, the Henry County Civil War Sesquicentennial Task Force will be publishing a monthly column, written by Henry County historians. The research for the articles comes from Henry County newspapers published between 1861-1865, as well as diaries, journals and letters written by Henry County Civil War soldiers and their families.
By Joy Lynn Conwell
When Mt. Pleasant’s Home Journal published the news of the official issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it was relegated to the inside of the paper next to the advertisements. Its significance was being debated across the nation and had been ongoing for months.
Lincoln’s declaration proclaimed “that all persons held as slaves” within the “rebellious” states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The realization was beginning that the Emancipation Proclamation did not mean all slaves were going to be freed. Slave holders in the loyal “border states” which did not secede were able to retain their slaves. The border states were comprised of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia. The proclamation also exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control.
The first mention of freeing the slaves was made in a letter dated July 20, 1862 written by Lincoln’s private secretary, John Hay, which stated that the president “will not conserve slavery much longer.” Two days later, Lincoln called his cabinet to his cramped White House office in the East Wing and read to them the first draft of what would become the Emancipation Proclamation.
In September 1862, the Home Journal carried the news to the citizens of Henry County when it published a circular letter written by Secretary of State William H. Seward. Within a month, the Home Journal carried its first article noting the impact of the forthcoming “official proclamation.
Under the headlines, “Effects of the Proclamation”, the Home Journal reported in November “that the Proclamation of Emancipation is already taking effect in the South…We have received rumors of Negro insurrections, and of terrible panics having seized upon the white population in various localities. The rebellion has got its death-blow if the Proclamation be followed up with firmness and vigor.”
Follow-up editorials in the Home Journal reflected a variety of views and thoughts related to the forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation. In October 1862, the Sixth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Company K, which had mustered out of Henry County, sent a letter to the home paper from Memphis, Tenn., where they were preparing to march on Vicksburg. Their letter stated, “Our hearts were made to rejoice at the late Abolition Proclamation of our honored President. We have seen enough to be well convinced that slavery is the moving cause of the rebellion. Then let us as one people, fighting for the protection of the same flag and Government, with all available power join the President, and help remove the supporting cause of the rebellion.”
In the December 6, 1862, the Home Journal published an article on its front page under the title of “Emancipation in Missouri”. Missouri, as a border state, reflected the ramifications of the Emancipation Proclamation. The article records, “There are estimated to be about 40,000 slaves now held to service in this state.” As it was written, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which was scheduled to be signed in a month would leave these 40,000 Missouri slaves in the hands of their 6,000 Missouri slaveholders.
Even though the Proclamation did not bring an end to slavery, it brought hope and transformed the face of the war. It was no longer a fight to keep a country unified. The war became a fight for freedom and equality.
The Proclamation signed by Lincoln on January 1 had evolved since its first presentation 100 days earlier. He struck from the document language advocating the resettlement of former slaves to Africa or Central America. In the Confederacy, every time the Union forces advanced, slaves were to be “set free”. And he opened military ranks so that black men were accepted in the Union Army and Navy. By the end of war, over 200,000 black soldiers had served in the ranks. But for the slaves in the border states, it would be 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment before slavery was abolished.
And what was on the front page of that January issue of Home Journal when the Emancipation Proclamation was published on page 2? A letter which touched the lives of Henry County citizens written by Thomas E. Corkhill. The letter was dated January 1, 1863, the same day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Corkhill, a pioneer Iowa Methodist minister, teacher, physician, and one of the founders of Iowa Wesleyan College, was serving at the time as the chaplain of the 25th Iowa Infantry. The letter was written at Johnson’s Landing, Yazoo River. It was at Johnson’s Landing on December 26, 1862 that General William Tecumseh Sherman landed 4 divisions including the 25th Iowa for the initial advancement on Vicksburg.
Corkhill wrote, under the headline “Obituary”: “It has become my untimely duty to chronicle the untimely death of one from the 25th Iowa, who, like many others of the soldiery of our proud State, has laid himself a sacrifice upon the altar of our bleeding country.” The soldier, Corporal Isaac N. Yount, was laid to rest in a “narrow grave….upon the field” at Vicksburg by his brother and other friends never to return to Marion Township in Henry County. The war would continue for another two and a half years and many more Henry County fathers, sons, and brothers would be laid in narrow graves upon the battlefields of the south, never to return to Iowa.