Underground Railroad
American Civil War

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, a movement called the Underground Railroad helped enslaved people flee the South.

Brutal Challenges to the System

Most African Americans resisted enslavement. They used techniques such as work slow-downs, sabotage, sickness, self-mutilation, or the destruction of property. Whenever possible, individuals attempted to liberate themselves by running away. Some runawaysócalled maroonsócreated free communities, such as those that existed in Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp or in the Florida Everglades among the Seminole Indians. Beginning in the seventeenth century, African Americans repeatedly banded together in attempts to overthrow the institution of slavery.

Large-scale uprisings included Gabriel's Rebellion, which occurred near Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. The revolt's leader, Gabriel Prosser, reportedly drew inspiration from the Haitian Revolution. The best-known rebellion occurred in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Led by enslaved preacher Nat Turner, some seventy followers destroyed property and murdered more than fifty white men, women, and children within a twenty-four hour period.

Following Turner's rebellion many Virginia slaveholders reported insubordinate behavior by their slaves. In retaliation vigilantes murdered innocent blacks. The uprising succeeded in terrorizing white southerners, and as a direct result, southern lawmakers enacted stricter regulations designed to tightly control the activities of enslaved and free African Americans.

The Underground Railroad Map

Purchase the Underground Railroad Wall Map 

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, a movement called the Underground Railroad helped enslaved people flee the South.

Operating without formal organization, participants in the Underground Railroad included both white and black abolitionists, enslaved African Americans, American Indians, and members of such religious groups as the Quakers, Methodists, and Baptists.

The Fugitive Slave Act

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 permitted the recapture and extradition of escaped slaves with the assistance of federal marshals. To combat the perceived success of the Underground Railroad, one of the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 levied fines and prison sentences on individuals who helped runaways. The spectacle of African Americans reenslaved on the slightest pretext brought the reality of slavery forcibly into northern life. Unscrupulous traders also kidnapped free African Americans during this period and sold them south into slavery. The Fugitive Slave Law forced runaways to flee to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and even Europe.

Methods of Escape

Slaves passed information about methods of escape by word-of-mouth, in stories, and through songs. No actual trains existed on the Underground Railroad, but guides were called conductors and the hiding places that they used, depots or stations. Runaways escaped to the North along a loosely connected series of routes that stretched through the southern border states. Guided north by the stars and sometimes singing traditional songs like "Follow the Drinking Gourd," most runaways travelled at night on foot and took advantage of the natural protections offered by swamps, bayous, forests, and waterways. Others who escaped from the South travelled into the western territories, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Some runaways took refuge in cities such as Baltimore and New Orleans and blended into the free black population.

Adjusting to Freedom

Once free, former slaves remade their lives. Many worked hard to raise money to purchase family members still in slavery or to help further their escape. While savoring new experiences, they discovered the extent to which bigotry prevailed in northern society. Obstacles existed for them to find work and to secure satisfactory housing. Few, however, longed for their old lives. "Through the mercy of God," one former slave relished, "he can hold up his hands and pronounce the sentence, 'I am a Freeman!'" During the Civil War many African Americans joined the Federal forces to fight for slavery's destruction.

Free Blacks

Free African Americans totalled six percent of the South's population in 1860. Free blacks often lived in cities such as Charleston, South Carolina; Natchez, Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; or Baltimore, Maryland, where they found better opportunities for employment and autonomy from whites. Despite the limitations imposed by the racist society that surrounded them, these free African Americans established their own churches, schools, and charitable organizations.

Dred Scott

In a landmark legal case that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Dred Scott sued for his freedom in 1846. Taken into free territory by his owner but returned to Missouri, a slave state, Scott argued that his earlier residency made him a free man. Finally in 1857, the Supreme Court found that Scott, as a bondsperson, was not recognized as a U.S. citizen under the Constitution, and therefore, not eligible to sue in the courts. The decision widened the gulf between North and South.

John Brown

Fiery abolitionist John Brown dedicated his life to slavery's destruction. Frederick Douglass wrote of Brown, whom he admired, "His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him." In 1859, hoping to act as a catalyst for a widespread slave rebellion, Brown and 18 men unsuccessfully attacked the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). One member of Brown's group, African American abolitionist Osborne Anderson, escaped from Harpers Ferry via the Underground Railroad to Canada.

Underground Railroad: A Chronology

  • 1817 Andrew Jackson takes command of federal troops engaging in a ruthless war against Seminoles and runaways in Florida.
  • 1820-21 Missouri Compromise admits Missouri and Maine into the Union to maintain the balance of the slave and free states; also establishes line between free and slave territory.
  • 1831 William Lloyd Garrison begins publication of the abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. 1838 Black abolitionist Robert Purvis becomes chairman of the General Vigilance Committee, whose task is to assist runaways, in New York City.
  • 1847 Frederick Douglass begins publication of his abolitionist newspaper The North Star.
  • 1848 First Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York; abolitionists Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglass attend.
  • 1854 Black abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper hired by Maine Anti-Slavery Society to lecture in New England and Lower Canada.
  • 1863 The Emancipation Proclamation becomes effective January 1, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln's action thereby made abolition of slavery as important a goal in the prosecution of the Civil War as preserving the Federal Union.
  • 1865 Civil War ends. The thirteenth amendment, which abolishes slavery, is ratified by the required three-fourths of the states, December 18.
I have a home
I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad
The Blackburn case was the first serious legal dispute between Canada and the United States regarding the Underground Railroad. The impassioned defense of the Blackburns by Canada's lieutenant governor set precedents for all future fugitive-slave cases

Kindle Available

Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life: A Biography

Travel with Tubman along the treacherous route of the Underground Railroad. Hear of her friendships with Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and other abolitionists.

Kindle Available
Frederick Douglass

Escape from Slavery
This shortened version brings the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to middle-grade readers.

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman

Harriet escaped North, by the secret route called the Underground Railroad. Harriet didn't forget her people. She risked her life to lead them on the same secret, dangerous journey
U.S. Map Showing Seceeding States by Date, American Civil War, c.1861
U.S. Map Showing Seceeding States by Date
American Civil War, c.1861

24 in. x 18 in.
Buy at AllPosters.com
Framed   Mounted


Slaves traveled along the Underground Railroad, depicted in this painting


Kindle Available
Civil War Firearms

Standard Catalog of
Civil War Firearms

Over 700 photographs and a rarity scale for each gun, this comprehensive guide to the thousands of weapons used by Billy Yank and Johnny Reb will be indispensable for historians and collectors.
Harriet Tubman
Civil War Colored Troops
Colored Troop Pictures
Civil War Exhibits
Civil War Summary
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Civil War Timeline
State Battle Maps
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Civil War soldier toys 102 pieces
Civil War Soldier 102 Piece Playset
  • 25 Union and 25 Confederate Soldier Figures, 18 Horses, 10 Cannon
  • 2 Covered Wagons, 2 Tents, 2 Canoes, 2 Flags, 16 Fences
  • Size: Figures Stand up to 2-1/8 inches tall
  • Scale: 1/32nd, Wagons and Horses slightly smaller

Young Reader Selections
Kindle Available
The Civil War

The Civil War
Introduces young readers to the harrowing true story of the American Civil War and its immediate aftermath. A surprisingly detailed battle-by-battle account of America's deadliest conflict ensues, culminating in the restoration of the Union followed by the tragic assassination of President Lincoln
Kindle Available

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina 1865
Not only is 12-year-old Patsy a slave, but she's also one of the least important slaves, since she stutters and walks with a limp. So when the war ends and she's given her freedom, Patsy is naturally curious and afraid of what her future will hold.
Kindle Available
Many Thousands Gone

Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
The evolution of black society from the first arrivals in the early seventeenth century through the Revolution
Kindle Available

A Yankee Girl at Fort Sumter
Tale of a girl and her family from Boston living in Charleston, SC during the months leading up to the beginning of the Civil War by the attack on Fort Sumter. The reader senses the inhunanity of slavery through Sylvia's experiences.

The Journal of James Edmond Pease: A Civil War Union Soldier, Virginia, 1863
James was only 15 when he joined, but he was able to get in. Nobody really liked him cause he was unlucky. One day in the confusion he charged ahead of his company and scared off all the Confederates single handed. After that, he became well liked by most people and soon rose Corporal. He showed his bravery when he spent a week in enemy territory. By the end of the war he rose up to Second Lieutenant.
Night Boat to Freedom
Night Boat To Freedom
Night Boat to Freedom is a wonderful story about the Underground Railroad, as told from the point of view of two "ordinary" people who made it possible. Beyond that, it is a story about dignity and courage, and a devotion to the ideal of freedom.

Behind the Blue and Gray
The Soldier's Life in the Civil War

Civil War reading can be very dry, but not this book. Delia Ray takes us on a soldiers journey beginning with enlistment and ending with a soldiers life after the war, using quotes from actual letters and diaries strategically placed throughout the book.

Grace's Letter to Lincoln
Many important details of the time period help to make the reader understand what life was like then. It also includes photos of the actual letters written between Grace and Mr. Lincoln

Turn Homeward, Hannalee
During the closing days of the Civil War, plucky 12-year-old Hannalee Reed, sent north to work in a Yankee mill, struggles to return to the family she left behind in war-torn Georgia. "A fast-moving novel based upon an actual historical incident with a spunky heroine and fine historical detail."--School Library Journal.

My Brothers Keeper
Virginia Dickens is angry. Her father and brother Jed have left her behind while they go off to Uncle Jack's farm to help him hide his horses from Confederate raiders. It's the summer of 1863 and Pa and Jed believe 9-year-old Virginia will be out of harm's way in the sleepy little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Kindle Available

I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina 1865
Not only is 12-year-old Patsy a slave, but she's also one of the least important slaves, since she stutters and walks with a limp. So when the war ends and she's given her freedom, Patsy is naturally curious and afraid of what her future will hold.

Numbering The Bones
The Civil War is at an end, but for thirteen-year-old Eulinda, it is no time to rejoice. Her younger brother Zeke was sold away, her older brother Neddy joined the Northern war effort,. With the help of Clara Barton, the eventual founder of the Red Cross, Eulinda must find a way to let go of the skeletons from her past.

Underground Railroad DVD
Race To Freedom

The movie took me inside the Underground Railroad and showed how people of all walks of life were involved in assisting African-Americans in helping them cross into Canada.
story of the underground railroad DVD
Whispers of Angels

Defiant, brave and free, the great abolitionists Thomas Garrett, William Still and Harriet Tubman, along with hundreds of lesser known and nameless opponents of slavery, formed a Corridor of Courage stretching from Maryland's eastern shore through the length of Delaware to Philadelphia and beyond -- making the Underground Railroad a real route to freedom for enslaved Americans before the Civil War.
underground railroad history channel dvd
Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad, "the first civil rights movement," was no mere act of civil disobedience. The secret network of guides, pilots, and safe-house keepers (the Railroad's "conductors") was built by runaway slaves who, over the decades, communicated their experiences through songs and secret gestures, and were supported by abolitionists (many of them former slaves) who risked their own freedom to help free the enslaved. The "passengers" risked their lives.

American Civil War Colored Troops Book Titles
Nothing But Freedom
Nothing but Freedom:
Emancipation and Its Legacy

Insights into the relatively neglected debates over fencing laws and hunting and fishing rights in the post emancipation South, and into the solidarity of the low-country black community
Kindle Available
Many Thousands Gone

Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
The evolution of black society from the first arrivals in the early seventeenth century through the Revolution
House Divided
A House Divided: The Antebellum Slavery Debates in America, 1776-1865

An excellent overview of the antebellum slavery debate and its key issues and participants. The most important abolitionist and proslavery documents written in the United States between the American Revolution and the Civil War
Strike a Blow
Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War
The recruitment, training, battles and finally the mustering out of the 6th. The 6th shared some of the same influences that shaped the formation of many military units of that time
Kindle Available
Black Slaveowners

Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860
An analysis of all aspects and particularly of the commercialism of black slaveowning debunks the myth that black slaveholding was a benevolent institution based on kinship, and explains the transition of black masters from slavery to paid labor.
Black Confederates
Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees
in Civil War Virginia

African American life in Virginia, both slave and free, during the civil war, from soldiers who fought in the Confederate and Union armies to those who acted as spies
Black Confederates
Black Confederates
It was illegal for Blacks to carry arms until March of 1865, and numerous Confederate Government documents attest to the illegality of using slaves and free Blacks in that capacity
Black Confederates
Black Southerners in Confederate Armies
Official records, newspaper articles, and veterans' accounts to tell the  stories of the Black Confederates. This well researched collection is a contribution to the discussion about the numbers of black Southerners involved and their significant history.
Kindle Available
A Slave No More
A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation

A mere handful are first-person accounts by slaves who ran away and freed themselves. Now two newly uncovered narratives, and the biographies of the men who wrote them, join that exclusive group with the publication
Fugitive Slaves Fleeing from the Maryland Coast to an Underground Railroad Depot in Delaware, 1850
Fugitive Slaves Fleeing from the Maryland Coast
to an Underground Railroad Depot in Delaware, 1850

24 in. x 18 in.
Buy at AllPosters.com
Framed   Mounted

US National Park Service
Library of Congress
Cincinnati Art Museum

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