We know that January 1865 was an important month in the history of the destruction of slavery in the United States. After all, it was in that month that the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the Thirteenth Amendment, which aimed to complete the eradication of chattel slavery in the nation.
In Missouri, however, representatives of the Show Me state had beaten Congress to the punch. On January 11, 1865, Missourians led by Charles Drake terminated the peculiar institution. Among those slaves now recognized as formally free, by the way, were the slaves of Colonel Frederick Dent, Ulysses S. Grant’s father in law. As the colonel apparently never transferred official title of any of his slaves to his daughter Julia, the correct date for the end of slavery in the Dent family is January 1865 (not the misguided claims that Grant had slaves after the war or that they were freed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment).
Historians of emancipation often overlook state action (and inaction) during the war when it came to slavery and its end. In so doing those historians overlook the full story of emancipation, and tend to reinforce a Lincoln-Washington centered narrative (and overlook Lincoln’s role in supporting state-initiated emancipation). Others know better.
It’s one of the shortcomings of the Civil War sesquicentennial that in focusing on battles, leaders, and soldiers, we miss so much else that tells us about Americans at war with each other. That bears on the current debate over American Civil War military history. It is well to remember that the history of a war is more than a study of battlefield events.