Tide Turns Case 6
Two Visions of American Freedom
By the time Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee faced off in 1864, they represented two different visions of American freedom, especially as it pertained to African Americans. With the Emancipation Proclamation official Federal policy, Grant’s army was not only a force against slavery but also included thousands of Black soldiers. Lee’s army represented the opposite and included none.
Those differences are vividly displayed in this letter (a copy likely prepared for the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion) Lee sent Grant during a lull in the fighting. Lee was proposing that the two armies exchange prisoners but stipulated that “Negroes belonging to our Citizens”—meaning freedmen now serving in the U. S. Army—were not eligible. Grant replied that same day, affirming that all soldiers under his command deserved equal treatment including “such men as have escaped from Southern Masters.” Neither general backed down, so the exchange never took place.
SC320 – Robert E. Lee to Grant, October 3, 1864