Officially, the Emancipation Proclamation freed “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State” where the residents were “in rebellion against the United States.” In practice, it applied only to those slaves who lived near Union lines, where they could make an easy escape or take advantage of the Northern advance.
News of emancipation would move slowly, which would be compounded by the mass migration of slave owners, who fled their holdings in Louisiana and Mississippi—slaves in tow—following the Union victories at New Orleans in 1862 and Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863. Tens of thousands of slaves arrived in Texas, joining the hundreds of thousands in the interior of the state, where they were isolated from most fighting and any news of the war. Indeed, Union attempts to occupy Texas were limited to the coastlines—far from the densest slave populations—or repelled before they had a chance to succeed.
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