The Confederate States paid no attention at all to the Emancipation Proclamation, so the Negroes dared claim their freedom only when the Union troops were near enough to protect them. Besides, the greater part of the colored people could not read, and did not even know they had been declared free until told the joyful news by Northern soldiers.
The first regiment of colored freemen had already been formed, however, and the proclamation was read aloud to them, too, very near the place where some of the South Carolinians had drawn up a law saying the Negroes should be slaves forever. Although many people had predicted that Negroes never could be trained to fight properly, they covered themselves with glory when the time came. Indeed, colored people bravely helped Union soldiers whenever they could, often risking their own lives to do so, and one of the most heroic deeds in all the war was done by a Negro boy, at Fort Wagner, in 1863. This lad fell in a gallant attempt to climb the wall. Seeing one of the officers hesitate because he could not get up without hurting him, the poor boy bravely said: “I’m done gone, massa! Step on me and you can scale the wall!”
Burnside, having failed to win a victory at Fredericksburg, was now removed in his turn, and the command of the Union army given to General Joseph Hooker, whom the soldiers called “Fighting Joe.” But at Chancellorsville (1863) Hooker was stunned by a cannon ball, and as his army was thus left during several hours without a general, it was completely defeated. Owing in part, no doubt, to this accident, Lee won a brilliant victory over an army twice as large as his own; but he lost one of the bravest Southern officers, the gallant Stonewall Jackson. The latter was riding along with his staff, at nightfall, when his own men, mistaking him for the enemy, suddenly fired upon him, thus killing the man they loved so dearly.
Chancellorsville was the last great victory won by the Confederates in the Civil War, but their past successes had filled their hearts with hope. When Hooker retreated, therefore, Lee boldly crossed the Potomac and marched into Pennsylvania. His plan was to carry the war into the enemy’s country and make the Northern people feel the hardships which the South had to suffer. Hooker, who had not expected this bold move, followed him in hot haste; but before he could overtake Lee, the command of the Union army was taken from him and given to General Meade.