January 1, 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, declaring, "that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free," and yet the battle over slavery continued in a grisly civil war that would prove to be the deadliest combat waged on American soil.
Though the President’s efforts were eventually victorious, bringing an end to both the bloodshed and slavery in 1865, the Civil War left a behind a shattered nation that had lost much more than the 620,000 sons, brothers and fathers tallied in the final count of battle fallen.
Enveloping the entire nation, the Civil War impacted individual communities, economies and families in every facet of life. And though less heartbreaking, SUU history Professor Earl Mulderink argues these consequences of war were no less impactful, forever changing the less than 100-year-old nation—a topic he explores in his recently published book, “New Bedford’s Civil War.”
“Imaginative and exhaustive research grounds New Bedford’s story in the rich details of peoples lives,” said Michael Frisch, professor at the University of Buffalo. “The book illuminates a city whose history speaks usefully to the Civil War in general and to the Civil War in the North more specifically because of their contribution of man power to the Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry.”
Mulderink’s book highlights one community in Massachusetts that contributed to the war in ways that many could not.
“New Bedford was home to a sizable African American community, unique for a town during this time,” said Mulderink. “The war, fought by black and white men, was different for each. Black soldiers were fighting for not only ending slavery but equality as a whole.”
One story that exemplifies such differences, uncovered as Mulderink studied old military pension files, is of a soldier in the 54th Color Infantry who was severely wounded in battle and received a medal honor, and yet he received very little pension to support his family once the war had ended. Mulderink posits this would have never happened had the soldier been white.
In addition to the individually inspiring stories of heroism Mulderink inserts throughout his book, “New Bedford’s Civil War” discusses how the town as a whole—soldiers and citizens—survived the war.
Mulderink, who has always been interested in the American Colonial and Civil War eras, has been researching this topic seriously for more than 10 years. He began teaching history courses in 1982 specializing in racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. and the social history of the northern states during the Civil War.