Slavery began to break down in the War's first months in 1861, long before the Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862.
Slavery broke down in phases inside the Confederacy, beginning with the War’s first months in 1861. Runaway slaves fled to the Union Army whenever it appeared, while African Americans in more remote areas engaged in increasingly direct power struggles with slaveowners. Both blacks and whites described slaves who asserted themselves, talked back, reclaimed lost relatives, and sometimes retaliated against whites before they left for the North or Union-occupied territory. This process had its own momentum, inspired by but separate from changes in national politics.