Gregory Downs is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis. A specialist in post–Civil War history, he is the author most recently of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (2015), which considers the use of the U.S. Army in occupying the South to create new forms of freedom, and a companion website Mapping Occupation, created with Scott Nesbit. Downs is also the author of Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908 (2011) and has written on the interaction between the U.S. Civil War and the Mexican wars of the 1860s. He is a coeditor, with Kate Masur, of The World the Civil War Made (2015), and is currently working a book on the American Civil War in a period of global revolution. Also a prizewinning fiction writer, he is the author of the short-story collection Spit Baths (2006).
Although the 13th Amendment was crucial for ending slavery, it could not destroy the institution by itself. Instead, slavery endured deep into the summer and fall of 1865 in parts of the South. What killed slavery in the end was also force. By exploring the role of soldiers and slaves in overthrowing the final islands of slavery in the summer and fall of 1865, we can understand the power of slavery and also the way 19th century Americans understood freedom to be a claim for attention from higher powers.