By Jim Downs, the New York Times

The Emancipation Proclamation, which Abraham Lincoln signed on Jan. 1, 1863, was primarily a military tool. When he issued it in preliminary form in September 1862, it was meant to be a warning to the South: give up, or your slaves will be set free.

A group of freed slaves who worked as laborers and servants with the 13th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. (Corbis)

A group of freed slaves who worked as laborers and servants with the 13th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. (Corbis)

And, once in place, emancipation did just what Lincoln wanted — it drew untold thousands of freed slaves to the advancing Union armies, depleting the Southern work force and providing the North with much-needed cheap labor. But it also created an immense humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of former slaves died from disease, malnutrition and poverty.

Emancipation did, of course, free the slaves in the Confederacy. But Lincoln can no longer be portrayed as the hero in this story. Despite his efforts to end slavery, his emancipation policies failed to consider the human cost of liberation.

Little if any thought was given to what would happen to black people after emancipation. Questions about where they would go, what they would eat, how they would work and, most important, how they would survive the war were not considered, either by policy makers in Washington or the majority of generals in the field.

Learn the awful truth of what happened to thousands of newly freed men, women and children, here.