“In authorizing the assault on North Carolina, General-in-Chief George McClellan advised [Ambrose] Burnside to avoid linking the invasion to emancipation….In a February 1862 ‘Proclamation made to the People of North Carolina’ Burnside assured them that rumors that he intended to ‘liberate your slaves’ were ‘not only ridiculous, but utterly and willfully false.’
“His actions immediately after the invasion indicate the opposite. Shortly after the invasion of New Bern, Burnside wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that…. he had adopted a policy to ‘allow all [slaves] who come to my lines to enter’ and ‘to give them employment as far as possible, and to exercise toward old and young a judicious charity.’ ”
— From “Driven from Home: North Carolina’s Civil War Refugee Crisis” by David Silkenat (2016)
“In early 1862, George McClellan, then general in chief of the army and a vocal opponent of a war against slavery, gave extremely conservative instructions regarding military emancipation to General Ambrose Burnside as he was about to embark on another joint army-navy operation aimed at capturing Roanoke Island:
” ‘[Say] as little as possible about politics or the negro. Merely state that the true issue for which we are fighting is the preservation of the Union and upholding the laws of the General Government….’
“Upon capturing Roanoke Island in early February, Burnside [denied intending] ‘to liberate your slaves.’ McClellan’s instructions, like Burnside’s proclamations, were technically correct: The ‘purpose’ of the Union invasion was the restoration of the Union, not the liberation of slaves. The policy of the federal government, however, was to emancipate all slaves coming within Union lines…. Occupation forces would not actively interfere with the peaceful operation of slavery among loyal farmers and planters, [or] entice slaves away from their owners, but slaves escaping to Union lines were emancipated and employed as wage laborers.
“Slavery deteriorated rapidly in the occupied parts of North Carolina thanks to the policy instructing Union forces to employ fugitives entering their lines, coupled with the prohibition against military enforcement of the fugitive slave clause.”
— From “Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865” by James Oakes (2012)