In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation had declared all enslaved people in the rebelling states free. Because Union forces did not control Texas at that time, the Proclamation had no practical effect in that state until Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston on June 19, 1865 and read the order. In Texas, June 19 came to be known as Juneteenth, on which day African Americans celebrated their freedom.
As the news of emancipation spread, many freedpeople, or formerly enslaved people, left the plantations. For many, it was the first time they had the freedom to travel. During the summer and fall of 1865, Texas roads were crowded with people loaded down with their possessions. Many freed people rushed to courthouses to legalize their informal slave marriages. Others searched for family members from whom they had been separated. Some gathered at military posts and towns, hoping to find paying jobs and military protection. Many who had been sent to Texas during the war returned to their prewar homes.