Treason in the South

John W. Burgess of Pulaski, Tennessee was 17 years old when invading northern armies occupied his State. When Southern cavalry came to enlist him for the State’s defense, his Rhode Island-born father encouraged John to escape into the woods and northern-held western Tennessee. Reaching occupied Jackson, he and an accomplice were enlisted as scouts to lead northern cavalry against Gen. Bedford Forrest.

At war’s end John attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and became acquainted with newspaper editor Franklin Sanborn. The latter, like Burgesses father, were abolitionist northerners who had regained their sense of morality regarding Africa’s people and distanced themselves from New England’s transatlantic slave-trading past.

Treason in the South

“There was another cause of great mental distress to me in the situation in which I found myself. I was regarded by most of those whom I had grown up as a traitor to my country. It was entirely useless for me to say I recognized only the United States as my country and regarded the secession of Tennessee and its connection with the Southern Confederacy as void acts . . . Their political horizon was bounded by the frontiers of their State and their only conception of sovereignty was “State rights.”

They would turn their faces away from me with undisguised contempt and hatred whenever we met, and I was made to feel full well that I must never fall alive into the hands of the Confederate military. In such case, I was entirely and fully aware that I would not have been accorded the honor of facing the firing squad but would have been hung from the first limb which could have been reached.

In constant danger of capture or abduction, I spent many anxious days and sleepless nights reflecting upon my possible, and at times seemingly probably fate.”

(Reminiscences of an American Scholar, John W. Burgess, Columbia University Press, 1934; pp. 32-33)

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