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Conquest, Not Union

On April 12, 1864, Fort Pillow, located north of Memphis on the Mississippi River, was surrounded by some 1,500 troops under Gen’s. Nathan Bedford Forrest and James Chalmers. After sending an ultimatum to surrender or suffer “no quarter” and the enemy rejecting capitulation, Forrest’s men attacked and caused most of the enemy’s 600 soldiers to flee into the river. As northern colored troops were half of the fort’s garrison, they suffered great loss along with their white counterparts, and the usual cries of “massacre” were heard from northern reporters anxious to sell newspapers to a gullible public. The Radical Republicans were also quick to establish a congressional committee to investigate Fort Pillow for political purposes.

This pattern was repeated late in the war as the northern public was fed atrocity stories of Georgia’s Andersonville prison stockade. Missing from the stories were the pleas of President Davis and other Southern leaders for prisoner exchanges, including safe passage for medical supplies and food to sustain the inmates. These were all refused by Grant, with Lincoln’s approval.

Conquest, Not Union

“What exactly did the [Committee on the Conduct of the War] uncover and how objective was its investigation? Critics have assumed that the committee deliberately exaggerated Southern atrocities to smear Forrest’s reputation, inflame public sentiments, and serve its own narrow partisan agenda.

The committee’s most thorough historian, T. Harry Williams, for instance, argues that Benjamin Wade used this investigation, as well as previous atrocity reports, as a means to create a consensus for an even more radical reconstruction. By deliberately exaggerating Rebel brutalities, he would cause the public to support a reconstruction policy that would treat the South as a conquered territory.

There is little doubt that the issue of reconstruction was on the minds of committee members and other Republicans during the Fort Pillow investigation. George Julian, chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands, was already busy sponsoring legislation to confiscate the large holdings of Rebel planters and redistribute them to veterans of the Union armies, both white and black.

In remarks to the House of Representatives shortly after Fort Pillow, Julian castigated the Confederates as “devils” and argued that the [alleged] massacre provided additional reasons to support the program of confiscating [Southern property].

Even before the war, there were many in the North who viewed the South as backward and in need of radical reordering along the outline of Northern free labor institutions. The war accelerated such beliefs. “The war is quickly drawing to an end,” the Continental Monthly predicted in the summer of 1862, “but a greater and nobler task lies before the soldiers and free men of America – the extending of civilization into the South.”

In formulating its Fort Pillow findings, the committee reflected Northern opinion as much as it sought to shape it.”

(“These Devils Are Not Fit to Live on God’s Earth”: War Crimes and the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1864-1865”. Bruce Tap. Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, John Hubbell, ed. Kent State University Press, June 1996, Vol. XLII, No. 2, pp. 121-122)

The Cornerstone of the Republican Party

By mid-1862, the advance of the northern invasion had accumulated thousands of “contrabands” left homeless from overrun and destroyed plantations. Lincoln and his cabinet were already in talks with the Danes, Dutch and Swedes to take the contrabands to their Caribbean colonies. By the end of that year and with northern enlistments at a virtual standstill without exorbitant financial incentives, Lincoln was advised to use contrabands against the South as soldiers. His Quartermaster-General Meigs, under the interesting impression that all Southern soldiers owned plantations, believed ‘colored labor allows the rebel to leave his plantation to fight, build fortifications, cook and aid him on picket by rare skill with the rifle.”  Secretary of War Stanton wrote in a rather Marxist vein that “By striking down this system of compulsory labor, which enables the leaders of the rebellion to control the resources of the people, the rebellion would die of itself.”

The Cornerstone of the Republican Party

When northern Negroes asked Free-Soilers what they thought should be done for them or what course they should follow, the recommendation was always the same: separatism, and usually colonization in some other country as well, though the Free-Soil politicians were careful to point out that they meant voluntary separatism or colonization and not forced measures.

When the newly formed Republican party created a truly northern political organization, there was pressure from those who wanted it to take an anti-slavery stance stronger than mere free-soil, and from those who feared it would do just that.

Many Republicans clung to the idea of colonization and for some, at least, it was basic to their policy. Colonization “is the key of the whole question,” commented one. “The exclusion of slavery from the territories is only an incidental part of a general policy of which colonization is the corner stone.”

The Republicans might hope to appeal to non-slaveholders in the South as well as to northern voters if they presented the question properly as a “question of the white man against the Ethiopian.” Though the anticipated support from Southern unionists did not materialize, the narrow issue of slavery exclusion remained the sole antislavery plank in the Republican political program. The combination of anti-slave power and anti-Negro sentiment was a powerful attraction in both the Free Soil and Republican programs.”

(Slavery and the Slave Power – A Crucial Distinction. Larry Gara. Civil War History – A Journal of the Middle Period, March 1969, Volume 15, No. 1. pp. 16-17)

Saving “Uncle George” MacDonald

Saving “Uncle George” MacDonald

“The Osceola (Missouri) Democrat raised money to send “Uncle” George McDonald of St. Clair County, a colored Confederate veteran, to the Confederate Reunion at Columbia last month. In 1861 “Uncle” George went off with the men of St. Clair County and fought in several engagements.

At Wilson’s Creek a Minie ball plowed through his hip and buckshot struck him in the face. George lay groaning upon the ground when he was found by Owen Snuffer, a lieutenant of his company. Snuffer stooped down, examined the black man’s wounds and stanched the flow blood from them. “For God’s sake,” cried the suffering negro, “give me a drink of water.”

Snuffer’s canteen was empty but midway between the firing lines was a well. To reach it the lieutenant was to become the target of sharpshooters, and it meant almost certain death. But with bullets falling all around him like hailstones he pushed forward until the well was reached. And then he discovered that the bucket had been taken away and the windlass removed. The water was far down and the depth unknown.

The well was old-fashioned – stone-walled. Owen pulled off his long cavalry boots and taking one in his teeth he let himself down slowly, hand over hand until the water was reached and the boot filled. He then climbed up, straddling the well and clutching with hands and feet the rocky walls. Reaching the surface again he picked up the other boot and safely made his way back to his lines and brought water to “Uncle George.”

Returning from the war, “Uncle George” settled near Monegaw Springs and has reared an intelligent, honest and industrious family. One of his children educated himself, graduated the Smith University in Sedalia, and is now the pastor of a church in Kansas. Another child is a waiter at the Commercial Hotel in Osceola, an establishment known for high integrity.”

(Confederate Veteran, Volume XI, November 1903, pg. 494)

A Second Boston Massacre

New York’s Governor Horatio Seymour, a Democrat, firmly believed that conscription was unconstitutional as the federal government was to depend upon the States to furnish needed troops. He charged Lincoln’s draft with bringing disgrace upon the American name and shamed his administration. Seymour further declared that neither the President nor the Congress had a right ‘to force men to take part in the ungodly conflict which is distracting the land.’ Seymour also charged – and proved – that Lincoln levied higher draft quotas upon New York’s Democratic voting districts as part of a ‘manifest design to reduce the Democratic majority of voters.’ In short, the draft was designed, it appeared to Seymour, ‘to take Democrats into the army and exempt Republicans.’

New York City’s bloody draft riot which began July 11, 1863, ended the lives of some 120 residents as blue-coated soldiers hurried from Gettysburg opened fire on them with muskets and cannon. At least five black men were hung as demonstrators denounced Lincoln’s emancipation war. Strong anti-draft riots occurred across the State to include Buffalo, and throughout the north.

In Boston, though the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment was available, Gov. John Andrew feared that the sight of colored soldiers might excite his white citizenry. This colored regiment contained nearly 400 men enticed mostly from Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania to count toward Massachusetts troop quota and leave white residents at home. Only 22 soldiers were Massachusetts residents; 3 were Canadians. The black soldiers were hurried away and replaced with white men.

The governor’s fears were realized on July 14, 1863, when nearly a thousand angry residents – many of them women and children – gathered in front of the city’s Cooper Street Armory. After they hurled paving bricks at the wooden doors, a nervous officer inside ordered a field cannon loaded with grapeshot wheeled to the door and opened fire on the crowd, killing at least 14 and maiming many more.

This senseless slaughter of civilians recalled the massacre just over 93 years earlier, when British soldiers fired into a crowd of three hundred jeering and rock-throwing Boston residents. Eight were killed and five wounded. The post-riot investigation featured future US president John Adams representing the British soldiers.

(Lincoln and the War Governors. William B. Hesseltine. Alfred A. Knopf. 1948, pg. 305)

 

 

Dissent in the Northern Ranks

Northern military officers soon found that any Democrat political leanings were an obstacle to promotion from Republican politicians. One officer wrote his brother that “several sources advised that if I change my political views and make a few Republican stump speeches to my troops it would be greatly to my advantage.” Democrat officers claimed that promotions and dismissals were more often based upon partisan politics and Lincoln’s desire to win elections. Historian Michael Holt noted that Lincoln did appoint prominent Democrats to high rank, but only for the purpose of luring Democrat votes to union parties in northern States.

Dissent in the Northern Ranks

“While Republican soldiers had no difficulty [obtaining or] writing to their hometown newspapers, Democratic soldiers often found themselves in hot water. In August 1864, Pvt. Newton B. Spencer of the 179th New York Infantry wrote a letter to his local newspaper of which he had previously been editor, the Penn Yan Democrat, claiming that the “Abolition mania for employing “n****r” soldiers has culminated in the worst disaster of the whole campaign and discouraged and nearly demoralized the whole army.”

Spencer believed that it “was to glorify the sooty abolition idol, that upon a Division of raw and worthless black poltroons, was devolved the most important part of the whole conflict – in the hope that they would crown our temporary success with decisive victory and bear off the hard-won laurels of the white fighting men.”

Spencer was charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline, contempt and disrespect for his commanding officer, violation of the Fifty-seventh Article of War (giving intelligence to the enemy), and “giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” which was essentially a charge of treason. Spencer admitted writing the letter but pleaded not guilty to each of the charges.

In like manner, Sgt. William B. Gillespie of the Twenty-eighth New York Infantry was convicted by courts-martial for publishing a newspaper article in January 1863 in which he stated that Lincoln’s emancipation edict “will be the cause of a large number of our best officers resigning and of a large number of desertions,” to which he added that the freed people should all be “shipped to Washington . . . for a heart welcome and cordial embrace.” Gillespie was sentenced to be reduced to the ranks and then drummed out of the service.

Capt. Thomas Barrett of the Nineteenth Illinois Volunteers was summarily and dishonorably dismissed for publishing a letter in the Chicago Times on May 25, 1863, critical of Lincoln’s policy of enlisting black soldiers.”

(Emancipation, the Union Army and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln. Jonathan W. White. LSU Press, 2014, pp. 55-57)

Northern Democrat Thorn in Lincoln’s Side

Ohio congressman Samuel S. Cox stood out in the north as one who repeatedly challenged Lincoln’s wartime policies. A prewar Ohio newspaper editor in Columbus, he entered Congress in 1857 and served through 1865. As a War Democrat who wanted to somehow preserve the union, his efforts were directed toward effecting a rapid conclusion of the war before extreme bitterness had cut too deeply – and conciliation might still be possible.

Northern Democrat Thorn in Lincoln’s Side

“In the postwar, Cox said in retrospect: Could not this union have been made permanent by a timely settlement, instead of being cemented by fraternal blood and military rule? By an equitable adjustment of the territory this was possible . . . the Crittenden proposition . . . the Republican Radicals denounced . . . They were determined to prevent a settlement. Those who thought to counteract the schemes of secession were themselves checkmated by the extreme men of the Republican party.

Early in January 1862 Cox wanted to obtain from Lincoln his view regarding prisoner exchanges with the South. Asking if he would look to the safety of captured northern soldiers & sailors, Lincoln replied “You will have me recognize those [Southern] pirates as belligerents?” This was, then, the sum of his reasoning against the exchange or prisoners. It had in it no element of humanity or international law. With Cox’s prodding, an official agreement was established with the Confederacy in mid-1862.

By the spring of 1862 the tempo of fighting had increased along with the temper of northern politics, as the Radical Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania pressed for the confiscation of Southern property and emancipation of the South’s slaves. Congress had already in August 1861 enacted a confiscation act for property used for “insurrectionary purposes.” Stevens now wanted confiscation of the property of all “enemies,” slaves of all persons supporting the rebellion to be “forever free of servitude.” Cox denounced this proposal on June 3rd and urged Lincoln to reassure the public mind as to the purpose of the war. Playing upon the fears of the northern fears of freedmen flooding northward he asked: “will Ohio troops fight at all if the result should be the movement of the black race by the millions to their own State?”

Pressing his point, he said: “I would protect against this ambiguous policy” of professing a war to preserve the union but actually fighting a war to abolish slavery.  As for the cause of the war, he argued: “Slavery is the occasion, but not the cause . . . but slavery agitation, north and South, is the cause.”

Rep. Cox noted that “Indiana and Illinois, the latter Lincoln’s home State, already forbade the entrance of Negroes into their States. Ohio Republican legislators, resenting Cox’s obstructionist attacks on Lincoln’s administration, proceeded to redistrict the State under the new federal reapportionment act that cut Ohio’s representation from 21 to 19. Cox’s district was redrawn to make his reelection impossible.

The October 1862 Republican congressional defeats can be traced to waning enthusiasm for Lincoln’s stalemated war, waning enlistments and threatened conscription, arbitrary arrests of citizens and newspaper editors, and fear that his emancipation crusade would flood the north with freedmen in search of cheap wages. The Democrats were victorious in 14 of the Republican-redrawn 19 congressional seats.

Cox, outraged by Republican charges of disloyalty against northern Democrats, retorted: “Who brought on this war and then dragooned Southern Negroes to fight battles in which they would not even risk their own lives? How many abolitionists were hiding from the draft or paying for substitutes to fight for them?

In a mid-December 1862 speech Cox blamed Lincoln’s administration for the Radical rule that had resulted in a divided country, a national debt of $2,500,000,000, a tariff paying “millions into the pockets of capitalists from consumers,” the destruction of “the rights of personal liberty,” and the deaths of “at least 150,000 of the best youth of the country.”

During 1863 congressional Democrats steadily opposed the actions of Lincoln’s Administration, citing New England’s responsibility for the war, the unconstitutionality of federal emancipation, and the arbitrary despotism of the President.”

(Sunset Cox: Irrepressible Democrat. David Lindsey. Wayne State University Press, 1959, pp. 52-70)

Mar 11, 2023 - Black Soldiers, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South    Comments Off on Tale of Two Black Seamen

Tale of Two Black Seamen

Tale of Two Black Seamen

In early 1864 Brigadier-General Robert F. Hoke was tasked with liberating the enemy-occupied and fortified town of Plymouth on the Roanoke River in northeastern North Carolina. He began formulating his attack with the naval assistance of the still-incomplete ironclad ram CSS Albemarle, which was literally built in a cornfield well upriver from Plymouth.

The unfinished ship had its steam up at early dawn on April 18th and departed for Plymouth with final construction still ongoing. The Albemarle was instrumental in the enemy’s defeat as it bombarded forts with its 6.4-inch pivot-mounted Brooke guns while Hoke’s brave North Carolinians surrounded and rushed the enemy.

At least one of the black crewmembers on the ironclad was free-black teenager Benjamin H. Gray of Bertie County who was first assigned to the Wilmington Squadron warships and detached in the Spring of 1864 to the Albemarle. His position aboard was carrying bags of gunpowder to the two Brooke guns from the lower magazine. This was not unusual as free-black crewmen were common on Southern vessels; the CSS Chicora at least three black men serving aboard as well as the raider Alabama.

Ship’s carpenter Edward Walsh served on a long string of blockade runners operating between Wilmington and Bermuda. He was captured on the runner Elsie and sent to prison at Baltimore, and after his release made his way to Halifax where he signed aboard the runner Constance, then back to Wilmington where he joined the crew of the runner Annie. By the end of the war, he had run the blockade 16 times, had two ships sunk under him, and was aboard two captured by the enemy.

Dr. Edward Smith of American University has estimated that by February 1865, 1150 free-black seamen served aboard Southern warships, which amounted to about 20 percent of total naval personnel. A postwar resident of Bertie County, Gray was a Confederate pensioner; after his death in 1917 his widow Margaret received it.

Sources:

(Bermuda and the Civil War, C. Diechmann, Bermuda National Trust, 2003; NCDNR)

The Americans of 1860

An honest appraisal of events leading up to the national convulsion of 1860-1865 begins with understanding the American mind of that era. The literature is clear that Northerners rid themselves of slaves in their midst by selling them southward and did not want the black man among them – but restricted to the South. Northern workingmen too feared black freedmen coming northward seeking employment at wages less than that which white men would accept. But war came and the black man solved Lincoln’s dwindling enlistment problem as refugee freedmen were put in the ranks; white veterans were showered with generous bounties after 1863 to reenlist and eventually muster out – if they lived – rather wealthy men.

The Americans of 1860

“There is no evidence to show that the American people of 1860, not only those living in slaveholding States, but also the vast majority of Americans living in the former slaveholding States of the north and others, thought the Negro capable of skipping over the tendencies which the white man had derived from thousands of years of his well-developed civilization, and passing with or without a few years training, from the mental condition and inheritance of barbarians and slaves into full equality with the free citizens of a self-governing republic, whose laws, traditions, habits and customs were totally alien, far more alien than those of the Japanese and Chinese.

The Americans of that day did not feel that a mere statute law permitting the Negro to equal the white man in autonomous government could enable him to do so. The slave system was considered fundamentally not as a matter of morals, of right and wrong, but merely as an economic arrangement which was essentially the outgrowth of an inequality and difference in inheritance between the average white and black man.

It is safe to say that all of the Southerners and most of the Northerners knew that the Negroes were not a race resembling angels in ability, to pass from one extreme to the other without passing through the middle.

Therefore, it cannot be said that there was a basic antagonism between the Northern and Southern people in regard to the slavery question in the Southern States. If there was any real vital difference between the North and South, it was on what constituted a sectional control of the federal government. And Northerners in 1860 failed to realize that the Republican party of 1860 answered perfectly to Washington’s definition of a geographical party against the formation of which he solemnly warned his fellow-countrymen in his Farewell Address.”

(The Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861: A Study in Public Opinion. Mary Scrugham, Columbia University, 1921, pp. 57-60)

Oct 29, 2022 - Black Soldiers, Lincoln's Grand Army, Northern Culture Laid Bare, Race and the North, Tales of Jim Crow    Comments Off on “Wouldn’t Command Negroes in Service”

“Wouldn’t Command Negroes in Service”

Antebellum Pennsylvanians in general did not want black people living within State borders and “free” black people there led circumscribed lives. We recall that William Penn himself was a slaveholder and the State formerly slaveholding; Frederick Douglass believed Philadelphia the most segregated city in the US, and Pennsylvania troops expressed concern that freedmen might journey northward and take their place in the workplace.

“Wouldn’t Command Negroes in Service”

“On August 16, 1862, in the battle of Deep River Run, Virginia, Company F of the 85th Pennsylvania assaulted and drove the Confederates from their intrenchments. Ed Leonard, of said company, had fired at the retreating Southern color bearer. When his gun was empty, he ordered the color bearer to halt which he refused to do.

Leonard threw his gun at him thinking he would knock him down with it – but he was just far enough away for the gun to turn once and the bayonet went through the body of the color bearer, killing him. Leonard picked up the flagstaff, tore the flag from it, and concealed it about his person, intending to send it home. But the hidden flag was discovered, and he was required to turn it into headquarters.

For this act of bravery Leonard was commissioned a captain. When assigned to his new command, he found it was a Negro company; he then returned the commission and went back to his company as a private.”

(“Wouldn’t Command Negroes in Service,” W.T. Rogers, Knoxville, Tennessee, Confederate Veteran Magazine, May 1912, page 213)

Black Recruits Unwelcome in Philadelphia

The North’s use of generous bounties for paid volunteers and resorting to the of black slaves as troops was an unmistakable admission that popular support for the war against the American South was nearly extinct by 1863.  Once Lincoln allowed dislocated and captured slaves to be counted against States troop quotas, Northern State agents swarmed into the occupied South in search of (and arguing over) black recruits who would leave white Northern men safe from Lincoln’s threat of conscription.

It is ironic that a Pennsylvania training camp for black recruits was named “Camp William Penn,” a slaveholder who founded the colony which bears his name.

Black Recruits Unwelcome in Philadelphia

“In spite of announcements assuring blacks of pay equal to that of the white soldier, actual practice belied this promise. White enlisted men received thirteen dollars a month with a clothing allowance of an additional three dollars and fifty cents. Black soldiers, however, were paid only ten dollars per month, three dollars of which might be deducted for clothing.

Blacks were also generally denied bounties. Bounties were cash bonuses paid to volunteers by federal, State, or local authorities as an incentive to enlist. These bounties often totaled more than five hundred dollars or more, a generous amount exceeding the average annual wages for a Northern worker.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania eventually contributed a token bounty of ten dollars to each black recruit.

The War Department had also refused to commission black officers. A manyfold rationale stood behind this decision. First, the concept of black troops would be more acceptable [in the North] if white men exclusively were permitted to become officers in such units. Organizing “colored” regiments would create thousands of new positions for regimental officers. The awarding of these commissions to whites could create more support for the program and could reward those who had already shown support.

The [black recruits] of Camp William Penn constantly experienced another reminder of their inferior status through the discriminatory policy of the streetcars of Philadelphia. Of the nineteen streetcar and suburban railroad companies that operated in and around Philadelphia, eleven outright refused to permit blacks to ride.  The other eight tolerated black riders but required them to stand on the front platform with the driver.”

The “Grand Review” and battalion drills had all been executed in the friendly confines of the training camp itself. Colonel Wagner and the other [white] commanders recognized the risks they would face when their units left their camp. Earlier in the year, on September 18, the 3rd Regiment of US Colored Infantry marched through Philadelphia on its way to war. At that time the mayor and concerned officials compelled them to march unarmed and in civilian clothes.

[An] underlying tension still simmered because of the many residents who harbored deep prejudices.  This threatening situation had caused the mayor to delay an earlier planned parade of the 3rd US Colored Troops even after it had been publicly advertised.  During the 6th’s [US Colored Regiment] parade the fear of violence prompted marching officers to carry loaded revolvers to be used in an emergency. The enlisted [black] men, carrying musket and bayonet, “were not trusted with any ammunition.”

(Strike the Blow for Freedom, The 6th US Colored Infantry in the Civil War, James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998, pp. 17-29)

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