Browsing "Black Soldiers"

Get Killed or Get Hung

The terror raids of enemy black troops on the South’s coastal areas were intended to disrupt agricultural production, and especially to seize African slaves to deny the South its workers. Rather than liberating the slaves, the enemy impressed the slaves as soldiers and threatened to hang them if they did not fight.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Get Killed or Get Hung

“[Brigadier General Joseph] Finegan’s estimate of the emergency was made clear in a proclamation he circulated throughout East Florida informing the people that:

“. . . Our unscrupulous [Northern] enemy has landed a large force of Negroes, under command of white officers, at Jacksonville, under cover of gunboats. He is attempting to fortify the place as to make it secure against attacks. The purpose of this movement is obvious and need not be mentioned in direct terms. I therefore call on such of the citizens as can possibly leave their homes to arm and organize themselves into companies without delay and to report to me. Ammunition, subsistence, and transportation will be furnished then while they remain in service.

With the blessing of the Almighty, the zealous support of the people and the government, I doubt not that the detestable foe will soon be driven from their cover.”

On March 16, after fighting an exhausting series of skirmishes with Yankee troops, [Winston] Stephens wrote to warn his wife of the black troops in Jacksonville, and of the grave danger that Yankee raiders might come upriver to Welaka. “Get the slaves ready to run to the woods on a moment’s notice,” he wrote his wife, adding that “the Negroes in arms will promise them fair prospects, but they will suffer the same fate those did in town that we killed, and the Yankees say they will hang them if they don’t fight.”

(Jacksonville’s Ordeal by Fire, Martin & Schafer, Florida Publishing Company, 1984, page 145)

Lincoln's Sable Arm in North Carolina

Former Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell of Wilmington, North Carolina was a prewar Whig, newspaper editor and opposed to the secession of his State. On July 26, 1865 he addressed a colored audience at the Wilmington Theater, advising them on their newly-conferred liberty and subsequent duties and responsibilities — and that the white people of the South they grew up with were not their enemies, despite what the carpetbag element was telling them. At the time he made the address, the black soldiers occupying were a lawless element who were arming local blacks and inciting them to insurrection.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s Sable Arm in North Carolina

“[Alfred Moore Waddell of Wilmington wrote Reconstruction Governor W.W. Holden that] The town had a Negro garrison, and with its large Negro population was in a state of great alarm. [He] wrote the governor in early June [1866] that outrages by the troops were of daily occurrence and that the effect of the presence of the colored troops on the Negro population was very dangerous. Arrests [by colored troops] were constantly made without any cause, and in one instance the soldiers were instructed, if the person arrested said or did anything, to run him through [with the bayonet]. There was little or no redress, as unusual latitude was given the colored troops.

In July the mayor and commissioners wrote describing the conduct of the Negroes and the apprehension felt by the white people of an insurrection. The Negroes had demanded that they should have some of the city offices and had made threats when they were refused. The governor replied that the citizens had acted rightly in refusing to appoint Negroes to office, as the right to hold office depended on the right of suffrage. He also assured them that if the Negroes attempted by force to gain control of public affairs or avenge grievances suffered at the hands of the whites, they would be visited by swift punishment; but if obedient to the laws, they would be protected.

[In] Beaufort, a party [of colored soldiers] from Fort Macon committed a brutal rape and were also guilty of attempting the same crime a second time. They were arrested in the town and the garrison of Fort Macon threatened to turn its guns upon the town if they were not surrendered. The condition of affairs there was so bad that General [Thomas] Ruger forbade any soldier to leave the fort except under a white officer.

Near Wilmington, Thomas Pickett was murdered and his two daughters seriously wounded by three soldiers from the Negro garrison at Fort Fisher in company of a Negro from Wilmington. In Kinston, a citizen was beaten by the soldiers, and upon Governor Holden’s complaint to General Ruger, the garrison was removed. Soon afterwards the governor notified General Ruger that a [railroad] car of muskets and ammunition had been side-tracked at Auburn, and while left unguarded had been opened by the freedmen and its contents distributed. The possessors of the arms then became the terror of the community.

Complaints of colored troops were also sent in from New Bern, Windsor, and other eastern towns. In September 1866, the last remaining regiment of Negro [troops] was mustered out, and that cause of discontent disappeared. The white [Northern] troops as a general thing, after the confusion incident to the surrender was over, behaved well. In Asheville, however, they were so disorderly and undisciplined that great efforts were made by the citizens to have them withdrawn.”

(Reconstruction in North Carolina, Joseph D.R. Hamilton, Books for Libraries Press, 1914/1971, pp. 159-161)

Black Guards for Southern Prisoners

Deadly hatred toward white Southerners was instilled in black troops by their new Northern friends, and the same would continue in the postwar as victorious Republicans needed the freedmen’s political dominance in the South to remain in power.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Black Guards for Southern Prisoners

“As a general rule, the treatment by the white soldiers was not so bad, and it would have been much better, no doubt, had it not been for the cruel policy of the United States Government, and the stringent orders to have that policy carried out.

The colored troops were very harsh in their treatment of us, and they we no doubt urged to do this by their officers, who were certainly the meanest set of white men that could be found anywhere. The Negroes never let an opportunity pass to show their animosity and hatred towards us, and the man who shot a Rebel was regarded as a good soldier. They carried their authority to the extreme, and would shoot upon the slightest provocation.

If a prisoner happened to violate even one of the simplest regulations, he was sure to be shot at, and should he be so unfortunate as to turn over in his sleep, groan, or make any noise, which some were apt to do while sleeping, the tent in which he lay would be fired into.

For instance, one night in Company G, Fourth division, some one happened to groan in his sleep. The Negro patrol was near, heard it, and fired into the tent, killing two and wounding several others. These were killed while sleeping and were unconscious of having committed any offence whatever.

None of these patrols were punished, but were praised for vigilance. Scores of incidents, similar in character and result, might be given . . . Suffice it to say that a man’s life was in more danger than upon a picket line, for he was completely at the mercy of the cruel and malignant Negro soldiery.

Shooting into the tents of prisoners became so common that the officers of the white regiments protested at last against their [the colored troops] being allowed in camp, and accordingly they were withdrawn at night, and white patrols substituted.”

(Southern Historical Society Papers, Prison Experience (Point Lookout), James T. Wells, Volume VII, pp. 397-398)

Few Black Volunteers at Hilton Head

Northerners thought that emancipation and arming the blacks would create “a more terrible [and] effective weapon against the Southerners,” alluding to the result of a Santo Domingo-style race war in the South. In reality, black men were enticed off plantations to deny the agricultural South its laborers, who were then recruited into regiments to serve as lowly paid laborers and servants.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Few Black Volunteers at Hilton Head

“The man chosen to fill the office [military governor at Hilton Head] was Rufus B. Saxton, a newly-breveted brigadier general. A native of Deerfield, Maine, a graduate of West Point and a career officer in the army, Saxton came to Hilton Head with the assault force as a captain in the Quartermaster Corps. His father had been an enthusiastic abolitionist, yet Saxton took his assignment with reluctance and out of loyalty rather than out of sympathy for the Negro.

In the summer of 1862, Laura Towne, one of the Northern teachers on St. Helena, was pleased to find him “truly anti-slavery.” Major General David M. Hunter [at that time served on Hilton Head as], commanding general of the Department of the South.

Hunter, acting on his own authority . . . forced the issue by beginning the recruitment of a regiment of Negro soldiers. [He] was able to muster 150 Negroes into the service as the First South Carolina Volunteers. Thereafter, however, recruiting proceeded slowly. Most of the volunteers probably were refugees from the mainland without employment [and] those who remained on the plantations and were engaged in planting their crops were far from enthusiastic.

On St. Helena, it was reported that only one man volunteered, and the missionaries generally agreed that the Negroes were afraid of “being made to fight.” On St. Helena, Laura Towne observed that the plantation hands generally regarded the maneuver as “a trap to get the able-bodied and send them to Cuba to sell . . .”  Miss Towne asserted that “nearly all are eager to go there again and serve in the forts,” but they did not want to fight.

Whereas many Negroes volunteered “willingly” in the first few days of Saxton’s recruiting campaign, some offered themselves with “dismal forlornness,” and others not at all.

When two officers appeared at a church on St. Helena on October 23 [1862] to seek recruits, all able-bodied males declined to attend. On the following Sunday, Sergeant Prince Rivers, a Negro veteran of the Hunter Regiment, visiting the island on the same mission, suffered the same disappointment.”

(After Slavery, The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Joel Williamson, UNC Press, 1965, pp. 13-17)

Black Legislators and Northern Racism

Grant won his 1868 presidential victory by a 307,000 vote margin enabled by the 500,000 enfranchised freedmen organized by Republican organizations like the Freedmen’s Bureau, Union League and Loyal League, and using black militia to suppress white votes in the South. In North Carolina, former Northern general and notorious carpetbagger Milton S. Littlefield had been elected president of North Carolina’s Union League, making him “Chief of Black Republicanism” under scalawag Governor Holden and charged with delivering the State to Grant, which was done.

Bernhard Thuersam,www.circa1865.org

 

Black Legislators and Northern Racism

“Most Reconstruction legislators in South Carolina – white as well as black – were political novices when they first arrived in Columbia. Democrats who had held State office before and during the war shunned any association with the new regime and left the field largely to less-experienced men. The northern white Republicans were former army officers, teachers and missionaries.

In one sense or another they were men on the make and, as such, not likely to have left successful political offices in the North for an uncertain competition in the war-torn South. And of course the Negroes had had little opportunity to gain experience in partisan politics . . . in most northern States they had not been able to vote, much less run for political office.

The Freedmen’s Bureau . . . was simply another patronage job [for many Northerners] to which they were attracted for strictly pecuniary reasons. Not only were many of them not moved by abolitionist sentiments, but some were described as being “more pro-slavery than the rebels themselves. Doing justice seems to mean, to them, seeing that the blacks don’t break a contract and compelling them to submit cheerfully in the whites do,” complained one northern teacher.

[For most black Reconstruction] legislator’s military service had bestowed benefits other than the glory of battle and the red badge of courage. Sergeant Richard H. Humbert sought to apply his expertise for direct political advantage during the postwar years. After his election to the lower house in the summer of 1868, Humbert wrote to the newly-inaugurated Governor Robert K. Scott to inform him that he had organized two militia companies in Darlington County, and that he planned to form several others in preparation for the presidential elections that fall.

He saw his previous military experience as essential to this enterprise and requested [an officer’s] commission from the governor. Humbert did not mince words when he stated that “the organization of the militia will be of great benefit to the Republican Party in this district.”

When [slave] Prince Rivers [enlisted] in the [Northern] First South Carolina Volunteers [he] was made first sergeant of the regiment and taken to New York City by General David Hunter in an attempt to gain support for his policy of enlisting black troops.

There was considerable antiwar and antiblack feeling in New York City, which would be the scene of the bloody draft riots in [July] 1863. White New Yorkers were incensed at the sergeant’s chevrons on the arm of the tall, proud, “jet-black” ex-slave; as he walked down Broadway, they attacked him viciously. However, Rivers managed to hold off the mob until police arrived to escort him away.

Robert Smalls had a somewhat similar experience with northern racism when he took his ship to Philadelphia for repairs. He became involved in that city’s . . . segregated public accommodations when he refused to surrender his seat on the streetcar to a white rider and move to the platform reserved for blacks.”

(Black over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pp. 72; 78-79)

Working the Freedmen to Death

Contrary to the myth that slaves were liberated rather than taken away from plantations to deny the South farm workers, Northern army officers in blue impressed them for hard labor and rarely if ever paid them. A middle-Tennessean put it this way, the “Negroes will run to [the Yankees] from good homes of kind masters & bear more oppression than they ever knew before, get no pay & yet love the Yankee for his meanness.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Working the Freedmen to Death

“Blacks were especially mistreated during the first eighteen months of Union rule [in occupied Tennessee], when Confederate forces threatened the city [of Nashville] most seriously and before [Andrew] Johnson’s policy toward slavery in Tennessee had been clarified. The most pressing need of the occupation forces was the construction of defensive works around the perimeter of the city, and enterprise which required large amounts of labor. Under the guise of military necessity, [Northern] army officials often ruthlessly impressed blacks to work on the fortifications.

The first impressment took place in August 1862, when [General Don Carlos] Buell’s chief of staff directed the post commander “to call in regular form upon slave owners for hands to work, and put as many on the works as can be employed.” The call went out for one thousand slaves . . .”, while the length of service and the manner and terms of payment were to be determined at the pleasure of the government.

The second impressments in October 1862 was more general in nature. Nashville’s commanding officer ordered the city patrols to “impress into service every Negro you can find in the Streets of this City who cannot prove that he is owned by any person loyal to the government of the United States and residing in and about the City.”  Military patrols simply began arresting as many black men as they could.

A third major impressment took place in August and September of 1863 when Union authorities needed twenty-five hundred men to work on the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad, which was being built under Johnson’s direction. By now the military had developed sophisticated impressment techniques.

For instance, patrols would wait until Sunday morning and then raid the crowded black churches. And the troopers did not hesitate to use violence and threats. During one church raid, they shot and killed a black man and threatened others with a similar fate if they tried to escape.

This inhumane treatment the forced laborers received from the army only compounded the brutality of their impressments. Between August 1862 and April 1863, the amount due blacks [and their owners] for work on the fortifications was $85,858.50, but of this sum only $13,648 was paid.

Furthermore, although the army employed fewer than three thousand black men during this time, between six and eight hundred of them died — an extraordinary mortality rate caused by inadequate shelter and insufficient diet provided by the army. The only kindness the army seems to have exhibited was to provide free coffins for those who died during their ordeal.”

(Treason Must Be Made Odious, Peter Maslowski, KTO Press, 1978,  pp. 99-101)

Enticing Substitute Soldiers for New England

The use of slaves as substitute soldiers for New England’s white citizens in the Revolution was duplicated during the War Between the States. As Northern governors feared election disaster should a federal draft be imposed, they gathered captured slaves in the South to be enlisted and counted against State troop quotas demanded by Lincoln. Like the Connecticut bill below, the Confederate Congress passed a bill providing for black soldiers in early 1865, but only after the owners themselves emancipated them.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Enticing Substitute Soldiers for New England

“The exigencies of war had moved both Connecticut and Rhode Island in the direction of emancipation, and both States considered enlisting slaves in order to relieve wartime troop shortages. In Connecticut, although an actual enlistment bill presented in the spring of 1777 failed to be enacted, the legislature passed a bill that fall allowing slave owners to free healthy slaves and indemnifying from financial responsibility.

Slave owners used the provisions of this bill to entice their slaves to serve as substitutes for them in the Continental Army in exchange for their freedom, and several hundred took advantage of the opportunity. In 1778 Rhode Island actually implemented an enlistment act that offered State-financed compensated emancipation: slaves were offered manumission and soldiers’ benefits in exchange for their enlistment, and slave owners were compensated by the State up to 120 [Pounds] for each enlisted slave.

There was considerable opposition to this law; in fact, with fewer than a hundred slaves actually emancipated under its provisions . . . In 1779 and again in 1780, bills for gradual emancipation failed to pass the Connecticut legislature. In 1779, Rhode Island did ban the sale of Rhode Island slaves out of State, but no further efforts to engage the slavery issue were made during the war.

In 1783 a fresh campaign to end slavery and the slave trade was mounted in Rhode Island by Moses Brown, Quaker convert and exasperated brother of wealthy slave traders Nicholas and John Brown. He produced countless anti-slavery articles and pamphlets . . . But with the American slave trade centered in Rhode Island and slavers forming the nucleus of Newport society, in February 1784 the legislature defeated this abolition bill; it passed another that stood silent on the issue of the slave trade but did provide for gradual emancipation.”

(Disowning Slavery, Gradual Emancipation and Race in New England, 1780-1860, Joanne Pope Melish, Cornell University Press, 1998, pp. 67-68)

Emancipation in Return for Determined Bravery

Southern General Thomas C. Hindman was among many who believed that the Confederacy should enlist black troops, and this initiative led to the Confederate Congress approving the enlistment of 300,000 black men in March 1865. The resistance from President Jefferson Davis stemmed from his belief that the South needed the African for its agricultural production, and that they should not serve as cannon-fodder or replacements for white troops who would not fight – as in the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emancipation in Return for Determined Bravery

“Any hope of Confederate success in the field, [Hindman] asserted, rested on the principles that “the entire white male population” be placed in military service for the duration of the war and that exemptions be limited to essential employees of the Confederate and State governments.

Faced with a struggle for life itself, the Confederacy could not afford to overlook a single resource. “The ghosts of legions of Southern heroes . . . [would] haunt our pillows” if the Confederacy did not employ its “ultimate strength.” To those who would argue that property rights in slaves must remain inviolate, he stated that . . . white men in the army were the property of God, themselves, and their families. Was property in slaves “any more sacred,” he rhetorically asked.

To those who would claim that blacks would not fight, he pointed out the similar remarks about Northerners had been proved false. Blacks, he contended, were courageous and endured “pain and hardship” as well as whites. If they were put “by the side of white Southern soldiers,” . . . and assured of “freedom for good conduct,” he was confident that they would “display a determined bravery” in fighting for the Confederacy and their homes. Although a slave owner himself . . . he now was ready to support emancipation for blacks who would agree to fight in the Confederate army.

The idea of arming and enlisting slaves did not originate with him. As early as 17 July 1861, William S. Turner, a prosperous farmer from Hindman’s hometown of Helena [Arkansas], had written Secretary of War L.P. Walker and enquired in “Negro regiments . . . could be “received” for Confederate service. According to Turner, at least one man near Helena was willing to provide his son as a captain and “arm 100 of his own” slaves.

{Friend and former law partner General Patrick Cleburne] . . . proposed guaranteeing “freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South” who “remain[ed] true to the Confederacy.” In addition, “a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves” must be trained for military service. With freedom for themselves and their families, black men, he predicted, would fight valiantly for the South.

Great Britain would respond with moral “support and material aid,” while Northerners, stripped of their “most powerful and honestly entertained plank in their war platform,” would soon tire of the fight. The presentation generated instant controversy . . . [and at its close, Generals William J.] Hardee and [Joseph E.] Johnston seemed “favorably disposed” . . . [and] Hindman was convinced that blacks must be enrolled as soldiers, and he risked his career to advance the concept.

On 16 January, he wrote a personal letter to [President Jefferson] Davis discussing the issue and other matters relating to the state of affairs in the army. According to his calculations, if “Negroes were allowed as teamsters, cooks, hospital attendants, laborers, and for the pioneer companies of divisions and engineer companies of the army, it would swell our ranks, at once, [by] about 20,000 men.” Such a revitalization of the armies “ought to ring in the ears of [every] Congressman” like the oratory of Cato.”

(Lion of the South, General Thomas C. Hindman, Diane Neal and Thomas Kremm, Mercer University Press, 1993, pp. 184-190)

Emancipation in Exchange for Recognition

The Confederate government consistently maintained that the emancipation of African slaves was the province of the  individual  States, as it had no authority to do so delegated to it by the Constitution.  The Cofederate Constitution was identical to the United States Constitution on this question.  As the war ground on and the North used captured Africans as labor and troops, it was obvious that the Confederacy should muster black troops, if emancipated by their owners and they voluntarily enlisted. This was done in March, 1865.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Emancipation in Exchange for Recognition

“It has been said that the Confederate agents always found among all classes in England and France a fixed and unrelenting hostility to slavery, but that in England, except among a relatively small part of the population, this hostility had no bearing upon their sympathies, which were largely in favor of the South. In their [Yancey-Rost-Mann mission] note to Russell of August 14, 1861, while they assured the [British] Foreign Minister that the war was one of conquest on the part of the North rather than a war to free the slaves, the commissioners acknowledged “the anti-slavery sentiment so universally prevalent in England.”

The reply to this European criticism and hostility to slavery was finally embodied in a circular sent to all the agents, January 15, 1863, in which [Confederate Secretary of State Judah] Benjamin . . . [instructed them to answer that] this domestic institution was one which only the individual States could deal with. The Confederate government, wrote Benjamin, “unequivocally and absolutely denies its possession of any power whatever over the subject and cannot entertain any propositions in relation to it.”

But this solid front against the discussion of abolishing slavery began to break in the Confederacy under the hostile attitude of Europe and the military necessity at home. After Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation thousands of Negro troops joined the Federal armies. With 400,000 or 500,000 foreigners and over 200,000 Negroes added to the Federal armies the small white population of the South began to feel itself overwhelmed by the weight of mere number; and finally it was urged that Negroes who could be enlisted in the Confederate armies should be freed.

This agitation culminated in the early winter of 1864-65 . . . [and] the Confederate government determined to capitalize in its diplomacy upon the idea of emancipation. On December 27, 1864, Benjamin wrote dispatches to Mason and Slidell to put the question squarely up to England and France whether slavery was and had been the obstacle to recognition. Duncan Kenner of Louisiana, member of Congress and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee . . . was appointed as special envoy to carry these instructions and to act with Mason and Slidell in case negotiations [to emancipate the slaves in exchange for recognition] should follow.

The optimistic Benjamin was in profound despair and he was now desperate. The freeing of the slaves was to hazard black supremacy, and all the horrors of Haiti. His note is worthy of extensive quotation: “The Confederate States have now for nearly four years resisted the utmost power of the United States with a courage and fortitude to which the world has accorded its respect and admiration.

No people have ever poured out their blood more freely in defense of their liberties and independence, nor have endured sacrifices with greater cheerfulness than have the men and women of these Confederate States. They accepted the issue which was forced on them by an arrogant and domineering race, vengeful, grasping and ambitious. They have asked nothing, [and] fought for nothing but for the right of self-government, for independence.”

But this was an inadequate picture of that heroism, for, in fact, the Confederacy, outnumbered by the North three to one, had been fighting Europe as well as the North. England and France had aided the United States by “the abandonment by those two powers of all rights as neutrals,” that is, he said . . . “their countenance of a blockade which, when declared, was the most shameless outrage on international law that modern times have witnessed . . . .[and] their indifference to the spectacle of a people [while engaged in an unequal struggle for defense] exposed to the invasion not only of the superior numbers of their adversaries, but of armies of mercenaries imported from neutral nations to subserve the guilty projects of our foes.

While engaged in defending our country on terms so unequal, the foes whom we are resisting profess the intention of resorting to the starvation and extermination of our women and children (Sherman’s march) as a means of securing conquest over us. In the very beginning of the contest they indicated their fell purpose by declaring medicines contraband of war, and recently have not been satisfied with burning granaries and dwellings and all food for man and beast.

They have sought to provide against any future crop by destroying all agricultural implements, and killing all animals that they could not drive from the farms, so as to render famine certain among the people.”

[The] Richmond Sentinel [of] January 19, 1865 . . . stated concisely the grounds upon which the South should free the slaves and use them as soldiers. “It is a question,” said the paper, “simply whether we give for our own uses, or whether the Yankees shall take for theirs. Subjugation means emancipation and confiscation . . . it would be far more glorious to devote our means to our success than to lose them as spoils to the enemy.”

[The] Richmond Enquirer of the same date [supported] warmly the idea of emancipation. “[We] must convince the world that we are fighting for the self-government of the whites and not for the slavery of the blacks; that the war has been forced upon us by the enemy for the purpose of spoliation and subjugation . . . and if that liberation [of the blacks] can be made to secure our independence, we believe that the people of these States would not hesitate to make that sacrifice.”

(King Cotton Diplomacy, Frank Lawrence Owsley, University of Chicago Press, 1931, pp. 530-536)

Rochester's Spirit of Hate

The vigilante justice of lynching was not confined to the South as is commonly believed, and race relations in the North, before and after the war, were not as harmonious as abolitionists and accounts of the mythical underground railroad claimed.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865

 

Rochester’s Spirit of Hate

“After his Rochester, New York, home was burned to the ground by incendiary on June 1, 1872, Frederick Douglass expressed his anger in his weekly New National Era: “Was it for plunder, or was it for spite? One thing I do know and that is, while Rochester is among the most liberal of Northern cities, and its people are among the most humane and highly civilized, it nevertheless has its full share of the Ku-Klux spirit . . . It is the spirit of hate, the spirit of murder.”

Race relations were often contentious in Rochester due in part to Douglass’s strong civil rights voice. By 1870, although Rochester’s African-American population was minute – just 427 out of a total population of 62,386 – racial tension, especially over employment, prompted concern by whites.

On Saturday, December 30, 1871, the [Rochester Daily] Union’s third edition published the city’s first report of the rape of an eight-year-old German girl by a black man after she had returned from a church event. News of the crime “spread like wild fire” after the child was returned to her parents. She had been brutally beaten but described her attacker to the police who began a frantic search for him.

Early Monday morning officers arrested William Edward Howard, and he was identified as the rapist by the girl at her home. Her father later “apologized to [a] reporter for not having killed the Negro when he was in the house.” Howard was not a stranger to the city’s police. In early 1871, he was arrested for voting illegally, and he served six months in jail. At the time of his arrest for rape, there was a warrant for his arrest for stealing from a local German woman.

Douglass’s son, Charles, who worked with his father on New National Era, wrote to his father on January 20: “That Howard boy was in my company in the 5th Cavalry. He came to the regiment as a [paid] substitute, and asked to be in my Co. I had to tie him up by the thumbs quite often. His offence was stealing.”

Outside the jail an agitated mob assembled . . . composed mainly of Germans, was intent on taking the law into its own hands, and the jail became Howard’s fortress. The [Rochester Daily] Union’s reportage was most descriptive: “Threats were made to lynch him and matters looked serious . . . four or five hundred people in the assemblage . . . [and cries of] “kill the nigger, give us the nigger” were loud and frequent.” [Judge R. Darwin Smith pronounced] “The sentence of the Court is that you be confined to Auburn State Prison for the period of twenty years at hard labor. The law formerly punished your crime with death.”

At the prison entrance, Howard turned toward [an angry crowd of several hundred men] and with his free hand placed his thumb on his nose and waved his fingers to mock them. Once in jail, Howard renounced his guilty plea, and professed his innocence.”

(The Spirit of Hate and Frederick Douglass, Richard H. White, Civil War History, A Journal of the Middle Period, Volume 46, Number 1, March 2000, pp. 41-47)

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