Browsing "Freedmen and Liberty"

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

Embedded reporters with Northern armies often influenced elections as in the case of the 1863 gubernatorial campaign in Ohio. They fed stories to the Cincinnati Commercial in opposition to the Democratic candidate, writing that soldiers “detested the “nasty little traitorous imposter and gambler of sedition.”

Thus inspired, and with the help of General Rosecrans, the men cast over nine thousand absentee votes for the Republican candidate versus two-hundred fifty votes for the Democrat.

Gullible Reporters, Fake News and Servants

“Making heroes was in some respects a natural preoccupation for the correspondents. The country fidgeted over the morning papers impatiently, looking for the one man with the ready answer or short cut which would bring a quick return out of the national investment in man power, energy and cash.

In an age of open frontier, Americans were used to fast results, to things that got done. They could not accept then – in fact, they never did learn to accept – the notion of a war to be won by long and bloody campaigns of strangulation. The faith in the coming of a “genius” who would carry matters through with one master stroke died hard.

The reporters who became barkers for these “geniuses” were no more gullible than most, but their position made their errors more damaging. Besides, in flattering officers for personal or political motives, they were depressing their newborn profession to the hurdy-gurdy-playing levels of army “public relations.”

Always ready with a sneering word, the Chicago Tribune, in 1862, wrote that much of the laudatory writing of the war was emitted by “army correspondents, with bellies full from the mess tables of Major Generals . . . the dissonant few being swallowed up like Pharaoh’s lean kine by the well-kept bullocks who form the majority.”

Most of the correspondents were apparently as willing to state political opinions as a party guest with a comic monologue to perform. They could not avoid the emancipation question if they tried . . . the Democratic journals acridly pointed out, the Negro was “chin capital” for the Republican press. In that press, the Negroes were painted as a band of brothers, knit by a universal desire for legalized freedom.

[But a] good many conservative orators were frightening laboring audiences with the warning that the Negroes were all too willing to work. If set free, the argument ran, they would drift northward and crowd white men out of jobs. An army correspondent of the Chicago Tribune stepped into the breach with the answer to that.

[He assured readers that] the Negroes did “not wish to remove to the cold and frigid North. This [Southern] climate is more genial, and here is their home. Only give them a fair remuneration for their labor, and strike off their shackles, and the good people of Illinois need not trouble themselves at the prospect of Negro immigration.”

As a matter of fact, many officers and men were genuinely opposed to releasing “contrabands” from camp on practical as well as political or sentimental grounds. Three war correspondents, sweating through the siege of Corinth, Mississippi, in mid-1862, had domestic arrangements typical of many members of the expedition. They shared the services of Bob and Johnny, two Negro youths who blacked their boots, pressed clothes, cooked, ran errands and more or less gentled their employers’ condition for monthly wages totaling six and twelve dollars.”

(Reporters for the Union, Bernard A. Weisberger, Little, Brown and Company, 1953, excerpts pp. 240-243)

Funeral for Our Old Friend

The grandfather of the author below had bought his original tract of land in Bedford from Thomas Jefferson, who owned thousands of acres in that county, and who had built his second home “Poplar Forest” there.

She recalls Aunt Nancy and Uncle Jake from her childhood, whom her mother referred to as “the Darby and Joan of the African race,” and that their devotion to one another was a poem. Both were “colored servants who had remained with her [grandmother] since slavery times . . .” Aunt Nancy “was entirely respectful to Mother and “Old Miss,” as she called Grandma, but she ruled us children and Uncle Jake with a rod of iron.”

Funeral for Our Old Friend

“Our beloved Uncle Jake died during the last summer I ever spent at Forest. He must have been nearly a hundred years old. We had never known him to be ill. But one morning he did not wake up; and when Aunt Nancy came and told us about it we could not believe that he was gone.

This was the first time I had seen my father so overwhelmed with grief that he was quiet and meek. He did not go to his office, and all day he roamed around the farm, silent and disconsolate. On the day of Uncle Jake’s funeral he was like a lost child.

We all went to the little wooden church which was near our place. We sat together at the back so as not to interfere with the seating of the colored congregation. We were dimly worried about Father – sorrowful at parting with our old friend.

The preacher at the little country church was a handsome mulatto who rejoiced in the high-sounding name of Jefferson Monroe. When he arose to begin the service and saw us grief-stricken in the back pew, he announced that his salary had not been paid for three months, and fixed my father with a piercing eye. He said he would not go on with the funeral until his back salary was paid.

I, for one, was shocked that Jefferson Monroe should take this occasion to mention such a thing as money. I looked for father to spring to his feet . . . and tell Jefferson Monroe to go to hell – that he would perform the funeral himself.

But Father did not utter a word of protest: With profound, and perfectly detached dignity, he went forward and laid in Jefferson Monroe’s hand the sum he had demanded.”

(The Vanishing Virginian, Rebecca Yancey Williams, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1940, excerpts pp.250-251)

Florida’s Postwar Politics

During Reconstruction-era Florida, political boss Leonard G. Dennis became one of that State’s wealthiest men by selling political endorsements to the highest bidders and then taking a part of the monthly salary of each. To secure the cooperation of his appointees, he kept signed letters of resignation from each political applicant before being granted the office.

Dennis was a Massachusetts-born soldier who settled postwar in Alachua County, Florida where he became politically active, largely through his control over the freedmen, and known as the “Little Giant.” In 1876, he helped throw the presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, known afterward as “His Fraudulency.”

Florida’s Postwar Politics

“The last Statewide Republican victory of the Reconstruction era occurred in 1873 when the legislature elected [New Jersey-native] Dr. Simon B. Conover, a Tallahassee carpetbagger, to the United States Senate. In 1875 the legislature elected the first Democrat to the Senate since the Republicans had come to power. Mainly self-educated, Charles W. Jones was an Irish-born ex-carpenter from Pensacola . . . [and] elected by only one vote, Republican control of the legislature was broken.

While internal corruption and the hatred of white Southerners played important roles in its downfall, the Republican party throughout Reconstruction lacked strength because it lacked leadership. With the exception of scalawag Ossian Hart and blacks Jonathan Gibbs and Josiah T. Walls, it depended on Northern carpetbaggers with only a superficial knowledge of the State and the needs of the freedmen.

Political rewards for Negroes other than minor offices were rare despite the fact that almost the entire party voting strength was Negro. Walls came to Florida from Virginia shortly after the war and engaged in cabbage growing in Alachua County. Prospering while most of his white neighbors were poverty-stricken, Walls reached the economic status of planter.

Entering politics Walls soon became joint leader of the Alachua County Republican machine, sharing this position with Leonard G. Dennis . . . a corrupt, self-seeking demagogue, forever willing to sacrifice the Negro on the altar of opportunism.”

(Florida Politics in the Gilded Age, 1877-1893, Edward C. Williamson, University of Florida, 1976, excerpts pp. 9-10)

May 16, 2019 - Emancipation, Equality, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South, Tales of Jim Crow    Comments Off on The Color Caste System

The Color Caste System

A self-segregation of the South’s black population was present prior to 1865 whereby skin-pigmentation and being free or slave dictated one’s social status. That this social caste system survived well after 1865 is underscored by segregated housing, such as “Crescent Heights, [a] High Class Colored Development” of August 1941 located between Queen and Dawson Streets in Wilmington, North Carolina. White and lower class black people were not allowed.

Its restrictive covenants require buildings to be single family homes “and a private garage of not more than two cars and servant quarters.” It was specifically noted that “No persons of any race, other than the Negro race shall own, use or occupy any building or any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”

The Color Caste System

“The Southern Negro’s strong sense of social distinctions (which he may have absorbed from the white master class) extended into social relations among the slaves and free Negroes.

Horace Fitchett in a Ph.D dissertation entitled “The Free Negro in Charleston, S.C.,” has observed that the mulatto segment of the free Negro population of Charleston emphasized the difference between themselves and darker slaves or free Negroes. They formed an exclusive social and fraternal organization called the Brown Fellowship Society; qualifications for membership were that one be free, light-skinned, economically independent, and “devoted to the basic tenets of the social system.”

The excluded Negroes of dark color formed a rival society named the “Society of Free Dark Men,” headed by Thomas Small, a carpenter who owned eleven slaves.

William Tiler Johnson, a mulatto barber of Natchez, Mississippi, seems also to have been strongly influenced by the color caste system, for he never attended “darkey parties, dances,” or other social occasion, and apparently did not mingle socially with the slaves.”

(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, 1964, LSU Press, excerpt pg. 172)

The Emergence of the Radical

John C. Calhoun witnessed the rise of Northern radicalism and his keen political insight saw a problematic future for the American South. He did not live to see the secession crisis fully develop, but his countrymen later anticipated “that Lincoln’s election was only the first step” toward the eventual destruction of their political liberty and the Union of their fathers.

Calhoun accurately predicted that the North would monopolize the new federal territories and acquire a three-fourths majority in Congress to force a restructuring of the Union. Once the South’s freedmen were admitted to the franchise by the North’s radical Congress, Republican political hegemony was virtually uninterrupted until 1913.

The Emergence of the Radical

“In the 1830’s . . . the North had become a prolific seedbed of radical thought. The rural South, on the other hand, showed little tolerance for radicals. The hostility to the proponents of revolutionary ideas seems at first inconsistent with the individualism which Southerners generally displayed. The Southern brand of individualism, however, was of manners and character rather than of the mind.

The Southerner vigorously resisted the pressure of outside government, he was cavalier in the observance of the laws; the planter on his semi-feudal estate was a law unto himself. The yeomen, too, living largely on land that they owned and regarding themselves as “the sovereign people,” were among the freest and most independent of Americans.

[In the 1840s and 1850s], editors, preachers, and politicians launched a vigorous propaganda campaign against Southern youth attending Northern schools and colleges. In the minds of conservative Southerners public education now became associated with the “isms” of the North – abolitionism, feminism, pacifism, Fourierism, Grahamism. Thus Southerners tended to regard the great majority of Northern people as sympathetic to the wilds visions and schemes of reform advocated by the northern extremists.

For many years Yankee professors and teachers had staffed Southern colleges and schools to a large extent, but in the last two decades of the antebellum period a pronounced hostility arose against the employment of educators from the North.

When [University of North Carolina] President David L. Swain defended the appointment [of a Northern teacher, he cited] earlier examples [of] employing foreign professors, the highly influential [Fayetteville News & Observer] editor, E.J. Hale replied: “In [two Southern] institutions, filled with foreigners and Northern men, there have been most deplorable outbreaks & riots and rows. Both have been noted for the prevalence and propagation of infidel notions to religion.”

(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, LSU Press, 1964, pp. 110; 305-306)

Results of Confederate Independence

War against the South commenced in April 1861 was not the only option open to Lincoln. He could have followed his predecessor’s view that he had no constitutional authority to wage war against a State – which is treason. The proper option would have been for a president to facilitate peace and call a convention of States to iron out differences, and find compromises all considered best. This is how the federation of States was created by the Founders.

Neither was war the only solution to African slavery in the United States – recall that Lincoln offered Southern States no interference with slavery if they would return to the Union. The South was seeking independence, and wanted to solve the riddle of slavery within State boundaries as the Northern States had done – in their own time, and at their own pace.

Results of Confederate Independence

“It is legitimate to inquire, in view of all the facts discussed, what would have been the effect on our condition, our institutions, and our future relations if the Confederate States had established their independence. I can, of course, only give my opinion, founded on certain physical features of the country, on certain racial characteristics of the people North and South, and on the sentiments of other nations, as well as on the fundamental principles for which we contended.

Emancipation. – There would have been certainly the gradual emancipation of the slaves on the following grounds:

The sentiment of the civilized world was opposed to slavery; and though our system was misunderstood and misjudged, yet no nation can hold out against a universal moral sentiment.

There was a feeling throughout the South from the beginning of the republic favorable to emancipation as soon as it could be done without danger to all concerned. If the abolition propaganda had not aroused opposition by its unjust misrepresentations and denunciations of slaveholders, the Border States would have brought it about several years before the war. A

s it was, throughout the South there was a growing effort to correct to confessed evils of the system. The example of the Border States would have necessitated some form of emancipation, some modification of the system in the States farther south that would have preserved the white man’s control, while giving the Negro freedom. The conduct of the slaves during the war while left in charge of the master’s family was without parallel in history; and this not only deserved freedom, but it called forth the sentiment of the Southern people favoring it.

Gen. R.E. Lee freed his slaves in 1863.

I believe that emancipation would have come in such a way as to avoid the dangers of race conflict, of social equality, and of giving the Negro a political franchise to which he was not fitted. The South would have given him his liberty and every right necessary to the development of his manhood, and it would have secured him the hearty interest and help of the white man. No doubt political rights would have been granted gradually as the Negroes became prepared for their exercise.

A Restored Union – There would have been ultimately a restoration of the Union on terms that would leave no ground of misunderstanding as to the several spheres of Federal and State sovereignty. The rights of the States would have been thoroughly and clearly guarded. The rights of the central government would have been definitely marked and limited. This would have been the old Union as originally intended by the fathers. The Constitution could not have been set aside by the interpretation of a majority of a Supreme Court appointed by a partisan executive.

The Taxing Power Guarded. – The Constitution of the new Union would have so guarded the taxing powers of the central government that it would not have been possible for it by tariffs to build up one section of the country at the expense of the others, nor to build up great trusts to levy tribute on the whole country for the benefit of the few.

The Confederate Constitution was simply a revision of the old, or rather the clear statement of the real meaning of the old.”

(Results of Confederate Independence: The Failure of the Confederacy – Was it a Blessing? James H. M’Neilly, D.D., Confederate Veteran, April 1916, excerpts pp. 164-165)

The Slave State of New Jersey

African slavery flourished in New Jersey prior to the Revolution while Rhode Island flourished as the center of the transatlantic slave trade, surpassing Liverpool by 1750. It was not until 1804 that the New Jersey Legislature passed an act for gradual emancipation, though like New York’s later act, the law held a hidden subsidy for New Jersey slave owners. The latter could free the slave children and place them under State care, while selling the parents in Southern States. Additionally, free blacks could not vote by an 1807 law limiting the franchise to free, white males.

Read more at: http://slavenorth.com/newjersey.htm

The Slave State of New Jersey

“Slavery had obtained legal sanction in New Jersey under the [English] proprietary regimes of Berkeley and Carteret. In 1702, when New Jersey became a crown colony, Gov. Edward Cornbury was dispatched from London with instructions to keep the settlers provided with “a constant supply of merchantable Negroes at moderate prices.” He likewise was ordered to assist slave traders and “to take especial care that payment be duly made.”

“These instructions became settled policy, and the slave traffic became one of the preferred branches of New Jersey’s commerce. In rejecting a proposed slave tariff in 1744, the Provincial Council declared that nothing would be permitted to interfere with the importation of Negroes. The council observed that slaves had become essential to the colonial economy, since most entrepreneurs could not afford to pay the high was commanded by free workers.”

But while slaves were encouraged, free blacks were not. Free blacks were barred by law from owning land in colonial New Jersey. Slaves were especially numerous around Perth Amboy, which was the colony’s main port of entry.

“By 1690, most of the inhabitants of the region owned one or more Negroes.” From 2,581 in 1726, New Jersey’s slave population grew to nearly 4,000 in 1738. Slaves accounted for about 12 percent of the colony’s population up to the Revolution.

From 1713 (after a violent slave uprising in New York) to 1768, the colony operated a separate court system to deal with slave crimes [and] special punishments for slaves remained on the books until 1788 . . . [and] New Jersey narrowly escaped a violent slave uprising in 1743.

The 1800 census counted 12,422 New Jersey slaves . . . [and] in the same year New Jersey banned importing of slaves it also forbid free blacks from entering the State with intent to settle there.”

Robert E. Lee, Emancipator

With the death Mary Custis Lee’s father Washington Custis, the last of George Washington’s family, in October 1857, Robert E. Lee was named executor of his will. It left Lee with the care of three hundred black people to “be fed and clothed and sheltered and kept warm; the sick, aged and infirm looked after.”

In compliance with his father-in-law’s will, Lee freed the 300 black people under his care with manumission papers on December 29, 1862. In stark contrast, it is reported that over time, Harriet Tubman spirited 70 slaves away from their home plantations toward a North hostile toward black people.

Robert E. Lee, Emancipator

“Mr. Custis, my grandfather, had made [my father] executor of his will, wherein it was directed that all the slaves belonging to his estate should be set free after the expiration of so many years. The time had now arrived, and, notwithstanding the exacting duties of his position, the care of his suffering soldiers, and his anxiety about their future, immediate and distant, he proceeded according to the law of the land to carry out the provisions of the will, and had delivered every one of the servants, where it was possible, their manumission papers.

From his letters written at this time I give a few extracts bearing on this subject:

“. . . As regards the liberation of the people, I wish to progress in this as far as I can. Those hired in Richmond can still find employment there if they choose. Those in the country can do the same or remain on the farms. I hope they will all do well and behave themselves. I should like, if I could, attend their wants and see them placed to the best advantage. But that is impossible. All that choose can leave the State before the War closes . . .

“I executed the deed of manumission sent me by Mr. Caskie, and returned to it to him. I perceived that [slaves] John Sawyer and James’s names had been omitted, and inserted them. If all the names of the people at Arlington and on the Pamunkey are not embraced in this deed I have executed, I should like a supplementary deed to be drawn up, containing all those omitted. They are entitled to their freedom and I wish to give it to them.

Those that have been carried away, I hope are free and happy; I cannot get their papers to them, and they do not require them. I will give them if they ever call for them. It will be useless to ask their restitution to manumit them . . .”

(Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee: by His Son Captain Robert E. Lee, Garden City Publishing, 1904, excerpts pp. 89-90)

Undisciplined Troops

The 4th US Colored Infantry was recruited in Baltimore with enrollment agents scouring the city, though “many of the city’s residents . . . reluctant to enlist – perhaps [because] so many had been dragooned into service by [General Robert] Schenck.” The latter impressed local slaves and free blacks into service at will to defend the city from liberation.

Many of the black recruits were forcibly removed from area farms and plantations, and in late July 1863 authority was granted to remove the inmates of a slave prison in the city for use as soldiers.

Any “able-bodied black male of military age owned “by an avowed Confederate or Rebel sympathizer” was subject to impressment. Lincoln’s proconsul in Maryland was “Governor” Augustus W. Bradford, a slave owner and committed Unionist who was allowed to keep his slaves.

These black recruits received no bounty as white troops had, and only white officers were allowed to command black units.  Lincoln added black men to his conscription net, and poor black men could not afford the $300 substitute fee to avoid service.  

Undisciplined Troops

“[General Joseph E.] Johnston’s surrender immediately placed the Union forces in North Carolina on occupation duty. Now that hostilities were officially ended, it was feared the USCT might break free of wartime restraints to trespass, assault and loot. [Colonel Samuel] Duncan was enjoined to place a guard at virtually every house on his route [to Goldsboro . . . [indicating] the low opinion that their own commanders sometimes entertained of the discipline and deportment of the USCT.

By the end of 1865 – five months after the XXIV Corps had officially ceased to exist – only a handful of Caucasian regiments in the Army of the James remained in the field. These units would be mustered out the following January and February. Much of the army’s USCT strength, however, would be kept on active duty for almost another year.

The War Department knew that if it were to keep white volunteers in service well beyond their appointed term of “three years or the duration of the war,” it risked the wrath of voters and their political representatives.

Not surprisingly, the War Office preferred to alienate African American troops, few of whom could vote and even fewer who wielded political power. Moreover, many black soldiers – especially former slaves – had no homes to return to once they left the service. They would be unlikely to object to being kept on the army’s payroll indefinitely. The 4th USCI served out its two final months of garrison duty in relative tranquility [at Washington]. There the formal process of mustering out the regiment took place on the morning of May 4, 1866.”

(A Regiment of Slaves: The 4th United States Colored Infantry, 1863-1866, Edward G. Longacre, Stackpole Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 165; 170-171)

Carnage at New Market Heights

By mid-1862 enlistments had virtually ceased and Northern defeats aroused intense opposition to Lincoln’s war. The latter admitted that “We had about played our last card, and must change our tactics or lose the war.” Reminded of Lord Dunmore’s freeing of slaves in 1775 who would fight against American independence, Lincoln issued his own proclamation in 1863 doing the same to raise troops to fight against American independence.

The Sixth US Colored Infantry was organized in Philadelphia, a city where black people could not ride on most streetcars. Though black recruits were usually denied bounties for enlisting, Pennsylvania was desperate for troops and offered a $10 bounty, and the city an additional $250 per recruit. It should be pointed out that only 43%of the Sixth were actually volunteers, while 31% were conscripted, and over 25% were substitutes for a $300 fee.

Few were residents of Pennsylvania and listed 23 States as their origin. In the forlorn attack described below, Company D of the Sixth lost eighty-seven percent of its men, the heaviest loss of any company in the Northern army.

Carnage at New Market Heights

“On the morning of September 29 [1864], the Sixth finished their march and formed a line of battle. It held the left of the line, the Fourth Regiment forming up just to their right . . . the first signs of sunrise began to appear. The men could make out the enemy picket line falling back toward their entrenchments as they advanced. The field initially stretched downward toward the enemy, but the Confederates were well-positioned in the heights beyond . . . from which riflemen could pour devastating fire on any attack.

[General Benjamin] Butler personally addressed his black troops before the attack. Pointing toward the enemy he exhorted: “Those works must be taken by the weight of your column; not a shot must be fired.” They were not to stop to fire . . . to prevent it from happening they were ordered before the charge to remove the percussion caps from the locks of their rifles.

As they started down the field First Lieutenant John Johnson began excitedly to swing his sword in circles over his head . . . a Rebel bullet tore through the wrist of his sword arm. The rest of the regiment pressed on as the Texas Brigade poured murderous fire on them.

Rebel fire was bringing down many officers. [Colonel Samuel A.] Duncan was wounded four times . . . The smoke had grown so thick that no one could see more than a few feet ahead. [Colonel John] Ames said: “We must have more help, boys, before we [advance]. Fall back.”

So many bullets had ripped through the [regimental] flags that they had both been turned into mere strips of cloth.

The men started back, flags still flying to rally them. Companies C and F lost all their officers by the end of the assault, leaving the black non-commissioned officers or the men themselves to direct their safe return to friendly ground. Some companies began to withdraw in good order, others began rushing back in a complete rout.

General John Gregg’s Texas Brigade counterattacked, swarming out of their rifle pits onto both flanks . . . Many of the black troops were killed, while other threw down their weapons and surrendered. An uncomplimentary Texan described the black troops as being “hurled upon us, driven on by white leaders at the point of the sword.”

He continues to describe the heavy fire into the advancing infantry until, as he says, “They reel and fall by the scores; now they waver and now they run, and they go to the rear as fast as their – legs can carry them & the artillery opened with terrible slaughter.”

A Union officer then shouted the order to charge, but only those Union troops directly in front of the First Texas Regiment obeyed. They rushed the breastworks and in some places crossed them, and plunged into the Texas troops. But after less than three minutes of struggle all these attackers were casualties, half shot or bayoneted, and half taken prisoner.

Sergeants [Alexander] Kelly and [Thomas] Hawkins bore the two flags safely back from the field of battle in spite of wounds. For the heroism that they displayed in this battle, these two . . . would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

(Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War, James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998, excerpts pp. 70-72; 74-75)

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