Browsing "Myth of Saving the Union"

Lincoln's War Against Right, Reason, Justice and Nature

Confederate Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens asked for what reason the North arrayed its armies against the South, and why the North denies the spirit and essence of Jefferson’s Declaration to them. Stephen’s said the struggle for independence by the South was not Lincoln’s “idle and absurd assumption of the existence of a riot which was to be dispersed by a posse comitatus,” but the birth of a new American republic with the consent of the governed, and a more perfect American union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s War Against Right, Reason, Justice and Nature

In a speech delivered during the second year of the war, [Mr. Stephens] said:

“The States South had done nothing but what was their right – their inalienable right to do, the same as their ancestors did, in common with the North, when they severed their connection with the British Government.

This war was waged by the North in denial of this right, and for the purpose of conquest and subjugation. It was therefore, aggressive, wanton, and unjust. Such must be the judgment of mankind, let its results be what they may. The responsibility, therefore, for all its sacrifices of treasure and blood, heretofore and hereafter to be made in its prosecution, rests not upon us.

What is all this for? Why this array of armies? Why this fierce meeting in mortal combat? What is all this carnage and slaughter for? Why the prolongation of this conflict? Why this lamentation and mourning going up from almost every house and family from Maine to the Rio Grande, and from the Atlantic and Gulf to the Lakes, for friends and dear ones who have fallen by disease and violence in this unparalleled struggle?

The question, if replied from the North, can have but one true answer. What is all this for, on their part, but to overturn the principle upon which their own Government, as well as ours, is based – to reverse the doctrine that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed?”

What is it for but to overturn the principles and practice of their own Government from the beginning? That Government was founded and based upon the political axiom that all States and peoples have the inalienable right to change their form of government at will.

This principle was acted on in the recognition by the United States of the South American republics. This principle was acted on in the recognition of Mexico . . . the struggle of Greece to overthrow the Ottoman rule . . . the recognition of Texas, when she seceded, or withdrew, from the Government of Mexico.

Well may any and every one, North and South, exclaim, what is all this for? What have we done to the North? When have we ever wronged them? We quit them, it is true, as our ancestors and their ancestors quit the British Government. We quit as they quit – upon a question of constitutional right. That question they determined for themselves, and we have but done the same. What, therefore, is all this for?

It is a war, in short, on their part against right, against reason, against justice, against nature. If asked on our side what is all this for, the reply from every honest breast is that it is for home, for firesides, for our altars, for our birthrights, for property, for honor, for life – in a word, for everything for which freemen should live, and for which all deserving to be freemen should be willing, if need be, to die.”

(A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 1861-1865, James D. Richardson, Volume I, US Publishing Company, 1906, pp. 175-176)

Flight to Exile and Freedom in the Confederacy

Former Vice President John C. Breckinridge sat in the US Senate as a representative of Kentucky in July 1861. He denounced Lincoln’s concentration of power in Washington as an act “which, in every age of the world, has been the very definition of despotism.” He also saw the Republican party using the war to change the very character of our government, and the reduction of the resisting State’s into territories governed by Lincoln’s appointees.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Flight to Exile and Freedom in the Confederacy

“On September 18 [1861], the Kentucky legislature formally ended neutrality and took the side of the Union. The arrests began the same night, and among the first to be taken was former Governor [Charles] Morehead of Louisville. At the same time, the pro-Southern Louisville Courier was suppressed. That same day several men throughout the nation advised Washington authorities that Breckinridge should be arrested.

The Republican Cassius Clay, who believed that “John C. Breckinridge . . . was never at heart a Secessionist.” Even a bearded little Union general, U.S. Grant, sympathized with the senator in some degree. “He was among the last to go over to the South,” Grant would say, “and was rather dragged into the position.”

He had fought for compromise and failed; he had sought peace and moderation and found only bitterness; and had proclaimed his devotion to the Union to the best of his ability . . . He was an innocent man, but he would be taken, denied his rights, and like Morehead, spirited away to a prison deep in the North to sit for months without hope.

On October 8, 1861, from Bowling Green, he issued his last address as a statesman, and his first as a Confederate. He returned the trust given him to represent Kentucky in the Senate, he said. He could no longer keep it. He had tried to stand for the State’s wishes in Washington, he had opposed Lincoln’s war policy at every step, even to refusing Kentucky’s men and money . . . ”I resign,” he said, “because there is no place left where a Southern Senator may sit in council with the Senators of the North. In truth, there is no longer a Senate of the United States within the meaning and spirit of the Constitution.”

The Union no longer existed, he continued, Lincoln had assumed dictatorial powers. The rights of person and property were being flagrantly violated every day. Unlawful arrests were the rule. The subjugation and conquest of the South were the rallying cries in the Federal Congress.

As for Kentucky, her rights of neutrality had been violated repeatedly, arms secretly supplied to Federal sympathizers, troops unlawfully raised within her borders, the legislature intimidated and packed with the minions of Washington, freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, restricted, and hundreds forced to flee their homes for safety. He explained his own flight to avoid arrest, saying he would have welcomed it if he had any assurance that it would have been followed by a trial of judge and jury, but he knew that would not be.

Would Kentucky stand by while all of this went on? Would she consent to the usurpations of Lincoln and his hirelings; would she suffer her children to be imprisoned and exiled by the “German mercenaries” that the Union was enlisting to fights its war? Never, he said.

Whatever might be the future relations of the two nations, the old Union could never again be reunited as it once was. He wanted peace between the them lest one conquer the other and the result be military despotism. To defend his own birthright and that of his fellow Kentuckians who had been denied the protection due them, and were forced to choose between arrest, exile, or resistance, he now exchanged the “with proud satisfaction, a term of six years in the Senate of the United States for the musket of a soldier.” As one of those forced to make that choice, he said, “I intend to resist.”

(Breckinridge, Statesman, Soldier, Symbol, William C. Davis, LSU Press, 1974, pp. 287- 290)

Americans Overwhelmed by Grant's Mercenaries

Americans Overwhelmed by Grant’s Mercenaries

[A Northerner from Wisconsin asks a Southerner:] “Did you ever read of Appomattox?”

He received the reply: “O, Yes! We’ve read of Appomattox, where a few hungry and ragged thousands surrendered to a man with a million of men under his command . . . the whole wide-world remembers that it required five of your federals to whip one of our Confederates . . . Will you fight for Grant if he should slap a golden crown on his cranium?” (quoted in Daily Constitution, Atlanta, Feb. 1, 1880).

(The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South, Broadus Mitchell, Johns Hopkins Press, 1921, pp. 84)

The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War

Major-General Fitzhugh Lee simply and methodically described why the Southern soldier fought in 1861, and under what privations and suffering these Americans fought outnumbered by 5 to 1 odds for four years — and came close to success. He sums up why the war and reasons for it will not go away. He prophesied that the time would come when the world would recognize that the failure of the Confederacy was a great misfortune to humanity.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War

“An impartial study of the early history of the American republic from the period of a band of patriots, following on the wave of Washington’s sword, transferred power from king to people, will demonstrate that when Colonies were transformed into States, the latter delegated, in a written Constitution, the powers to be conferred on the United States, but all powers not so delegated were reserved to the States themselves, because they had never parted from them. Hence, sovereign power belonged to a State, while only derivative, and not primitive, power was possessed by the general government.

The States did not confer upon the Government they were then forming a right to coerce one of their number for any purpose, for it is not natural that the creator should create either executive, judicial or legislative authority anywhere which should be potent to destroy its life or diminish or alter the power it had reserved for its own purposes. A State speaks through its representative bodies, and the majority of delegates in a convention direct its course.

The people of the original thirteen States believed in State sovereignty, and Pennsylvania and the New England States are upon record as primarily holding such opinions. The Southern people were educated in the belief that the allegiance of the citizen was first due to his State, and that in any conflict between his Commonwealth and the United States, or other country, his place was at her side — at her feet he should kneel and at her foe his gun should be pointed.

This is the only explanation of the great and enthusiastic response by the masses of the people to the actions of their State Conventions, when they decided their States should no longer be members of the Federal Union, but, resuming their original independence, be free afterward to make such other alliances they might deem best to protect their rights and promote their growth and glory.

The Southern masses were the private soldiers of the armies; they may not have understood all the public questions involved, or the gravity of secession, or the importance of pending issues as thoroughly as the statesmen of the period, but they must have been thoroughly impressed in a conscious manner with the right of secession and with a fidelity and loyalty to the commands of their respective States.

It has been said that the man is under no circumstances so independent as he is when the next step is for life or death. The men who were to be enrolled as the soldiers of the new Confederacy of States, to battle for its existence, knew they were taking a step which might bring to them a hostile bullet and a soldier’s grave.

The existence of the slightest doubt as to the justice of the course of their States, or the presence of the smallest suspicion that their bayonets would glisten with treason, would have surely brought that independence of action spoken of, against which the pleading eloquence of their leaders would recoil as the waters are dashed back from a great rock.

No earthly mandate can compel men to leave their firesides, families and friends, and embrace death with rapture, unless their God-given consciences stamp with approval the motives which control their conduct.

With a free, fair and honest ballot, undisturbed by extraneous influences, and untouched by the modern methods of bribery and corruption, the masses of the people, from which came the unbroken ranks of gallant men, voted with practical unanimity to ratify the decision of their State Conventions. The movement to change the map of North America and make two republics grow where only one grew before, was enthusiastically received by the great body of the Southern people.

When I see the battle-scarred soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, with uncovered head and profoundest reverence I bow before those dauntless heroes, feeling that if the greatest suffering with the least reward is worthy of the highest honor, these deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with their greatest army commanders in the brotherhood of glory.

It was a wonderful exhibition of courage, constancy, and suffering, which no disaster could diminish, no defeat darken. The soldiers went to battle from a sense of duty, and were not lured into the ranks by bounties or kept there by the hope of pension. The records show 600,000 Southern men were enlisted during the whole war, while 2,700,000 represent the total enlistments of their opponents during the same period.

“It would be difficult to convince the world,” General Lee would often say, “of the numerical superiority of our opponents.” And yet, for four years success trembled in the balance, though fate denied the Confederate soldiers the final victory, it “clothed them with glorious immortality.”

There was no “passion-swept mob rising in mad rebellion against constituted authority,” but armies whose ranks were filled by men whose convictions were honest, and whose loyalty to the Southern cause was without fear and without reproach — men who remained faithful to military duty in the conflict between fidelity to the Confederate banners or adherence to the trust assumed in the marriage vow, who resisted the pressures of letters from home, and whose heart-strings were breaking from the sad tale of starvation and despair at the family homestead.

As the hostile invasion swept over more territory the more frequent the appeals came, marked by the pathos and power which agony inspires,  until at last the long silence told the soldier his home was within his enemies’ lines, and the fate of his family was concealed from his view.

Under such conditions the private soldier of the South promptly fell into line. If saved from the dangers of the contest, his reward was the commendation of his immediate commanding officers and the conscientiousness of duty faithfully performed. If drowned amid the hail of shot and shell, his hastily buried body filled a nameless grave, without military honors and without religious ceremonies.

No pages of history recounted in lofty language his courage on the field or his devotion to his country, or described how, like a soldier, he fell in the forefront of battle. His battle picture, ever near the flashing of the guns, should be framed in the memory of all who admire true heroism, whether found at the cannon’s mouth, or in the blade of the cavalry, or along the blazing barrels of the infantry.

There he stood with the old, torn slouch hat, the bright eye, the cheek colored by exposure and painted by excitement, the face stained with powder, with jacket rent, trousers torn and the blanket in shreds, printing in the dust of battle the tracks of his shoeless feet. No monument can be built high enough to commemorate the memory of a typical representative private soldier of the South.

Very truly yours,

Fitzhugh Lee”

(The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War, Major-General Fitzhugh Lee, Ben La Bree, 1895, excerpts, pp. 7-8)

 

Securing the Political Obedience of Freedmen

South Carolina’s first reconstruction governor was former Northern General Robert K. Scott, who accomplished a tripling of the State debt through corruption and fraudulent bonds; his legislature voted itself a full-time saloon and restaurant at taxpayer expense. Scott’s successor, former Northern army officer Daniel H. Chamberlain was determined “to make his elected position pay,” though feeble attempts were made toward reform and Republican patronage which enraged black Republicans expecting favors for votes delivered.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Securing the Political Obedience of Freedmen

“There is ample evidence of both black domination and the exercise of controls over black leadership by the white [Republican] leadership. South Carolina was unique among the reconstructed States in that blacks constituted about 60 percent of the population. This population advantage was converted into a substantial numerical advantage in the legislature, where Negroes held a two-to-one majority in the lower house and a clear majority on joint ballot of House and Senate throughout the nine-year period of Reconstruction.

During this same period they held the office of secretary of state (from 1868 t0 1877), lieutenant-governor and adjutant-general (after 1870), secretary of treasury, Speaker of the House, and president pro tem of the Senate (after 1872).

On the other hand, Negroes never held the governorship, the office of US senator, any of the eight circuit judgeships, the offices of comptroller general, attorney general, superintendent of education, or more than one of the three positions on the State supreme court.

Furthermore, there were recorded instances of black officeholders serving as mere pawns of shrewder white [Republican] colleagues. The northern-born county treasurer of Colleton County boasted to Governor [Robert K.] Scott that he “could control every colored man’s vote in St. Paul’s Parish and St. Bartholomew Parish.” The Negro treasurer of Orangeburg County found himself in jail charged with malfeasance in office, while the white mentor who had gotten him the appointment and directed his peculations went free.

On another occasion it was alleged that the white [Republican] political boss of Colleton County engineered the removal from the county auditor’s position of a well-educated Negro political enemy, replacing him with another Negro who was illiterate. The latter was expected to be auditor in name only, while another white crony performed the duties of office.

[The] reactions of historians to [traditional images of racial relationships often betray] more emotion than analysis . . . [WEB] DuBois, for example, accepted the idea of the essential powerlessness of blacks in South Carolina’s Reconstruction government in order to minimize the culpability of blacks for the corruption of that government, even though [this actually] contradicts his thesis of black labor’s control of the government.

However, the key advantage of the white Republicans probably lay in their presumed or real contacts in the North which enabled them to promise and sometimes deliver funds, patronage or protection. White Northerners often passed themselves off as representing the “powers at Washington” in order to secure the political obedience of the Negroes, according to [carpetbagger] ex-Governor [Daniel H.] Chamberlain.

Just after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, a committee of South Carolina’s Negro political leaders made a secret trip to Washington to confer with Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner about the formation of a political organization.

But many white Republicans continued to advocate efforts to attract native whites into the Republican party and the appointment of northern whites to sensitive positions. This policy reflected their lack of confidence in black officeholders . . . “There is not enough virtue and intelligence among the Blacks to conduct the government in such a way as will promote peace and prosperity” [wrote one Republican].

In other instances, white Republican officeholders urged the governor to replace with whites those black colleagues whom they considered “un-businesslike” or incompetent.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, (excerpts) pp. 96-104)

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)

Cash to Finance the Northern War Machine

The summer of 1864 saw the Union cause in disarray and the Northern public depressed over the appalling battle deaths and worker strikes. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase was a political opponent of Lincoln and presidential aspirant, and soon replaced by Maine Senator William Pitt Fessenden, a radical antislavery Whig. Lincoln appointed him for his close links to prominent northeastern capitalists, and to “find sufficient funds to pay for a vicious and expensive war that showed no signs of ending.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Cash to Finance the Northern War Machine

“It would be easy to condemn Fessenden for his employment of a private banker [Jay Cooke] sell vast amounts of public securities. The secretary himself was uneasy about the idea. The Union was in a desperate financial condition for most of his term in office. [Former Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase] told Jay Cooke in September 1864 that Fessenden’s reluctance to employ the agency system was probably due to his unwillingness to encounter public criticism. “I hardly blame him,” wrote Chase bitterly. “What did I get – what did anybody get prefer[r]ing country and duty to private interests & compliant favor?”

The secretary’s treatment of financial questions was essentially pragmatic – informed by a characteristically Whiggish view of the economy and society but conditioned primarily by the urgent need for cash to finance the Northern war machine . . .

Beginning in July 1861 Congress passed a series of laws heavily restricting trade with areas outside the loyal States and giving the secretary of the Treasury and his network of agents wide-ranging powers . . . The system proved controversial, particularly in border-State communities traditionally reliant on trade with the South, and fostered widespread corruption centered on the smuggling of cotton from the Confederacy.

Cotton prices were increasing dramatically because of the war and a multiplicity of Treasury employees, military officials, and private citizens were soon caught up in the illicit trade. In the summer of 1864 President Lincoln endorsed the view of a Boston businessman, Edward Atkinson, that the government should procure as much Confederate cotton as possible in order to prevent the South from exploiting sales of its valuable staple.

On July 2, the day before Fessenden entered the cabinet, Congress gave the secretary of the Treasury exclusive power over all trade in the Rebel States, the aim being to establish a government monopoly over the cotton trade and thereby increase the national revenue at the enemy’s expense.

On September 24 Fessenden issued new trade regulations . . . These permitted persons claiming to control cotton beyond Union lines to sell their product to an appointed Treasury agent at three-quarters of the current cotton price in New York. A complementary executive order broadened the possibilities for intersectional trade by allowing cotton sellers to purchase goods up to bone-third of the price received and take them back across the lines.

Fessenden had grave reservations about this morally dubious trade . . . [but] Lincoln signed around forty special orders before December 1 authorizing favored individuals to bring out Southern cotton. Vast fortunes awaited those with sufficient political clout to secure the necessary permits or Treasury appointments.”

(The Grave of All My Comforts, William Pitt Fessenden, Robert Cook, Civil War History, John T. Hubbell, editor, Kent State University Press, September 1995, pp. 216-219)

Fighting to Avoid Union Chains

Many in England saw the War Between the States as a bid for freedom against Northern oppression and comparisons were drawn with earlier independence movements in Greece, Poland and Italy. It was also asserted that the independence of the South would benefit blacks with eventual emancipation, “and outdo the hypocritical North by introducing full integration.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fighting to Avoid Union Chains

“Intervention had in both regions [of Manchester and Liverpool] only the most cursory appeal [but only] . . . Liverpool tended to hanker after not only intervention but more active participation in the Southern fight for freedom, and the city found its own ways of bypassing official sanctions for such support.

The constant breaking of the blockade and the provisioning of warships for the Confederacy were so effective as tools of war that the United States felt justified in suing Britain for heavy compensation.

The failure of the Union and Emancipation Society [in England] is demonstrated by the prevalence elsewhere of the belief that the South was fighting for a freedom which would ultimately encompass Negroes while the North wanted to clap that freedom into Union chains.

Lincoln was generally seen as a sad instance of a man whose native honesty had disintegrated into the hypocrisy of the Emancipation Proclamation. He totally lacked charisma in Lancashire eyes. Defeat [of the South] was acknowledged as imminent but it was seen as the defeat of a noble and worthy cause . . . [and many saw] a sad destruction of freedom by the arrogant use of force.

Agents were sent to Lancashire by the Federal government and private Northern companies to popularize the idea of emigration and help fill the acute labor shortage. Enthusiasm for the idea of a new life in a civilized land . . . was marred by the widespread and sometimes justified fear that jobs and fares were bait for luring men into the depleted ranks of the Union army.”

(Support for Secession, Lancashire and the American Civil War, Mary Ellison, University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 191-193)

Fiasco of Radical Reconstruction

The study of the postwar Republican party often reveals a political organization seeking power at any cost, and an abolitionist movement that was simply an expedient for the destruction of the American South politically and economically. The transcendentalists and Unitarian radicals drifted off after the war without a cause to embrace; the Republicans had their desired political hegemony which would only be interrupted by Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fiasco of Radical Reconstruction

“By 1867, [Wendell] Phillips and “a little band of abolitionists he represented, like Robespierre and the Jacobins, believed that their will was the General Will” and looked for the federal government to establish and maintain an equal political and social position for the Negro in the South, by as much force as proved necessary. They were groping for something like the modern welfare state – foreshadowed as it was by pragmatic programs of the time like the Freedmen’s Bureau – but their intense hatred of the white South prevented a rational approach.

As a result, “Radical Reconstruction,” as it finally emerged from the Congressional cauldron, was a set of half-measures. Not faced was the problem of how a despised, impoverished, and largely illiterate minority was to maintain its rights in the face of a determined majority in full possession of economic and social power. The fiasco of Radical Reconstruction had begun.

Republican opportunism was important [in this fiasco]. There was the desire to get the Southern States readmitted to the Union under Republican control in time to deliver critical votes in 1868 and thereafter.

While idealists like Carl Schurz, Charles Sumner, Charles Francis Adams, and Horace Greeley were deserting the Republican party and the Reconstruction program to set up the abortive Liberal Republican movement of 1872, that cause of the Southern Negro was taken up and further discredited by political opportunists of the regular party organization.

The issues of the war were kept alive in the seventies and eighties as a Republican campaign technique – a way of recalling the “disloyalty” of the Democrats by “waving the bloody shirt.” In the character of Senator Dilworthy in The Gilded Age, Mark Twain has provided an unforgettable portrait of the Republican politician making unscrupulous use of the “Negro question” for his own ends.

The Reconstruction era was a perplexing time for intellectuals who had been antislavery militants before and during the war. Unable to support the sordid Grant administration and filled with doubts about the form that Radical Reconstruction was taking in the South, they had little to offer in the way of insight or inspiration.

William Dean Howells, who had once been a fervent abolitionist, intimated as editor of the Atlantic Monthly in 1869 that he was tired of the Negro question. Howell’s diminishing interest in the Negro, which reflected the disenchantment of the New England literary community in general, was further manifested in subsequent issues of the Atlantic.”

(The Inner Civil War, Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, George M. Frederickson, Harper & Row, 1965, excerpts, pp. 191-196)

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)