Southern Officers and Slaves at Johnson’s Island
‘Dr. Christian was colonel of the 51st Virginia Infantry who was captured after the battle at Gettysburg while Lee’s army was crossing “Falling Waters.” He was sent to Johnson’s Island where the officers [captured at] Port Hudson were also imprisoned. Said the Doctor:
“My recollection is that there were thirteen negroes who spent the dreadful winter of 1863-64 with us at Johnson’s Island, and not one of them deserted or accepted freedom, though it was urged upon them time and again.
You recall that Port Hudson was compelled to surrender after Vicksburg had fallen. The officers were notified they would not be paroled as those at Vicksburg had been but told they could retain their personal property. Some of the officers claimed their negro servants as personal property and took them along to prison with them.
Arriving at Johnson’s Island the federal authorities assured the negroes they were as free as their masters had been, and were not prisoners of war; that they would give them no rations and no rights as prisoners of war if they went in the prison, but they all elected to go in and declared to the Yankees they would stick to their young masters to the end of time, if they starved to death by doing so. Those officers, of course, shared their rations and everything else with their servants.
‘George’ was the negro of an Alabama colonel also a prisoner. George was frequently summoned by the prison’s commanding officer and told he was a free man and had but to say the word and he would be taken out of prison to work for $2 a day and furnished good clothes to wear plus live anywhere he wanted. He was also told he was a fool as his master would never be exchanged or let out of prison, and if he stayed with the Rebel officer he as well would starve in prison.
After George returned to the cell and related this, I asked what he said in reply to the Yankee officer. He told him: ‘Sir, what you want me to do is to desert. I ain’t no deserter, and down South, sir, where we live, deserters always disgrace their families. I’ve got a family down home, sir, and if I do what you tell me, I will be a deserter and disgrace my family, and I am never going to do that.’
‘What did the commanding officer say?’ I asked. ‘Get out of here you d—- fool nigger and rot in prison.’ And now master, here I am, and I am going to stay here as long as you stay, if I starve and rot.’
(The Negroes as Slaves, Capt. James Dinkins. Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXV, 1907, pp. 62-64)