Browsing "Targeting Civilians"

No Full-Blown Yankee Heroes

The belief that the Northern soldier fought for the emancipation of the black man is a long-standing myth and coupled with the parallel myth that Lincoln saved the Union. The army of occupation brought an alien culture to the South which looted farms and left destitute American women and children without food or the means to survive.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Full-Blown Yankee Heroes

[Diary Entry] June 5, Monday [1865]:

“A Yankee came this morning before breakfast and took one of father’s mules out of the plow. He showed an order from “Marse” Abraham and said he would bring the mule back, but of course we never expect to see it again. I peeped through the blinds, and such a looking creature, I thought, would be quite capable of burning Columbia. [Northern] Capt. Schaeffer . . . He not only will not descend to associate with Negroes himself, but tries to keep his men from doing it, and when runaways come to town, he either has them thrashed and sent back home, or put to work on the streets and made to earn their rations.

People are so outraged at the indecent behavior going on in our midst that many good Christians have absented themselves from the Communion Table because they say they don’t feel fit to go there while such bitter hatred as they feel towards the Yankees has a place in their hearts. The Methodists have a revival meeting going on, and last night one of our soldier boys went up to be prayed for, and a Yankee went right up after and knelt at his side. The Reb was so overcome with emotion that he didn’t know a Yankee was kneeling beside him . . . Some of the boys who were there told me they were sorry to see a good Confederate going to heaven in such bad company.”

[Diary Entry] June 6, Tuesday:

Strange to say the Yankee brought back father’s mule that was taken yesterday — which Garnett says is pretty good evidence that it wasn’t worth stealing.

They are making a great ado in their Northern newspapers, about the “robbing of the Virginia banks by the Confederates” but not a word is said in their public prints about the $300,000 they stole from the bank at Greenville, S.C., not the thousands they have taken in spoils from private houses, as well as the banks, since these angels of peace descended upon us. They have everything their own way now, and can tell what tales they please on us, but justice will come yet. Time brings its revenges, though it may move but slowly.

Some future Motley or Macaulay will tell the truth about our cause, and some unborn Walter Scott will spread the halo of romance around it. In all the poems and romances that shall be written about this war, I prophesy that the heroes will all be rebels, or if Yankees, from some loyal Southern State. The bare idea of a full-blown Yankee hero or heroine is preposterous. They made no sacrifices, they suffered no loss, and there is nothing on their side to call up scenes of pathos or heroism.

(The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, Eliza Frances Andrews, D. Appleton, 1908, pp. 287-290)

God Will Protect Us; God Will Take Care of Us

William Henry Belk was a child of three in 1865 when his father Abel was murdered by Sherman’s bummers, leaving his mother Sarah not only a widow but with three babies and several Negro hands to feed and clothe. The industrious William would be working his first job in Monroe, North Carolina at age fourteen, and at twenty-six had started his own business which eventually spread to every State in the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

God Will Protect Us; God Will Take Care of Us

“Across more than four-fifths of a century of incredible change William Henry Belk remembers the day his father left home to escape the advancing Federals. It was 1865, and the Confederacy was dragging wearily into its last days. The South was almost prostrate now; even Sarah Walkup Belk’s beloved Waxhaw country, the country of Andrew Jackson, the gallant William Richardson Davie, and her own Wauchope family, lay under the heel and torch of Sherman.

This Federal general . . . was moving north after his march to the sea, pillaging and burning and slaughtering, and in the path of his troops, in the border region between South Carolina and North Carolina, lay the modest home of Abel Washington Belk.

If young Belk, whose weak lungs had prevented his joining the Confederate army, should be found at home, the Belk’s feared that Sherman’s men would steal his property, burn the house, and possibly hang him. If he should leave and hide out with some of the Negroes and the valuables that could be removed, the Yankee marauders might spare the house . . . over the heads of a defenseless young woman and her three babies.

So he loaded up the wagons and took some of the Negroes and they went down to Gill’s Creek some fifteen miles east of Lancaster, South Carolina . . . refugeeing on the creek down there until the Yankees had got out of the country. And it wasn’t long before the Yankees caught a fellow . . . who figured he’d save his own hide and get in their good graces by turning up my grandfather, old man Tom Belk. This scoundrel told them that my grandfather had barrels of gold hid out at his mine . . . .

But old Sherman’s men didn’t come by our house . . . [and] caught my father instead of my grandfather. They asked him where the gold was hid out. He told them he didn’t know. But they thought he was just trying to save his gold. So they took him down to the creek . . . and held him by the feet and pushed his head down under the water.

Then they’d jerk him up and ask again where the gold was. When he’d tell them he didn’t know – which he didn’t – they’d push him down again. That went on several times. His weak lungs couldn’t stand it. I reckon they just filled with water . . . But they did drown him . . . on Gill’s Creek.”

A letter which was written by Henry Belk’s uncle to Sarah Walkup Belk was her first news of the tragedy. It read as follows: “Sister Sarah, I have sad news to tell you. Abel, your husband and my brother, is I suppose no more. He is not found as we know but there is a certain person buried about one and a half miles below here, in Graham’s field, who I suppose is Abel. His clothes were like those that Abel had on [and] Abel’s little mule is lying dead on the road not far from where the man was drowned. [signed] Herron.”

It was a cheerless, somber day when Sarah Walkup Belk turned away from the red mound in old Shiloh graveyard. But even darker were the thoughts that threatened to crush her, for everywhere she seemed to sense the very presence of death.

Beyond the stones of the graveyard . . . lay fields bare and brown and dead, and there was little promise anywhere that the resurrection of spring would provide adequate crops. The Confederacy, too, she knew, was at its death and tired hungry hopeless men could no longer stem the rush of advancing hordes from the north.

And now her husband was dead. What would she do now? Where would she turn? How could she make a living for herself and her three babies? How actually to find enough food?

She went back to her farm and organized what poor efforts she could command. She found food and clothing for herself, her babies and the Negroes. She managed to provide security in those perilous days, joy even and much love. And always she taught her children. Sometimes it seemed that doubt and despair would engulf her. Always when the darkness was heaviest the pinpoint of a star broke through. She held to her faith. And she worked.

When the days were darkest she would repeat over and over again and in staunch faith the prayer and prophecy of that day when without knowing it she had waved her last good-bye to her young husband: “God will protect us; God will take care of us.”

(William Henry Belk, Merchant of the South, LeGette Blythe, UNC Press, 1950, pp. 3-8)

War to Exterminate Southerners

After the fall of Fort Fisher and occupation of Wilmington in January 1865, nearly 10,000 Northern prisoners were offered to the invaders for the taking — a humane gesture to reduce their suffering. Anxious to maintain the burden on the retreating Carolinians and force them to feed the prisoners with their own meager rations, the Northern commanders stalled. And it was Grant himself who ended the exchange of prisoners with Lincoln’s approval, thereby increasing the suffering at Andersonville.

George Templeton Strong was a Northern patriot who felt comfortable living behind the lines while his government lured domestic and foreign volunteers with generous bounties to maintain the “republic.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

War to Exterminate Southerners

Diary of the Civil War, George Templeton Strong, 29 March 1865:

“Our supplies sent by Chase reached Wilmington just at the right moment and saved scores of lives. His account of the condition of hundreds of returned prisoners, founded on personal inspection, is fearful. They have been starved into idiocy — do not know their names, or where their home is. Starvation has gangrened them into irrational, atrophied, moribund animals. No Bastille and no Inquisition dungeon has ever come up to the chivalric rebel pen for prisoners of war.

I do not think people quite see, even yet, the unexampled enormity of this crime. It is a new thing in the history of man. It definitely transcends the records of the guillotines and the concomitant nogades and fusillades. The disembowelment and decapitation of all men, women and children of a Chinese city convicted of rebel sympathies is an act of mercy compared with the politic, slow torture Davis and Lee have been inflicting on their prisoners, with the intent of making them unfit for service when exchanged.

I almost hope this war may last till it becomes a war of extermination. Southrons who could endure the knowledge that human creatures were undergoing this torture within their own borders, and who did not actively protest against it, deserve to be killed.

30 March 1865, page 571:

From observation at Wilmington, Agnew thinks the Southern “masses” are effete people, unable to take care of themselves now that their slave-holding lords and magnates are gone. A “local committee” at Wilmington is feeding four thousand Wilmingtonians all rations issued by the government. The white trash of even North Carolina is helpless and imbecile, unable to work or to reorganize the community.”

(Diary of George Templeton Strong, Allan Nevins, editor, MacMillan & Company, 1962)

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)

Soldiers Made Ashamed of Their Battle Flag

The war crimes against American civilians carried out by Sherman were accomplished with the full knowledge and assent of Grant, Lincoln, Stanton, Seward and Halleck. All knew well that for Sherman’s vandals to live off the country in Georgia and the Carolinas meant civilians would endure starvation and worse.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Soldiers Made Ashamed of Their Battle Flag

“In the earlier part of the war, General William T. Sherman knew and recognized the rules adopted by his government for the conduct of its armies in the field; and so, on September 29, 1861, he wrote to General Robert Anderson, at Louisville, Ky., saying, among other things:

“I am sorry to report that in spite of my orders and entreaties, our troops are committing depredations that will ruin our cause. Horses and wagons have been seized, cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens taken by our men, some of whom wander for miles around . . . the men are badly disciplined and give little heed to my orders or those of their own regimental officers.”

Later on General Sherman said, “War is hell.” If we could record here all the testimony in our possession, from the people of Georgia and South Carolina, who had the misfortune to live along the line of his famous “march to the sea,” during nearly the whole length of which he was warring against, and depredating on, women, children, servants, old men, and other non-combatants, it would show that he had certainly contributed everything in his power to make war “Hell,” as he termed it; and he has justly earned the distinction of being called the ruling genius of this creation.

“We consumed the corn and fodder in the region of country thirty miles on either side of a line from Atlanta to Savannah; also the sweet potatoes, hogs, sheep and poultry, and carried off more than ten thousand horses and mules. I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia at one hundred million dollars, at least twenty millions of which enured to our benefit, and the remainder was simply waste and destruction.”

Captain Daniel Oakley of the Second Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers . . . says this:

“It was sad to see the wanton destruction of property, which was the work of “bummers,” who were marauding through the country committing every sort of outrage. There was no restraint . . . The country was necessarily left to take care of itself and became a howling waste.”  Another Northern soldier, writing for the “Detroit Free Press,” gives the following graphic account:

“After describing the burning of Marietta, in which the writer says, among other things, “soldiers rode from house to house, entered without ceremony, and kindled fires in garrets and closets and stood by to see that they were not extinguished.”

He then further says: “Had one been able to climb to such a height in Atlanta as to enable him to see for forty miles around the day Sherman marched out, he would have been appalled at the destruction. Hundreds of homes had been burned, every rod of fence destroyed, nearly every fruit tree cut down, and the face of the country so changed that one born in that section could scarcely recognize it. The vindictiveness of war would have trampled the very earth out of sight had such a thing been possible.”

Again he says: “At the beginning of the campaign at Dalton, the Federal soldiery had received encouragement to become vandals . . . When Sherman cut loose from Atlanta everybody had license to throw off restraint and make Georgia “drain the bitter cup.” The Federal who wants to learn what it was to license an army to become vandals should mount a horse at Atlanta and follow Sherman’s route for fifty miles. He can hear stories from the lips of women that would make him ashamed of the flag that waved over him as he went into battle.

When the army had passed nothing was left but a trail of desolation and despair. No houses escaped robbery, no woman escaped insult, no building escaped the firebrand, except by some strange interposition. War may license an army to subsist on the enemy, but civilized warfare stops at livestock, forage and provisions. It does not enter the houses of the sick and helpless and rob women of their finger rings and carry off their clothing.”

[Sherman] not only does not say that he tried to prevent his army from committing these outrages, but says, on page 255 (Memoirs], in referring to his march through South Carolina: “I would not restrain the army, lest its vigor and energy be impaired.”

(The Confederate Cause and Conduct in the War Between the States, Hunter McGuire & George Christian, L.H. Jenkins, Publisher, 1907, pp. 78-82)

 

Francis Key Howard's American Bastille

Francis Key Howard (1826-1872) was the grandson of Francis Scott Key and revolutionary war Col. John Eager Howard; in 1861 he served  as editor of the Baltimore Exchange which criticized Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. On Lincoln’s order, Howard’s newspaper was office was closed and he was made a political prisoner for fourteen months in Forts McHenry and Lafayette, and Warren. He later published “Fourteen Months in American Bastilles.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Francis Key Howard’s American Bastille

“On the morning of the 13th of September, 1861, at my residence, in the city of Baltimore, I was awakened about half-past twelve or one o’clock, by the ringing of the bell. When I opened it . . . two men entered . . . One of them informed me that he had an order for my arrest.

In answer to my demand that he should produce a warrant or order under which he was acting, he declined to do so, but said he had instructions from Mr. [William] Seward, the Secretary of State. [He] stated that he intended to execute his orders and that resistance would be idle, as he had with him a force sufficient to render it unavailing.

As he spoke, several men entered the house . . . The leader of the gang then began to search the apartment. Every drawer and box was thoroughly ransacked, and also were my portfolio and writing-desk, and every other place that could possibly be supposed to hold any papers. All my private memoranda, bills, note-books and letters were collected together, to be carried off. After the first two rooms had been thus searched, I was told that I could remain no longer, but must be prepared to go to Fort McHenry.

Two men, wearing the badges of the police force which the Government had organized, escorted me to the fort. I reached Fort McHenry about two o’clock in the morning. There I found several of my friends, and others were brought in a few minutes afterward . . . fifteen in all.  Among them were most of the members of the [Maryland] Legislature from Baltimore, Mr. Brown, the mayor of the city, and one of our Representatives in Congress, Mr. May.

The rooms were in the second story of the building, and opened upon a narrow balcony, which we were allowed to use; sentinels, however, being stationed on it. When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by an odd and not pleasant coincidence.

On that day, forty-seven years before, my grandfather, Mr. [Francis Scott] Key, then a prisoner on a British ship, had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When on the following morning, the hostile fleet drew off, defeated, he wrote the song so long popular throughout the country, the “Star-spangled Banner.” As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, I could not but contrast my position with his, forty-seven years before. The flag he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving, at the same place, over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed.”

(American Bastille, John A. Marshall, Thomas W. Hartley & Company. 1881, pp. 643-646)

Fort McHenry's Guns Turned on Baltimore

The commandant of historic Fort McHenry in 1861 simply followed orders from his superiors to turn his guns on Maryland citizens, though military officers are sworn to defend the United States Constitution and know when not to obey orders contrary to that document.  The land was ceded by Maryland and the fort was constructed to defend Baltimore from its enemies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Fort McHenry’s Guns Turned on Baltimore

“On Saturday, April 20, Captain John C. Robinson, now a Major-General, then in command of Fort McHenry, which stands at the entrance to the harbor, wrote to Colonel L. Thomas, Adjutant-General of the United States Army, that he would probably be attacked that night [by Baltimore citizens], but he believed he could hold the fort.

[Robinson stated] that about nine o’clock on the evening of the 20th, Police Commissioner Davis called at the fort, bringing a letter dated eight o’clock of the same evening, from Charles Howard, the president of the board . . . that from rumors that had reached the board, they were apprehensive that the commander of the fort might be annoyed by lawless and disorderly characters approaching the walls of the fort, and they proposed to send a guard of perhaps two hundred men to station themselves on Whetstone Point, of course beyond the outer limits of the fort . . . a detachment of the regular militia of the State, then called out pursuant to law, and actually in the service of the State.

“. . . then the following conversation occurred:

Commandant: I am aware sir, that we are to be attacked to-night. I received notice of it before sundown. If you go outside with me you will see we are prepared for it. As for the Maryland Guards, they cannot come here. I am acquainted with some of those gentlemen, and know what their sentiments are.

Commissioner Davis: Why Captain, we are anxious to avoid a collision.

Commandant: So am I sir. If you wish to avoid a collision, place your city military anywhere between the city and that chapel on the road, but if they come this side of it, I shall fire on them.

Commissioner Davis: You would fire into the city of Baltimore?

Commandant: I should be sorry to do so, sir, but if it becomes necessary in order to hold this fort, I shall not hesitate for one moment.

Commissioner Davis (excitedly): I assure you Captain Robinson, if there is a woman or child killed in that city, there will not be one of you left alive here, sir.

Commandant: Very well, sir, I will take the chances. Now, I assure you Mr. Davis, if your Baltimore mob comes down here to-night, you will not have another mob in Baltimore for ten years to come, sir.”

His interview was not, however, confined to Captain Robinson, but included other officers of the fort . . . A junior officer threatened, in case of an attack, to direct fire of a cannon on the Washington monument, which stands in the heart of the city, and to this threat Mr. Davis replied with heat, “If you do that, and if a woman or child is killed, there will be nothing left of you but your brass buttons to tell who you are.”

(Baltimore on the 19th of April, 1861, George William Brown, Johns Hopkins Press, 2001, pp. 67- 69)

Americans Treated as Enemies

Enemy soldiers in the South sent revealing letters home which contained views shaped by official army policies, and censors allowed those which portrayed events in a government-approved light. The writer does note that Negro hands have left the farms, more the result of seizure than liberation; the desperate plea for more recruits reflects the lack of Northern enlistments after the carnage of mid-July 1862.  By this time Lincoln’s radicalized regime embarked on a total war strategy agaisnt Americans that would target civilians as well as armies.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865

 

Americans Treated as Enemies

“Camp Rufus King, July 22, 1862. The following letter we cut from the [Buffalo, New York] Courier:

“The South is paying dearly for this unnatural war upon the country. Famine and pestilence must soon follow on its desolating track. Seed time and harvest have passed, and the planter finds his barns empty. The standing grain has rotted in the field for the want of hands to gather it in.

Oh ye who live in the quiet of your peaceful homes, with all the comforts of life within your reach, and know little of the horrors of war, strengthen our ranks if you would have us stand between you and an earnest, determined foe. Rely not with too much confidence on the ability of the army to beat back the hordes that are arrayed against us. Every able-bodied man in the South is in arms, and they are terribly in earnest.

Not so with us. Our policy, hitherto, has been to conciliate rather than destroy our foe, and as we advance, looking upon the inhabitants as friends and allies until they prove themselves to be enemies. We have been deluded into the belief that there is a strong Union sentiment in the revolted States. It may be so, but it is very slow in manifesting itself.

Few indeed, have the courage to come out boldly and sustain the Government, while the vast majority [does] not hesitate to proclaim their preference for the Southern Confederacy. The [Southern] masses are ignorant to a degree that is startling to a Northerner. It knows little that transpires in the world beyond its immediate circle. It believes implicitly all that is told by the leading spirits of the neighborhood.

The very dialect of the mass betrays its ignorance – differing in no respect from that used by the slaves. And yet these men are told that the Northern mechanic and laboring man ranks no higher in the scale of civilization than the Negro, and that it is the yoke of these Northern mechanics and laborers that they are fighting to throw off.

Our policy of conducting the war is to be changed. It is time. We are in the enemy’s country, and those who inhabit it should be treated as enemies until they yield prompt obedience to the Government.”

(Chronicles of the Twenty-first Regiment, New York State Volunteers: Embracing a Full History of The Regiment, J. Harrison Mills, Regimental Veterans Association, Buffalo, 1887, pp. 201-202)

"Oh Momma, I Am So Hungry"

Sherman saw the Southern people themselves as a legitimate target of his army. He rationalized in a letter to Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, that “When one nation is at war with another, all the people of the one are enemies of the other [and] the rules are plain and easy of understanding. The Government of the United States may now safely proceed on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

“Oh Momma, I Am So Hungry . . . “

“Some time after her trip to Jonesboro [Georgia, Mary A.H. Gay] wrote, late in 1864:

“We had spent the preceding day in picking out grains of corn from cracks and crevices in bureau drawers, and other improvised troughs for Federal horses, as well as in gathering up what was scattered on the ground. In this way by diligent and persevering work, about a half bushel was obtained from the now deserted camping ground of Garrard’s cavalry, and this corn was thoroughly washed and dried, and carried by me and Telitha to a poor little mill (which had escaped conflagration, because too humble to attract attention), and ground into coarse meal.”

Returning from the mill one day, Miss Gay saw her mother running to meet her to tell her that Mrs. Benedict, one of her neighbors, and the latter’s little children were in an actual state of starvation. Mrs. Benedict’s husband was in the Confederate Army and she and her children had been supported by refugees driven from their own section by the further invasion of the Federal Armies. Miss Gay at once cooked what little food she had and prepared to divide it with the starving family.

“On the doorsteps,” she wrote, “sat the young mother, beautiful in desolation, with a baby in her arms, and on either side of her a little one, piteously crying for something to eat. “Oh mamma, I want something to eat so bad. Oh mamma, I am so hungry – give me something to eat.” Thus the children were begging for what the mother had not to give. She could only give them soothing words.”

(In Sherman’s Path, The Women of the South in War Times, Matthew Page Andrews, pp. 307-308)

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)

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