Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Slaves Feign Indifference while Battle at Sumter Rages

Sumter
Charlestonians Watch from Rooftoops as Fort Sumter is Bombarded in the Harbor

“Not by one word or look can we detect any change in the demeanor of these negro servants. Lawrence sits at our door, sleepy and respectful, and profoundly indifferent. So are they all, but they carry it too far. You could not tell that they even heard the awful roar going on in the bay, though it has been dinning in their ears night and day. People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?”

Diary of Mary Boykin Chestnut, 13 April 1861 (38)

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2 thoughts on “Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Slaves Feign Indifference while Battle at Sumter Rages

    1. Thanks for the comment, and for the link to your blog. You are almost certainly right, Mariann. And there are many reports from in and around Charleston very similar to what Mary Boykin Chestnut observes here. She is unusual for her willingness to even entertain the possibility that the slaves are harboring aspirations that they do not reveal to whites, however. Elsewhere in the vicinity whites are unequivocal in declaring their faith that the enslaved will stand by them in the coming contest–even that if called upon blacks will fight for the Confederacy. There are massive street celebrations and rallies going on in the immediate aftermath of secession, but most whites seem oblivious to the possible effects of all this on the city’s (majority) slave population. They are in for a rude awakening, of course, as the war wears on. Stay tuned for more documents in this series. The documentary evidence we have comes overwhelmingly from literate whites, of course, but even in these there are clear signs of trouble ahead for the Confederacy.

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