Tag Archives: Occupation

Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: Union Troops Return a ‘Fugitive Slave’ at St. Augustine

“I regret to inform you that I found the place [St. Augustine] full of open and avowed traitors. I was insulted in the streets by secession females. I learned that there were women residing there whose husbands are in the rebel service, and who are receiving rations from our Government. Seventy-five slaves are receiving wages from our people, who are owned by rebel masters, and their wages are paid over to the agents of these masters.

St Augustine Slave Market
The ‘Old Slave Market’ at St. Augustine, ca. 1886
Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, DeGolyer Library

[Recounting an incident involving a slave handed over to his ‘master’ in Florida]: While I was in St. Augustine, I was informed…that a fugitive slave who ran away from his rebel master—a man named Col. Titus (of Kansas notoriety)* and who holds a commission in the rebel army—was delivered up to said Titus by virtue of an order signed by Capt. Foster [in] circumstances…so disgraceful to our army that I felt it my duty to report them. This negro came to our lines from his rebel master heavily [wounded], having traveled a distance of eight miles in this condition to our pickets. He remained with our troops until [Titus] came with an order signed by Capt. Foster…directing Col. Sleeper to deliver him to his owner. He was delivered to Col. Titus. On receiving this negro Col. Titus put a slipping noose rope around the negro’s neck, with a timber pitch at his arm, mounted his horse and dragged the poor victim off in the presence of our troops….

On the day of my arrival [at St Simon’s Island, Georgia] a party of rebels came over to the island for the purpose of murdering the negroes. They were immediately attacked by the negro pickets and surrounded in a swamp. There were about twenty men on either side, and quite a brisk action occurred. The negroes lost two killed and one wounded severely. The rebel loss is not known, as they fled, and succeeded in making their escape from the island….”

General Rufus B. Saxton to Edwin M. Stanton, 20 Aug 1862, Rufus and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Sterling Memorial Library: Yale University

* Colonel Henry T. Titus (after whom the town of Titusville, Florida, is named) was a northern-born Confederate who before the war had traveled to Kansas to join proslavery ‘border ruffians’ there, playing a prominent role in the sacking of Lawrence and at one point reportedly holding two of John Brown’s sons as prisoners.

Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: “A storm am brewin’ in de Souf”

Antebellum Georgetown was key to South Carolina’s lucrative rice industry: like much of the Carolina lowcountry it was home to large slave majorities

In his Life in Dixie Land, or the South in Secession Time, ‘Edmund Kirke’ (pen name for the New York journalist James R. Gilmore) records the following conversation he had with a slave teamster in 1862. According to Kirke, his driver was African-born, and had been brought to the Carolinas at a young age via Cuba, eventually ending up working as a porter on the streets and wharves of Georgetown, 65 miles north of Charleston. Kirke remarks that “three days with him (a ‘remarkable negro’ of ‘superior intelligence’) banished from my mind all doubt as to the capacity of the black for freedom, and all question as to the disposition of the slave to strike off his chains when the favourable moment arrives. From him I learned that the blacks, though pretending ignorance, are fully acquainted with the questions at issue in the present contest.” As an example Kirke recalls the response he received (rendered ‘in dialect’) when he suggested that the war would leave the slaves “no better off”: “No, massa, ‘t won’t do that. De Souf will fight hard, and de Norf will get de blood up, and come down har, and do ‘way wid de cause ob all de trubble–and dat am de nigga…. When (the South) fight de Norf wid de right hand, dey’ll hev to hold de nigga wid de the leff.”

Bright Side
Winslow Homer’s “Bright Side” (1865) depicts black teamsters at rest in a Union Army camp

As an example of the slaves’ familiarity with the essence of the war, Kirke recalled the words of a song “then current among the negroes of the district.” Its content is the more remarkable for the fact that it seems to have foreseen enlistment of black northerners in the Union Army:

Hark! Darkies, hark! It am de drum

Dat calls ole Massa way from hum,

Wid powder-pouch and loaded gun,

To drive ole Abe from Washington;

Oh! Massa’s gwine to Washington,

So clar de way to Washington–

Oh! wont dis darky hab sum fun

When Massa’s gwine to Washington!

Ole Massa say ole Abe will eat

De niggas all, excep’ de feet–

De feet, may be, will cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

Dis nigger know ole Abe will save

His brudder man, de darky slave,

And dat he’ll let him cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

The next is in similar vein:–

A storm am brewin’ in de Souf,

A storm am brewin’ now,

Oh! hearken den and shut your mouf,

And I will tell you how:

And I will tell you how, ole boy,

De Storm of fire will pour,

And make de darkies dance for joy,

As dey neber danced afore.

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And I will tell you how.

De darkies at de Norf am rise,

And dey am comin’ down–

Am comin’ down, I know dey is,

To do de white folks brown!

Dey’ll turn ol’ Massa out to grass,

And set de niggas free,

And when dat day am come to pass

We’ll all be dar to see!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And do de white folks brown!

‘Den all de week will be as gay

As am de Chris’mas time;

We’ll dance all night and all de day,

And make de banjo chime–

And make de banjo chime, I tink,

And pass de time away,

Wid ’nuff to eat and ’nuff to drink,

And not a bit to pay!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And make de banjo chime.

Oh! make de banjo chime, you nigs,

And sound de tamborin,

And shuffle now de merry jigs,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘gwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch de rattlesnakes!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘qwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch the rattlesnakes!*

*symbol for the state of South Carolina

Source: Edmund Kirke, Life in Dixie Land, or The South in Secession Time (London, 1863), 14-16.

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: The 1st SC Regiment Marches into Beaufort

1st South Carolina Infantry (USCT)

I do not think I ever had quite so proud a day…. Today, for the first time I marched my whole regiment through Beaufort & back. They did march splendidly, as all admit. The dear 51st did not compare with them… To look back on twenty broad double ranks of men, (for we marched by platoons) every polished musket with a black face at the side of it, every face steady to the front, marching on into the future; it was magnificent, and when we returned, marching by the flank, (this is in fours,) with guns at “support arms,” & each man covering his file leader, (the prettiest way of marching in the world) the effect was as fine. I had cautioned them before we left, not to be staring about but to look straight before them, & with their accustomed fidelity they did it. One of them said, since, “I didn’t see anything in Beaufort–every step was worth half a dollar,” & they all stepped as if it were so. It was just the way my old company used to do in Worcester–only think of the difference–what character & culture did there–here the evoked self-reliance of a race does with drill & personal magnetism of course added in both cases. And whereas there, as rival Captains indignantly averred, we [“]had the whole town to blow for us,” this was marching through throngs of prejudiced critics, officers & privates, who had all drilled as many months as we had weeks, & who were absolutely compelled to admit how admirably the regiment appeared. Dr. Rogers & others rode about among officers who came jeering and contemptuous, & had to say at last “they do splendidly,” one Captain in the N.H. 4th, the best drilled regiment here, & he bitterly pro slavery said in the hearing of our LtColonel [sic], to a circle of officers, “There is nothing in this Department that can excel them.” And indeed one of our recruits, who did not march with the regiment, watching the astonishment of some white soldiers, said, “De buckra soldiers look like a man who done steal a sheep“! i. e. I suppose sheepish.

from the War Journal of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Camp Saxton [Port Royal, SC], 19 January 1863 (pp. 88-9)

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Growing Resentment towards Slaveholders in the Confederate Ranks

There is at present as far as we can learn, a general feeling of depression among the South Carolina troops, which possibly may eventually develop into a Union sentiment. The feeling the soldiers express is: “We have no negroes to fight for, while the slave-owners have all taken good care to retire to the interior of the State where they can live in safety.” The question is beginning to pass among them, “Why should we stay here to be shot, when those who have caused the war have run away?” This is dangerous talk, and, we are told, officers have great difficulty in maintaining the organization of their Regiments. At least these are stories brought by the negroes who are continually escaping to our lines, and the unanimity of their reports seems to lend the appearance of truth to them. The fact is, the frightful effects of the explosions of the 11-inch shell which some of our gun-boats carry, have produced a great panic among the land forces of South Carolina. Negroes from Charleston report the city in a great fright, the inhabitants making preparation to leave at the sound of the first note of alarm. I hope we may catch old [John] Tyler. It would do me a deal of good to see the traitor sent North to be dealt with properly. There is a strong contrast between the treatment of our prisoners, and that received by the unfortunates who fall into the hands of the “chivalry.”

William Thompson Lusk [HQ, Second Brigade: Beaufort, SC] to Elizabeth Freeman Adams Lusk, 9 Jan 1862, in War Letters of William Thompson Lusk, 113-4

Confederate Troops
Confederate Troops

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: “My Children Sold as Pocketmoney”

[The author of the letter quoted below, Captain Percival Drayton, was a native of Charleston who served as ship commander in the Union naval fleet that captured Port Royal, SC, in November 1861. Remarkably, the Confederate defense at Port Royal was directed by his brother, the lowcountry planter Thomas F. Drayton (see the photo of his emancipated slaves below) of Hilton Head. Lydig M. Hoyt was a prominent New York socialite with whom Captain Drayton corresponded through much of the War. Drayton is writing here from aboard the USS Pawnee at Port Royal on the 24th of March, 1862.

As with all the documents included in the After Slavery website, we have chosen not to edit out racist and denigrating terms (eg ‘darkies’, ‘nigger’) that were commonly used by whites at the time, but to retain the language of the original: obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of such language.]

Slaves of Rebel Genl Hilton Head, LoC
Handwriting reads “Slaves of the Rebel General Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head”

“As we can scarcely expect to hold the South as a conquered people, at least with any comfort, the difficult part of the operation will still remain, even after armies and navies have performed their designated duties. I for one can see no peace while the slavery question remains unsettled, and while any portion of the community consider it a higher and more holy duty, to sell niggers than to have free institutions or civilization, and so far I doubt if our victories have as yet even weakened this belief. I must confess that after what I have seen here, of the horrors of the institution I would be willing to do anything except to destroy the Constitution that the power to do evil to ones fellows which can be and is exercised in many cases here, should within some named time cease, but believe that to make this feasible there must be a great deal more fighting. We meet here as you may suppose, with a good many remarkable cases bearing on the nigger question. One particularly which one of the officers related to me the other day would answer for Greeley. On Doboy Island, near St. Simons and Brunswick, they found one poor old man left, and fearing he might starve an offer was made to take him away, which he refused, as he said he had buried his wife only a little before on that spot, and preferred dying there. Some one asked him but have you had no children, yes massa thirteen but they were all sold for pocketmoney, and now that my wife is dead I am all alone. The officer who related the circumstance says, that the piteous manner in which this was said, so affected his companion and self that for some time neither felt like speaking. We have another fellow at present on board of my ship, who had been living in the bush for a year, because as he says he was so cruelly treated that death was better than being a longer subjectted to it [sic]. And he must be a pretty determined fellow, for he has been shot at, and bears many marks of what he calls nigger dogs. Now I don’t want to take away property enjoyed under the safeguard of the Constitution, but I do say that these horrors should cease by law in the nineteenth century.”

Percival Drayton to Lydig M. Hoyt, March 24, 1862, in Naval Letters from Captain Percival Drayton, 14-15

Percival Drayton.jpg
Union Naval Commander Percival Drayton

AS Talks to Historian Janette Thomas Greenwood

In the first of many forthcoming exchanges, After Slavery blogger Brian Kelly interviews historian Janette Thomas Greenwood about First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900 (UNC Press, 2010). Greenwood teaches history at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and is also the author of Bittersweet Legacy: The Black and White “Better Classes” in Charlotte, 1850-1910. She participated recently in the Workshop on Teaching the New History of Emancipation, held in Charleston in early February.


Brian Kelly (BK). First Fruits of Freedom pulls together quite complicated and remarkable stories about communities north and south that become linked by the war–one a refuge for slaves seeking their freedom during wartime, the other a more permanent home to northern soldiers who’ve been sent south to fight. Can you tell us how the project first came to you, and whether it changed shape in the course of your research and writing?

Janette Greenwood (JG). The project came to me through research conducted by one of my students in a seminar that I taught a number of years ago at Clark University on ‘Black Worcester,’ in which students fanned out in the community and pursued a number of topics.  One did a paper on a local black church, John Street Baptist Church, and found out that it had been founded by former slaves from North Carolina and Virginia in the 1880s.  I was fascinated by this, as I was just finishing up a book on North Carolina. [Bittersweet Legacy: ed.] Her findings raised a whole series of questions. What were former slaves doing in Worcester in the 1880s? How had they gotten to Massachusetts? Why had they started their own church?  My first guess was that these southern migrants had come to Massachusetts through connections with local African Americans who fought in the Civil War, such as those who fought with the Mass 54th.  But further research did not reveal any connection.  Digging into the migrants’ backgrounds, I found that many came specifically from eastern North Carolina, mostly New Bern, and that proved to be an important clue.  I began looking into the history of local regiments and found that two Worcester County regiments—the Mass 25th and the Mass 51st—were in New Bern and vicinity, and that many soldiers spent a good deal of the war there.  Other sources confirmed a link between these soldiers and the migrating freedpeople.  Fortunately, Massachusetts conducted a census in 1865, and I was able to locate particular migrants in the communities and homes of white Massachusetts soldiers. Regimental histories, Civil War letters, newspaper accounts, and other sources helped me sketch out the particular stories of migrants and their sponsors.  As I got deeper into the research, I also realized that there was a multi-generational story to tell about the migrants, and I traced some families through several generations.  So, yes: the story did shift shape over the many years of research and writing it.

BK. One of the issues that First Fruits of Freedom takes up extensively is the effect of the war on the changing attitudes of white Union soldiers–both to slavery and to the cause of emancipation. In some ways the issues being contested in Chandra Manning’s work, on the one hand, and  Gary Gallagher’s The Union War, are played out on a local level in eastern North Carolina. Can you tell us what you found, and what this may mean for the wider debate? 

JG. Eastern North Carolina provides a valuable context within which to examine the attitudes of Northern soldiers toward slavery as well as their interactions with runaway slaves,  the “contrabands” of war.  In tracing migration networks, I focused on the Massachusetts 25th Volunteer Regiment. The successful Burnside Invasion of eastern North Carolina, in which the regiment took part, occurred relatively early in the war (editor’s note: launched in February 1862), nearly a year before the Emancipation Proclamation.   It’s clear from the letters that soldiers wrote home that they were deeply moved by the response of abandoned and runaway slaves, who greeted them when they conquered New Bern and its vicinity.  To the slaves, these Yankees were the long-awaited answer to their prayers, to the freedom that they believed God had promised them, and they said as much to the soldiers who marched into New Bern.  This was heady stuff and deeply touched many soldiers, as did the stories that slaves told them about their bondage.  Moreover, every day more and more slaves took refuge behind Union lines.  Their deep desire for freedom also touched many soldiers who listened to their stories of escape.  Finally, these “contrabands” made extremely important contributions to the Union cause, serving as spies, boat pilots, and laborers. All of these interactions transformed the thinking of many soldiers about slavery.  One Union officer noted that even he, who had voted for Southern Democrat Breckinridge in 1860, had been “educated up” by his interactions with the “contrabands.” Another recalled that some soldiers had been proslavery “from Worcester to Hatteras” but had “their eyes opened” once they arrived in North Carolina.  

The settlement established by Union forces near New Bern

Union soldiers soon found themselves faced with a dilemma when masters, claiming to be loyal to the Union, demanded the return of slaves who had escaped behind Union lines.  I found some interesting examples in which soldiers, against orders and federal policy, refused to return slaves to loyal masters and even pulled off a rescue of two slaves who had been returned. In addition, some soldiers set up schools for the contrabands to teach them to read and write.  Because the Mass 25th occupied New Bern and environs for many months, some soldiers established long-term relationships with former slaves, which, in a number of cases, resulted in them accompanying the soldiers north to Massachusetts after the war. 

Even though my focus was quite specific—mainly exploring one Massachusetts regiment—I think there are several contributions to the larger debate.  First, there were, as I’ve already noted, some long-term, previously unrecognized consequences to the antislavery sentiments of some soldiers as they facilitated the migration of former slaves to the North.  Second, the role of the regimental chaplain was especially important in the case of the Mass 25th. Many of the activities of soldiers, such as the establishment of schools, resulted from the leadership of Chaplain Horace James, who channeled the antislavery feelings of soldiers into concrete activism.  Third, the fact that these sympathetic soldiers came from Massachusetts is also important; many were middle-class and educated; some of them commented that they had grown up in antislavery churches and even attended antislavery lectures, but really hadn’t felt much of a commitment to that cause—even when they enlisted—until they came face-to-face with slaves themselves.  Perhaps they were predisposed to become antislavery.  I don’t think the Mass 25th was an anomaly, but it would be great to know more about regiments from other parts of the North, the role of chaplains in directing soldiers’ activities, etc.  We do have plenty of examples of Northern regiments who did not act so benevolently—in fact, just the opposite. So it seems to me that there’s still a great deal more to do to get a more fine-grained portrait of the sentiments and actions of Union soldiers during the war.  I hope I’ve opened up some possible avenues for future research in my specific study of the Mass 25th.   

 ImageBK. With the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation upon us this year, I was struck by your rendering of the demonstrable effect that the proclamation made on the ground in North Carolina. It seems to have pushed the Lincoln-appointed military governor, Edward Stanly, into a kind of rearguard defense of the prewar status quo, and then to resigning office in disgust. Can you tell us more about this? Does it tell us something about the relationship between high politics and slave self-activity that is perhaps missing, for example, from Steven Spielberg’s rendering of emancipation?

A. There is quite a bit missing in Spielberg’s story. As he portrays it, emancipation, particularly the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, was a “top down” process, conferred on slaves by Congress and the President. But slaves were far ahead of Lincoln and the  federal government and had seized freedom on their own. Many freed themselves long before the federal government bothered to act with either the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th Amendment.  In eastern North Carolina, and in other parts of the Confederacy where the Union army had penetrated before January 1863, slaves are freeing themselves, seeking refuge and freedom behind Union lines. I was fascinated to find so many stories of soldiers and even officers defying federal policy before the Emancipation Proclamation, by simply refusing to return slaves to “loyal” masters.  In North Carolina, Governor Stanly, a native Unionist appointed by Lincoln as provisional governor in the hope that loyal North Carolinians would rally behind him, almost immediately comes into conflict with Union soldiers and officers in New Bern who simply defy his demand that slaves be returned to masters and reject his demand that they shut down the schools they’ve set up for African Americans. Stanly’s actions only helped galvanize the attitudes of Union soldiers: many became active defenders  and allies of the blacks in their midst. The soldiers despised Stanly. Some wrote home in anger that they did not join the war effort to defend the slave regime. Ultimately, Stanly does resign in disgust after the Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect. But the revolution had begun long before that, and there was no turning back.  

BK. The final section of the book charts the decline of sympathy for freed slaves in a rapidly industrializing, late-nineteenth-century Worcester, which during the war had been a “hotbed of abolition.” This seems in line with what we know about the national retreat from Reconstruction, but is there anything in the Worcester story that makes it stand out? Anything that we learn from the hardening of race relations there that might point historians and students of history toward new questions, new problems?

JG. I think one thing that does stand out in Worcester is that a small group of prominent whites in the city continued to maintain and cultivate Civil War memory that placed slavery and emancipation at the center of the war’s meaning.  And because slavery remained central to their memory of the Civil War, they continued long-term relationships with African American migrants. This group—many of whom were Civil War veterans and freedman’s school teachers—continued to feel an obligation to those who had suffered as slaves and made their way North to a new life.  For example, we see these folks helping fund the city’s Baptist Church, founded by Southern migrants in the 1880s; others serve as patrons to migrants and their children, aiding with education and jobs. Again, they are in the minority.  Most of the rest of white Worcester is pretty much like the rest of Gilded Age America, into reconciliation with the South and chasing the almighty dollar. They seemed happy to forget the city’s rich abolitionist heritage.  But a small group rejects this, remembers the past, and continues to do what they can to try to better the lot of those who suffered as slaves. 

In general, I think the Worcester story provides a more finely grained account of the overall portrait that has been sketched out by many historians regarding the hardening of race lines in late 19th century America.  Given what we know about the “nadir” of race relations by 1900, I was surprised to find as many long-term relationships as I did between former slaves and white Worcesterites. So the Worcester case study suggests that perhaps the story is more complex, and that at least some whites—especially Civil War veterans and veteran freedman’s school teachers—continued to battle alongside their black allies, for justice.   

[1] Bittersweet Legacy: The Black and White “Better Classes” in Charlotte, 1850-1910 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1994)