A Reunion in Richmond, VA, April 1865: “This is your mother, Garland, who has spent 20 years of grief about her son.”

NatlRep491
It was the beginning of the end of the American Civil War: The National Republican, a Washington, DC newspaper, reports that the city of Richmond, VA, which was the capital of the Confederacy, was captured by Union forces on April 3, 1865. And the US Colored Troops – the “black troops”  – led the way.
The US Colored Troops consisted primarily of African American soldiers. One of those soldiers experienced an unexpected family reunion which exemplifies the meaning of the war to African Americans, especially those who had been enslaved. See the blog post below.
Source: From the April 3, 1865 extra edition of The National Republican, a Washington, DC newspaper; as noted in the African American Civil War Museum blog.

On April 3, 1865, Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederate States of America – was captured by the Union army. Soldiers in the United States Colored Troops (or USCT –  Union regiments primarily composed of African American soldiers) were the first to enter the city. Meanwhile, other USCT and Union regiments continued to pursue Confederate forces in the area led by General Robert E. Lee. General Lee would finally surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9th, 1865, at Appomattox, Virginia. By the end of June 1865, almost all of the Confederate forces had surrendered and the Civil War, for all practical purposes, was over.

One member of the US Colored Troops that entered Richmond was a chaplain named Garland White, of the 28th US Colored Infantry. Chaplain White wrote for the Christian Recorder, a newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) church. In the North, the AME was the most important church organization for free blacks. Garland White was a runaway slave from the Richmond/Petersburg area who fled to Canada, returned to the US, and joined the Union army  after policy changes by the federal government allowed black enlistment. In a Christian Recorder article (1), he wrote about the fall/liberation of Richmond; the joyous reactions of the city’s black residents; the presence of Abraham Lincoln; and an unexpected family reunion:

I have just returned from the city of Richmond; my regiment was among the first that entered that city. I marched at the head of the column, and soon I found myself called upon by the officers and men of my regiment to make a speech, with which, of course, I readily complied. A vast multitude assembled on Broad Street, and I was aroused amid the shouts of ten thousand voices, and proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind. After which the doors of all the slave pens were thrown open, and thousands came out shouting and praising God, and Father, or Master Abe, as they termed him.

In this mighty consternation I became so overcome with tears that I could not stand up under the pressure of such fullness of joy in my own heart. I refired to gain strength, so I lost many important topics worthy of note.

Among the densely crowded concourse there were parents looking for children who had been sold south of this state in tribes, and husbands came for the same purpose; here and there one was singled out in the ranks, and an effort was made to approach the gallant and marching soldiers, who were too obedient to orders to break ranks.

We continued our march as far as Camp Lee, at the extreme end of Broad Street, running westwards. In camp the multitude followed, and everybody could participate in shaking the friendly but hard hands of the poor slaves. Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for one by the name of Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was bought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs (2), who lived in Georgia. Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his body-servant Garland was, he replied: “He ran off from me at Washington, and went to Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio.” Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, “Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see you.” I quickly turned, following the soldier until coming to a group of colored ladies. I was questioned as follows:

“What is your name, sir?”
“My name is Garland H. White.”
“What was your mother’s name?”
“Nancy.”
“Where was you born?”
“In Hanover County, in this State.”
“Where was you sold from?”
“From this city.”
“What was the name of the man who bought you?”
“Robert Toombs.”
“Where did he live?”
“In the State of Georgia.”
“Where did you leave him?”
“At Washington.”
“Where did you go then?”
“To Canada.”
“Where do you live now?”
“In Ohio.”

“This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends. But suffice it to say that God is on the side of the righteous, and will in due time reward them. I have witnessed several such scenes among the other colored regiments.

Late in the afternoon, we were honored with his Excellency, the President of the United States, Lieutenant-General Grant, and other gentlemen of distincfion. We made a grand parade through most of the principal streets of the city, beginning at Jeff Davis’s mansion, and it appeared to me that all the colored people in the world had collected in that city for that purpose. I never saw so many colored people in all my life, women and children of all sizes running after Father, or Master Abraham, as they called him.


RECEIVING THE PRESIDENT. Abraham Lincoln riding through Richmond, April 4th, 1865, after the evacuation of the city by the Confederates.
Source: The Black Phalanx: African American soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, p 452, by Joseph T. Wilson; published 1890; book is available online at Project Gutenberg.
Continue reading

A dispossessed slave master: “I have always treated my negroes kindly. I supposed they loved me.”


From the Library of Congress:Title: The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine, 1861. On May 27, 1861, Benjamin Butler, commander of the Union army in Virginia and North Carolina, decreed that slaves who fled to Union lines were legitimate “contraband of war,” and were not subject to return to their Confederate owners. The declaration precipitated scores of escapes to Union lines around Fortress Monroe, Butler’s headquarters in Virginia. In this crudely drawn caricature, a slave stands before the Union fort taunting his plantation master. The planter (right) waves his whip and cries, “Come back you black rascal.” The slave replies, “Can’t come back nohow massa Dis chile’s contraban”
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-36161; above image is from the Virginia Memory website.

The shooting war between the Union and the Confederacy – what we call the American Civil War – began in April 1861. The Union government made it clear at the beginning that abolition – freedom for the slaves – was not its goal; the goal was to preserve the Union. But almost immediately, the Union took acts which imperiled the institution, and ultimately destroyed it.

In May 1861, Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler, who was then commanding Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA, initiated the so-called “contraband policy.” This called for the confiscation of slaves who were used as laborers for the Confederate military. Eventually hundreds of slaves from the Hampton Roads area and even beyond would flee bondage to gain freedom in and around what would be called the “Freedom Fort.”

In 1864, James Parton wrote “General Butler in New Orleans,” a “History of the Administration of the Department of the Gulf in Year 1862, with an Account of the Capture of New Orleans, and a Sketch of the General, Civil and Military.” In this bio-text of Butler, a story is told of an unnamed slave master who lost all of his slaves after their escape to Fort Monroe. The dispossessed slave master goes to the Fort to see if he can get just one of those slaves – one particular slave – back in his possession.

The account of this slave master has a touch of schadenfreude to it. (“Schadenfreude” is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. The word is taken from German and literally means “harm-joy”. It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune.) The Union men who receive the master are clearly no fans of slavery or enslavers, and seem to find his situation more pathetic than sympathetic. They find an ironic humor in his situation that, understandably, he does not.

Meanwhile, it is clear that the owner is hurt, shaken, perhaps devastated by the departure and loss of his slaves. The slave patriarch says “I have always treated my negroes kindly. I supposed they loved me.” But just when the war “came home” to him in earnest, just when he needed his slaves the most, they abandoned him. Clearly, the master had feelings for at least some of his slaves that went beyond mere property ownership. He lost people that he cared for, and that he presumed cared for him. At the end of the story, the feelings of the master are written true: “He had fallen upon evil times.” Continue reading

Frederick Douglass on the late Abraham Lincoln


Frederick Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln by William Edouard Scott 
This mural depicts Frederick Douglass asking President Abraham Lincoln to allow black soldiers to serve in the Union army during the Civil War. Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, and Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, are the two men standing in the back. The image surely depicts a fictional event: although Lincoln and Douglass met three times at the White House, those meetings took place after Congress approved the use of blacks as soldiers in the Union armed forces.

On April 14, 1865, president Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth in Washington, DC. On April 15, Lincoln passed away, becoming the first president to be assassinated in office.

On April 14, 1876, Frederick Douglass, perhaps the most prominent African American of his time, gave an “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln.” This was done in Washington, DC, at the unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument which had been commissioned by African Americans to honor the late president.

Douglass’s speech remains one of the most thoughtful, critical, and honorific summaries of Lincoln’s role in achieving racial progress during his time in office.

Douglass says that Lincoln was the black man’s “friend” and “liberator,” and that “the name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic.” But he also says Lincoln was “preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men,” that “the race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration,” and that “truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.”

Douglass eschewed simplicity in discussing Lincoln. Lincoln’s policies toward and relations with African American were complex, and in his long speech, Douglass laid out those complexities in detail.

But I think this one comment from that speech sums it up: “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Douglass understood that Lincoln was a man, a white man, of his times. But that is why Douglass was ultimately thankful for Lincoln, enough to see Lincoln as a hero for African Americans. Because despite his own prejudices, and those of the nation, Lincoln found cause to condemn slavery as evil, and to use the Civil War as a means to destroy the institution. Lincoln was a man of his times who rose above his times, to do something revolutionary. Douglass, and African Americans, were “appreciators of his benefits.”

Of special interest to me is the portion of the speech where Douglass says “under his rule, Lincoln did this” or “Lincoln did that.” (See the italicized text below.) To those who might claim Lincoln did little or nothing for the cause of African American freedom and advancement, and that Lincoln’s supporters were moved by “a blind and unreasoning superstition,” Douglass lists a bill of particulars, to use a phrase, about Lincoln’s achievements, a list that withstands the scrutiny of time.

I also found it interesting that in speaking of Lincoln’s humble origins, Douglass said that as “a son of toil himself, he was linked in brotherly sympathy with the sons of toil in every loyal part of the Republic.” Douglass seemed to feel that being a “common man,” Lincoln was uniquely poised to represent all working people, of any background, as he executed his duties.

These are excerpts from Douglass’s speech, and there is a lot of text here. We bloggers are sometimes told to avoid making posts with such length, as it may be too tedious for readers. But it has a lot to offer about how Douglass, and perhaps many other African Americans of the era, viewed the president. Enjoy the read:

Friends and Fellow-citizens:

I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object (The Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park, Washington, DC,) which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have today. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of our history in the United States; who shall survey the long and dreary spaces over which we have traveled; who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it with a sense of manly pride and complacency.

We stand today at the national center to perform something like a national act — an act which is to go into history; and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt, and reciprocated. A thousand wires, fed with thought and winged with lightning, put us in instantaneous communication with the loyal and true men all over the country.

Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. Harmless, beautiful, proper, and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence… In view, then, of the past, the present, and the future, with the long and dark history of our bondage behind us, and with liberty, progress, and enlightenment before us, I again congratulate you upon this auspicious day and hour. Continue reading

“(T)he blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”: Lincoln’s view of the war as the “Lord’s judgement” for slavery at his 2nd inauguration

Lincoln
A war weary Abraham Lincoln. Photograph was taken by Alexander Gardner on Sunday, February 5, 1865, a month before Lincoln’s second Inauguration Address
Image Source: Library of Congress, reproduction Number: LC-USZ61-1938 (b&w film copy neg. from Emily Tinker positive) LC-USZ62-3479 (b&w film copy neg. from carte de visite size print)

Was the American Civil War the result of God’s judgment for the “bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil?” This was the extraordinary conclusion of president Abraham Lincoln in his second Inauguration Speech of March 4, 1865. Even more extraordinary is that most Americans today have no idea of this view which Lincoln expressed on that day. Why that is, we can only speculate.

Lincoln might well have used his second inauguration speech to gloat. By then the Union was on the brink of victory over  the Confederate States. Indeed, just one month later, on April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia. That was the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

But Lincoln did not say much about the status the war, probably out of confidence for the Union’s position. He did state that “(t)he progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all.” And with that, Lincoln went into the main body of his oration.

Lincoln gave a speech whose tone was neither gloating nor celebratory, neither glorifying nor romantic about the Union’s winning war effort. Rather, his talk was somber, poignant, melancholy, and reflective. In fact, it was almost confessional. We have sinned, he said, and the wages therefrom have been enormous.

He noted that when the war began, “all knew” that the “peculiar and powerful interest” in slaves “was somehow the cause of the war.” But “neither (side) anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.” That is, no white person thought the war would result in the demise of slavery. Men on both sides thought the war would be brief and easy.

But God, said Lincoln, had “His own purposes.” God brings “woe unto the world because of offenses… (and) if we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses,” then “He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.”

Notably, Lincoln cites both the North and the South as the recipients of this horrible penance. Slavery was not simply the South’s sin; it was America’s sin. And the price America paid, said Lincoln, was just: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

Interestingly, Lincoln’s view of the war as God’s judgement for the sins of slavery is not well known by most people outside of the academy. Or so it appears to me. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and it’s talk of a “new birth of freedom,” has achieved a kind of iconic status. (In the past, some schools required students to memorize the Gettysburg Address.) Many people are aware of the second Inauguration Address’s call for “malice toward none” as the Union procured its victory over the Confederate enemy. But Lincoln’s somber reflection of slavery as sin, and war and its attendant suffering as God’s righteous judgement for that sin, has not achieved the same status or attention. This, despite the fact that our country has a strong Judeo-Christian tradition, in which Lincoln’s discussion of the role of God in man’s affairs should resonate (as opposed to a totally secular view of the war)

I do not have enough information or data to speculate about why this is so. But it does seem to me that many Americans are much more comfortable with delving into the glory and heroics and strategies of war, and celebrating the end of bondage, than they are with engaging in a somber reflection of human failing, commemorating these sins of the past, and (for believers) pondering the role of God in the events that befall man.

This is from Lincoln’s second Inauguration Address, given from the front of the White House:

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

“Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

President Lincoln: “I will keep my faith… with the black warriors”

Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Cleveland, OH
Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Cleveland, OH
A black soldier takes an oath of allegiance to the United States; Abraham Lincoln offers him freedom and a gun.

Image © Dave Wiegers Photography, see here. Wiegers has done a number of photos of monuments to Abraham Lincoln. 

President Abraham Lincoln freely and openly admitted that his ultimate goal for the Civil War was to preserve the Union, and not to free the slaves. But he determined that to win the war against the Confederates, emancipation had to be used to gain the support of African Americans, specifically, African American slaves living in the South. And so, based on legislation that was passed by Congress, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

This policy was not popular with everyone in the Union. Lincoln was a member of the Republican Party. Members of the opposition Democratic Party questioned and criticized the use of black men as soldiers. Some suggested that the emancipation policy be scrapped and the slaves returned to their masters; this offer of a “carrot” was intended to convince white southerners to end their rebellion.

But Lincoln was having none of it. In August of 1864, which was a presidential election year, he met at the White House with Alexander W. Randall, a former governor of Wisconsin, and Joseph T. Mills, a Wisconsin judge. Lincoln talked politics and emancipation policy. He derided the Democratic Party for its opposition to emancipation. Per Lincoln, the Democratic Party program could only “result in the dismemberment of the Union.” He referred to the notion of re-enslaving the freedmen to gain white supporters in the South as “conciliation.” This would be disaster, Lincoln said. “Abandon all the posts now possessed by black men, surrender all these advantages to the enemy, & we would be compelled to abandon the war in 3 weeks,” he claimed.

Clearly, Lincoln was keeping aware of the actions of the colored soldiers. He cited the actions of black men at the battles of Port Hudson and Olustee as examples of their service and sacrifice. He pledged that he would not return these “black warriors” to slavery to “conciliate the South.” “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will,” he said. Lincoln was not about to throw black soldiers under the bus. He would keep his promise that African Americans would be “forever free” no matter what the conditions of war or peace.

But Lincoln did not merely feel his emancipation policy was righteous; he believed it was right strategically.  History would prove, he believed, that the Union could not be restored without it. And in this belief, he was unshaken.

This text is excerpted from the diary of Joseph T. Mills, as noted in Volume 7 of the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln:

My own experience has proven to me, that there is no program intended by the Democratic Party but that will result in the dismemberment of the Union. But Genl McClellan[1] is in favor of crushing out the rebellion, & he will probably be the Chicago (Democratic Party convention) candidate (for president in 1864). The slightest acquaintance with arithmetic will prove to any man that the rebel armies cannot be destroyed with Democratic (Party) strategy. It would sacrifice all the white men of the north to do it. There are now between 1 & 200 thousand black men now in the service of the Union. These men will be disbanded, returned to slavery & we will have to fight two nations instead of one.

I have tried it. You cannot conciliate the South, when the mastery & control of millions of blacks makes them sure of ultimate success. You cannot conciliate the South, when you place yourself in such a position, that they see they can achieve their independence. The war Democrat (Democrats who favored war to preserve the Union) depends upon conciliation. He must confine himself to that policy entirely. If he fights at all in such a war as this he must economise life & use all the means which God & nature puts in his power.

Abandon all the posts now possessed by black men surrender all these advantages to the enemy, & we would be compelled to abandon the war in 3 weeks. We have to hold territory. Where are the war democrats to do it. The field was open to them to have enlisted & put down this rebellion by force of arms, by concilliation, long before the present policy was inaugurated.

There have been men who have proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson & Olustee to their masters to conciliate the South. I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.

My enemies say I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition. It is & will be carried on so long as I am President for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done. Freedom has given us the control of 200 000 able bodied men, born & raised on southern soil. It will give us more yet. Just so much it has sub[t]racted from the strength of our enemies, & instead of alienating the south from us, there are evidences of a fraternal feeling growing up between our own & rebel soldiers.

My enemies condemn my emancipation policy. Let them prove by the history of this war, that we can restore the Union without it.

[1] George B. McClellan had been a high ranking general in the Union army. He was relieved from command by Lincoln for lacking the aggressiveness needed to successfully engage Confederate forces led by Robert E. Lee. In 1864, McClellan was nominated to be the Democratic candidate for president. He lost the election to Lincoln in November of that year.

“Mama are there any angels black like me?”; from an 1899 song by Thurland Chattaway

Little Black Me Sheet Music Cover
Cover to the Sheet Music for “Little Black Me” by Thurland Chattaway
Image Source: New York Public Library; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Music Division; American popular songs / Sheet music, 1899; Digital ID: 1256368; Record ID: 608633. See also this from the John Hopkins University-Levy Collection of sheet music.

Little Black Me, by Thurland Chattaway

Within a Sunday school, a little child, one day,
Was listening to the teacher tell a story
She told about the Angels and she heard her say
If little girls were good as they should be
That’s some day they might all of them be angels fair,
Like those above that sang sweet songs of glory
But when that night at mother’s knee she said her prayer,
There came a sob; she sadly said: “They’re not all black like me.”

(Chorus)
Mama are there any angels black like me
Are they as good as any little girl but me
If I hide my face do you think they will see
If wonder if they’ll find a place for little black me

And then the mother put the little child in bed;
She brushed away the tears while she was sleeping
And in the night the Angels gathered o’er her head;
Within their midst her child seemed to see
And when the morning came the child had passed away
And while the mother by her side was weeping
She thought her darling smiled;
she seemed to hear her say
“I’m with the angels mama, now; they’ve found a place for me”

(Chorus) Continue reading