A Letter to Lincoln from a Colored Soldier: “I… grasp at the Flag… and Declared it shall never fall”


Letter from Hannibal Cox, 14th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry to president Abraham Lincoln
Source: From The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

This is a letter to Abraham Lincoln from an African American soldier which contains a poem:

From a man of no education. And have been doomed to slavery –
During life, and was born In Powhatan Co. and was raised in –
Richmond Virginia. And I am now a Soldier In U. S. Army. –
And I will Speak these few words In Answer to all whom it –
May Concern. Where Ever it may roam.

I have left my wife And Children but –
Tho. I. have not yet forsaken them. and made one grasp –
at the Flag of the union and Declared it shall never fall–
For we love it like the Sunshine, and the Stars and azure air. –

Ho for the flag of the union. the Stripes and the Stars of light.–
A million arms. Shall guard it. and may god defend the right.–
Ay, brothers let us love it, and let Every heart be true.–
And let Every arm be ready, for we have glorious work to do.–
Ho. for the Flag of the union. the Stripes and the Stars of Light.–
a million arms shall guard it. and may. God defend the right.–

I. Hope we may meet again In the bonds of love to greet
fare well I hope History may tell

Hannibal Cox
Co. B. 14th U. S. Colored Troops
Chattanooga Tenn
march 30th 1864

I. sends this for you to look at
you must not laugh at it

This poignant letter is from Hannibal Cox, a former enslaved person who joined the Union army and was a member of the 14th Infantry regiment, United States Colored Troops. The letter was sent to Abraham Lincoln via Benjamin Woodward, a Surgeon with the Union’s 22nd Illinois Regiment. Woodward wrote to Lincoln:

Permit me respectfully to enclose to You a letter received by me a few days since. The writer was a Slave held in bondage by a man named “Green” in Lincoln Co Tenn. In August last he escaped and came to me at the U S Gen Hospital at Tullahoma Tenn. While there the Soldiers taught him to read and write, for prior to that time he could do neither. Early this spring he enlisted as a Soldier.

This Mr Lincoln is but a sample of the glorious fruits of Your “Proclamation” of Liberty. When at Springfield Ill as You were leaving for Washington you said “Pray for me” a thousand hearts responded, and we now thank God who has so “led You into all truth” and thousands in the army rejoice in Your work and pray for you that you may be sustained till the great work which God has called You to is fully accomplished.

Hannibal Cox had fled bondage, but it was a troubled freedom. Liberation meant that he had to leave his wife and children behind. He swears to Lincoln, and perhaps himself, that he has not forsaken his family. In the meantime, his escape from slavery had given him literacy, a uniform, and a flag; and he was more than ready to fight for that flag.

Cox, as a “man of no education,” may have been uncomfortable with his use of words (and it’s possible that although he wrote the letter, it was transcribed by someone else) but he says firmly about his letter: “you must not laugh at it.” If Lincoln did read the letter, I don’t think he would have laughed. Lincoln might well have found it moving and touching, as no doubt many of us do today.

This is the grave marker for Hannibal Cox in Riverside Cemetery, Troy, Ohio from the website Find a Grave: :


Sources: Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops by John David Smith, p1-2; thanks to the member Littlestown at CivilWarTalk.com for information on Hannibal Cox’s gravesite.

Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri


Main statue for the Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri
Source: Lincoln University, Missouri

Deprived of freedom and citizenship rights, thousands of black men from Missouri joined the Union army, determined to fight for emancipation and equality. Deprived of an education, the Missouri men of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry took another determined, but unprecedented action: in 1866, they pooled their money to fund the first and only school established by soldiers of African descent.

Liberty and learning were indeed precious commodities for Missouri African Americans at the start of the Civil War. In 1860, 118,500 blacks lived in the state, with 115,000 in slavery, and just 3,500 free. In 1847 the Missouri General Assembly passed a law forbidding blacks, slave or free, to be taught to read or write. As noted in the book Missouri’s Black Heritage, “this was a reflection of a slaveholder’s fear that literacy might lead to (a slave) rebellion.” This “Black Code” prohibition taught Missouri blacks a lesson they would not forget: education was a force for their liberation and uplift.

The legacy left by the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) – which is now called Lincoln University – commemorates those men in a monument that sits on the University’s campus. What follows is a brief summary of how this came to be.

Missouri African Americans and the Civil War

When the Civil War began, Missouri was a slave state that remained loyal to the Union. (Although it’s more correct to say that the state had large pro-Union and pro-seccession/Confederate factions, with the Union faction and military able to maintain control of the state government.) In order to keep the support of Missouri and other Border slave states (Delaware, Kentucky, and Maryland), the United States government initially declared that it would not disturb slavery where it stood. Of note: in August 1861, the abolitionist Union General John C. Frémont, as part of his martial law policy to defend the state, declared that bondsmen of disloyal slave-owners in Missouri were free. In September 1861, President Abraham Lincoln told Frémont to rescind the order, saying it lacked congressional and executive authorization.

But as the war wore on, military necessity determined that the Union would accept, and even seek, the support of African Americans, even in states with loyal slaveholders like Missouri. By 1864, Union enlistment and recruitment was expanded to include slaves in the Border states; army enlistment automatically freed the former slaves. As noted by Aaron Astor in his essay Black Soldiers and White Violence in Kentucky and Missouri (from the book The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War),

By January 15, 1864, dozens of slaves enlisted in central Missouri’s slave-rich Howard County alone. By the end of February, more than 3,700 African Americans enlisted in Missouri, with central Missouri’s Little Dixie producing a significant portion… in Missouri, 39 percent (of military-age African Americans) joined the Union army… these numbers downplay the total of black recruits in the western border states, as many joined in neighboring free states. It is very likely that a significant percentage of the 2,080 African Americans credited to Kansas actually came from Missouri. (Editor’s note: Kansas had less than 700 African American residents in 1860, according to the US Census.)

In the rolls of the United States Colored Troops, Missouri is credited with providing 8,344 soldiers. As mentioned earlier, it’s very likely that many Missouri blacks enlisted in nearby Kansas, and some were probably members of the famous First Kansas Colored Infantry.

According to the site Missouri Digital Heritage, “the first black regiment from Missouri was recruited in June 1863 at Schofield Barracks in St. Louis. More than 300 men enlisted. The regiment was called the First Regiment of Missouri Colored Infantry. It later became the 62nd U.S. Regiment of Colored Infantry.” Sometime after, the 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry was formed; it was renamed the 65th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Other black Missouri regiments are noted in this post at The USCT Chronicle.

The History of Lincoln University, née Lincoln Institute

After the war, soldiers from the 62nd and 65th USCI raised over $5000 to found a school for Missouri’s freedmen. Established in 1866, the school was called Lincoln Institute. A key figure in the creation of the school was Richard Baxter Foster, an abolitionist white officer who became the Institute’s first principal, and whose image is featured in the Soldiers’ Memorial Monument. The history of the school, and the efforts to create a monument to the soldiers who founded it, is told in this video:


 
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Roger Williams University, Nashville,TN – Academic class c. 1899


Roger Williams University – Nashville, Tenn.-Academic class (1899)
Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-126752; see here for more details
Fashion Note: Most of the men have their hair parted in the middle; this was a common hair style at the time

After the Civil War, freedmen exhibited an insatiable desire for education. Throughout the South, schools, institutes, colleges, and universities sprang up to provide places of learning for ex-slaves. These institutions might have any of the following:
• an education or “normal” school, to train teachers
• an industrial school, to provide vocational and craft training
• a theological school, to prepare students for the ministry
• an agricultural school, for instruction in farming skills and practices
• an academic school, for learning in the arts and sciences.

The distingushed-looking young people in the photo are from the academic class of Roger Williams University, Nashville, Tennessee, circa 1899. Post-war Nashville was an appropriate for freedmen schools. During the war, the city’s black population went from under 4,000 to over 12,000, mainly as a result of slaves fleeing their masters or the ravages of the war. This count of blacks does not include any number of United States Colored Troops who might have been in the city. (Tennessee provided 20,000 men to the USCT, the third most of any state.) Many of these migrants or soldiers stayed in the city after the war.

Roger Williams University began as a school for Baptist teachers, but it expanded over time. As noted in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture,

One of four freedmen’s colleges in Nashville, Roger Williams University began as elementary classes for African American Baptist preachers in 1864. Classes were held in the home of Daniel W. Phillips, a white minister and freedmen’s missionary from Massachusetts. By 1865 the classes had moved to the basement of the First Colored Baptist Mission.

In 1866 the “Baptist College” was officially named the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute under the auspices of New York’s American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS). A year later, the school moved from old Union army barracks on Cedar and Spruce streets to a two-story frame building at Park and Polk Streets..

Soon after granting its first bachelor’s degree, the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute… started a new campus in 1874-75 (near) Vanderbilt University… African Americans held faculty positions and served on the board of trustees. In 1886 Roger Williams expanded the curriculum to include a master’s degree program.

I’ll talk some more about Roger Williams University in my next post.