Major Martin Delany to the Freedpeople of SC: “(W)e would not have become free, had we not armed ourselves and fought out our independence.”

Major Martin Delaney
US Army Major Martin R. Delany: Delany was a free born “African American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer.” (per Among other activities, he was co-publisher of the North Star newspaper along with Frederick Douglass. During the Civil War, “Delany recruited thousands of men for the Union Army. In February 1865, after meeting with President Abraham Lincoln to persuade the administration to create an all-black Corps led by African American officers, Delaney was commissioned a Major” in the US Colored Troops (per
Image Source: US Military History Institute, via The Senator John Heinz History Center

Edward M. Stoeber, a lieutenant in the 104th US Colored Troops, US Army, was shocked. He had just attended a “lecture” in St. Helena Island, SC, given by army Major Martin Robinson Delany to a group of fellow African Americans in July 1865, as the American Civil War was coming to an end. Delany’s audience had been enslaved, but were now unbound. Delany – who was commissioned an army major by Abraham Lincoln after appealing for the creation of black regiments led by black officers – gave the freedmen and women advice for how to move forward, advice which drove the white Lieutenant Stoeber to disgust.

Why was Stoeber so upset? For one, Delany told the freedmen that they had had freed themselves by enlisting and fighting in the Union army. Stoeber disagreed, evidently unable or unwilling to acknowledge African American agency, or perhaps, angry that the martyred Abraham Lincoln was not getting enough credit. “This is a falsehood and a misrepresentation. Our President Abraham Lincoln declared the colored race free, before there was even an idea of arming colored men,” said Stoeber in a letter to his superiors. “This (talk from Delaney) is decidedly calculated to create bad feeling against the Government,” he insisted.

Additionally, Stoeber was concerned that in “acquaint(ing) (the freedmen) with the fact that slavery was absolutely abolished,” Delany had thrown “thunders of damnations and maledictions on all the former slaveowners and people of the South, and almost condemned their souls to hell.” Stoeber might not have been aware that jeremiads against slavery and the South were not uncommon for black abolitionists, perhaps even some white ones.

Stoeber was also alarmed that Delany warned the freedmen to beware of white “ministers, schoolteachers, Emissaries, (and others who would come South to help the freedmen) because they never tell you the truth.” Such talk, said Stoeber, “is only to bring distrust against all, and gives them to understand that they shall believe men of their own race. He openly acts and speaks contrary to the policy of the Government, advising them not to work for any man, but for themselves.” Such talk was dangerous, according to Stoeber: “In my opinion of this discourse he was trying to encourage them to break the peace of society and force their way by insurrection to a position he is ambitious they should attain to.” Delany’s views were informed  by a lifetime of prejudice against himself and other African Americans living in the North; this included his dismissal from Harvard Medical School after just a month of attendance, when white students wrote of their objection to the presence of blacks at the school.

Delany and Stoeber seemed to have irreconcilable views of the past, present, and future. Major Delany, an activist African American from the North, had his own ideas about the role of African Americans in building the South and winning the Civil War, and in charting their own future as free people. For him, self-pride, self-worth, economic self-sufficiency, and a healthy dose of skepticism concerning the intentions of, and advice from, whites were key for black progress. But as far as Lt. Stoeber was concerned, Delany was a “a thorough hater of the white race (who) excites the colored people unnecessarily” and horrified white onlookers. Stoeber was also concerned that Delany gave incorrect information about the Union government’s land and labor policies, information that he feared would create false expectations and eventually result in anger among the freedpeople.

Delany was not the first to speak to what some might call a “black” (others might say “correct”) understanding of the war, emancipation, and permanent freedom, nor would he be the last. Stoeber’s reaction to his comments underscores that the memory and interpretation of the Civil War, as well as the strategies and policies for African American independence, would be contested, even among those who were on the Union side, and lead to outcomes that no one could predict.

This (partial) text of Delany’s July 1865 speech to former slaves in Beaufort, South Carolina, is based on the recollection of Lt. Stoeber, as written in letter to Brevet Maj. S. M. Taylor, Assistant Adjutant General with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (AKA the Freedmen’s Bureau). There was some fear among (white) government officials that Delaney might be using inappropriate language or giving improper instruction and advice to the freedmen, hence Stoeber’s presence at the speech.

Partial text of letter from Lt Edward M. Stoeber, dated July 24th, 1865, written to the Freedmen’s Bureau, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida (For the full text, including more of the white reaction to the speech, see the source: Columbia University):


In obedience to your request, I proceeded to St. Helena Island, yesterday morning for the purpose of listening to the public delivery of a lecture by Major Delany 104th Ne[gro] S.C. Troops. I was accompanied by Lieut. A. Whyte Jr. 128th Ne[gro] S.C. Troops, Com[an]d’g Post. The meeting was held near “Brick Church,” the congregation numbering from 500 to 600.

As introduction Maj. Delany made them acquainted with the fact, that slavery is absolutely abolished, throwing thunders of damnations and maledictions on all the former slaveowners and people of the South, and almost condemned their souls to hell.

He says “It was only a War policy of the Government, to declare the slaves of the South free, knowing that the whole power of the South, laid in the possession of the Slaves. But I want you to understand, that we would not have become free, had we not armed ourselves and fought out our independence” (this he repeated twice). Continue reading

Politics, 1868: “Would You Marry Your Daughter to a N******?”

Would you want your daughter to marry a...
“Would You Marry Your Daughter to a Nigger?” Harper’s Weekly, July 1, 1868.
Supreme Court Justice Salmon Chase joins a negro man and an Irish woman in miscegenation marital bliss while Democratic Party politicos look on.

This is how they rolled in 1868.

The political cartoon above is taboo in today’s polite political society. But in 1868, racial and ethnic prejudice was out front and in your face. And the message here is a little more complicated than you might think at first.

Before, during, and after the Civil War, the Democratic Party openly used racial prejudice as a way to appeal to and galvanize white voters. Miscegenation – race mixing – was one of the Party’s favorite themes.

The image from Harper’s Weekly is a somewhat complex satire of that theme and of the man depicted in it, Salmon Chase. (The bald-headed man in the center of the picture is Chase.) Chase was a member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, and was made Chief Justice of the Supreme Court via Lincoln’s nomination. Chase was known as an anti-slavery man, but in 1868 the Democratic Party – which had been a pro-slavery party before the war – considered nominating him for president, and it seems Chase was interested.

Harper’s Weekly, which supported the Republican Party, decided to have a little fun at the expense of Chase, the Democrats, and also, Irish Americans, who were part of the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition. Irish Americans in New York City had gained some infamy in the wake of the Draft/race riot of 1863.

Basically, Harper’s is chiding Democrats for politically miscegenating with a presumably pro-miscegenation Chase; and is chiding Chase for politically miscegenating with men that Harper’s considered Democratic scoundrels. The other persons in the cartoon include northern Democrats, some associated with New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine; and others such as despised Copperhead Clement Vallandingham and Nathan Bedford Forrest of Fort Pillow fame.

This particular image is made even more lurid by its simian-like depiction of an Irish woman with the “Democratic Party” veil. Even whites from the British Isles could be subjected to nativist caricature and ridicule. Interestingly, the African-American in the picture is not caricatured.

Because of the acrimonious partisanship of US politics today, some people have expressed a desire to return to the good old days of American civics. But as the above cartoon shows, the old days were not necessarily all that good.

A list of men in the picture is here:

The other figures in the cartoon are leading Democratic politicians. On the left side (l-r): John Hoffman, New York gubernatorial candidate; John Morrissey, Tammany Hall associate and former prize-fighter; Fernando Wood (background), former New York City mayor; Manton Marble, New York World editor; Senator Thomas Hendricks of Indiana, a presidential candidate; and, James Gordon Bennett Sr., former New York Herald editor.

On the right side (l-r): Horatio Seymour, former New York governor and eventual 1868 presidential nominee; Representative James Brooks of New York; Clement Vallandingham, former leader of the Peace Democrats; Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin (background), a presidential candidate; George Pendleton, 1864 vice presidential nominee and the leading 1868 presidential candidate; Raphael Semmes (background), famed Confederate admiral; and Nathan Bedford Forrest, former Confederate general of Fort Pillow infamy.

The 1868 presidential election was won by Republicans Ulysses S. Grant, President, and Schuyler Colfax, Vice President.

John Trowbridge’s Visit to the Desolate South (Post-War Atlanta)

This illustration shows a group of freedmen in Atlanta, Georgia, circa 1865, holding a “street convention” to discuss their political status in the wake of the Civil War and emancipation.
Source: The South: A tour of its battlefields and ruined cities, a journey through the desolated states, and talks with the people, by John Trowbridge.


In the summer of 1865, and in the following winter, I made two visits to the South, spending four months in eight of the principal States which had lately been in rebellion. I saw the most noted battle-fields of the war. I made acquaintance with officers and soldiers of both sides. I followed in the track of the destroying armies. I travelled by railroad, by steamboat, by stage-coach, and by private conveyance; meeting and conversing with all sorts of people, from high State officials to “low-down” whites and negroes; endeavoring, at all times and in all places, to receive correct impressions of the country, of its inhabitants, of the great contest of arms just closed, and of the still greater contest of principles not yet terminated.

So began John Townsend Trowbridge (1827-1916) in his book The South: A tour of its battlefields and ruined cities, a journey through the desolated states, and talks with the people. (The full, ridiculously long title of the book is The South: a tour of its battlefields and ruined cities, a journey through the desolated states, and talks with the people; being a description of the present state of the country, its agriculture, railroad, business and finances; giving an account of Confederate misrule, and of the sufferings, necessities and mistakes, political views, social condition and prospects, of the aristocracy, middle class, poor whites and Negroes; including visits to patriot graves and rebel prisons, and embracing special notes on the free labor system, education and moral elevation of the freemen, also, on plans of reconstruction and inducements to emigration; from personal observations and experience during months of Southern travel.)

Trowbridge wrote The South under commission of L. Stebbins, a Hartford, Connecticut, publisher. Trowbridge’s “tour” of the post-war South was one of several such first hand accounts of the region that were produced by the press. His book won praise for its impartial, fair-minded approach to the subject, and the detail and breadth of his study.

I purchased a copy of The South during a recent visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and found it an interesting and compelling read. The original version is in the public domain; it can be viewed by going here:

Below, I have provided an interesting excerpt from the book about post-war Atlanta. Large swaths of that city were devastated during Sherman’s march to the sea in late 1864, and the ruin was still evident when Trowbridge visited the area the following year. This excerpt touches on several subjects, including:
• the harshness of post-war life in the South, especially for freed blacks
• Union support among poor southern whites
• relations between blacks and poor whites in the South
• views on who was responsible for some of the ruin in Atlanta (this differs from the view that Sherman’s Union forces were to blame for all of the burning in the city)
• African American dialogue concerning their political future in the post-war South.

From John Trowbridge’s The South:


A sun-bright morning did not transmute the town into a place of very great attractiveness. Everywhere were ruins and rubbish, mud and mortar and misery. The burnt streets were rapidly rebuilding; but in the mean while hundreds of the inhabitants, white and black, rendered homeless by the destruction of the city, were living in wretched hovels, which made the suburbs look like a fantastic encampment of gypsies or Indians.

Some of the negro huts were covered entirely with ragged fragments of tin-roofing from the burnt government and railroad buildings. Others were constructed partly of these irregular blackened patches, and partly of old boards, with roofs of huge, warped, slouching shreds of tin, kept from blowing away by stones placed on the top. Notwithstanding the ingenuity displayed in piecing these rags together, they formed but a miserable shelter at the best. “In dry weather, it’s good as anybody’s houses. But they leaks right bad when it rains; then we have to pile our things up to keep ’em dry.” So said a colored mother of six children, whose husband was killed “fighting for de Yankees,” and who supported her family of little ones by washing. “Sometimes I gits along tolerable; sometimes right slim; but dat’s de way wid everybody; — times is powerful hard right now.”
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