Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Breakdown in the Wagoner's Camp

Artist Edwin Forbes sketched the above image just days after the Union defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville. It is titled "A Breakdown in the Wagoner's Camp." It depicts two African American teamsters dancing as what looks like a white wagoner plays the fiddle while sitting on a box. Other wagon drivers and a young African American boy stand around watching the scene.

This scene reminded me of a letter I came across a couple of years ago. The letter was written from the camp of the 78th Illinois Infantry in New Haven, Kentucky on January 21, 1863. Writing to his wife, the author told of a runaway slave that was popular in their encampment: "We have a contraband in camp who makes us a great deal of fun. He is the greatest dancer I ever saw. He joins in our debates, and makes a right down good speech. He is employed by the Colonel and works makes fires, works &c. He means to stay with us until the war is over and then go to Illinois with us. He is a slave an ran away from Spencer County [Kentucky] about 50 miles distant."

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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