Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Reliable Contraband

The "Reliable Contraband," by Edwin Forbes provides an intriguing view of the relationship that sometimes developed between Union soldiers and the African American slaves they encountered in the Southern states. Many Union officers were hesitant to accept so-called contrabands into their lines, especially early in the war. But as the conflict wore on, blacks came to be seen as a double (even triple) positive to the Union forces. Not only did they take away labor from Southerners, but many came to work for the Union, and thus in opposition to their former owners.

In addition to being a valuable work force, former slaves also provided vital information to Union soldiers, otherwise unobtainable. Northern soldiers often encountered the fierce animosity of the Southern white population. Yankee questions as to where roads ran, or how far the nearest town was, were often met with cold silence. However, even before the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans fully understood that the Union presence in the slaves states would likely doom the institution, and therefore quite willingly offered up any pieces of information that potentially assisted Union success and thus enhanced their chances of freedom.

The image Forbes provides likely shows the meeting of a contraband and what appears to be a Union cavalry officer and soldier near a ramshackle slave quarter. In deference to the white man, the black man tips his hat in respect. The former slave is holding a bucket and is leading a horse, one that probably belonged to his former owner. Pitched beside the quarter are a couple of Federal shelter tents, near which another soldier looks be cleaning his boot off. Behind the quarter a couple of horses are tied to a tree. A couple more horses are behind the shelter tents.

This scene probably played out in countless Southern rural settings. The information that former slaves provided to their eventual liberators would come to serve the Union forces well and assist greatly in their ultimate victory.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Southern Honor?, or What the Heck Was That?

Southern honor is a subject I find fascinating. The extreme desire to protect one's name and reputation by going to dire lengths is something quite foreign to us. However, I feel like I have a good grasp on why a person might fight a duel or take out an advertisement calling out one's social rival or enemy.

But the above advertisement is beyond my comprehension. It was published in the February 28, 1865, issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch and placed by John W. Talley of the Third Virginia Cavalry. In it Talley felt the need to publicly call out an anonymous person who wrote Talley a letter accusing the cavalryman of using disrespectful language in a Valentine.

Unless the anonymous person shared Talley's alleged letter with others, what was the purpose of Talley printing such a personal advertisement as this? Why did Talley feel the need to air this seemingly non-public affront? After all, Talley had no idea who even sent the letter claiming the cavalryman's alleged disrespectful language?

Does anyone have any perspective that I am perhaps missing?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Touching Personal Advertisement

While browsing through issues of the Richmond Daily Dispatch looking for resolutions issued by Confederate soldiers, I came across the touching personal advertisement above. It is quite unlike anything I have ever seen. In this March 15, 1865 issue, John [McKeehan] of Co. E, 7th Tennessee Infantry placed a personal classified advertisement seeking to locate his brother, Samuel McKeehan. John was sick in Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond and likely thought he was going to die.

Curiosity had me searching Fold3 for the brothers' records. I found them; what little there was to them. There was only one card for John G. McKeehan. It states that he enlisted February 12, 1865 in Bristol, Tennessee. I suspect that the written in date of 1865 is possibly incorrect. However, it may be correct as brother Samuel's enlistment was also listed as February 12, 1865, but noted as enlisting at nearby Carter County, Tennessee. Also in Co. E, was Landon McKeehan, who, too, enlisted in Carter County on February 12. Were all of these men late war conscripts? I'm not sure.

Doing additional research I found the East Tennessee McKeehans in the 1860 census. John is listed as fourteen years old and in the household of W. W. McKeehan. By 1865 he would have been eighteen or nineteen years old. There is a twenty-seven year Samuel in his own neighboring household. Landon McKeehan is also twenty-seven and in a neighboring household, perhaps that of an uncle. Landon may have been a cousin.

I was unable to positively determine if John survived his illness or not. But I did locate a John McKeehan living in Kansas in 1870 who was born in Tennessee and was 24 years old, which matches perfectly with the John in the 7th Tennessee Infantry who laced the ad. Samuel was still living in Carter County in 1870. He was married and had five children.