Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Artist Edwin Forbes on Slave Assistance to the Union Army

Artist Edwin Forbes drew just about everything during his time covering the Civil War. Included among his many sketches of the Union army and the Southern countryside were some images of slave quarters. In his book, Thirty Years After: An Artist's Memoir of the Civil War, Forbes wrote about his impressions about slave dwellings and their inhabitants.

He wrote: "Grouped in rear of the mansions of the wealthy, peeping out from the shadows of vines and trees, were the modest cabins of the house-servants and farm-hands. Their shabby exterior was scarcely in keeping with the warm welcome always offered to the 'Lincoln sogers' by their inmates, whose utmost sympathy could always be depended upon; and thousands of soldiers can recall with pleasure kindness received from these dusky people. Delicious pies and cooking made by the old 'aunties' were freely handed out to the hungry groups who stood about the door; the sick and wounded soldiers were never turned away, and escaped prisoners received food and guidance, and were assisted to places of safety by the slaves irrespective of their own danger. It was often a difficult task, but they would take great risks and pass the fugitives from one refuge to another until the Union lines were reached. It was wonderful, in their irrespective positions of simplicity and servitude, that they understood as well as they did the final meaning of the presence of soldiers, and waited with such hopeful, quiet patience the great accomplishment of their emancipation."

While Forbes's recollections are tinged with racist overtones from the late-nineteenth century in that he gives little to no credit to the slaves themselves in securing their emancipation, he does pay a small tribute to the assistance they often provided to the soldiers of the Union army.

Forbres image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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