Thursday, November 30, 2017

Emancipation in Maryland

I've said it before and I'll continue to say that I am amazed by the amount of fascinating primary sources on the Library of Congress website. Today, I found this image depicting various scenes from "Emancipation in Maryland." 

Maryland, like the other slaveholding yet loyal border states of Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware, found itself in a precarious position once the Emancipation Proclamation was proclaimed. Although exempt from the proclamation due to their situation, they apparently saw the end of slavery on the horizon, and passed state legislation abolishing slavery in November 1864. Missouri followed in January 1865. However, Kentucky and Delaware held out until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865 to end human bondage. 

The smaller images that make up the overall pictorial show the supporting relationship of persevering the Union and emancipation. Above, African American troops fight to "Save the Republic" against those who would see it dissolved.

On the bottom left one of the smaller images show the progressive ideal of education for former slaves. In addition, it reinforces the fact that many Maryland black soldiers are "now at the front fighting for the Union."

As an upper-South slave state, Maryland like Virginia and Kentucky, supplied the Deep South cotton states with thousands of enslaved individuals in the decades before the Civil War. Now, with a new legislative enactment, that was over.

The images also include a couple of the heroic scenes of United States Colored Troops fighting in two of their most famous engagements. Above, Fort Wagner is referenced, which actually was fought on July 18, 1863, at Charleston Harbor. The 54th Massachusetts, which included a number of Maryland men, attained their "Glory" in this battle.

Similarly, the fight at New Market Heights on September 29, 1864, included several regiments that pulled men from Maryland, including the famous 4th USCI, who contained three men; Christian Fleetwood, Charles Veal, and Alfred Hilton, who received the Medal of Honor for their courage and heroism.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Slavery in the Neighborhood

Browsing around on the Library of Congress website I located a map of Dinwiddie County, which was published by James D. Scott of Philadelphia in 1854. On it are listed the various towns, villages, roads, railroads, rivers and other geographical features one might expect to find on a historical map. However, it also lists a number of the farms and plantations owned by the citizens of the county.

I took a snippet view of the area where I currently live and then searched the 1850 census to see if I could find how many slaves each of these individuals owned. What I was able to turn up is as follows:

Robert Jones = 25 slaves

Dr. Albert Boisseau = 13 slaves

Joseph G. Boisseau = 8 slaves

John Pegram = 24 slaves

Francis Wells = 5 slaves

John Hawks = 1 slave

James Smith = 6 slaves

Nicholas Clemmens = 4 slaves

I was unable to find enslaved listings for R. Dyson, Mrs. Fitts, Mrs. Alden, and J. Boswell. Perhaps these individuals did not own slaves or maybe they moved the the area after the 1850 census was taken. Regardless, the majority of the citizens in the area did own slaves and this map's hidden information shows just how much the institution was infused into the neighborhood's society and economy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Slave Dwelling Sleep-In

As part of work's "Reflect and Respect" African American history event this past weekend, I had the opportunity to stay the night in an original slave dwelling (shown above) on Saturday night. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

I had contacted Joe McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project to see about his interest in doing a sleep over a couple of years ago. However, at that time, budget constraints did not make it possible. When funds did become available for the "Reflect and Respect" event, I contacted Joe again and this time we made it happen. 

Now, I've spent many a reenactment or living history night on the hard ground in all kinds of weather situations, but something about this night was much different. After a nice conversation with Joe, and two of his board members, Prinny and Don, we made our places on the heart of pine floor boards. 

As I lay there in the pitch dark, all kinds of thoughts filled my head. I was exhausted from an early start to the day and from the day's previous events, so I thought about my sore legs, shoulders, and back. Then my train of thought shifted tracks to how the cook who once worked in that very kitchen we were sleeping in must have felt after working what was probably a good fourteen hour day (if not longer), stooping over heavy pots, sweating from a scorching hot fire, and keeping a vigilant eye to avoid catching clothes ablaze.   

My thoughts then turned to the following day's events. I ran over the schedule in my mind and wondered how things would go and if we would have good audience attendance. As those images floated away in a seeming fog, I focused back on our scene and imagined what enslaved individuals must have worried about in terms of their tomorrows. Likely they fretted over whether they would be in their present situation or if something might arise to change it drastically. Would they be sold because their owner was in debt? Would their children be sold? Would this week's rations be plenty or would they be scarce? Would the master be in a good mood tomorrow, or would he be in a furor? My concerns paled in comparison and suddenly a grateful mood washed over me,

Being thankful for my present life situation and employment condition set me to thinking about how only several generations back one's life situation could often be closely defined if one's skin was not white. Solely based on race, one's options were extremely limited or seemingly limitless. People of color were assumed to be enslaved in Virginia in the first half of the 19th century. It was up to that person to show proof of their freedom if they claimed to not be a slave.  Racial prejudice, the lack of opportunity, and the subsequent economic, social, and political limitations, not only in slavery, but through Jim Crow and up to the present has left an indelible mark on our nation. Recognizing this and educating oneself about this history is a good first step in correcting the problems of race in our country. Is it easy to process? No. Can it be emotionally exhausting? Yes. However, recognizing the legacy of slavery on America is vital.

Some people think that if we do not talk about race, racial issues will go away naturally. I am not of that mind. I think we need to seek out opportunities to talk about the past so we can navigate the present, and hopefully offer a more equitable future for the greater good of all. I feel fortunate that I had this opportunity and recommend it for everyone.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Remember Fort Pillow!!!

The phrase has been used across the ages. In the Texas Revolution it was "Remember the Alamo." In the Spanish-American War it was "Remember the Maine." In World War I it was "Remember the Lusitania." In World War II it was "Remember Pearl Harbor." And, in our most recent conflicts, it is "Remember 9/11." These phrases helped both soldiers and civilians to remember notorious acts by enemies and inspired determination and action to avenge such wrongs.

In the Civil War, for the United States Colored Troops, "Remember Fort Pillow" was the battle cry more than once or twice.

Fort Pillow, fought on April 12, 1864, on the Mississippi River in West Tennessee, involved a garrison of white Unionist Tennesseans and black troops, who were requested to surrender to forces under the command of Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest. Not being a patient man, Forrest allegedly used a truce period to move his men closer to the fort. When surrender was refused, Forrest's men stormed the position, overtaking the troops inside. In a congressional investigation held later about the action, it was reported that the Confederates refused to allow a large number of the black troops inside to surrender, maliciously killing the capitulating defenders.

The word spread rapidly about the atrocities at Fort Pillow. At the Battle of Resaca, Georgia, in May 1864, in the terrific fighting that occurred there, white Wisconsin soldiers overran a Confederate artillery position and happened upon a Confederate with "Fort Pillow" tattooed on his arm. Instead of taking him as a prisoner of war, the leaped upon him bayoneting and shooting him.

Fort Pillow's legacy was especially strong among the rapidly expanding USCT regiments in the spring and summer of 1864. Three and a half months after Fort Pillow, at the Battle of the Crater, black troops of the IX Corps yelled "Remember Fort Pillow," and "No quarter to the Rebels," in the fierce maelstrom that raged around them. However, at the Crater, the Confederates gained the upper hand in a fierce counter attack and reversed the cry of "No quarter" to many of the black troops, taking the phrase to heart and carrying out brutal acts against their black opponents.

To help motivate and encourage the African American soldiers of Gen. Charles J. Paine's division before the desperate fight at the Battle of New Market Heights, on September 29, 1864, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler (pictured above) implored the men to "Remember Fort Pillow!" In his memoirs, published in 1892, Butler claimed his words to them were:
"At half past four o'clock I found the colored division, rising three thousand men, occupying a plain which shelved toward the [James] river, so that they were not observed by the enemy . . . . They were formed in close column of division right in front. I rode through the division, addressed a few words of encouragement and confidence to the troops. I told them to go over and take a work which would be before them after they got over the hill, and that they must take it all hazards, and that when they went over the parapet into it their war cry should be 'Remember Fort Pillow!'"

As at the Battle of the Crater, the Confederates had an advantage. They were ensconced behind breastworks. The Southerners, after they shattered the attack by Col. Duncan's Brigade, consisting of the 4th and 5th USCI regiments, and just before the attack of Col. Draper's Brigade, comprised of the 5th, 36th, and 38th USCI regiments, came over the earthworks and dispatched many of the wounded black soldiers. The Rebels also took equipment, uniform parts, and rifles from the dead and wounded, which they used against Draper's attackers.

A combination of a Confederate withdrawal order and a resurgent attack by the Draper's USCT regiments powered the black men over the works pushing out the remaining defenders. As they continued, they did as Butler had earlier requested, they yelled "Remember Fort Pillow!"

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Personality Spotlight: Christian Fleetwood

One of the many heroic soldiers I got to know much better while researching my tour of the New Market Heights battlefield was Sgt. Maj. Christian Fleetwood (shown above standing behind the boy). Born in 1840 to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland, Fleetwood earned both the Medal of Honor and the Butler Medal for his courageous actions at New Market Heights.

Fleetwood appears in the 1860 census as a nineteen year old mulatto. His parents are shown as Charles Fleetwood, a forty-five year old mulatto waiter, and Maria, a forty-four year old mulatto with no occupation listed. Also in the family was Averick, a twenty year old black female, Christian's older sister. Additionally, Maria was noted as being unable to read and write, and Christian is shown as having attended school. Charles is listed as owning $100 in personal property. The family is also shown in the 1850 census, but all are described as mulatto.

Charles and Maria Fleetwood must have appreciated that education could provide better life opportunities for Christian, and Christian must have shown academic potential, because he was afforded a quality education from dedicated teachers and later graduated from Ashmun Institute in Oxford, Pennsylvania, in 1860. Before enlisting, Christian worked for an African American newspaper, the Lyceum Observer, in Baltimore, as well as for the American Colonization Society.

Christian enlisted in Company G, 4th United States Colored Infantry on August 11, 1863. His service records show he was twenty-three years old, five feet four and a half inches, with a "brown" complexion, with the pre-war occupation of clerk. The regiment must have noticed Christian's potential right off as he was made sergeant upon joining and promoted to sergeant-major eight days after enlisting.

Almost 40,000 African American soldiers in the Union army died during their service. The vast majority, like white soldiers, died from disease. Christian seemingly lived a blessed life. His service records show that after the war he was admitted to a hospital Alexandria, Virginia, in October 1865, for an intermittent fever, for which he received quinine. But he apparently he checked himself out without permission and rejoined his regiment. Perhaps Christian felt hospitals were not the most healthy places to heal oneself. 

Christian received good fortune in battle as well. Despite being in the thick of the fight and attacking in an unsupported battle line formation on September 29, 1864, at New Market Heights, the 4th showed its steel will. Attacking the Confederate breastworks after navigating through battlefield obstacles, the 4th suffered over fifty percent casualties. Christian braved the storm of shot and shell. When all of the unit's color bearers went down killed or wounded, he snatched up the U.S. flag and continued forward, rallying and leading his men forward until they were finally, mercifully withdrawn. For his bravery Christian was awarded the Medal of Honor on April 6, 1865. Two of Christian's comrades in the 4th, Alfred Hilton and Charles Veal, also were recognized for conspicuous gallantry with Medals of Honor.

After the war Christian married Sarah, a teacher born in Pennsylvania, and they lived in Washington D.C. Christian held positions both inside and outside of the federal government in the years following the conflict. In 1900, Christian, Sarah and their sixteen year old daughter Edith lived on Spruce Street. Suffering from heart failure, Christian died on September 28, 1914, nearly fifty years to the day he braved the fire at New Market Heights.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

Too long pushed to the margins, and often ignored for their historical contributions, enslaved African American men and women cooks finally get a focused study with Bound to the Fire: How Virginia's Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, by Kelley Fanto Deetz. 

I heard Deetz speak on this topic last year at a lecture Stratford Hall and was happy to see this book released through the University Press of Kentucky last week. Of course, I snatched up a copy which arrived yesterday.

How better to learn about Civil War soldiers' experiences than to read their own thoughts put to paper. Your Brother in Arms: A Union Soldier's Odyssey, edited by Robert C. Plumb, gives us the diary entries of George P. McClelland of the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry, along with significant editorial interpretation. Part of the V Corps during the Petersburg Campaign, I'm looking forward reading McClelland notes on the fighting and camp life that that corps endured.

The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color, by Hank Trent, is probably the best book that I've read this year. This fascinating story of a Lynchburg businessman who ended up becoming one of the most prominent slave traders in antebellum Richmond is a fascinating look into the complex world of the domestic slave trade and the impact it made on the lives of those that participated in it. Bacon Tait's participation in the business apparently limited his marital options to such an extent that he developed a relationship with a free woman of color in Richmond and established a second home in Salem, Massachusetts, with her and their four children, all while retaining the trading business in Richmond. Trent's research is thorough and his writing style is easy to read and thought provoking. I highly recommend this one. 

After finishing the Bacon Tait book, I searched out other works on individual slave traders and came across The American Dreams of John B. Prentis, Slave Trader by Kari J. Winter. Prentis was a few years older than Tait, but apparently followed a similar path to prosperity through exploiting others through the domestic slave trade. I'll be reading critically, searching for similarities and differences to Tait's life story.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dying Far, Far From Home: Pvt. Robert Jackson, Co. K, 109th USCI

As we approach Veteran's Day, I thought I'd post another story of one of the Kentucky United States Colored Troops soldiers I've found buried at Poplar Grove National Cemetery. This one is Robert Jackson, who served in Company K, of the 109th United States Colored Infantry.

Like so many of Kentucky's black soldiers, Jackson enlisted in the summer of 1864. Jackson signed up in Louisville on June 20. He was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, and was described as having black hair, black eyes, and a black complexion. Jackson stood five feet, ten inches tall and was eighteen years old when he enlisted. He was mustered into U.S. service the same day.

Apparently Jackson was enslaved in Shelby County at the time of his enlistment, as he is credited toward their quota, but his owner is not named in his service records. His occupation was given vaguely as "farmer" on one record, and "farm hand" on another.

Jackson appears "present" for duty until November 16, 1864, when he reported sick to a hospital at Point of Rocks on the Appomattox River in Chesterfield County near Petersburg. It appears that Jackson went back on duty in the Petersburg trenches sometime during the winter, but fell ill again on March 26, 1865.

While the 109th participated in the chase of the Army of Northern Virginia and its eventual surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Jackson was still sick. At some point he was was moved to Fairgrounds Hospital (shown above) on the west side of Petersburg. Fairgrounds Hospital had been a Confederate treatment facility during the war, but was used by the Union occupation forces after the city fell on April 3, 1865.

It was at Fairgrounds Hospital where Jackson expired, on June 3, 1865, from typhoid fever. Jackson was likely buried on the grounds of the hospital, where many Confederates had also been interred, but he was moved when Poplar Grove National Cemetery was established. The Confederates buried on the grounds of the hospital were moved, too, but to Petersburg's Blandford Cemetery by the city's Ladies Memorial Association after the war.

Fairgrounds Hospital image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Pvt. Jackson has since received a new upright standing headstone at Poplar Grove when the cemetery recently completed a thorough restoration project.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Negro Man Who Gives His Name as Henry

I stumbled across the above advertisement several months ago as I was browsing through issues of the Abingdon Virginian newspaper published during the Civil War. This particular notice appeared in the May 15, 1863, edition.

As happened so often during the war an enslaved individual was captured and held in a jail. And, as was often the case, the jailer was required to post a notification for the owner to come retrieve their property and pay for lodging expenses. The distraction of the war provided unprecedented opportunities for enslaved individuals to stake their claim to freedom, and many took advantage of those opportunities.

William W. Barker, the jailer of Washington County, located in the far southwest corner of the Old Dominion, stated that this particular man had been incarcerated on May 10. The captured man (being the only possible source for information) stated his name was Henry and said "he belongs to Dr. Edward Jones of Tuskeege [sic], Ala[bama]."

A quick search on of the 1860 and 1850 censuses did not turn up a Dr. Edward Jones in Tuskegee or Macon County, Alabama. Now, that does not mean that such a man did not exist. He could have moved there after the 1860 census was taken or perhaps the census taker missed him. But, it is just as likely that Henry made up an owner's name and provided it to the jailer so that he would not be claimed immediately.  

Another common feature of these advertisements is a provided physical description. Henry was described as "black" and stood five feet five or six inches tall. The jailer believed Henry to be 26 or 27 years old. And although Henry was clearly of manhood years, Barker referred to him as a "boy." Henry's distinguishing marks were a scar on his left eye and "some scars on his back." It doesn't take much inferential work to surmise that Henry was probably whipped at sometime by whoever previously owned him.

Barker ended with the typical language of capture ads for the owner to come claim the slave, prove ownership or "he will be dealt with as the law directs." The laws of the various slave states stipulated a duration to hold these individuals if their owners did not come claim them; then they could be sold. For example, in Kentucky, the original law was to hold the slave six months before they could be offered for sale, however, during the war the jails were so full of runaway slaves that the state legislature shorted the term of incarceration to one month before advertising them for sale.

I do not know what happened to Henry, if that indeed was his name. I am speculating here, but he probably was not claimed and ended up being sold to the highest local bidder. Henry likely worked in some capacity until the end of the Civil War, or perhaps he ran away again and made his way to Union lines. We will likely never know. However, we do know that his individual, who ever he was, decided to make an effort at freedom, something that he certainly knew would be risky, but apparently worth the possible severe repercussions.