Monday, August 27, 2018

Coming into the Lines

Last week I shared Civil War artist Edwin Forbes's "The Sanctuary." Today I thought I share another telling image that Forbes created, "Coming into the Lines."

His book, Thirty Years After: An Artist's Memoir of the Civil War is on overlooked resource. It includes his recollections on events he witnessed and images that he sketched. Originally published in 1890, it written by a man of his times. Here is his description of a group of African American refugees coming into Union lines. The above image illustrates the description.

"I saw a quaint family come into camp one summer day in '63 at Culpeper Court House. I was at a picket post southeast of the town, when I noticed a vehicle approaching that was a mystery. I knew that no single baggage-wagon would come from that direction, and on waiting for a nearer approach found it to be a party of refugees. The team was composed of an old white horse, a white ox, and a mule. The horse was led by a man, who carried an old banjo under his arm, and a boy mounted on the mule was driver.

The wagon was an old-timer, and had evidently seen long service on the plantation. It was a so-called "schooner" in style, and its shape reminded on of a sailing vessel. It was bereft of the usual canvas cover, but three of the frame-hoops made to support it still remained, arched over the body. The occupants were an old "mammy" and her better half - his gray locks surmounted by an old white hat, - a young woman and two children. A bonnet was suspended from one of the hoops for safe keeping. This article of feminine apparel created much amusement among the soldiers, and from the scornful  way in which the young woman resented their remarks I am sure it must have belonged to her. The whole turnout made a great deal of fun for the soldiers, and witticisms were launched forth all along the line. I laughed wit the rest and wondered, if the odd picture could be transported to Broadway, New York, what kind of a sensation it would produce."

When so-called contraband came into Union lines, as mentioned above, they were not always well received. Most often the reverse was true. However, their determination to leave the world of the enslaved and enter the world of free labor, despite all of the risks and sacrifices that entailed was worth all the verbal abuse and potential dangers of sickness and want. It was their first step in a long, long, long, road toward true liberty, citizenship, and equality.

Forbes concluded this memory by viewing the progress former slaves had made in the quarter century since the Civil War; again in his 1890 way: "And how these simple people have adapted themselves to circumstances and settled down to the struggle for existence as freedmen! They have kept good their promises, and the progress they have made is a full recompense for the sacrifice made for them and the protection they received. Their industrial value, not only as agricultural laborers, as in times "befo' the wah," but in diverse mechanical callings, is gradually winning for them the appreciation of their white neighbors, and they are steadily advancing towards a proper recognition of their worth."

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