Sunday, September 30, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Slavery in the Clover Bottoms

I've been a big fan of the University of Tennessee Press's "Voices of the Civil War" series for years. Their concerted effort to put in print the diaries, journals, and memoirs of often not-so-famous people from the Civil War era allows us to have these vital primary sources in a readily accessible form. Slavery in the Clover Bottoms: John McCline's Narrative of His Life during Slavery and the Civil War, edited by Jan Furman, only adds another important perspective to the ever-growing series. 

John McCline, born on Clover Bottom plantation in Davidson County, Tennessee, and owned by James Hoggatt, gives us vivid memories of his enslaved childhood. McCline's mother died when he was very young and his father lived on another plantation. McCline lived with his grandmother and brothers at Clover Bottom where he was made to work years before he should have. In 1862, when McCline was about 10 years old, he observed the 13th Michigan Infantry marching by Clover Bottom. One of the 13th's soldiers, Frank Murray, asked McCline how he would like to go with them to the North and gain his freedom. McCline answered in the affirmative by hopping off of his master's mule and joining the Michigan men on the march. Eventually young McCline became a teamster for the regiment and participated in their campaigns which included Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga (where Frank Murray was mortally wounded), Chattanooga, and Sherman's March to the Sea. 

Although McCline penned his history in his later years and his detail oriented descriptions were sometimes off the mark in chronology and in the directional (north, south, east, west) locations of buildings and other landmarks, he nevertheless gives an amazing look at one man's experience when enslaved and his efforts to gain his liberty by being the agent of his freedom. Cruel treatment by Mrs. Hoggatt and the plantation's overseer, although not expressly stated by McCline as his reason for fleeing with the Michigan soldiers was likely the precipitating cause. 

The editor's end notes help familiarize the reader with both historical context and corrections to McCline's few misremembered moments. Appendices provide additional information on a number of the 13th Michigan soldiers and the Clover Bottom slaves that McCline mentions in his history, as well as his several obituaries from his death in 1948. 

Narratives from formerly enslaved people are becoming more and more available to the public, and McCline's certainly adds another important "voice of the Civil War." I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. Currently reading Shelby Foote's 3 volume The Civil War. Foote spent several years in the writing and this may be the most comprehensive study of the war. Also highly recommend books by Douglas Southall Freeman. Freeman was a remarkable researcher in the days before computers and the internet. HE was a loyal and true son of Virginia