Sunday, June 2, 2019

Recapture of Yankee Prisoners

The number of articles published in Richmond newspapers during the Petersburg Campaign (although usually quite brief) that mention captures of Union soldiers point toward the importance of that news to Confederate citizens. It seems that stories such as the one above tried to buoy the fragile hopes of Confederate men and women as the tide of war was rapidly rising against them.

What was particularly intriguing to me about this article was not only the news that Union soldiers had been captured, thus putting them out of their work in attempting to destroy the Confederacy, but that two were recaptured, after a brief escape, and to top it all off, recaptured by an enslaved man!

As this August 29, 1864, Richmond Daily Dispatch article describes, a group of Union soldiers held on Belle Island prison attempted escape across the James River. Two were killed, three wounded (and thus apparently immediately apprehended), and two others making good their escape, for a time.

Moving south into Chesterfield County the absconding soldiers came to the residence of Mrs. H. W. Fisher. The men apparently took shelter in her farm's sheep pen. The soldiers were soon discovered and arrested by Jesse (called a servant in the article), but most likely enslaved, who "was armed with a loaded gun."

Thus, with this brief article, the newspaper provided three instances of Southern superiority. 1. The Union soldiers were captured by Confederates in battle, probably during Grant's Fourth Offensive actions; 2. Although the Union soldiers escaped captivity, they were killed, wounded, or recaptured; 3. The Union soldiers were not only recaptured by a perceived Southern inferior, but an inferior that proved loyal to the Confederate cause, which strengthened their belief in the institution.

I have no reason to doubt the truth of this historical episode. However, for every one instance of an enslaved person demonstrating his or her loyalty to their owner or the Confederate cause, there are multiple more accounts that show enslaved people either working to undermine that cause by running away to the Union army to enlist, provide labor, or help escaped Union soldier prisoners attempting to make their way back to Union lines. It comes down to whether one wants to take the time and energy to weight the body of evidence or apply this instance to the whole. And while this article does provides yet another important perspective, it must be measured against others that counter its narrative.

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