Friday, January 31, 2020

"Interesting from Virginia"

In my ongoing search for sources containing information about prisoners of war captured during the Petersburg Campaign, I decided to try thinking outside the box a bit. Knowing that many of the Petersburg newspapers from the period of the campaign are not digitized yet but being aware that papers of that era reran stories from other newspapers I looked for some papers outside of Virginia. In the July 6, 1864, Raleigh Weekly Confederate, I located a story that originally appeared in the Petersburg Express on July 1.

This extended article, commenting on the results of the Union's Wilson-Kautz Raid across Southside Virginia in late June had several interesting parts under different headings. During the raid, the Union cavalrymen captured numerous wagons and supplies and freed scores of enslaved men, women, and children, who followed the raiders back toward their lines. Before they made it all the way back, they were attacked by Confederate cavalry under Gen. Wade Hampton at Sappony Church and infantry at Ream's Station. Hundreds of Union soldiers found themselves captive, as well as the slaves seeking their protection. 

The article mentions the heterogeneous lot: "the old and the young; the robust and the infirm; the quick footed and the the halt; the bright mulatta clad in tawdry finery, and the ebo-skin and the 'molungeoun,' dressed in homespun." There were supposedly so many that "they occupied nearly the whole of Bank street" in Petersburg.

From the Confederate perspective, these people were uprooted from their comfortable domiciles by the thieving Yankees. It is probably more close to the truth that they were willing to take enormous risks and endure much discomfort in fleeing for a chance at freedom. "And when we thought of these creatures driven from happy and contented homes, and made to walk many long and tedious miles, through heat and dust, until they were hungered and footsore, we could not resist the conviction that the authors of all their troubles had justly merited more that the felon's fate," the reporter wrote. This section of the article closed by stating, "Every Yankee prisoner taken in the raid should be punished, and we hope that our State authorities will see to it that not one escapes."

Immediately following "The Negroes" section was one titled "Yankee Officers in a Novel Capacity." It claimed that after the slaves were recaptured by the Confederates two of the pregnant women in the large group gave birth on the route to Petersburg. One mother gave birth "in the bushes on the side of the road, and the other in an ambulance." Apparently the Confederates made the captured Union officers serve as midwives during the births. Again from the Southern perspective this was only proper. "They [Yankees] profess great love for the poor negro, entice and steal them from human[e] masters and comfortable homes, and it is only right and proper that they should practice what they preach" by helping birth the babies. 

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