THE NEW YORK DRAFT RIOT, AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT In July, 1863 a predominately Irish mob rioted against the newly enacted federal draft and vented their fury particularly on New York City blacks. Dr. John Torrey in the following account describes the riot.
New York, July 13th, 1863
New York, July 13th, 1863
We have had great riots in New York to day & they are still in progress. They were reported to us at the Assay office about noon, but I thought they were exaggerated... In 49 st. they [the rioters] were numerous, & made, as I was passing near the College, an attack upon one of a row of new houses in our street. The rioters were induced to go away by one or two Catholic priests, who made pacific speeches to them. I found Jane & Maggie [his black servants] a little alarmed, but not frightened. The mob had been in the College Grounds, & came to our house wishing to know if a republican lived there, & what the College building was used for. They were going to burn Pres. King's house, as he was rich, & a decided republican. They barely desisted when addressed by the Catholic priest. The furious bareheaded & coatless men assembled under our windows & shouted aloud for Jeff Davis!
...Toward the evening the mob, furious as demons, went yelling over to the Colored Orphan Asylum in 5th Avenue a little below where we live & rolling a barrel of kerosine in lit, the whole structure was soon in a blaze, & is now a smoking ruin. What has become of the 300 poor innocent orphans I could not learn. They must have had some warning of what the rioters intended; & I trust the children were removed in time to escape a cruel death. Before this fire was extinguished, or rather burned out, for the wicked wretches who caused it would not permit the engines to be used, the northern sky was brilliantly illuminated, probably by the burning of the Aged Colored woman's Home in 65th St. or the Harlem R. Road Bridge both of which places were threatened by the rioters...
A friend who rode with me had seen a poor Negro hung an hour or two before. The man had, in a frenzy, shoot an Irish fireman, and they immediately strung up the unhappy African... The worst mobs are on the 1st & 2nd and 7th Avenues.. Many have been killed. They are very hostile to the Negroes, & and scarcely one of them is to be seen. A person who called at our house this afternoon saw three of them hanging together...
Thieves are going about in gangs, calling at houses, & demanding money -threatening the torch if denied... A friend (Mr. Gibbons) who visits us almost every week, & is known to be an abolitionist, had his house smashed up yesterday...
Source: John Bracey and others, The Afro Americans: Selected Documents, (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1972), pp. 230 233.
RELUCTANT LIBERATORS: NORTHERN TROOPS IN THE SOUTH As the preceding vignettes on the New York Draft Riot indicates, not all Northerners embraced the idea that they were fighting to liberate the slaves. The following account by historian Leon Litwack describes the attitudes of some Northern soldiers toward the blacks they encountered in the South. The typical Yankee was at best a reluctant liberator, and the attitudes and behavior he evinced did not always encourage the slaves to think of themselves as free men and women. Although Union propagandists and abolitionists might exult in how a war for the Union had been transformed into a crusade for freedom, many northern soldiers donned the crusader's armor with strong misgivings or outright disgust. "I don't think enough of the Nigger to go and fight for them," an Ohio private wrote. "I would rather fight them." Few Northerners, after all, had chosen to wage this kind of war. "Our government has broken faith with us," a Union deserter told his captors. "We enlisted to fight for the Union, and not to liberate the G-d d-d niggers." Rather than view emancipation as a way to end the war, some Yankee soldiers thought it would only prolong the conflict. Now that the very survival of the southern labor system was at stake, not to mention the proper subordination of black people, the prospect of a negotiated peace seemed even more remote, and southern whites could be expected to fight with even greater intensity and conviction.
That most Union soldiers should have failed to share the abolitionist commitment is hardly surprising. What mattered was how they manifested their feelings when they came into direct contact with the slaves. The evidence suggests one of the more tragic chapters in the history of this generally brutalizing and demoralizing war. The normal frustrations of military life and the usually sordid record of invading armies, when combined with long-held and deeply felt attitudes toward black people, were more than sufficient to turn some Union soldiers into the very "debils" the slaves had been warned by their masters to expect. Not only did the invaders tend to view the Negro as a primary cause of the war but even more importantly as an inferior being with few if any legitimate human emotions-at least none that had to be considered with any degree of sensitivity. Here, then, was a logical and convenient object on which disgruntled and war-weary Yankees could vent their frustrations and hatreds. "As I was going along this afternoon," a young Massachusetts officer wrote from New Orleans, "a little black baby that could just walk got under my feet and it look so much like a big worm that I wanted to step on it and crush it, the nasty, greasy little vermin was the best that could be said of it." And if anything, additional exposure to blacks appeared to strengthen rather than allay racial antipathies. "My repugnance to them increases with the acquaintance," a New England officer remarked. "Republican as I am, keep me clear of the darkey in any relation."
To debauch black women, some Yankees apparently concluded, was to partake of a widely practiced and well-accepted southern pastime. The evidence was to be seen everywhere. Besides, Yankees tended to share the popular racist notion of black women as naturally promiscuous and dissolute. "Singular, but true," a Massachusetts soldier and amateur phrenologist observed, "the heads of the women indicate great animal passions." Although some Union officers made no secret of their slave concubines, sharing their quarters with them, a black soldier noted that they usually mingled with "deluded freedwomen" only under the cover of darkness, while they openly consorted with white women during the day. The frequency with which common soldiers mixed with black women prompted some regimental commanders to order the ejection of such women from the camp because their presence had become "demoralizing." "I won't be unfaithful to you with a Negro wench," a Pennsylvania soldier assured his wife, "though it is the case with many soldiers. Yes, men who have wives at home get entangled with these black things." Marriages between Yankees and blacks were rare, but when they did occur southern whites made the most of them.
Two of the Brownfields' former negroes have married Yankees--one, a light colored mustee, and property left her by some white men whose mistress she had been-she says she passed herself off for a Spaniard and Mercier Green violated the sanctity of Grace Church by performing the ceremony--the other, a man, went north and married a Jewess--the idea is too revolting.
Not surprisingly, Union soldiers often shared the outrage of local whites at such liaisons. In November 1865, a black newspaper in Charleston reported that an Illinois soldier had been tarred and feathered by his own comrades for having married a black woman. "He was probably a Southern man by birth and education," the newspaper said of the victim, "and Hoosiers and Suckers don't take readily to Southern habits."
Whatever the reputation of black women for promiscuity, sexual submissions frequently had to be obtained by force. "While on picket guard I witnessed misdeeds that made me ashamed of America," a soldier wrote from South Carolina; he had recently observed a group of his comrades rape a nine-year-old black girl. Not only did some Union soldiers sexually assault any woman they found in a slave cabin but they had no compunctions about committing the act in the presence of her family. "The father and grandfather dared offer no resistance," two witnesses reported from Virginia. In some such instances, the husband or children of the intended victim had to be forcibly restrained from coming to her assistance. Beyond the exploitation of sexual assault, black women could be subjected to further brutality and sadism, as was most graphically illustrated in an incident involving some Connecticut soldiers stationed in Virginia. After seizing two "niger wenches," they "turned them upon their heads, & put tobacco, chips, stocks, lighted cigars & and sand into their behinds." Without explanation, some Union soldiers in Hanover County Virginia, stopped five young black women and cut their arms, legs, and backs with razors. "Dis was new to us," one of the victims recalled, "cause Mr. Tinsley [her master] didn' ever beat or hurt us." Most Union soldiers would have found these practices reprehensible. But they occurred with sufficient frequency to induce a northern journalist in South Carolina to write that Union troops had engaged in "some of the vilest and meanest exhibitions of human depravity" he had ever witnessed. If such incidents were rare, moreover, the racial ideology that encouraged them had widespread acceptance, even among those who deplored the excesses.
Source: Leon Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, (New York, 1979) pp. 127-128, 129-130.
HARD TIMES IN THE CONFEDERACY J.B. Jones, a clerk in the Confederate War Department, kept a diary which in 1863 details the privations of the people of Richmond during the Civil War. Her entry describes the rampant inflation which affected most Confederate cities by 1863. The second account, an Georgia girl's entry in her journal following Sherman's March to the Sea, reflects the intense hatred the war generated between Southerners and Northerners. February 11th. Some idea may be formed of the scarcity of food in this city from the fact that, while my youngest daughter was in the kitchen today, a young rat came out of its hole and seemed to beg for something to eat; she held out some bread, which it ate from her hand, and seemed grateful. Several others soon appeared and were as tame as kittens. Perhaps we shall have to eat them!
February 18 One or two of the regiments of General Lee's army were in the city last night. The men were pale and haggard. They have but a quarter of a pound of meat per day. But meat has been ordered from Atlanta. I hope it is abundant there.
All the necessaries of life in the city are still going up higher in price. Butter, three dollars per pound; beef, one dollar; bacon, a dollar and a quarter; sausage meat, one dollar; and even liver is selling at fifty cents per pound.
If all the words of hatred in every language under heaven were lumped together into one huge epithet of detestation, they could not tell how I hate Yankees...
Now that they have invaded our country and killed so many of our men and desecrated so many homes, I can't believe that when Christ said, 'Love your enemies,' He meant Yankees.
Of course I don't want their souls to be lost, for that would be wicked, but as they are not being punished in this world, I don't see how else they are going to get their deserts.
Source: Richard Current, American History: A Survey, (New York: Knopf, 1961), pp. 397, 399.
A SOLDIER WITH SHERMAN'S ARMY General William T. Sherman's famous March Through Georgia introduced the Confederacy to the concept of "total war." His military objective was not to destroy an opposing army as much as the South's morale and resolve to continue the war. Here is a part of a letter from W.F. Saylor, a Union soldier from Wisconsin, describing the March. In the field near Savannah Geo.
Dec. 18th, 1864
My Dear Father:
At 10 a.m. Monday the 14th [Nov.] we started on the march towards Atlanta, having previously set fire to our comfortable winter quarters. The main road was blocked up with teams so we were obliged to go round by an old ford road making us 5 miles extra travel... The whole army intended for this Campaign was now in and around the City and ready to start the next morning. It comprised 73,000 Infantry, 5500 cavelry [sic], and 70 pieces of Artillery, making nearly 80,000 men under the command of Major. Gen. W.T. Sherman.
Tuesday morning Nov. 15th. The Army moved out on four different roads. The right wing towards Macon, the left wing towards Augusta. A small force was left behind to burn the city [Atlanta] after the troops got out. And they did their work well, burning everything but a few private dwellings and the Churches. The proud city of Atlanta is now a heap of Ashes, without inhabitants or public communication.
Nov. 22 Left Camp at 10 a.m. The Weather is now cold and cloudy, with a few flakes of snow. We travel fast and get to Camp in Milledgeville the Capitol of Geo. at 5 p.m. having traveled 10 miles... This is a very pretty place and contains some beautiful buildings. The Legislature had been in session but on hearing of our approach they adjourned and fled in confusion... We burned the State Prison and arsenal and other public buildings and pillaged an plundered the town generally. It was an awful looking place when we got through.
Nov 28...found Ex Gov. Johnston's house about 5 to 7 miles from the road we were on. The Ex Gov of course had gone, but had left some of his old darkies. The foragers got lots of stuff to eat here but not finding the usual amount of finery in the house they suspected that it was hid some where. The Officer in charge persuaded an aged darkey by threatening to hang him (rather persuasive argument) to tell him where the stuff was. The Ex Gov took up a bed of cabbages in his garden then dug holes and deposited his goods in boxes and barrels in said holes, and then set the cabbages out nicely again. But it wouldn't work. The boys unearthed the stuff.
Dec. 10th...You can form no idea of the amount of property destroyed by us on this raid. All the Roads in the state are torn up and the whole tract of country over which we passed is little better than wilderness. I can't...think of what the people that are left there are to live on. We have all their Cattle, Horses, Mules, Sheep, Hogs, Sweet Potatoes and Molasses and nearly everything else. We burnt all the Cotton we men which was millions of pounds... A tornado 60 miles in width from Chattanooga to this place 290 miles could not have done half the damage we did.
Source: Stanley I Kutler, Looking for America: The People's History, Vol. I, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), pp. 430 432.
A CONFEDERATE SUPPORTER DESCRIBES THE FALL OF RICHMOND In April 1865 units of the Union Army entered Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy and thus signaled the collapse of the rebellion. Mrs. Burton Harrison, in this account from a letter to her relatives, describes the episode. Grace Street, Richmond, April 4, 1865
My Precious Mother and Brother:
I write you this jointly, because I can have no idea where Clarence is. Can't you imagine with what a heavy heart I begin it? The last two days have added long years to my life I have cried until no more tears will come, and my heart throbs to bursting night and day...All through the evening the air was full of farewells as if to the dead. Hardly anybody went to bed. We walked through the streets like lost spirits till nearly daybreak...With the din of the enemy's wagon trains, bands, trampling horses....and cannon ever in my ears, I can hardly write coherently.
...Looking down from the upper end of [Capitol Square] we saw a huge wall of fire blocking out the horizon. In a few hours no trace was left of Main, Cary, and Canal Streets...except tottering walls and smoldering ruins. The War Department was sending up jets of flame. Along the middle of the streets smoldered a long pile...of papers torn from the different departments' archives of our beloved Government, from which soldiers in blue were picking out letters and documents that caught their fancy...General Lee's house had a [Union] guard camped in the front yard.
We went on to the head quarters of the Yankee General in charge of Richmond, that day of doom, and I must say were treated with perfect courtesy and consideration. We saw many people we knew on the same errand as ourselves. We heard stately Mrs.______ and the_____'s were there to ask for food, as their families were starving. Thank God, we have not fallen to that! Certainly, her face looked like a tragic mask carved out of stone.
A courteous young lieutenant was sent to pilot us out of the confusion... Already the town wore the aspect of one in the Middle Ages smitten by pestilence. The streets filled with smoke and flying fire were empty of the respectable class of inhabitants, the doors and shutters of every house tight closed...
The ending of the first day of occupation was truly horrible. Some negroes of the lowest grade, their heads turned by the prospect of wealth and equality, together with a mob of miserable poor whites, drank themselves mad with liquor scooped from the gutters. Reinforced, it was said, by convicts escaped from the penitentiary, they tore through the streets, carrying loot from the burnt district. For some days after, the kitchen and cabins of the better class of darkies displayed handsome oil paintings and mirrors, rare books and barrels of sugar and whiskey... Thanks to our trim Yankee guard in the basement, we felt safe enough, but the experience was not pleasant.
Through all of this strain of anguish ran like a gleam of gold the mad vain hope that Lee would yet make a stand somewhere that Lee's dear soldiers would give us back our liberty.
Source: Stanley I Kutler, Looking for America: The People's History, Vol. I, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), pp. 438 441.
THE FALL OF RICHMOND: A BLACK SOLDIER'S PERSPECTIVE J. J. Hill, orderly for Col. W. B. Wooster, commander of the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment, describes the capture of the Confederate capital in April 1865, and the brief visit there by President Abraham Lincoln in his book A Sketch of the 29th Regiment of Connecticut Colored Troops. Part of the description is reprinted below. All was quiet here until the 1st of April, when all was in readiness, and the order was given to strike tents and move on to Richmond. During Sunday night the brigade was out in line of battle, and at three o'clock in the morning the rebels blew up three gun boats and commenced vacating their works in our front. At 5 A.M the troops commenced to advance on the rebel works--the 29th taking the advance, the 9th U.S.C.[olored] troops next. Soon refugees from the rebels came in by hundreds. Col. W. B. Wooster passed them about, and made them go before the regiment and dig up the torpedoes that were left in the ground to prevent the progress of the Union Army. They were very numerous, but to the surprise of officers and men, none of the army were injured by them.
On our march to Richmond, we captured 500 pieces of artillery, some of the largest kind, 6,000 small arms, and the prisoners I was not able to number. The road was strewed with all kinds of obstacles, and men were lying all along the distance of seven miles. The main body of the army went up the New Market road. The 29th skirmished all the way, and arrived in the city at 7 A.M., and were the first infantry that entered the city; they went at double quick most of the way. When Col. Wooster came to Main St. he pointed his sword at the capitol, and said "Double quick, march," and the company charged through the main street to the capitol and halted in the square until the rest of the regiment came up.
Very soon after the arrival of the white troops the colored troops were moved on the outskirts of the city, and as fast as the white troops came in the colored troops were ordered out, until we occupied the advance. The white troops remained in the city as guards. We remained on the outpost.
[On April] 3d President Lincoln visited the city. No triumphal march of a conqueror could have equalled in moral sublimity the humble manner in which he entered Richmond. I was standing on the bank of the James river viewing the scene of desolation when a boat, pulled by twelve sailors, came up the stream. It contained President Lincoln and his son... In some way the colored people on the bank of the river ascertained that the tall man wearing the black hat was President Lincoln. There was a sudden shout and clapping of hands. I was very much amused at the plight of one officer who had in charge fifty colored men to put to work on the ruined buildings; he found himself alone, for they left work and crowded to see the President. As he approached I said to a woman, "Madam, there is the man that made you free." She exclaimed, "Is that President Lincoln?" My reply was in the affirmative.
She gazed at him with clasped hands and said, "Glory to God. Give Him praise for his goodness," and she shouted till her voice failed her.
Source: J. J. Hill, A Sketch of the 29th Regiment of Connecticut Colored Troops, (Baltimore, 1867), pp. 25-27.
FELIX HAYWOOD REMEMBERS THE DAY OF JUBLIO Felix Haywood, born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina, gained his freedom in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 1865 when word finally reached Texas. In this interview Haywood recalls the day of emancipation. Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere--coming in bunches, crossing and walking and riding. Everyone was a-singing. We was all walking on golden clouds. Hallelujah!
Shouting the battle cry of freedom. Everybody went wild. We felt like heroes, and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free. Just like that, we was free. It didn't seem to make the whites mad, either. They went right on giving us food just the same. Nobody took our homes away, but right off colored folks started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they'd know what it was like it was a place or a city. Me and my father stuck, close as a lean tick to a sick kitten. The Gudlows started us out on a ranch. My father, he'd round up cattle unbranded cattle for the whites. They was cattle that they belonged to, all right; they had gone to find water 'long the San Antonio River and the Guadalupe. Then the whites gave me and my father some cattle for our own. My father had his own brand 7 B) and we had a herd to start out with of seventy.
We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn't know what was to come with it. We thought we was going to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was going to be richer than the white folks, 'cause we was stronger and knowed how to work, and the whites didn't, and they didn't have us to work for them any more. But it didn't turn out that way. We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud, but it didn't make 'em rich.
Did you ever stop to think that thinking don't do any good when you do it too late? Well, that's how it was with us. If every mother's son of a black had thrown 'way his hoe and took up a gun to fight for his own freedom along with the Yankees, the war'd been over before it began. But we didn't do it. We couldn't help stick to our masters. We couldn't no more shot 'em than we could fly. My father and me used to talk 'bout it. We decided we was too soft and freedom wasn't going to be much to our good even if we had a education.
Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, America Firsthand: From Reconstruction to the Present (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), p. 11.