Monday, March 29, 2010

Christian Fleetwod Diary Entry

Since I posted the picture of Christian Fleetwood's Medal of Honor a few days back, I thought I'd share the page from his diary where he describes the Battle of New Market Heights and his heroic actions that day.

line formed. Moved out & on
Charged with the 6th at daylight
and got used up. Saved colors.
Remnants of the two gathered and
Maneuvering under Col Ames of 6th U.S.C.T.
Marching in line & flank
all day saw Gen. Grant & Staff
both Birneys [brother generals] and other “Stars”
Retired at night. stacked
arms & moved three times ending
at a captu FRIDAY 30 red strong-
hold where we spent the
remainder of the darkness with the
usual diversions of moving
Recd [Received] in morning 193 recruits
Drilled a squad in morning
Rebels charged our line three times
repulsed. Lying in ravine.
one man killed. Moved in eve.
Threw up entrenchments to protect
flanks of position. First nights
sleep since 27th
Weather changed to the bad.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Happy National Medal of Honor Day!

The picture above is the Congressional Medal of Honor that was awarded to Sergeant Major Christian A. Fleetwood of the 4th USCT for his bravery at the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29,1864. It currently resides in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute. His citation reads: "Seized the colors, after two color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight."

Fleetwood was one of fourteen USCT's who would be awarded the Medal of Honor for what Colonel Samuel A. Duncan called "unflinching heroism" in his account of the battle.

If you're lucky enough to know someone who has earned the Medal of Honor be sure to say "thanks" today - and every day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grim Realities of the Home Front

The decision to enlist in the United States Colored Troops was a difficult one to make for many. One had to take into consideration a whole host of factors ranging from how you would be treated if you were taken prisoner (assuming you weren’t executed on the spot, which was certainly a possibility), the grim specter of being returned to a state of slavery – even if you were born a free man – and the abuse and mistreatment that came from men wearing the same uniform as yourself.

This decision was made infinitely harder for men who had families – especially if those families were still in bondage in the Confederacy or in the Border States.

To illustrate this harsh reality, consider the following letter that was written by a slave woman named Patsey Leach of Kentucky, who had recently escaped from her master’s cruel treatment:

I am a widow and belonged to Warren Wiley of Woodford County Ky. My husband Julius Leach was a member of Co. D. 5” U.S.C. Cavalry and was killed at the Salt Works Va. about six months ago. When he enlisted some time in the fall of 1864 he belonged to Sarah Martin Scott County Ky. He had only been about a month in the service when he was killed. I was living with aforesaid Wiley when he died. He knew of my husbands enlisting before I did but never said any thing to me about it. From that time he treated me more cruelly than ever whipping me frequently without any cause and insulting me on every occasion. About three weeks after my husband enlisted a Company of Colored Soldiers passed our house and I was there in the garden and looked at them as they passed. My master had been watching me and when the soldiers had gone I went into the kitchen. My master followed me and Knocked me to the floor senseless saying as he did so, “You have been looking at them darned Nigger Soldiers.” When I recovered my senses he beat me with a cowhide When my husband was Killed my master whipped me severely saying my husband had gone into the army to fight against white folks and he my master would let me know that I was foolish to let my husband go he would “take it out of my back,” he would “Kill me by piecemeal” and he hoped “that the last of the nigger soldiers would be Killed” He whipped me twice after that using similar expressions The last whipping he game me he took me into the Kitchen tied my hands tore all my clothes off until I was entirely naked, bent me down, placed my head between his Knees, then whipped me most unmercifully until my back was lacerated all over; the blood oozing out in several places so that I could not wear my underclothes without their becoming saturated with blood. The marks are still visible on my back. On this and other occasions my master whipped me for no other cause than my husband having enlisted. When he whipped me he said “never mind God dam you when I am done with you tomorrow you never will live no more.” I knew he would carry out his threats so that night about 10 o’clock I took my babe and travelled to Arnolds Depot where I took the Cars to Lexington I have five children, I left them all with my master except the youngest and I want to get them but I dare not go near my master knowing he would whip me again. My master is a Rebel Sympathizer and often sends Boxes of Goods to Rebel prisoners. (Taken from Ira Berlin & Leslie S. Rowland, eds. Families & Freedom: A Documentary History of African American Kinship in the Civil War Era, pp.102 – 103).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Take Our Stand in the News

I was pleased to see that the recent edition of the Richmond Voice features an in-depth look at the American Civil War Center’s Take Our Stand exhibit (and, admittedly, I was also pleased to see the shout out on the second page – I’m not used to seeing my name in print).

Anyway, the paper highlights many interesting tidbits and stories from the Spanish American War through World War II, some of which aren’t featured in the exhibit.

Check it out, and if you’re visiting the Richmond area make sure to stop by the Black History Museum and see the exhibit I helped create!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sins of the Father

Alfred DuBois was certainly not the ideal soldier. Born in 1826 in San Domingo, Haiti Alfred was a barber before the war. He was described as “a dreamer – romantic, indolent, kind, unreliable, he had in him the making of a poet, an adventurer, or a beloved vagabond, according to the life that closed round him; and that life gave him all too little.”

In retrospect he was probably not the best fit for strict military discipline, yet he still enlisted in Company D of the 20th USCT on January 23, 1864. He quickly contracted dysentery soon after enlisting, and after he recovered he became a hospital attendant at Port Hudson Louisiana.

Alfred was destined never to fire a shot in anger and on February 7, 1865 he was listed as a deserter – a character trait that he would unfortunately take with him back into civilian life. Three years after the war he left his wife and his infant son William and they never heard from him again.

While Alfred failed to make his mark on history, his young son William did so in grand style.

We know William today as the great W.E.B. DuBois, Father of Pan-Africanism and a founder of the NAACP.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Art of Rick Reeves

A few weeks ago I posted a print of Christian Fleetwood of the 4th USCT saving the colors at the Battle of New Market Heights – an act that won him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In that post I bewailed the lack of popular Civil War art devoted to the exploits of the USCT’s. This is due to the fact that most Civil War artists put their efforts into paintings that show every single place that Lee & Jackson stopped to relieve themselves while also trying to cram as many Confederate Battle Flags as possible into their canvasses (see here).

As Gary Gallagher noted, “Recent art…relegates black soldiers into cameo appearances. Virtually absent from advertisements in the mainline Civil War magazines, they crop up occasionally in some of the artists’ books” (Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten, p. 188).

One exception to this rule is Rick Reeves, who has done several pieces specifically related to United States Colored Troops.

The piece below is entitled “Pride Over Prejudice” and it depicts black soldiers guarding prisoners in the aftermath of the Battle of Nashville – the first time that the Army of Tennessee had faced USCT’s in large numbers. The black units engaged in the fighting were the 12th, 13th, 14th, 17th, 18th, and 100th USCT, many of whom were inexperienced which resulted in horrific casualties (the 13th USCT alone lost 40% of its strength).

When the battle was over, one Arkansan wrote in his diary: “Oh woeful humiliation, the faces of Negroes!” – an emotion clearly conveyed in the faces of the Confederate troops in the painting.

The second painting is simply entitled “26th USCT”, a unit organized at Riker’s Island that did all of its fighting in South Carolina.

Reeves has also painted the 54th Massachusetts’s famous assault on Battery Wagner. Kudos to him for having the boldness to paint scenes that won’t necessarily make him a lot of money but pay homage to soldiers who deserve to be painted every bit as much as the heroes of the Lost Cause.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Levin vs. Ijames Not To Be

So I’m sure that many of you out there were looking forward to the debate that never was over at the Civil Warriors blog between Kevin Levin and Earl Ijames over the veracity of specific claims pertaining to alleged “Black Confederates” from North Carolina. I know that I certainly was.

While I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on the individuals in question, I would like to make some general remarks.

Simply put, I find it remarkable that this debate is still going on. It just will not go away, no matter how many scholarly works leave the disciples of Black Confederates with no leg to stand on. They refuse to budge on their beliefs.

Were there some African Americans who wore Confederate gray and fought for the rebel cause?

Yes (for an interesting account see Richard M. Reid, Freedom For Themselves, p. 181 and footnote on p. 362).

Were there tens of thousands in Confederate ranks, fighting alongside Southern troops throughout the course of the war?

Absolutely not.

Yet new reports of alleged Black Confederates still keep cropping up. Kevin Levin has done a great job of repeatedly emphasizing the distinctions between a slave pressed into Confederate service and an African American willingly taking up arms for the Southern Confederacy.

And, of course, it would seem that hard core adherents of the myth of the Lost Cause need Black Confederates to advance their claims that the Confederate cause was a noble struggle fought for individual liberty and the highest Constitutional principles. If there are African Americans in the ranks then slavery must not have been the primary cause of the war and white supremacy must not have been the “cornerstone” of the Confederate nation, right?

All of that being said, I would like to offer my chief annoyance at this ongoing dispute.

What is it, you ask?

The fact that keeping the spotlight on a group of black soldiers whose existence is at best questionable removes that very same spotlight from the 200,000 whom we know did in fact fight.

Honestly, has the last word been written on the United States Colored Troops of the Civil War era? Certainly many first words have been written (see my post listing some of the best books on the topic). But this is an area of scholarship that is of vital importance to understanding what the war was truly fought over.

With the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War already under way, I earnestly hope that there is much more room at the table for books, lectures, and even re-enactments that highlight the contributions of United States Colored Troops.