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).

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