Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“The negro has no qualities out of which a soldier can be manufactured”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on October 26, 2010

On June 15, 1864, the Galveston Daily News reprinted this brief editorial from the Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, excoriating the value of slaves as soldiers, and boasting that the Federal army’s “unnatural and diabolical” enlistment of black troops “renders their overthrow more certain and speedy.”

NEGRO TROOPS. — The catastrophe of the Yankees at Fort Pillow, like their rout at Ocean Pond [Olustee, Florida], and other mishaps that have befallen them of late, is attributed by themselves to the cowardice of their negro [sic.] allies. We are well satisfied that the result in each of the cases would have been the same, if the places of the negroes had been held by Yankees. But at the same time we believe that the presence of the negroes hastened our victories and made them easier. We need not say to Southern readers that the negro has no qualities out of which a soldier can be manufactured. Any reliance on him in that way is sure to bring disappointment and disaster. An army composed in any degree of such troops is an army with a weak point, that may always be beaten through by an adversary who knows how to use his opportunities. Hence it is that we hold that the enrollment of negro troops has brought into their armies an element of positive weakness, and given us a great advantage. The unnatural and diabolical attempt to turn slaves against their own masters reacts upon those who conceived the villany, and renders their overthrow more certain and speedy. In this as in other ways, the institution of slavery is being miraculously vindicated by the events of the war.

It would seem that the Richmond Whig was unfamiliar with that famous “integrated” local militia unit, the Richmond Howitzers. It’s another case where real Confederates didn’t know about Black Confederates.

It’s worth noting, too, that the writer makes a distinction (second sentence) between “Yankees” and “negroes” [sic.] — revealing quite clearly that, in his view, U.S. Colored Troops are not just inferior to, but completely different from, conventional, white Federal troops; the color of their uniform is not what defines them. Black Confederate orthodoxy requires one to believe that large numbers of African Americans were enlisted into Confederate service, and that their race was considered irrelevant to their skill as soldiers. It’s hard to imagine the author of this editorial being convinced of either premise.

“I know of no other way for us to end the war than to retaliate”

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on August 24, 2010

Running through the 1865 compilation, Soldiers’ Letters from Camp, Battlefield and Prison, I was struck by this letter’s clarity and direct, matter-of-fact language.

Vidalia, La.
May 17th, 1864

There has been a party of guerrillas prowling about here, stealing horses and mules from the leased plantations. A scouting party was sent out from here, in which was a company of colored cavalry, commanded by the colonel of a colored regiment. After marching some distance, they came upon the party of whom they were in pursuit. There were seventeen prisoners captured and shot by the colored soldiers. When the guerrillas were first seen, the colonel told them in a loud tone of voice to “Remember Fort Pillow.” And they did: all honor to them for it.

If the Confederacy wish to fight us on these terms, we are glad to know it, and will try and do our part in the contest. I do not admire the mode of warfare, but know of no other way for us to end the war than to retaliate.

Lieut. Anson T. Hemingway
70th U.S. Col. Regiment

I’ve seen no better example of the way one atrocity is used to justify another in wartime, fueling an endless, violent spiral of reprisal and revenge. And yet, knowing what happened at Fort Pillow, I cannot be sure I’d have tried to stop those cavalrymen. The desire for retribution is very strong, and very human.

Anson Tyler Hemingway was born in East Plymouth, Connecticut in 1844. He moved to Chicago with his family at age ten. Hemingway enlisted in Company D of the 72nd Illinois Infantry and served with that regiment at Vicksburg. Mustered out of the service, he later joined Company H, 70th USCT as 1st Lieutenant and also served as provost martial of the Freedman’s Bureau in Natchez. Hemingway was mustered out of the service in March 1866, after which he attended Wheaton College. Two of Hemingway’s brothers had died in the war. After two years at Wheaton, Hemingway took a position as general secretary of the Chicago YMCA. He later established a real estate business in Oak Park. He died in 1926 at the age of 82.

Anson Hemingway’s grandson Ernest also enjoyed some success as a writer.


Image: Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections