Happy Juneteenth!

Originally posted on Civil War Emancipation:

From Wikipedia: “Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States honoring African American heritage by commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday or state holiday observance in 41 states of the United States.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth

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Harvard Presentation Video


I do not mean to keep touting my Harvard triumph, but it just came to my attention that the Dubois Institute at Harvard just posted the video of Freedom Rising Symposium on YouTube, so I am posting the video of my session. My presentation begins at about 48:00 minutes and I participated actively in the Q&A session that followed.

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Frederick Douglass on Decoration Day, 1871

Donald R. Shaffer:

A timely post from Andy Hall …

Originally posted on Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog:

On Decoration Day, 1871, Frederick Douglass gave the following address at the monument to the Unknown Dead of the Civil War at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a short speech, but one of the best of its type I’ve ever encountered. I’ve posted it before, but it think it’s something worth re-reading and contemplating every Memorial Day.


The Unknown Loyal Dead
Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Decoration Day, May 30, 1871
Friends and Fellow Citizens:
Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is, in the very air of this resting-ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle and all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is…

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Slow Death of the Fugitive Slave Law

One of the curious aspects of slavery’s end in the United States is that even after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect that 1850’s infamous fugitive slave law remained on the books, and some stubborn slaveholders even tried to make use of it to recover their human property. This fact should not be a surprising since four states–Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri–were exempted from the proclamation because they had not seceded but remained loyal to the Union. It also should not be surprising given the power of slave owners over federal government before the war. They were used to getting their way and it must have come as a rude shock to them during the Civil War when suddenly Washington authorities were no longer responsive to their demands. Still, even with the peculiar institution crumbling around them, a few pigheaded owners still tried to rely on federal law to recover their slaves.

A good example of a late usage of federal fugitive slave law is the case of a Maryland slave, Andrew Hall. His story is related by Kate Masur in her book, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C. (UNC Press, 2010). She writes:

The pivotal legal decision concerning fugitive slaves came in the spring of 1863, in the case of Andrew Hall, a nineteen year-old fugitive who had fled the estate of his owner, George W. Duvall, of Prince George’s County, Maryland [adjacent to Washington, D.C.]. Hall had been working in the capital for several months when, in April 1863, Duvall demanded the arrest under the federal fugitive slave laws of Hall and the two other men with whom he escaped. Ward Lamon, the federal marshal [and a close personal friend of Abraham Lincoln], apprehended Hall in the city market, and Hall’s lawyers filed a writ of habeas corpus, requiring that their client be brought to court for a hearing.

Hall’s case had special significance because it was the first fugitive slave case heard since Congress had reorganized the upper reaches of the District of Columbia’s court system. In March 1863, Congress had terminated the long-standing Circuit Court and, against vehement protests from local lawyers and city officials, created the District of Columbia Supreme Court, whose justices were appointed by the president. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect months earlier, but the newly organized court retained [Walter S.] Cox as fugitive slave commissioner, an indication that it planned to enforce the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Observers thus watched the Hall case closely to see what course the new justices would pursue.

The case was heard in a courtroom filled with black and white spectators. After extensive testimony and considerable deliberation, the four justices remained divided on the merits of the argument, made by Hall’s lawyers, that the fugitive slave laws applied only to the states and not to the federal district. Finally, in a split decision, the court affirmed that it must uphold the fugitive slave laws, provided the would-be owners could prove Union loyalty. Since Duvall had affirmed his support for the Union, the decision implied that Hall must return to his owner’s custody. But Hall’s lawyers immediately asked military authorities to intervene to secure his freedom. A melee ensued at the courthouse, as Duvall tried to grab Hall while onlookers sought to protect him. Military authorities took custody of Hall, and Duvall’s lawyers, in turn, attempted to bring charges against Hall’s attorney. But Duvall was powerless as provost marshal officials escorted Hall away. Hall later enlisted in a black regiment then being organized in the capital, and the next winter the court dismissed Duvall’s lawsuit.

So, while the Fugitive Slave Act and related legislation officially remained in force until June 1864, when Congress finally did away with it, they became essentially void. Even if a slaveholder, like George W. Duvall, could find a court to validate his claim, enforcing it was an entirely different matter. It is interesting though that men like Duvall tried, even after the Emancipation Proclamation’s release, to reclaim their slaves. It bespeaks a class of people, long accustomed to the law being on their side, in denial, that even though they technically were protected by the government in their slave property, in practice that increasingly the opponents of slavery, empowered by the war, could deny them those property rights with impunity. Or perhaps it was that federal authorities finally were protecting the real owners of those human beings–the slaves themselves and their right to their own person.

Source: Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C. (Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 2010), 29-30.

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Repost: The World Turned Upside Down

Dear Readers:

Please check out Jimmy Price’s fine piece on the founding of the U.S. Colored Troops:


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Missionaries of Freedom, Part 2


Source: Harper’s Weekly – May 9, 1863, http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/may/runaway-slaves.htm

An earlier edition of Civil War Emancipation dealt with the phenomenon of slaves that had escaped to federal lines journeying back into rebel held territory to let family and friends know that they would become free once they arrived where Union  forces held sway. Such a trip could be dangerous because the Confederate Army did not take kindly to these missionaries of freedom, especially if they were armed, and apparently executed some of them when such unfortunates fell into their hands.

Yet the danger did not stop the trips into Confederate territory. Such was the testimony of Capt. C. B. Wilder, Superintendent of Contrabands at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, on May 9, 1863, before the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission. The testimony transcript records:

Q  In your opinion, is there any communication between the refugees and the black men still in slavery?

A. Yes Sir, we have had men here who have gone back 200 miles.

Q  In your opinion would a change in our policy which would cause them to be treated with fairness, their wages punctually paid and employment furnished them in the army, become known and would it have any effect upon others in slavery?

A  Yes–Thousands upon Thousands.  I went to Suffolk a short time ago to enquire into the state of things there–for I found I could not get any foot hold to make things work there, through the Commanding General, and I went to the Provost Marshall and all hands–and the colored people actually sent a deputation to me one morning before I was up to know if we put black men in irons and sent them off to Cuba to be sold or set them at work and put balls on their legs and whipped them, just as in slavery; because that was the story up there, and they were frightened and didn’t know what to do.  When I got at the feelings of these people I found they were not afraid of the slaveholders.  They said there was nobody on the plantations but women and they were not afraid of them   One woman came through 200 miles in Men’s clothes.  The most valuable information we recieved in regard to the Merrimack and the operations of the rebels came from the colored people and they got no credit for it.  I found hundreds who had left their wives and families behind.  I asked them “Why did you come away and leave them there?” and I found they had heard these stories, and wanted to come and see how it was.  “I am going back again after my wife” some of them have said “When I have earned a little money”   What as far as that?”  “Yes”   and I have had them come to me to borrow money, or to get their pay, if they had earned a months wages, and to get passes.  “I am going for my family” they say.  “Are you not afraid to risk it?”  “No I know the Way”   Colored men will help colored men and they will work along the by paths and get through.  In that way I have known quite a number who have gone up from time to time in the neighborhood of Richmond and several have brought back their families; some I have never heard from.  As I was saying they do not feel afraid now.  The white people have nearly all gone, the blood hounds are not there now to hunt them and they are not afraid,  before they were afraid to stir.  There are hundreds of negroes at Williamsburgh with their families working for nothing.  They would not get pay here and they had rather stay where they are.  “We are not afraid of being carried back” a great many have told us and “if we are, we can get away again”   Now that they are getting their eyes open they are coming in.  Fifty came this morning from Yorktown who followed Stoneman’s Cavalry when they returned from their raid.  The officers reported to their Quartermaster that they had so many horses and fifty or sixty negroes.  “What did you bring them for”   “Why they followed us and we could not stop them.”  I asked one of the men about it and he said they would leave their work in the field as soon as they found the Soldiers were Union men and follow them sometimes without hat or coat.  They would take best horse they could get and every where they rode they would take fresh horses, leave the old ones and follow on and so they came in.  I have questioned a great many of them and they do not feel much afraid; and there are a great many courageous fellows who have come from long distances in rebeldom.  Some men who came here from North Carolina, knew all about the [Emancipation] Proclammation and they started on the belief in it; but they had heard these stories and they wanted to know how it was.  Well, I gave them the evidence and I have no doubt their friends will hear of it.  Within the last two or three months the rebel guards have been doubled on the line …

So slaves within at least 200 miles of Fortress Monroe were making their way there to become free, and some returned home to spread the good news. While their journeys were not without risk, the war had caused the slave patrol system in Virginia largely to breakdown, since by that time nearly all the men who would have served in the patrols were gone to serve in the Confederate Army. The Confederates were detailing men to try to stop the exodus, but to judge from the slaves apparent confidence relating their escapes to Capt. Wilder, the effort was not terribly effect.

Indeed, Wilder’s testimony indicates, by Spring 1863, the greatest threat to the freedom of escaped slaves in Virginia came not from the Confederate Army but ironically from corrupt Union soldiers that for a price would cooperate with slaveholders seeking to recover their slaves. The captain complained that troops in the 99th New York Infantry “between Norfolk and Suffolk have caught hundreds of fugitives and got pay for them. . . . The masters will come in to Suffolk in the day time and with the help of some of the 99th carry off their fugitives and by and by smuggle them across the lines and the soldier will get his $20. or $50.” Clearly, despite the Emancipation Proclamation, and a law by then a year old, specifically prohibiting the Union Army personnel from cooperating in the return of slaves to their owners, some northern troops were willing to help planters, in all likelihood rebels, recover their slaves.

Yet the slaves themselves were increasingly confident that even when that happened or they were caught on the way to Union lines, all they need do is wait for another opportunity to flee to Union lines which would come apparently soon enough. So despite crooked Union soldiers ready to help re-enslave escaped slaves, the missionaries of freedom were spreading the word that increasingly slavery in Virginia could not be enforced and that probably sooner rather later, slaves that fled would find freedom in Union-controlled territory.

Source: http://www.history.umd.edu/Freedmen/wilder.htm

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The Confederate Retaliatory Act

Late last year, this blog discussed Jefferson Davis’ proclamation in late 1862 denying black Union soldiers the traditional protections of prisoners of war should they ever fall into Confederate hands. Instead, Davis indicated they and their white officers would be treated under relevant state law for inciting “servile insurrection.” That is, they would be treated as if, like John Brown, they were fomenting a slave revolt, and subject to capital punishment, and in the case of African Americans, re-enslavement or worse.

With little fanfare, on May 1, 1863, the Confederate Congress basically ratified President Davis’ proclamation with the Retaliatory Act. The only substantive difference was that under this legislation, the Confederate Army was empowered to punish white officers of black Union soldiers instead of transferring them to state authorities for this purpose, as envisioned in Jefferson Davis’ proclamation. In essence, the law more-or-less empowered army leaders to deal as they wanted with African Americans in federal uniform and their officers.

The legislation in practice gave license to the ad hoc way which the Confederate Army would treat black Union prisoners and their white officers. On some occasions, such as the infamous incident at Fort Pillow in April 1864, African Americans in federal uniform would be massacred. In other cases, they would be taken as forced laborers for the Confederate Army, or diverted by southern soldiers as personal servants or even sent to family plantations. Some were treated more-or-less as other Union POWs, and sent to prisons like Andersonville and elsewhere. About the only thing that apparently never happened to black Union prisoners was that they were paroled or exchanged for Confederate prisoners in Union custody. Indeed, the Union-Confederate prisoner exchange cartel broke down in April 1864 over the Confederate refusal to return black Union prisoners. Although the cartel resumed in January 1865, when the Confederates agreed to return black prisoners, no African Americans seem to have been exchanged before the war ended.

Indeed, the Confederates also refused to release African American servants and laborers attached to the Union Army that fell into their hands, even a handful of free born blacks from the North that fell into their hands.

An earlier edition, Civil War Emancipation explored the case of John A. Emery, a free black man from Salem, Massachusetts, who was enslaved after being captured by Confederate troops during the Peninsula Campaign. He was a servant of an officer in the 16th Massachusetts Infantry and had to be left behind as Union troops evacuated the Peninsula in Virginia in Summer 1862 because he was too sick to be moved. His ultimate fate is unknown.

Two other free-born northern blacks, boys really, captured by Confederate troops in Texas, Charles Amos and his cousin, Charles Revaleon, also were enslaved. The two teenagers had signed on with the 42nd Massachusetts Infantry as officers’ servants and had fallen into rebel hands when Confederate forces had recaptured Galveston in January 1863. They were taken to Houston and sold in the city’s slave market. The commanding officer of the 42nd later wrote:

The chance that I feared and warned poor Charley against has been his fate. He was sold into slavery at Houston, Tex., the second or third day of his captivity. My brother said all that man could to save him without avail, as well as the other officers who liked the boy very much. His cousin shared a like fate. His aunt will remember that I tried to discourage the boy in every way that I could from going with us but without avail. Charley is smart and if he can only keep his tongue within bounds he will make his escape before any length of time elapses.

Our officers are all in close confinement and of course can do nothing for him. Tell his aunt to keep up her courage and hope as we all do for the best. The chances of war we all have to run and the end always follows the beginning. I will keep your address and if I learn anything of the boys I will write you.

One item may give his relations some little comfort in their trouble. Our men that were taken received very good treatment and the disposition seems to be to use Federals well that fall in their hands.

The families of the teenagers, evidently employed by prominent Bostonians, and with deep roots in the city (one of the boy’s grandfathers had served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War) had sought the help of Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, who in turn directed his staff to contact the War Department in Washington, D.C., to see if anything could be done. Major General E. A. Hitchcock, Commissioner for Prisoner of War Exchange for the War Department, reported frankly “it seems impossible to do anything in this case except as a result of success in the war.

Andrew F. Lang and W. Caleb McDaniel, in their February 2013 piece in Disunion in the New York Times provide important insight into the disposition of Charles Amos, Charles Revaleon, and other free blacks (mostly sailors) captured in the Confederate assault on Galveston on New Years’ Day 1863. They write:

These black sailors and runaways had far more reason than [Alexander] Hobbs [a private in the 42nd Massachusetts, and the main source for Lang and McDaniel's piece] to fear capture in Texas, a state with around 200,000 slaves. Confederates may have treated Hobbs kindly, but their views on slavery were diametrically opposed to his. The Texas Declaration of Causes for Secession asserted that “the servitude of the African race” was the “will of the Almighty Creator,” and white Texans intended that it “should exist in all future time.” Hobbs recorded his opposite view on Jan. 4: “I honestly believe thare will be more slaves found in Heaven than Southerners.”

Hobbs’s “hatred to the institution of slavery” deepened later that month, when he wrote that “six coulered men have been taken away to prison, four of them belonging to the Harriet Lane” and two of them connected to his regiment. All “but one or two were free born,” he reported, but now, he believed, they were all “to be sold.”

A letter preserved in the Texas State Library and Archives confirms the gist of Hobbs’s story. In February 1863, a state agent named Henry Perkins wrote the legislature that he had taken the “negroes” who “were captured … in Galveston” to the penitentiary at Huntsville, where they were “now at work for the state.” By that time, Hobbs was about to be paroled and already traveling to Union lines – illustrating the stark contrast between his captivity and that of the “six coulered men.” While Hobbs rejoiced in the “prospect of speedy deliverance,” these less fortunate men disappeared into the penitentiary, despite Perkins’s admission that all six were “claiming to be free.”

These claims meant little under Texas laws that virtually equated being black with being enslaved. Still, Perkins’s letter acknowledged that the state’s laws governing runaway slaves “never contemplated” dealing with men like these. The law, which stated that captured runaways were to be held for six months after arrest and then taken to the penitentiary, needed to be “so altered as to the meet the exigency of the times. For we know not how soon we may have a Brigade of Negroes of like character.” Indeed, 22 other recently captured “negroes” were “slaves … claiming to be free,” according to Perkins. When should they go to the penitentiary in Huntsville? Perkins wanted the legislature to clarify the matter.

Austin obliged the next month with a new law. It declared that any person of color who entered the state “with any armed force of the enemy” would thereby “have forfeited his freedom, if he be free,” and would labor in the penitentiary until one year after any peace treaty. After that, any prisoner of color who had not been claimed as a runaway would be sold at auction “to the highest bidder.”

Unlike John A. Emery, there was happy end to the case of Amos and Revaleon. In July 1865, military authorities in Massachusetts reported to Hitchcock, “I have the honor to inform you that the two colored boys attached to the Forty-second Massachusetts, and sold in Texas, have returned in safety to Massachusetts.” But it is equally clear the cousins would have remained slaves in Texas had not the Union prevailed in the war. Such was the sobering reality that men born free could be enslaved in the Civil War even as others of their race were claiming their freedom.

Sources: 1) http://www.lwfaam.net/cw/cwwf/ltr_hw.htm; 2) http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/sources/recordView.cfm?Content=121/0703 3) http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/captivity-in-black-and-white/.

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