Note: The post got ahead of me, just a bit. Prior to posting this I planned to add one more comment… which I’ve since added at the end of this post.
From page 1, column 2 of Staunton’s Republican Vindicator, January 29, 1864:
We have been informed by a gentleman who has lately returned from Winchester that the Yankees are enrolling all the able-bodied negroes in Jefferson and Berkley. Poor deluded African, he leaves his kind Master and comfortable home to be placed in the front ranks of the Yankee army to save the lives of those who never had any sympathy for him and to murder those whose every thought and act was for his comfort.
At first glance, I think most of us have few words for this.
Yet, there’s even more to this than one might realize. Immediately next to this article… page 1, column 1… there was another piece which focused on the hanging of Pvt. Daniel Bright, of the 62nd Georgia.
No nation of people on the globe are more kind and humane in their feelings than the people of the Confederate States. They have been averse to treating prisoners of war, who came not only with arms, but with the incendiary’s torch in their hands, to make the work of their subjugation more cruel and more complete, with hearts blackened with the foul intent of adding infamous disgrace to their many atrocities, other than they would if they had been soldiers fighting in defence of homes and innocent ones, never having inflicted a wrong and only maintaining the right, when our own unfortunate prisoners have been immured in Northern dungeons to pine away from neglect or indignities shown, and die alone and uncared for, and have ever provided for those in their hands as best, in their isolated condition, they could. The same desire not to inflict unnecessary punishment has restrained our military leaders, save in rare and exceptional cases, from allowing the death penalty to be inflicted for desertion, thus adding innocently to the cost of life and suffering on many battle fields by their leniency and losing the fruits of victory which our full numbers would have reaped. This same humane feeling has prevented a just retaliation for wanton and cruel murders committed by the enemy upon our prisoners–which, if inflicted at once would have saved untold suffering. We can recall no instance in which, even when prisoners were selected, actual retaliation was made, save in the case published below, when Col. Griffin commanding on the Blackwater, selected a private of the 5th Ohio “whom” says he: “I hang in retaliation” for Private Bright of the 62nd Ga. Cavalry murdered by Gen. Wilde as a guerrilla. No more of Col. Girffin’s [sic] men will be executed as guerrillas, for he will retaliate. If our leaders but follow Col. Griffin’s example they will save many of our men from being cruelly treated and even murdered, which their excessive humanity but invites.
Further of Retaliation.
Our correspondent has obtained a copy of the letter sent to the Federal General Wilde, by the Colonel commanding the forces on Blackwater, relative to the late measures of retaliation adopted by our military authorities in Eastern North Carolina:
“Head Qur’s Forces on Blackwater
Franklin, Va., Jan., 1864.
Comd’g Colored Brig. Norfolk, Va.
“Sir–Probably no expedition during the progress of this war, has been attended with more utter disregard for the long established usages of civilization, or the dictates of humanity, than was your late raid into the country bordering the Albemarle.
“Your stay, though short, was marked by crimes and enormities. You burned houses over the heads of defenceless women and children, carried off private property of every description, arrested non-combatants, and carried off ladies in irons, whom you confined with negro men. Your negro troops fired on Confederates after they had surrendered, and they were only saved by the exertions of the more humane of your white officers.
“Last, but not least, under the pretext that he was a guerrilla, you hanged Daniel Bright, a private of company L, Sixty-second Georgia regiment (cavalry,) forcing the ladies and gentlemen who held in arrest to witness the execution of Samuel Jones, a private of company B, Fifth Ohio, whom I hang I retaliation. I hold two more of your men–in irons–as hosrage [sic] for Mrs. Weeks and Mrs. Mundin. When these ladies are released, these men will be relieved, and treated as prisoners of war.
“Colonel Joel R. Griffin.”
O.K., so… what’s the connection?
First, it strikes me as odd that there is only that one subtle reference to the fact that Edward A. Wild was the commander of the “Colored Brig[ade]”… also known as the “African Brigade”, which consisted of the the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, and the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Colored Volunteers… the latter eventually becoming the 36th and 37th U.S. Colored Troops.
More importantly, however, these two pieces, being placed side-by-side on the front page, is certainly no accident. The editor was placing content for effect. I think we can agree that Wild… who had most certainly raised the ire of Confederates and Confederate sympathizers in his area of operations… was moved most by his views on abolition. But there’s still more behind the execution of Daniel Bright… which can be found in Barton A. Myers’ Executing Daniel Bright: Race, Loyalty, and Guerrilla Violence in a Coastal Carolina Community, 1861-1865.
Back to that quote for just a moment…”Poor deluded African, he leaves his kind master”. Just who, exactly, had that been written for? Was it written for fellow white citizens, or was it actually written for the slaves in the general area? I think it was a little of both, and maybe even more so to slaves… which is most intriguing. If we consider it from that angle, it’s almost as if it was an appeal not to take up arms and do to them (possibly) what Wild’s men were doing in the east. How many believed that, and how many ran away to enlist, nonetheless?