Slaves Forced to Fight for the Confederacy

 

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Civil War Harper's Weekly, May 10, 1862

We have posted all the Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War to this WEB site. This archive serves as an invaluable research tool to see first edition reports on the key events of the War.

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Confederate Negro Soldiers

Confederate Negro Soldiers

Democrats and Slavery

Democratic Party's Position on Slavery

Black Confederate Soldier

Black Confederate Soldiers

Mississippi River

Mississippi River Map

Slaves as Confederate Soldiers

Slave Confederate Soldiers

General Gilmore

Quincy Gilmore

Attack Fort Wright

Attack on Fort Wright

Forts

Southern Forts

New Orleans

New Orleans

Farragut's Ships

Farragut's Gun Boats

Lake Pontchartrain

Lake Pontchartrain

Fort Wright

Fort Wright

Yorktown

Yorktown

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAY 10, 1862.]

HARPER'S WEEKLY.

299

appeared so false, why he had taken so much pleasure in proclaiming the degradation of the negro race. He sat quite silent, but I could read his thoughts. I who had deemed myself his lawful cousin, his equal by right of birth, his superior in every gift of soul, so that if, as the only child of a rich planter, he should have the presumption to make me an offer of marriage I had resolved to spurn him away with contempt—I shuddered and crouched away from him—knew that in his vile thoughts he held me no higher than that wretched girl he had abused. He pray me to be his wife! The very laws forbade my being the Christian wife of any white man! His contemptuous silence awed me; he sat perfectly still, letting me sink to the floor of the carriage.

The daughter of a slave! That dreadful idea turned the current of my thoughts from Abel, and the blow my father had struck me burned anew like fire; but that girl who had suffered the torture of the lash for my sake! The recollection of that night flashed into my mind, crushing me with an overwhelming remorse. Her nature was the same as mine; there was the same dark blood in our veins; the same capacity for moral elevation, the same capacity for pain, God forgive me! My crime struck home.

I resolved to see the girl before entering the house. Her forgiveness would, I felt, ease the load on my heart.

I found my way in the dark, as well as I could, to the negro huts, and discovered where she was being nursed. She was lying asleep on a mat, but the old woman who attended on her had not gone to bed.

"Is she nearly recovered?"

"She is."

"Was the punishment very severe?"

I felt the utmost anguish at the woman's answer.

No one had been so severely flogged on the plantation for years!

I sank on my knees at the girl's side. By this time she had awoke. I poured forth my words of contrition, and my scalding tears fell on her hand, which I grasped in mine. She was partly dazed with sleep, but both she and the old woman gazed on me with astonishment. My behavior was so utterly incomprehensible to them. To ask pardon of a slave was an idea beyond the limit of their thoughts. And even then as I knelt there, with the sense of my own wickedness fall upon me, I could scarcely bring myself to believe that I was praying forgiveness of a being who partook to the full of my own humanity!

It was only when I told the girl I had discovered that she had spoken the truth—that I knew that I was the daughter of a slave—it was only then that their senses were aroused; fear was strongly visible on their countenances; the girl started forward, and vehemently contradicted me. No, no! I was Mr. Duncan's child, she cried, and the perspiration stood out on her brow. She piteously implored me to leave her, lest she should be again punished owing to my having come to the hut.

I assured them both, again and again, that they had no occasion for fear in speaking about the truth. The old woman then told me that before I was brought home my father had given the strictest injunctions, enforced with stern threats, to every body on the plantation, that not a word should ever be breathed to me concerning my birth; and that it was to show his determination in the matter that he had made such a severe example of the poor girl.

Stronger even than my bitter feelings of remorse for the suffering I had caused was the anxious desire which possessed me to hear the account of my real mother—my own mother, notwithstanding her misery, and degradation, and shame. At first the old woman would not speak. I swore not to reveal a word of her statement; in my passionate eagerness I threatened, coaxed, bribed her. At last I forced the story bit by bit from her most unwilling tongue.

She had nursed my mother when she died, and had nursed me when I was born. To the best of her recollection, my mother had died where the girl was then lying before my eyes, and I too had been born in that very hut.

"How did she die?" I inquired, eagerly. And then I became so nervously fearful lest she should in any degree conceal the truth from me, that by force of old habit I threatened her with the most severe chastisement if I should ever find that she had deceived me one iota.

But my hasty threat brought punishment on my own head; for when I repeated my question the woman looked significantly toward the girl. Then came the frightful conviction that my mother herself had suffered the very pain I had so often been the means of inflicting. On my knees I prayed the old woman's forgiveness for my threat, and I poured all the money I had in my purse into her lap.

My mother died of a broken heart, the woman said. She had been sold away from her children. As far as I could understand the account, she had at first been treated with degrading kindness and indulgence; but nothing could drive a cloud of past love from her brow, and in spite of her beauty she grew wearisome.

"But when I was born?" I asked, anxiously. "Was she happier then—did she forget the past a little in her love for me?"

In the woman's answer a curse seemed to fall on my head. I had never been blessed with a mother's smile. I had been nursed with hatred on her bosom; my very life had been saved out of her hands! And so she had lain down to die, lying where that beaten girl was then lying. I kissed the girl in pity for her sufferings; my tears fell wet upon her face; but every kiss seemed to bring me nearer to my dead mother, and to all her sorrow and all her shame.

If I had been left to myself I should not have returned home that night, but the old woman, partly by force, partly by persuasion, led me up to the entrance of the house.

I could not endure the thought of meeting my

father, and I stole on tip-toe past the room where he and Abel were sitting. My father must have seen the conflict of that night written on my face when he met me the next morning. I believe his heart was moved with pity, for he came forward to kiss me; but I involuntarily shrank from him before his lips touched mine. An irresistible influence seemed to drag me away.

He called me to him, but I had no power to move.

Then his indignation was excited; he upbraided me for my ingratitude; true, I had discovered the secret of my birth, though he had done all in his power to hide it from me; but yet the knowledge of my origin ought only to have increased my affection and gratitude. He reminded me that I had been treated as the daughter of the house, though my mother was a slave. All that education could do had been done for me; but he feared it was only too true that there was some radical perversion in natures such as mine which unfitted them for love.

Oh! It was intolerable anguish to hear such words from his lips, and to feel, as I did then feel, that they were true.

He finally told me with great sternness that although I was free—free beyond all question or doubt—yet my future destiny depended on my own behavior. Whether I gave him my heart or not —he had once looked for a daughter to solace his old age, but that hope was gone—he would at least have a return for the money spent upon me. I should amuse him, read and play to him as heretofore, and arrange the household affairs; I should suffer for it if I failed.

Abel entirely usurped my place in my father's heart. The affection and indulgence which had been mine were lavished upon him. I had stood between him and his hope, as nearest lawful heir, of inheriting my father's wealth; there was no longer any danger that I should spoil his prospects.

He still kept up the show of treating me with great outward respect: taking care, however, that the crushing thought of my degradation should be continually before me; for he well knew that thought to be the main cause of my estrangement from my father.

There was no one to support me through this heavy trial. Mary Evans, indeed, was true; she would twine her arms round me, drawing me affectionately to her bosom, protesting an eternal friendship; yet I felt at those times more than ever my isolation. Her nature was not my nature; the drop of dark blood and the iron hand of the law had decreed our separation; her pity might be as great and as good as the pity of an angel, but it could not afford that blessed consolation which arises from the possession of a common nature liable to the same trials and the same sufferings.

Do not imagine that this was merely a morbid fancy of mine; its truth was too evident in the ordinary intercourse of life. When Mary Evans and Abel and I were sitting together, and he talked in a bantering tone of some friends of his who had fallen in love with us, his words amounted to no more than familiar badinage, to which the laughing retort of Mary Evans formed, on her part, a fitting answer. But those same words addressed to me were laden with unutterable shame, bringing a burning blush to my cheeks.

But the lash—ah me! the day of retribution had come. While I was yet responsible for all household matters, the ability to command had left me, and the slaves knew it, as the horse knows an unskillful rider. I dared not punish. The thought of my own mother, and the knowledge that I was ordering a creature of like nature with myself to be lashed, tied my tongue and held my hand. Things. were often neglected, and my father would receive no excuses for any shortcomings he discovered. I had the means of punishment, he said, and he would summon the overseer, and force me to give the order for punishment. Sometimes in his irritation at what he termed my stupid "nigger-worship," he would strike me, even in the presence of Abel, with his switch.

There was a clergyman, a Mr. Graham, a neighbor of ours, who occasionally visited at our house. He was an old man, toward whom I entertained the strongest feelings of respect and veneration; it was impossible not to be attracted by the tenderness of his manner, and by the strong but unobtrusive piety which marked his demeanor. When I tell you that he held slaves, you will in all probability smile at the thought of his tenderness and utterly deny his piety. Yet he was not a hypocrite. I will mention, by way of illustration, that memorable instance of the great leader of the Evangelical party in past days—the pious John Newton, of Olney, successor of Whitfield, and intimate friend of Cowper. Well, he was in his earlier days a slave-trader, the master of a slave ship. On board his vessel, as I have read, the negroes were packed together like herrings, stifled, sick, and broken-hearted. But, separated by a single plank from his victims, the voice of their jailer might be heard, day by day, conducting the prayers of his ship's company, and joining them in singing devout compositions of his own. He experienced on his last voyage to Guinea—these are his own words—"sweeter and more frequent hours of Divine communion" than he had ever elsewhere known. Even in his old age, long after he had entered the Church, holding a conspicuous position as a Christian minister, honored and revered by a large congregation, he coldly and phlegmatically avowed his participation in the slave-trade; and to the last he was little conscious of the heinousness of his guilt.

Mr Graham would have resisted as indignantly any assertion that the negroes are the intellectual and moral equals of the white race, as he would have opposed the theory that mankind at large have been developed from monkeys.

Yet it was impossible for him to be harsh or severe to any living creature. No trouble was too great, if he could only alleviate pain and suffering wherever they might exist. When any slave chanced to be ill, he would watch with the utmost solicitude at the bedside, speaking the kindest

words, and noting every change which took place in the patient. An ordinary observer would have marveled at such devotion, and would have felt the greatest admiration for such conduct on the part of a man toward his poorer fellows; but Mr. Graham never for a moment entertained the idea that the sufferer was bound to him by the bond of a coequal humanity. He would have acted—indeed I have known him act—with the same tenderness toward a poor dog which had been, by accident, severely wounded. In his establishment, both slaves and lower animals were equally spoiled; but, as a matter of principle, he would have no more thought of denying that the lash was, at times, necessary for the correction of slaves, than be would have denied that it was necessary for the correction of brute creatures.

One day, in an agony of despair, I threw myself at Mr. Graham's feet, and poured out all my sorrow. His manner was very kind and affectionate—but still that taint of blood! I read the thought in his words of tender pity. He evidently felt that there was some difference in our respective natures—a radical defect existing in mine, which demanded his deepest sympathy. The same sort of conversation might have taken place between us on the supposition that some slight germ of insanity existed in my mind, so slight that my reasoning faculties were scarcely affected by it—so slight, in short, that there was every hope the evil might be overcome by healthy mental discipline and strict watchfulness.

My feeling of estrangement toward my father appeared to him unnatural, and not to be accounted for by any ordinary cause. He admitted that mine was a bitter trial; but yet my father had done all that lay in his power to lighten the burden. I had received the blessing of a good education. I had been brought up in the paths of religion and virtue. I had been associated, as far as possible, with my father's own friends and connections. I had been treated with the utmost affection and regard. I ought to humble myself to my father's will, and to strive to cast out the evil pride which hardened my heart. By God's grace I might hope to do it; but I must make earnest effort, using frequent prayer.

That interview with Mr. Graham only added to my despair. I had sought consolation of one for whom I felt the greatest reverence and respect; I had sought consolation where consolation may be most surely found—in religious converse and advice; but his words and love utterly failed to alleviate the sorrow of my heart. I little imagined at that time that what I looked upon with the utmost misery as being the dark depravity of my own heart was an intuitive sense of God's justice in rebellion against man's false principle and practice. My heart would not be humbled by prayer, but it was humbled by the endurance of ignominy. All pride was cast out of me at last. My cheek no longer flushed at the vile yet cleverly hidden insinuations of Abel. I had lost all sense of degradation in a blow from my father. I was callous to all affronts from the visitors who now frequented my father's house for Abel's pleasure and amusement.

Shut out from earthly hope and heavenly consolation, I felt that I was gradually sinking to the level of the wretched beings around me. My mother had claimed me as her own—the inheritor of her nature and her degradation. I suppose it could only have been a question of time how long my bodily strength would have endured this fearful conflict of feeling. The end came at last.

My father was taken dangerously ill. It was my duty to nurse him; and then, God be thanked! I experienced a gleam of relief. I could love him with some of my old love when he was in pain, for those social ties which had estranged me from him were lost in the sick room. There seemed, in some strange way, to be a bond of union, arising from his sufferings, which bound him to my dead mother and myself. Alas! it was but a slender link.

The hasty vehemence of health and a passionate disposition left him now; he became very mild in his manner, thoughtful beyond his wont, and his thoughts turned heavenward. Mr. Graham frequently came to visit him, reading and conversing on religious matters.

My father, one day, when we chanced to be alone, gave me his keys and bade me get the miniature from his desk. He held it a while feebly in his hands, gazing fondly upon it, and then made me fasten it by a ribbon round his neck. From that period his thoughts, with few intermissions, centred in the recollections of his wife. Her name was always on his lips, uttered with terms of endearment. All his hope was to meet her again, and be with her in heaven. Not one word, through all this, not one thought, of my mother! I used to sit at his bedside, my heart ready to burst, hoping and praying that the remembrance of the shameful past might rise up in his mind. They told me that the slightest excitement might be fatal to him, so my tongue was bound to silence.

One night my father desired to be left alone with Mr. Graham. I was told to leave the room; but I stole back, crouching behind a curtain. There was something still on his mind which troubled him. It had no reference to my mother. Mr. Graham cheered him with Christian hope and consolation. I could endure it no longer. I arose from my hiding-place and stood before them.

"My mother!" I exclaimed; "has he prayed forgiveness for that wrong?"

Mr. Graham was startled by my presence. "He has repented," was the reply, "of the grievous sin which gave you existence. I have the fullest confidence in his repentance."

"But his sin against my mother!" I cried; for some feeling I could not resist impelled me to speak out. "Torn away from her husband and children—sold away to infamy and shame—that is the sin I speak of!"

"You speak," answered Mr. Graham, "as if this act had been done to some white woman living in holy matrimony."

I burst into tears and fled from the room.

They never let me see him again; they never

forgave me what I had said. Toward the end, they told me he became very calm, lying a while almost insensible, with the miniature clasped in his hand. Then, with a last convulsive effort, he stretched forth his arms, as if in the act of clasping some form to his bosom, and crying aloud the name he loved so well, fell back and died.

The Evanses took me away to their house. I was in the greatest need of comfort and support. The misery which appeared to arise from the innate defect of my nature was wrought to its utmost pitch. I felt that I was guilty of hastening my father's death, and that the inherent defect of my nature was to blame for my guilt.

Abel succeeded in all his plans. The bulk of the property was left to him: a moderate competency only being reserved for me. But the loss of wealth seemed nothing in comparison with the dark taint left upon me.

It was long before my bodily health sufficiently recovered to allow of my leaving the Evanses. I then joined the Summerses in Canada, and in their company I came to England. It was only by little and little that my broken spirit was built up; that I regained my feeling of self-respect, of self-confidence. Free! At first it seemed utterly marvelous that people in England did not shrink from me. I could not for a long time believe in the possibility of being loved and treated as an equal by the pure white race. They used to think me cold and proud, when in reality I was holding back in the misery of my old sense of inferiority, and my old fear of insult. Mrs. Summers and her daughter supported my faltering confidence and cheered my heart. I told them that I would not have their friends deceived in respect of my personal history, and I was astonished when I found that this knowledge only elicited for me the warmest sympathy and regard. Every lingering doubt was dispelled one day, when those words, which in my own land would have covered me with shame were whispered in my ear, and the good man asked me to be his wife, who has been my kind husband these many and many happy years.

OUR ARMY BEFORE YORKTOWN.

WE continue this week, on pages 289, 296, and 297, our series of sketches of the military operations at Yorktown, from sketches by our special artist, Mr. A. R. Waud, and Mr. Mead of the Vermont Brigade. Pages 296 and 297 contain a view of YORKTOWN FROM THE RIVER, GLOUCESTER ALSO FROM THE RIVER, and THE REBEL WORKS AT WYNN'S MILL, and two other war pictures. Our artist, Mr. Waud, thus describes these pictures:

"The view of 'Yorktown from the River' was sketched from Farinholt's house—a position on the river from which Gloucester and Yorktown can both be seen. The works at Yorktown consist of fortifications extending along the top of the bluffs, running far inland, and a water-battery on the beach. The little dock on the point is a very busy spot. Schooners are constantly going and coming, unloading men and stores. Wagons crowd the adjacent beach, attended by crowds of men, horse and foot. On the water-battery three very heavy guns are mounted; and there is another, partly hidden by the sand-bags, on the little fort to the right. Above, on the table-land, are numerous works for the defense of the water-front of the position. Behind these the houses of Yorktown can be seen. It is a small place, and seems to be just such a place as Fairfax Court House. On the opposite side of the river is Gloucester—a much smaller place, but strongly fortified. Here is a water-battery of seven embrasures, and alongside of it a redoubt, mounting two heavy pieces, connected with the works on the heights by a long curtain. On the bluff the enemy is busy covering his gums with sand-bags.

"The rebel flag flaunts ever these works at several points, marking the head-quarters of different commands, and there is a goodly number of hospital flags.

"The picture entitled 'Rebel Works at Wynn's Mills' is a view of a portion of the rebel works, from a point south of Yorktown, two or three miles from the river. It consists of a line of rifle-pits, with earth-works for guns behind, with occasional redoubts along the front. The course of the little stream which afterward becomes Warwick River is marked by the stockade which crosses it, where there is a dam. Beyond, to the left, the rifle-pits run into the woods, which are defended by stockades and logs fastened across from tree to tree. At one place in the sketch—marked by a distant horseman—is visible the covered way connecting the works. Here a carriage is occasionally seen, supposed to contain Jeff Davis.

"The 'Sketch of a Rebel Gun' is an enlarged view, taken through a glass, of the piece which wounded Lieutenant Wagner and killed one of his assistants. It seems to be a large iron howitzer, and was finally silenced by one of our light field-pieces. At every discharge from our battery the man on the right would give the alarm, and all would drop out of sight; notwithstanding several were wounded and carried off on stretchers.

"The holes on the fort beyond show where our shots struck uncomfortably near for the gunners.

"The country about Yorktown is a swamp covered with pines, little clearings being made here and there for farms. No roads exist of any account for military operations, therefore our soldiers have had to make them. The sketch of making roads is a good representation of the country they have to work through.

On page 289 we reproduce one of Mr. Mead's sketches. It illustrates the way in which the cowardly rebels force their negro slaves to do dangerous work. It represents a struggle between two negroes and a rebel captain, who insisted upon their loading a cannon within range of Berdan's Sharp-shooters. The affair was witnessed by our officers through a glass. The rebel captain succeeded in forcing the negroes to expose themselves, and they were shot, one after the other.


 

 

  

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