Emancipated Contrabands


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, January 31, 1863

This WEB site features online versions of all the Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War. These newspapers serve as a resource to allow the serious student to gain new perspective and insights on the War.

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Army Beef

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Rebel Reaction to Emancipation Proclamation



Battle of Vicksburg

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Emancipated Contrabands


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Blockade of Charleston




[JANUARY 31, 1863.




THE beginning of the effect of the President's Proclamation of Freedom is illustrated in our picture on page 68. Its author, Mr. Waud, thus describes it:

"There is something very touching in seeing these poor people coming into camp—giving up all the little ties that cluster about home, such as it is in slavery, and trustfully throwing themselves on the mercy of the Yankees, in the hope of getting permission to own themselves and keep their children from the auction-block. This party evidently comprises a whole family from some farm: the mule cart, without a particle of leather about its rope harness, and with a carpet thrown over it for wagon-cover, is unique in its dilapidation. The old party with the umbrella is a type. Down on the Peninsula it appeared constantly on the Sabbath. No matter how fine a day, the old darkeys, clad in ancient dress-suits, white cotton gloves, and tall bell hats, always made their appearance with large 'Gampish' umbrellas—as I conjecture an insignia of respectability. Somehow or other the ladies of the colored persuasion manage to get hoops, although bonnets and other fashionable frivolities are out of their reach.

"One of the females represented in the picture had a nearly white child, a girl; and, young and old, all seemed highly delighted at getting into our lines. Let us hope they may fare better than the thousands who found a refuge from the institution in Alexandria last year; the poor creatures died there as though a plague had smitten them."


IT had been the day for drafting in a little town in the hill-country of Connecticut. It was night-fall now, and a man walked slowly home to the wife who watched and waited for him. He was a tall, handsome fellow—thirty-five, perhaps; vigorous of limb, strong of muscle, with kindly yet earnest eyes, well-cut features, and an expression of fearless integrity. You would have known him at once for what he was--a good, unselfish, courageous, honest man, worthy of winning, capable of holding a woman's love.

She who listened for his coming heard the slow step upon the gravel, and sprang from the door to meet him. You could see, even in that dim light, what a bright, cheery, pretty woman she was; with her loving eyes; her dark, satin-smooth hair; her red, tender lips; and the fresh roses on her cheeks. She went up to her husband and put her hands on his arm lovingly.

"I know you have bad news for me, John!"

"Yes, Mary; I must go. I was the third one drafted."

The wife felt her limbs shake, and she thought at first that she could not stand. All the forces of her nature seemed giving way, but she rallied bravely. For his sake she would be calm and strong; but she could not speak just then. She led him into the house, where their children were—five of them; the eldest only ten in the July just gone. There was something in their father's manner which checked the noisy demonstrations with which they were wont to greet him, and they only gave him a few silent kisses as he sat down in the great chair by the west window. He buried his face in his hands for a while, and then he lifted it and looked round on the little group of his loved ones. Three girls and two boys, and his wife, their mother, looking, in spite of years of care, as fair, almost as young, as the day he brought her home his new-made bride. His chest heaved with a long and bitter sigh—a sort of sob of despair, rather—and then be said, as if he feared even she, his other self, might misunderstand him:

"God knows, it is not for my own sake, Mary! I do not think I am afraid to die. I would go with more than willingness, with joy, if I had not so much to leave. If I fall, what will become of you and the children? I can not bear to think of what you might suffer, with no one to stand between you and the cares and sorrows of the world. Mary, this drafting indiscriminately does not seem just. Surely the single men ought to go first."

His wife stole her hand into his very gently.

"Do not think of us," she said, with a true woman's self-forgetfulness. "It is not that. We should do well enough. You need not fear that we should come to want. But oh! John—" And just there she broke down utterly, and cried out, with a burst of passionate tears, "No, I can not bear it! You will die! I shall never, never see your face again! If I could know that you would come back, even were it maimed and helpless, I would not murmur; but to think that you might die there, and I could not help you—that your eyes would seek mine, your hands grope for mine, and I not be there—oh! John, I shall go mad with hopeless horror!"

It was his turn to be the comforter now. He drew her into the shelter of his arms; he rested her poor head on his breast; he whispered, tenderly,

"All who fight do not die, Mary. God watches over us there as well as here. Some women's husbands must go, poor child! Something may happen yet that I shall not have to."

He knew, however, no solitary chance under the wide heavens by which he could escape. The words with him were but the vaguest utterance of soothing; but she caught at them eagerly.

"You could procure a substitute, perhaps—is that what you mean?"

"I would if I could," he answered, evasively, remembering in his own mind the difficulty far richer men than he had experienced in procuring them in those quiet, thinly-peopled, agricultural towns. "I am very tired, Mary; can you give me some tea?"

Cheered a little by her new hope, and anxious, above all, to cheer him and make him comfortable, the wife got up and went into the kitchen. The biscuit for supper were already made, and in a few

minutes tea was upon the table. John Morgan drank cup after cup of it, with an eager, feverish thirst, but eating with him was a mere feint. When the meal was over the children were put to bed, all but the two oldest girls. They stole out to the open door, and sat down in the September moonlight, their arms round each other—feeling, with a sort of dumb pain, that a shadow which they could not resist had fallen upon the household. Their mother, meantime, had lighted her lamp and taken her work—a child's frock which she was finishing—to the little round stand. She would not let this evening seem more unlike other evenings than she could help.

Soon there came a footstep up the gravel-walk; this time a quick, firm tread. The girls in the door made way for the new-comer to enter, and he came in and stood silently for a moment in the centre of the little sitting-room. He was a slender, elegantly-moulded man. You could see at a glance that the fibre of his manhood had never yet been tested by any tough struggle with fate. Yet one would not have doubted his untried courage. It shone in his steady blue eyes, sad with an unspoken pain; it betrayed itself in the curl of his lip, the curve of his nostril. They say no soldiers ever fought more bravely than the gentry of England—white of hand, haughty of look, delicate of feature. Some such blood flowed in the veins of Ash Thornycroft. He was the only son of the rich mill-owner whose foreman John Morgan was. He was no stranger at the little cottage; and even in this sorrowful hour there was no danger of his being unwelcome. He was the first to speak.

"It is hard on you, Morgan, this draft. My father was saying to-night that he did not know how he should contrive to spare you. So well as you're doing now, too—already comfort and competence for you and yours, and better things in prospect."

"It's useless talking. I think I was not born under a lucky star. You were. Mr. Thornycroft's son, to begin with; young, rich, without a tie to fetter you; and of course the draft spared you."

"Without a tie! Do you call that happiness?"

John Morgan's eyes fell beneath that sad, steady gaze of reproach. He remembered then one who had died in March, on whose grave the lonesome spring rains had wept tears which sprang up again in roses and violets—the gentle girl whom Ash Thornycroft had loved so long and well.

"Forgive me," he said, in a low, penitent tone. The other went on:

"I think you forget yourself a little when you repine at this stroke as if it were the worst thing which could have happened. Would you give up your wife, or one of your children, even to escape from the perils of this war?"

"Did you think I was a coward?" and the honest soul looked indignantly out of John Morgan's eyes. "It was not for myself I feared, but for them. If I were to fall what would they do? I have struggled to shield them so far as I could from toil, or care, or privation. How are they fitted to tread the world's rough paths alone?"

"No, I did not take you for a coward. If I had I should not have thought your life worth saving. I think I know how I should feel in your place. It is a place in which I shall never stand. I am going to enlist, John. It is my duty, for I have nothing to keep me at home. I am ready to give all that I have to my country. If I fall I shall only go the sooner where all my longings tend. What is to hinder my sparing you to your happy fireside? I came to propose myself as your substitute."

"It is not, are you sure it is not, to spare me? Would you go in any case?" John Morgan asked, with a little doubt in his voice.

"Do not fear that I am going for your sake. I made up my mind as soon as the call came for the volunteers. I only waited for this very thing—the chance, if I should not be drafted myself, of saving some man who was to the woman who loved him. I am glad it is you, John; my good old friend, to whom I can render this service."

John Morgan was a man of few words, of feelings which lay so deep that they seldom rose to the surface; but there was something which Ash Thornycroft needed no language to interpret in the look of his eyes, and the grasp of his hand, as he hurried out of the room.

Thornycroft was one of those men with a vein of tenderness in the midst of their strength which always allies them more nearly to women than to men. Left alone with Mrs. Morgan, he said what he never would have said to her husband. It was when she thanked him, with earnest words, and sobs and tears of joy yet more eloquent.

"There was one, Mrs. Morgan, who loved me as well as you love John. You do not need to thank me. All that I ever could do for any other woman I would do for her sake. You have seen her; you know how fair and sweet she was; but I think no one save me knows all her purity, her saint-like goodness. I have had only one hope since she died, that I might be fit to go to her. If I die in this good cause, think of me as happy with an unspeakable happiness. It will but be opening the golden gates the sooner. I shall not see you again, so I will bid you good-by now."

Her tears fell upon his hand, her lips touched it. She whispered brokenly her blessing, the blessing of one who owed to him more than her own life; and so, anointed for his work, as it were, by those holy tears and prayers, he went away.

The girls at the door saw his face in the moonlight, white yet radiant and tender. They ran in to their mother asking their childish questions—

"What made Mr. Thornycroft look so? What was he here for?"

"Father is not going away; Mr. Thornycroft is going in his stead. We shall keep father at home."

And then, woman-like, she fell to hugging them and crying over them; and just then John came back, and took the three all together in his strong arms.

It was one of the supreme moments of life which, whether of joy or grief, picture themselves to our minds and need no description.

Ash Thornycroft walked away with a firm tread. He turned aside when he came to the church, with the old burying-ground in its rear, full of grass-grown mounds. He went in there and knelt beside a grave on whose head-stone the name of Constance Ireton gleamed white and clearly cut in the moonlight.

"Oh, my darling, my darling!" he cried, with his lips pressed to the sod. If the dead could hear, that still heart beneath should have throbbed again to the accents of such love. Many a night had he talked to her there, as now, with a strange sense of nearness—a full belief in the communion of their souls.

"You are not here, I know, and yet I know you hear me. I am going away to-morrow, God's soldier and yours. Give me your blessing, Constance, and pray for me, you who have already seen the Father's face, that I may do my work without faltering, and the end may come soon."

It was but a dream of his own overwrought fancy; but he seemed to see a cloud draw near, from which a face looked—a white, sweet face, sad with waiting, yet glorified with immortal hope. He seemed to hear a voice, which said,

"Go forth, my beloved, and do your work. Soon will the struggle be over, and the reward is long and sure."

For an instant he seemed to see the smile upon her face, the look of faithful love in the immortal eyes. Then, when he stretched out his arms toward it, the cloud seemed to melt into the white moonlight; not even an echo of the voice thrilled the September air—he was alone with the night.

He went away next day to join his regiment, one which had already seen hard service. There was in him the mettle of a true soldier. His day might be short—he would be busy while it lasted. Besides, I think he liked his grim work. He was always to be found among the volunteers for any desperate service. In many a fierce charge he led the van, with his bright fair hair glittering goldenly in the sunlight, and a blue glint in his eyes. He was never wounded. Nothing happened to disable him from his duty. He had refused well-earned promotion, and once, when a true comrade who marched always at his side had asked him the reason why, he answered,

"Because I shall be here so little while."

"I thought you volunteered for three years. I had heard that you came in place of a nine-months' man, but that you chose to enlist for the longest time and join an old regiment."

There was no answer to the inquiring tone which made a question of this remark, and Steven Chase, who understood his comrade too well to press the point, was as much puzzled as ever.

He comprehended it all better the night before Fredericksburg. They sat together on a stone a little way from their tent. For a while both had been thinking silently of what the dawning was to bring.

"It will be a tough fight," Chase said, at length.

"You may well say so," Ash Thornycroft answered. "It is a terrible responsibility to assume, that of leading men to such certain destruction; and yet, if we can but win the victory! There is hardly a man but would be willing to sell his life for that. It is the only regret I have in going in, that I shall never know which side conquers."

"Nonsense, man, don't get blue after seeing as much blood spilt as you have, and coming out of so many hard bouts scathless!"

"It was not my time hitherto. It is now. I have had my call. But I'm not blue, never fear. I shall go into that fight more joyfully than ever tired child went home. I have only one wish. If you pull through alive take care of my body. I want to be buried at home, beside a grave that was made last March, in the Westville church-yard. You must send me to my father—David Thornycroft, Westville, Connecticut. Here it is written down for you. Papers that I left at home explaining my wishes will be sufficient for the rest."

His manner carried conviction with it, conviction at least of his own faith in his forewarning, but Steven Chase tried to shake it off.

"I never knew a presentiment to come true in my life," he said, sturdily. "You will talk over the battle with me twenty-four hours from now."

Thornycroft only smiled, as he said,

"Do you promise what I asked, Steven? Will you send my body to my father if it is within your power to protect it?"

"Yes; for your satisfaction I promise. I shall not bid you good-by, though."

They were toiling up the hill, that fatal afternoon of the next day, side by side, when suddenly Thornycroft looked round with kindling eyes to his comrade. He stretched out his hand with a smile which the other will never forget if he lives till his hair is white.

"Good-by, Steven!"

The next instant he fell heavily. A rebel shot had given him his mortal wound.

With exertions which would seem half incredible if I should relate them, Steven Chase succeeded in getting him off the field. He was not dead, and a hope still lurked in his true comrade's heart that he might yet live to tell at home the story of the war. He did not speak or move, but faithful Steven could feel the faint beating of his heart.

He did not die till after the troops had gone back across the Rappahannock. He belonged to a division which went into the fight six thousand strong, and went back at night with only fifteen hundred. He lay there with the wounded round him—the thin ranks out of which so many brave feet had marched forever. Just at dawning he looked up, and met his friend's eyes. He faltered, feebly,

"A defeat, Steven! I lived to know—victims, not conquerors." Then his face brightened with a strange radiance, and he whispered, so softly that his friend could scarcely catch the words—whispered as to some invisible auditor—

"Yes, my darling, yes!"

The next instant the faint heart-beat under Stevens Chase's hand was still. (Next Page)





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