Private Hillory Shifflet Expresses Disgust with Emancipation
February 13, 1863. Union soldiers who put their lives on the line — and sometimes lost them for the Union cause — were not all Republicans or abolitionists, by any means. A case in point was Private Hillory Shifflet, a native Kentuckian and a member of the First Ohio Infantry.
Historian Robert E. Bonner writes:
“Late in 1862 [Shifflet] expressed his disgust with emancipation by imagining Lincoln ‘in hell and a negro tide to him.’ This fantasy indicated both his Democratic principles and his lingering sympathy (as a native Kentuckian) for Southern society. Letters exchanged between Shifflet and his wife, who had also been born in Kentucky, produced an agreement that the family would relocate southward after the war concluded. ‘If I ever live to get to Ohio I wonte stay two weeks,’ Shifflet wrote, since ‘all or half of the state is negro wersherpers.’ The fight he had been initially eager to join had been corrupted by antislavery zealots.
“Shifflet’s racist hostility, like that of many Democrats, was heightened by class resentments against those who ‘miss the war and get others to do the fighting for them.’ His family’s dire circumstances meant that small difficulties like a delay in regimental pay had immediate consequences for day-to-day existence. Letters from his wife informed him that she was working during the harvest of 1862 in the tobacco fields alongside the other field hands, who were mostly men. Shifflet blamed his family’s humiliating circumstances on antislavery Republicans, whose rhetoric about freeing slaves stung all the more because of its contrast with the party’s apparent disregard of poor white families in both the North and the South. The following letter touched briefly on Lincoln’s policies before described how fellow soldiers were inflicting overly harsh measures upon defenseless Southern civilians. The lines between enemies and friends were blurred by the couple’s shared Southern sympathies.
February the 13, 1863
Camp Sill Tennessee
. . . I hav bin out with the forage teemes today me and Sahue McKelvy went with Ean McDanel he is driven a team and he is as tired as I am of the war. our Regiment has to dwo all the hardships. I had drother bee at home a working for 25 sense a day and borde my Self than to bee in the war. but this onholy war wood a bin over if oald Lincoln wood a let the negros alone. I wish he had forty the blackest negroes in the South tide to him. Hit is a Shocking Sight to see how the soldiers starvs the farmers. Tha take everthing before them. I saw them to day goin to a hous and take ever thing tha cood lay thaer hands on and then even for the chickens out adoors and the worst of all hit was a poor widow woman with fore little children, I was mity sorry for her She beg them to not take her things for her little Children wood Starve if tha took her provishion but tha went a head and took. I hav saw a heepe such cases as that tell I am tired out of such doings. I hante got nothing to right but if I was at home I cood tell you a heepe such things as I have seen. . . .
Mima I hav no candle tonight & I will hav to quit. . . .
Private Shifflet was killed about nine months after writing this letter, on November 25, 1863, at the Battle of Missionary Ridge.
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director
Robert E. Bonner, The Soldier’s Pen, 122-23.