Maryland Slave Writes Lincoln: “Am I Free? What Can I Do?”

April 25, 1864/2014
Volume 5, Issue 17 (185 Issues Since 15 October 2010)
Anne Davis Letter

Letter from Annie Davis to Abraham Lincoln, 8/25/1864. From the Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. See it up close.

Maryland Slave Writes Lincoln: “Am I Free? What Can I Do?”

April 25, 1864. More than fifteen months after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, a slave in Bel Air, Maryland named Annie Davis wrote President Lincoln. A slave-holding border state loyal to the Union, Maryland was not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation. Davis wrote,

Mr. President

It is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern shore [of Maryland].

My mistress wont let me. You will please let me know if we are free. And what I can do. I write to you for advice. Please send me word this week. Or as soon as possible, and oblidge.

Annie Davis

Annie Davis and Maryland’s other enslaved residents remained in limbo.


Union Soldier Convicted of Rape Hanged in ‘a Low-Rape War’

April 25, 1864. “In Against Our Will, [scholar] Susan Brownmiller characterized the Civil War as ‘a low-rape war.’ She conjectured that the reason for this was familial; that the war was fought by brother against brother. . . .

“Nonetheless, a few Union soldiers did rape women while they were in the South. In the spring of 1864, a Massachusetts soldier was convicted of raping a sixty year old woman. On April 25, his whole division was called out to watch the hanging of the rapist. Isaac Hadden described the execution. ‘Some six thousand of us were drawn up in a hollow square around the gallows.’ Even though Hadden believed that ‘hanging is the most disgraceful death a soldier can die,’ he said that ‘hanging was too good for him.’ This particular hanging, however, was inept. ‘When the trap was sprung, his feet touched the ground and three men had to pull him up so as to strangle him.’ Whether it was the execution itself, the sloppy way it was performed, or the idea of a fellow soldier raping an old woman that disturbed Hadden, he reported that April 25th had been ‘a hard day for us.'”


Davis’s Five-Year-Old Son Falls to His Death from Balcony

April 30, 1864.Varina [Davis] left her children with an Irish nurse while she carried a lunch to her busy husband at his office. While the Davises stole a welcome moment together, word came that their five-year-old son, Joe, had fallen from a balcony onto the brick pavement below. Varina and Jeff rushed home, but their son never recovered consciousness. He died a few minutes after his parents arrived.

. . .

“The death of their child erased, for the moment, all the rancor and hostility of Jeff’s critics. In a city that had grown almost immune to news of death and suffering, men and women grieved over the Davis family’s intimate tragedy. A procession of schoolchildren and Confederate dignitaries followed Joseph Evan Davis’s small coffin up a hillside to the Hollywood Cemetery. Each child carried flowers or a leafy bough to toss on the grave. . . .”


– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1864

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s