African American Troops Lead Union Army into Charleston, Where War Started

February 13, 1865/2015
Volume 6, Issue 7 (227 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

New Orleans African Americans Call for End of Segregation Along with Slavery

Historian James M. McPherson notes that some southern African Americans argued for not only the end of slavery but also the end of segregation. In February 1865 an editorial in the New Orleans Tribune, an African American newsmagazine, argued:

If we have done with slavery, not so with the aristocracy of color. The negroes are set free, say the pro-slavery men of old, as our horses or cattle could be turned loose. Free and freed persons of color are not, for that party, real and complete men, made in the image of their Creator. They are held as a kind of bastard race, half-way between man and ape, a race that the law has to protect in some form, but that men of Caucasian, and particularly of Anglo-Saxon descent, can only look upon with disdain. . . .

[Segregated schools] perpetuate from childhood the infatuation of the white, and prompt the black to retaliate by enmity or envy, [and] . . . draw a line between two elements of one and the same people, from the cradle itself up to the time of manhood and throughout life. . . .

[Slavery is dead, but] we see . . . that some persons still imagine that we need two separate legislations. They intend to have a statute-book for the whites and another one for the blacks; they want two laws in one and the same country: the black law and the white law. This will be no less than a reminiscence of slavery; it springs only from narrow-minded people, who understand nothing of legislation. Policy, as well as history, warns the American people to listen not to these shortsighted counsels. . . . Shall we make two peoples with one people, two nations with one nation? This will be impossible. The strength of the United States will require that the dictates of equity and justice be heeded. A country cannot be powerful unless the people be made one nation. We want to have one country; let us therefore have one law.”

SOURCE

James M. McPherson, The Negro’s Civil War, pp. 273-4.


African American Troops Lead Union Army into Charleston, South Carolina, Where the War Started

February 18. “The most prominent city of the first state to secede, the site of a former U.S. arsenal that was producing ammunition for the Confederacy, and a prime port for blockage-runners, Charleston, South Carolina, was a particular target of Union military efforts throughout the war. Six thousand Federal troops landed east of the city in June 1862, but they were forced to retreat. In April 1863, Federal ironclads opened an unsuccessful six-month campaign against Charleston’s defenses that included the legendary July 18 [1863] assault on Fort Wagner by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, composed of African American troops. Units of the Fifty-fourth and the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts were among the first Union troops to enter the city, on February 18, 1865 [– singing, as Harvard historian John Stauffer has noted, “John Brown’s Body.” ]

‘The few white inhabitants left in the town were either alarmed or indignant, and generally remained in their houses,’ Colonel Charles B. Fox of the Fifty-fifth later wrote; ‘but the colored people turned out en masse. . . . .On through the streets of the rebel city passed the column, on through the chief seat of that slave power, tottering to its fall. . . . The glory and the triumph of this hour may be imagined, but can never be described. it was one of those occasions which happen but once in a lifetime, to be lived over in memory for ever.'”

Susie King Taylor, a nurse and laundress for the thirty-third Colored Infantry, recalled, “. . . [W]e arrived in Charleston between nine and ten o’clock in the morning, and found the ‘rebs’ had set fire to the city and fled, leaving women and children behind to suffer and perish in the flames. The fire had been burning fiercely for a day and night. When we landed, under a flag of truce, our regiment went to work assisting the citizens in subduing the flames. It was a terrible scene. For three or four days the men fought the fire, saving the property and effects of the people, yet these white men and women could not tolerate our black Union soldiers, for many of them had formerly been their slaves; and although these brave men risked life and limb to assist them in their distress, men and even women would sneer and molest them whenever they met them.”

"Marching on!"--The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown's March in the streets of Charleston,  February 21, 1865, courtesy Library of Congress

“Marching on!”–The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Colored Regiment singing John Brown’s March in the streets of Charleston, February 21, 1865, courtesy Library of Congress

SOURCES

The American Civil War 365 Days, Margaret E. Wagner, pp. August 3, December 8, from Taylor’s memoirs, 1902.

INTERESTING LINKS

Civil War Photography in Charleston with Garry Adelman, Civil War Trust

The Problem in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter and the Opening Shots of Civil War, Richard W. Hatcher; Hallowed Ground Magazine, Winter 2010, Civil War Trust

– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert

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