From April 12, 1861 to May 9, 1865, the civil war had a lasting impact on the North and the South and their individual attitudes towards slavery. This idea is evident in a series of letters that were gathered from that period. The first letter was written by James Henry Gooding, a Massachusetts Black Corporal on September 28, 1863.
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Earlier in the month, a Union force was defeated in the Battle of Chickamauga. The second letter was written by an unnamed New York Black Soldier in August 1864. During that month, the Battle of Mobile Bay and the Battle of Jonesborough had occurred, both of which were victories for the North. The third and final letter was written by James C. Beecher, Commander of a North Carolina Black Regiment on September 13th, 1863. During this time, the Union Army of Potomac crossed the Rappahannock River and shortly after, the Battle of Culpeper Court House occurred. Although the union had fought the Confederacy and had considered slavery to be a moral wrong, they still displayed similar attitudes to their adversaries, even reducing African American servicemens positions to statuses similar to laborers and slaves instead of soldiers.
James Henry Gooding had turned to writing a letter to President Abraham Lincoln after the absence of equal pay became prevalent to him and other black soldiers. In his letter, Gooding asked an important question,” Are we Soldiers, or are we LABOURERS?” (Gooding, 1863). Gooding argued that Black soldiers should not be underpaid, for they performed the same work and accomplished the same duties that white soldiers did. He continued his letter, further explaining the prejudice of the situation, “When the arms of the Union, were beaten… again the black man begged, the privelege of Aiding his Country in her need, to be again refused, And now, he is in the War: and how has he conducted himself?…Let their dusky forms, rise up, out the mires of James Island, and give the answer. We have done a Soldiers Duty. Why cant we have a Soldiers pay?” (ibid).
Gooding explained how black soldiers proved whites wrong, yet they still had not been recognized as worthy of equal pay. They had accomplished their duties like everyone else, but they were not adequately recognized for their participation. ” You caution the Rebel Chieftain, that the United States, knows, no distinction, in her Soldiers: She insists on having all her Soldiers, of whatever, creed or Color, to be treated, according to the usages of War. Now if the United States exacts uniformity of treatment of her Soldiers, from the Insurgents, would it not be well, and consistent, to set the example herself, by paying all her Soldiers alike?”(ibid). Gooding pointed out that the union had not stood by what they had claimed to believe in. After all, one of the reasons why the civil war began was because of differences in views on slavery and whether or not it should be outlawed.
An unknown soldier wrote to President Abraham Lincoln to the best of his ability. “Instead of the musket It is the spad and the Whelbarrow and the Axe cuting in one of the most horable swamps in Louisiana stinking and misery.” (Unknown, 1864). The unknown soldier described the treatment of blacks and the work they were assigned. The jobs that the unknown soldier spoke of were that of slave work. He compared the use of weapons to the physical labor that black regiments performed to show the clear lack of acknowledgement from their white superiors. The unknown soldier then went on to write about the fact that they were underpaid. ” we All Listed for so much Bounty Clothing and Ration And 13 Dollars A month. And the most has fallen short in all thes Things we havent Recived A cent of Pay Since we Bin in the field. Instead of them Coming to us Like men with our 13 Dollars thay come with only seven Dollars A month.” (ibid). The soldier seemed to face the same problem as Gooding however, the unknown soldier delved into further detail about other basic necessities they were deprived of alongside payment. ” Hardly have Anough Bread to Keep us From starving six or 8 ounces of it to Do A Soldier 24 hours on Gaurd or eney other Labor and About the Same in Meat and Coffee sum times No meat for 2 Days… It is A hard thing to be Keept in such a state of misery Continuly.” (ibid). The soldier explained the lack of food to further highlight their wretched situation. They were still expected to fight and perform physical labor after being fed scraps, and they accomplished those things, yet they were still deprived of the three dollars they were meant to be paid.
James C. Beecher was a man of leadership. In his days as a commander of a black Regiment, Beecher had seen his fair share of injustices towards blacks. In Folly Island of South Carolina, Beecher wrote to General Edward A. Wild in an attempt to salvage his Regiment, describing the work that his black troops were assigned and how it had affected his troops sick list. In his letter, Beecher stated,” It is reported to me on good authority that men of my command ordered to Morris Island on fatigue duty, are put to work laying out and policing camps of white soldiers on that Island… Since the commencement of the war I have never before known such duty imposed upon any Regiment.” (Beecher, 1863). Beecher pointed out the blatant inequity by mentioning his black soldiers were assigned duties that white soldiers never had to complete. To further prove his point, Beecher added the impact of such work on his black soldiers noting,” As you are aware“the fatigue duty of my regiment has been incessant and trying“so that my sick list has increased from 4 or 5 to nearly 200 in a little over one month.”(ibid). Beecher was aware that simply presenting the situation would not be enough to convince Gen. Wild, so he added the increasing numbers of incapable soldiers to persuade Gen. Wild to take notice of his concerns and take action. Towards the end of his letter, Beecher sums up the real issue at hand with his bold word choice writing, “…when they are set to menial work doing for white regiments what those Regiments are entitled to do for themselves, it simply throws them back where they were before and reduces them to the position of slaves again.”(ibid).
In conclusion, even though the North had seen themselves to be more advanced than the South because they outlawed slavery, they still treated their black soldiers as slaves and laborers rather than soldiers. The three letters presented showed the hypocrisy of the Union from the perspectives of a White commander of a black regiment, a black soldier, and an unknown black soldier. The common point between all three letters were black regiments and the problems they faced that they felt brought them back to slave status due to unequal pay and the slave-like jobs they were appointed.
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