Happy wintry February, history mates new and old.

Here are two fresh nuggets and a bit of book news.

“De Massa Run Ha Ha!”  Scouring the papers of Union Army surgeon William H. Engle in the State Archives in Harrisburg, I came upon a victory song that Engle said he heard black infantrymen belting out as they marched through Petersburg and Richmond in the Civil War’s final days. Those men may well have included some of the individual soldiers I chronicle in Embattled Freedom. The song, which Engle called a ditty, is jubilant and clever. As he put it, “Though not at all classic in its diction, it is quite expressive.” He transcribed the opening lines as “Say, darkies, hab you see de massa / wid de muffstash on his face.”  For modern ears I give you the two verses in more standard English:



   Say, darkies, have you see the massa / With the mustache on his face

  Goin’ along the road sometime this morning / Like he’s goin’ to leave the place?

  He saw the smoke way up the river / Where the Lincoln gunboats lay.

  He took his hat and left real sudden / And I suppose he ran away.

  The massa run ha ha! / The darkey stay ho ho!

  It must be now the kingdom comin’ / And the year of Jubilo!


  He’s six foot one way, four foot the other / And he weighs six hundred pounds.

  His coat’s so big he couldn’t pay the tailor / And it won’t reach halfway ’round.

  He drills so much they call him captain / And he gets so mighty tanned

  I expect he’ll try to fool those Yankees / For to think he’s contraband!

  The massa run ha ha! / The darkey stay ho ho!

  It must be now the kingdom comin’ / And the year of Jubilo!


“At What Battle Did Fourteen African American Soldiers Earn the Medal of Honor?” That puzzler was imbedded in a link that Anthony Waskie sent me recently.  It’s part of the Civil War Trust’s Black History Month offerings online: some learning segments, news about preservation efforts — and a cool quiz about the U.S. Colored Troops. The Medal of Honor question is one of 11 in the quiz. I jumped in and — rats! — got all but the final question correct. What are you waiting for? Here’s the link.

Book News.  I also thank Professor Waskie, who teaches at Temple University, for kindly inviting me to address Temple’s annual Underground Railroad & Black History Conference. That takes place this Wednesday, Feb. 14, 3 p.m., in Walk Auditorium on campus.

The next day, Feb. 15, at 6 p.m., the Luzerne County Historical Society is bringing me in for an author talk at 6:30 p.m. in the society’s history museum, 49 South Franklin St. in Wilkes-Barre. Then, on Friday, Feb. 16, I’ll be speaking at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 232 Wyoming Ave. in Scranton, about the role of religion in the slavery debate. All three events are free and open to the public, so come on down if you can.

Lastly, if you’re among my new subscribers, know that these History Nuggets e-newsletters will arrive in your inbox only once a month, usually in mid-month, and that my past posts are archived in the Blog section of the website embattledfreedom.org.