“Anti-Black White Mobs.” Reading Soldiering for Freedom: How the Union Army Recruited, Trained and Deployed the U.S. Colored Troops left me wondering whether one of the black soldiers I researched underwent the gantlet of Northern hostility the book describes. Soldiering for Freedom tells how, in 1863, an interracial group of abolitionists known as the Black Committee fanned out to homes, churches, social clubs and businesses North and South to drum up black recruits. The first goal was to muster up the 54th Massachusetts, the pioneering black regiment whose numbers included Samuel Thomas of Waverly, Pa., one of the men I profile in Embattled Freedom. The recruits’ journey to the Massachusetts training camp “passed through pockets of strong anti-African American sentiment in Ohio and New York,” according to Soldiering for Freedom. “Aware that violence might be directed at the black recruits, [chief recruiter George Stearns] avoided gatherings of unruly crowds on departure day. He arranged for white recruiters to purchase railroad tickets for the men so that their departure would not be known until the last minute. Stearns made sure that all recruits traveled to Boston on the Erie Railroad. Its conductors supported his work, and the new soldiers would have to make but one transfer, thereby limiting their possible exposure to anti-black white mobs.” In the midst of it, Stearns took a sardonic view. “This work is popular among all the classes,” he wrote to the Massachusetts governor. “The Republicans want them to go to the war and the rest of the people because they want to get rid of them. If the President would conscript them, men, women and children, and take them south he would be so popular that it would insure his election for the coming term.”
“Eyes Focused Straight Ahead.” A welcome counterpoint to the white harassment of the 54th Massachusetts was the experience two years later of the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops, whose ranks included six other black men from Waverly. Soldiering for Freedom co-authors Bob Luke and John David Smith describe how the regiment’s “prominent role” and fine comportment in Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession won the admiration of the mostly white crowd of mourners lining Pennsylvania Avenue. The battle-tested 22nd had been selected to represent all black regiments and was placed at the very head of the procession bearing Lincoln’s body to the Capitol. “A band struck up a dirge, and the soldiers marched to the front in dress uniforms with white gloves and fixed bayonets,” the co-authors write. “They marched with muskets reversed, following funerary regulations, their eyes focused straight ahead, looking neither left nor right.” According to a Chicago Tribune dispatch, “Their admirable marching and soldierly bearing was remarked by all, and formed one of the most prominent features of the occasion.” How satisfying to think that at least for that shining moment, a white public was able to look with respect upon black faces held high.
“Women’s Rights … Overlooked.” Black rights was not the only culture war that reactionaries of the 19th century were fighting. An acerbic item in the Scranton Register of Aug. 10, 1865, reveals as much. Women’s suffrage advocates had been starting to push for inclusion of women in the citizenship language of the pending 14th Amendment, but the Register wasn’t having it. This Page 1 polemic resulted: “It is a woman’s right to have her home in order whenever her husband returns from business. It is a woman’s right to be kind and forbearing whenever her husband is annoyed. It is a woman’s right to examine her husband’s linen, and see that it wants neither mending nor buttons. It is a woman’s right to be satisfied with her old dresses until her husband can afford to get her new ones. It is a woman’s right to be content when her husband declares he is unable to take her to the country. It is a woman’s right to nurse her children instead of leaving [it] to a maid. It is a woman’s right to git her daughter married happily, to feel pleasant though her husband bring a friend unexpectedly to dinner. It is a woman’s right to be contented with her own garments, without encroaching on those of her husband. And, finally, it is a woman’s right to remain a woman without endeavoring to be a man.” Sounds like someone needed marriage counseling, no?
Books News. I’m exciting to be making five more author appearances over the next month. Come by if you can, and spread the word if you will.
- Roxborough, Manayunk, Wissahickon Historical Society. Talk on Wednesday, April 18, at 7 p.m., at Journey’s Way Center, 403 Rector St., Philadelphia.
- Pennsylvania School Library Association annual conference. Book signing on Thursday, May 3, 4-6 p.m., and Friday, May 4, 1-4:30 p.m., at Hershey Lodge, Hershey, Pa.
- Covenant Presbyterian Church. Talk on Wednesday, May 9, 6 p.m., at 550 Madison Ave., Scranton.
- Wyoming Valley Civil War Round Table. Talk on Thursday, May 10, 7 p.m., at American Legion hall, Route 415, Dallas, Pa.
- Bradford County Historical Society. Talk on Friday, May 18, 6 p.m., at 109 Pine St., Towanda, Pa.
Lastly, you can check out my publisher’s interview with me on the new Sunbury Press blog talk radio.