Slavery must and shall pass away. (see 74) The response of the Confederacy to the enlistment of blacks as soldiers was immediate and tragic. While anti-black feelings may have abounded in the North, they were a standard to live by in the South. Even before Southern forces encountered any black combat troops, groups of Southern guerrillas roamed the countryside to instill fear into blacks lest they enlist.
Black freemen and slaves alike were assaulted, beaten, whipped and killed by these guerrilla bands. (see 75) As the sight of a black face in a blue uniform became more common, the Southern response became more outrageous. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, called for the “execution of abolition prisoners after 1st January…Let the execution be with the garrote. (see 76) Although no recorded confirmations of Beauregard’s orders are known, it was quite common for reports to indicate that black prisoners of war were shot “while trying to escape.”
Atrocities committed by Confederate soldiers against their black counterparts continued throughout the War. There were recorded instances of shootings, burnings, hangings, and black soldiers having their ears cut off and their heads split open by axes. Many Confederate officers thought it their duty to condone such activity. On September 2, 1863, Confederate Colonel Frank Powers wrote to Colonel Jonathan L. Logan, after some black soldiers had been captured by Powers’ regiment and attempted to escape: ” I then ordered everyone shot and with my six-shooter I assisted in the execution of the order.” (see 77)
Without doubt, the greatest atrocity to take place during the Civil War occurred on April 12, 1864, forty miles north of Memphis, Tennessee at Fort Pillow. Approximately 550 Union troops manned the garrison; about one half were black. A force of 1500 Confederate cavalrymen under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest demanded the surrender of the fort which was refused by the officer in charge. Forrest’s cavalrymen attacked the fort and killed, wounded or captured the entire Union command. Upon ascertaining the number of black troops within the fort, the Confederates began randomly killing all in sight. Before it was over, every black soldier at Fort Pillow was dead and nearly as many whites.
Official charges were lodged against Forrest but both he and the Confederate authorities denied that any atrocities had occurred.” Forrest went so far as to state in his official report that, “… the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned.” “The Mississippi”, he wrote with evident satisfaction, “was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards,”; he expressed the hope ” . . . that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”
Eventually, a Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War did investigate the alleged massacre and concluded that atrocities had taken place. Forrest’s actual role in the massacre was never determined and no action was ever taken against him personally. News of this tragedy was received in Camden County through war reports published in the two local newspapers. As it was throughout the War, the slant on news printed in the Camden Democrat was outrageously sympathetic to the South. The West Jersey Press of May 11, 1864, stated: ” The Subcommittee on the Conduct of the War, consisting of Senator Wade and Representative Gooch, have returned from Fort Pillow. They took fifty-seven depositions, all of which more than confirm the newspaper accounts of the massacre. They say that it would be impossible to exaggerate the cruelties committed.
Among the witnesses who were examined is the negro who was buried alive, and who dug himself out of his own grave. There is no doubt of the fact that one or more persons were nailed through their flesh to pieces of wood and then buried alive. Not only on the day of surrender were these fiendish acts perpetrated, but on the next day in cold blood. The victims seen by the committee were most of them cut and pierced in the face and the eyes with bayonets and swords, while other parts of their bodies were maimed and disfigured either by steel or lead .” The Camden Democrat in typical Copperhead fashion, printed in the June 26, 1864, edition, “…the massacre at Fort Pillow was caused by the negroes not laying down their arms.”
The response of the West Jersey Press was immediate. On June 29, 1864, under the headline “Remember Fort Pillow”, it was stated:”…As a cruel, brutal and inhuman massacre, of soldier and civilians, men, women and children, it has few parallels in the history of the world. There is no color of justification for it, nor had we ever met any, until the Democrat of Saturday last, in the face of evidence to the contrary of the most positive character, furnished by those whom the murderers had left for dead, had the barefacedness to tell its readers that the massacre at Fort Pillow was caused by the negroes not laying down their arms. No man outside of the Southern Confederacy unless he possessed the instincts and feelings of a traitor, and gloried in such savage barbarity would, in the face of truth, put forth such a statement Lost to all sense of honor, and goaded with the thought of the failure of the rebellion, rejected of God and despised of men, some of the Northern Copperhead editors are earning for themselves a reputation compared with which that of Cataline and Arnold will appear respectable.”
The impact of the events must have had a dramatic effect upon the readers of these two newspapers. We may be expected to assume that Camden County’s black population was more predisposed to the views of the West Jersey Press which was liberal and favorable to Lincoln. Greater evidence of the newspaper’s position is seen in later editions which began to list the names of black enlistees as well as white.
It must have come as a surprise to General Forrest that such atrocities did not have the expected effect upon Northern blacks, that was expected. In fact, the North became solidified in its support of the colored troops. And, “Remember Fort Pillow” became the battle cry of every black regiment for the remainder of the war. The element of fear that Forrest hoped to create was, in fact, double edged. After Fort Pillow, black troops fought under a black flag which embodied a warning to the Confederates that they would take no prisoners nor ask any mercy for themselves.
The fear of armed slave revolts that had for so long permeated Southern thinking was now magnified out of proportion. Not only were their former slaves armed and trained, but these atrocities caused salt to be applied to the open wound of slavery. One Union officer in a letter to his mother wrote, ” I have talked with numbers of Parolled Prisoners in Vicksburg, and they all admit it was the hardest stroke that there(sic) cause has received–the arming of the negrow.(sic) ‘ Not a few of them told me that they would rather fight two Regiments of White Soldiers than one of Niggers. Rebel Citizens fear them more than they would fear Indians.”(see 81)
Even though black troops benefited from the favorable attitude towards their efforts, many negative feelings remained. The fear of unknown horrors if captured was a major reason for the Union High Command’s hesitation in using black troops in combat where a heightened risk of capture existed. Furthermore, the Confederate refusal to treat blacks as legitimate prisoners contributed to the eventual breakdown in prisoner of war exchanges that ultimately had tragic consequences for both sides. Without the ability to exchange prisoners, both sides had no alternative but to create prisoner of war camps.
The result was the creation of the Confederate camp, a hellhole, known as Andersonville, where more Union prisoners died of disease, mistreatment and lack of proper diet than in battle. In spite of obstacles and atrocities, blacks continued to respond to the call to arms. Most of the Northern states raised regiments to fill their own quotas. This included Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and states to the west. New Jersey, although not raising its own regiments sent over 3000 men to fill the ranks of Pennsylvania’s regiments while taking credit for the numbers. Ironically, it seems that both states took credit for many the same men in filling their respective quotas. Many Southern states under Union control such as Louisiana and South Carolina also raised regiments. Maryland, for all intents and purposes was more Southern than Northern in sympathy. Slavery was not even abolished there until the state convention of 1864.
But Maryland did respond to the call and raised four regiments of 3000 men from the plantations of the eastern shore and southern Maryland. In October, 1863, President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton met with Maryland’s Governor Bradford to discuss the coming draft. An agreement was reached wherein slaveowners were given 30 to 60 days to enroll their slaves voluntarily with promised compensation of $300 per head. The money would be paid upon the filing of a deed of manumission for each man freed in order to enlist. A training camp was set up at Camp Stanton and two full regiments were immediately raised: the 7th and 9th USCT. By the end of 1863, two more regiments were ready to march: the l9th and 30th USCT. Many more freed slaves fled north to Pennsylvania to enlist and some went south to Washington, D.C..
Ironically, many of these former slaves from Maryland would later meet their former owners on the battlefield.(see 82) At last, thousands of black freemen, formerly slaves and contrabands were being permitted to do soldiers work. In Camden County the West Jersey Press took every opportunity to advise it’s readership of the bravery of the black troops while also listing the names of those black troops from the City of Camden and the surrounding townships of the county known to have been drafted. As in the June 29, 1864, edition: “General Banks, in an official report, dated ‘Before Port Hudson, May 30,’ gives an account of the attack on that place similar to the reports already published. In speaking of the negro regiments he says: ‘They answered every expectation. Their conduct was heroic. No troops could be more daring. They made during the day three charges upon the batteries of the enemy, suffering very heavy losses, and holding their position at nightfall with the other troops on the right of our line. The highest commendation is bestowed upon them by all the officers in command on the right. Whatever doubt may have existed heretofore as to the efficiency of organizations of this character, the history of this day proves conclusively to those who were in a condition to observe the conduct of those regiments, that the government will find in this class of troops effective supporters and defenders…”
Similar articles began appearing in the Press on a regular basis. As reports of black regiments in battle were received, they were printed immediately to assist in black recruitment. After the battle and siege at Petersburg, Virginia, in which many black Camden County residents participated, the following article appeared on June 29, 1864 in the Press: “The question as to the fighting qualities of our negro troops would seem to be settled, if it had not been before, by the conduct of those who are attached to General Smith’s corps, in the late engagements before Petersburg. A single day’s work has wiped out a mountain of prejudice, and fairly turned the popular current of feeling in this army in favor of the downtrodden race; and every one who has been with them on the field has some story to relate of their gallant conduct in action, or their humanity and social qualities.”
If any doubt remained as to the black man’s ability and courage in battle, it faded quickly during the remaining years of the War. In 1864 and 1865 black regiments participated in 449 engagements of which 39 were classified as major engagements. The remaining number were classified as campaigns, brushes and affairs.(see 83) By July 15, 1865, the date on which the last organization of colored troops was mustered in, the maximum number of blacks in the service at any one time during the War was reached. They were distributed as follows: 120 infantry regiments 98,938, 12 heavy artillery regiments 15,662 10 heavy artillery batteries 1,311,7 cavalry regiments 7,245 for a total of 123,156.
The entire number of colored troops commissioned and enlisted during the War, as computed in 1865, was 186,097; the loss during the War from all causes except muster-out was 68,178.(see 84) Black soldiers of the Civil War participated in at least 449 engagements. Of the approximate 283 black Civil War soldiers and sailors from Camden County so far identified, the majority took active roles in a substantial number of the 39 major battles and a good percentage of the remaining 410. After Governor Andrew of Massachusetts had received permission to raise black regiments for that state, it took little time before the ranks of the now famous Massachusetts 54th were filled. Recruiters were dispatched immediately to all of the surrounding states including New Jersey. Many men, such as George Farmer, traveled north to Readville, Massachusetts to enlist.
Of the three men in the 54th who gave their place of residence as Camden County, the gravesites of only two have been identified: Joseph J. Rice and John W Gaines. The third, William Passidy, was a 27 year old farmer, of whom nothing else is known except that he was married. Armed with Enfield rifled muskets and trained outside of Boston, the 54th was transferred to the war zone by early June, 1863. Under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment participated in a number of small skirmishes around Darien, Georgia, but Shaw yearned for an opportunity to show his men off. Through military channels, Shaw was able to have his regiment become part of a campaign to seize Fort Wagner, a fort protecting Charleston, South Carolina.
Although his men were delegated to an inferior position as the battle was about to start, Shaw’s forces, who had previously performed valorously in protecting the 10th Connecticut Infantry under attack by a larger Confederate force, were now chosen to lead the attack by the High Command. ” An engineering marvel, Fort Wagner extended across the entire neck of the island. Along its western side was Vincent’s Creek and to the east was the Atlantic Ocean. At high tide there was only a twenty-five yard strip over which the attackers could advance on the fort, something the Federals had overlooked. (see 85 )In addition there were seventeen hundred Confederate troops and seventeen artillery guns protecting the fort. The Union High Command greatly underestimated the strength of Fort Wagner, the size of its garrison and anticipated a swift success . (see 86)
The bugle sounded the attack, the Massachusetts regiment moved forward. Almost immediately Confederate guns roared and black soldiers began to fall. As they progressed along the twenty-five yard strip it was like shooting into a funnel. Again and again Shaw regrouped his men and charged. “Not a man flinched,” wrote survivor Sgt. Major Lewis Douglass, “though it was a trying time. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again..(see 87) Well over 40 per cent of the regiment were casualties including the heroic Colonel Shaw. The attack had failed. Aside from Shaw, three other officers were killed; eleven other officers and 135 men were wounded; and nearly a hundred were missing or taken prisoner.” (see 88)
The Confederates interred the bodies of two officers in separate graves, but they laid Shaw to rest in a pit with his men, or as the Confederates supposedly explained when the Federals sought his body under a flag of truce, ‘ We have buried him with his niggers!’ Clearly the Confederates intended to insult the sensibilities of the whites; instead it became a rallying cry across the North and helped to immortalize Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. (see 89) The assault on Fort Wagner left little doubt about the black man’s will to fight. The list of 135 men wounded in the assault included both John W. Gaines and George Farmer. Farmer sustained a gunshot wound under the right eye which impaired his eyesight and caused him severe pain ultimately disabling him completely. After the assault, Farmer was hospitalized at Morris Island, South Carolina for two months and thereafter returned to his regiment. After his discharge in 1865 Farmer married in 1870, settling in Snow Hill, later Lawnside, and was resident there when he died.
Interestingly, Farmer’s pension records contained in Appendix 8, give three different dates of death and leave many questions as to his life after the War. Another soldier, William DeGraff, testified on behalf of Farmer’s widow, Mary, in order for her to receive her husband’s pension. DeGraff is mentioned in Smiley’s book, A True Story of Lawnside, N.J. , as being one of five black soldiers still living on Decoration Day, 1921, from forty-six who went to fight the Civil War from that town. To date, no further information on DeGraff has been found nor has his gravesite been located.
Events at Fort Wagner caused racial barriers against black fighting men to fall. They were celebrated in newspapers across the country, in books, speeches and especially in song. One song that became extremely popular was an Irish tune allegedly written by a Private Miles O’Reilly. As Dudley Taylor Cornish states in his brilliant work, The Sable Arm, O’Reilly’s verses put the argument [for black enlistment] into language that anyone could understand, with an emphasis on the practical value of the Negro soldier in fundamental terms. The Irish had long resisted recognition of the black man’s right to fight in the War and had taken a strong anti-
black position during the bloody New York Draft riots.
The tune entitled “Sambo’s Right to be Kilt” had little to do with Ireland or the Irish but argued a fundamental question with Gaelic logic. The song was first heard at a banquet given for the officers of Meagher’s Irish Brigade on January 13, 1864 at New York’s Irving Hall.
” Some tell us, tis a burning shame To make the naygers fight; An’ that the thrade of bein’ kilt Belongs but to the white; But as for me, upon my soul! So liberal are we here, I’ll let Sambo be murthered instead of myself On every day in the year. On every day in the year, boys, And in every hour of the day; The right to be kilt I’ll divide wid him, An’ divil a word I’ll say.” The second verse continued the argument in the same vein but moved from the general to the particular. “In battle’s wild commotion I “houldn’t at all object If Sambo’s body should stop a ball That was comin’ for me direct; And the prod of a Southern bagnet, So ginerous are we here, I’ll resign, and let Sambo take it On every day in the year. On every day in the year, boys, And wid none o’ your nasty pride, All my right in a Southern bagnet prod Wid Sambo I’ll divide!”
With great good nature and irresistable logic, Private O’Reilly’s song moved on to its majestic close. “The men who object to Sambo Should take his place and fight; And it’s better to have a nayger’s hue Than a liver that’s wake an’ white. Though Sambo’s black as the ace of spades, His finger a thrigger can pull,And his eye runs sthraight on the barrel-sights From undher its thatch of wool. So hear me all, boys darlin’, Don’t think I’m Tippin’ your chaff, The right to be kilt we’ll divide wid him, And give him the largest half!”
Cornish, makes note of the success of songs like this in changing the nation’s attitude toward the fighting black man, especially with the Irish, many of whom had been determined in their resistance to ever recognizing the Negro’s right to fight. As to Private Miles O’Reilly, Cornish says, “Of course there was no Private Miles O’Reilly — That was the pen name of Charles G.Halpine, ‘talented literary gentleman’ of New York who for a time served on the staff of Major General David Hunter in the Department of the South. While Hunter worked to make soldiers of Negroes, Halpine worked to win their acceptance as fighting men. “Sambo’s Right to be Kilt” helped to break down popular opposition to colored soldiers.
The behavior of those soldiers did the rest.(see 90) The change in attitude that was seen was a change in the idea that this was a white man’s war. On February 20, 1864, one of the severest regimental losses of the War occurred in the 8th USCT at Olustee, Florida, otherwise known as Ocean Pond. Brigadier General Truman Seymour landed at Jacksonville, Florida with a plan to march into the interior and take over the state from the Confederacy. In a poorly planned attack at the tiny hamlet of Olustee in northern Florida, Seymour led 5,500 Union troops, including the all-black 8th Regiment, against a smaller Confederate force. The battle lasted for three hours until the rebels counterattacked. According to the official reports of the battle, “The 8th U.S. colored fought well until the loss of their leader, when they fled. The contest closed at dusk, and Gen. Seymour finding his force repulsed with some loss, and the colored reserve unequal to the emergency, retired from the field leaving his dead and wounded. (see 91) The 8th Regiment lost 310 men, including 87 killed or mortally wounded. The black troops were praised by their white officers. When a Confederate general claimed that the black troops turned and ran, one of the white officers who served with the 8th under Col. Charles W. Fribley responded, ” The black man stood to be killed or wounded–losing more than 300 out of 550. General Jones (Samuel Jones, Maj.Gen. C.S.A.) is again in error; they fell back and reorganized. Colonel Frubley’s monument shows where they fell. (see 92)
The 8th was not the only black regiment to suffer losses at Olustee, the 35th USCT and the Massachusetts 54th suffered with the 8th. Of those black soldiers engaged at the battle of Olustee, Camden County claims at least 11 members of the 8th USCT whose gravesites have been identified. The West Jersey Press published a list which included the names of others whose gravesites have not yet been located. After the black regiment’s initial success’, local newspapers such as the West Jersey Press began to list the black soldiers names together with those of the white soldiers.
The edition of August 10, 1864, lists one of the 10 men,”William H. Jones col’d” of the City of Camden as drafted. The regimental roster indicates that Jones was a member of the 8th USCT organized at Camp William Penn as of December 4, 1863. The 8th participated at Olustee, in the Battles of Petersburg, Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights in Virginia. It was part of the Appomattox Campaign in March, 1864, they pursued General Robert E. Lee and his army to the end of the War and was present when Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865.