Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20, 1863: From "Army Life in a Black Regiment"

On this day 150 years ago, Thomas Wentworth Higginson found himself having negotiate the treacherous terrain of racial politics within the Union Army. Could Black and White troops cooperate?
"March 20, 1863, Midnight.

"For the last twenty-four hours we have been sending women and children out of town, in answer to a demand by flag of truce, with a threat of bombardment. [N. B. I advised them not to go, and the majority declined doing so.] It was designed, no doubt, to intimidate; and in our ignorance of the force actually outside, we have had to recognize the possibility of danger, and work hard at our defences. At any time, by going into the outskirts, we can have a skirmish, which is nothing but fun; but when night closes in over a small and weary garrison, there sometimes steals into my mind, like a chill, that most sickening of all sensations, the anxiety of a commander. This was the night generally set for an attack, if any, though I am pretty well satisfied that they have not strength to dare it, and the worst they could probably do is to burn the town. But to-night, instead of enemies, appear friends,—our devoted civic ally, Judge S., and a whole Connecticut regiment, the Sixth, under Major Meeker; and though the latter are aground, twelve miles below, yet they enable one to breathe more freely. I only wish they were black; but now I have to show, not only that blacks can fight, but that they and white soldiers can act in harmony together."

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