Sunday, October 15, 2017

Announcement
 
I have nominated "Crossing the River" to be Goodreads.com's Historical Fictionistas's December group novel.  If you are a Goodreads member and feel that my writing and story merit the nomination, would you second the nomination?  The novel will not be one of several novels voted on if its nomination is not seconded.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 32-37
 
“You needn't explain who you are,” Barnes interrupted as they began their apology. “Every person in this town knows who you are. Monday night a party of liberty men had planned a welcome for you. Captain Bigelow did see you previously on the road.”
     The silent horseman that had stared at them three days ago, De Berniere concluded.
     “Is there a safe tavern for us here?” Captain Browne asked.
     “No.”
     “Any place?” De Berniere asked.
     “Not one!”
     Browne's harried look matched De Berniere’s.
     “This town is violent, gentlemen. Consider my house but a temporary sanctuary.” Again De Berniere nodded. “Did you speak to anyone within the town?”
     “A burly man wearing an apron. He stopped us,” Brown answered. “He directed us to your house.”
     The merchant's ruddy face paled.
     “A man of importance, I conjecture,” De Berniere responded.
     “A leading militiaman of this town.” Henry Barnes tightened his face, pressed together opposite fingertips. “He hates anything British. So much so that he harbors a deserter. A drummer boy named Swain.”
     “God’s wounds!”
     De Berniere looked at Browne's astonished expression.
     “Did you … say 'Swain'?!”
     “I did.” The Tory merchant frowned. “Of what matter is it to you?”
     Browne pivoted. Lips issuing silent words, he glared. Wide-legged, he rocked.
     De Berniere looked for someplace to sit. Limb-enervating, thought-destroying fatigue had vanquished him. “Temporary sanctuary,” he had heard Barnes say. God’s love, he wanted everything -- hot food, good liquor, a snapping fire!
     “What is it?” the Loyalist asked. Browne had faced about. De Berniere observed the Captain’s twisted mouth.
     “Until less than a month ago, this ‘Swain,’ Private Swain, was my drummer boy!”
     Barnes inhaled, then grimaced.
     De Berniere’s mindfulness returned.
Had the drummer boy accompanied his protector out into the cold?! While the aproned man had spoken to them, had Swain recognized Browne?
     Barnes opened the front door, just as quickly closed it. “You can’t be seen again,” he declared. “You must leave before dawn even if the storm continues! Let us hope Swain remained indoors. Let us hope your enemies hold greater import to their physical comfort!”
     De Berniere removed his coat. Happenstance. Coincidence. His machinations had availed him nothing. Holding the dripping garment in his right hand, he shook his head.
     Barnes walked to the doorway of the adjacent room. Beckoning them to follow, he said, “You’ll find a good fire in my study. Take off your clothing. I will bring you robes.”
     A heavy knock on the front door stopped them.
     “I saw nothing just now,” Barnes whispered.
     De Berniere followed Browne out of the foyer. Barnes pointed to the wall that separated the entryway from his drawing room. Behind it, listening for voices, they heard initially the raw wind.
     “Hello, Barnes,” a voice insulted. “I've come to pay you a friendly visit.”
     “Doctor Curtis, how kind of you. We haven't spoken in two years.” A pause. “But I beg that you excuse me. I have guests to entertain.”
     Another pause. “Who are your father's guests, my dear?” the first voice said, this time without malice.
     De Berniere was startled by a child's voice. “Papa said it's not my business to know.” Polite but emphatic. Notwithstanding his alarm, De Berniere smiled.
     The sound of the storm silenced, Barnes entered the drawing room. “He is off to the Meeting House.”
     “Who is he?” Browne rubbed his left eye vigorously.
     “Doctor Samuel Curtis. A leader of the local Committee of Correspondence.”
     Barnes directed them into his study, where he advised them to spread their clothing on the hearth’s bricks.
     “You realize now you must leave much sooner,” he said, returning, the robes folded over his right forearm. “I think it best that we change our plans. You will not have time to wear these.”
     “The militiamen will be arriving,” De Berniere responded.
     “I’m certain of it.” He looked at their clothing, steam starting to rise from the fabric. “You’d better clothe yourselves, now, however wet they may be. Then come into the next room. You have arrived just after dinner. You may have time yet for a steaming meal. Let us hope.”
     His soaked clothing adhering to his skin, De Berniere eased his body down upon one of the dining table’s cushioned chairs. Smelling the roasted venison, he felt conjointly the release of tension and absence of volition. So this is resignation. This is capitulation, he thought. There is nothing, nothing whatsoever that I can achieve, save appease my appetite.
     He was ravenously hungry. Making eye contact with his host, he smiled. A sumptuous, final meal, he thought. Intending to enjoy every morsel, he reached for a bread roll.
     “Sir! Sir!”
     The animated servant commanded the passageway between the foyer and dining room. Barnes rose instantly from his chair.
     “Sir, many men! From the Meeting House! They carry muskets!” Snow was embedded in the man’s hair, layered on the shoulders of his coat.
     “How many?!” Barnes asked.
     “Maybe, … twenty!”
     “Be gone!” Barnes ordered. They rose from the table. “Hurry!”
     “I’ll attempt to delay them,” he said as they pulled on their coats.
     Having snatched four bread rolls off the table setting, De Berniere and Browne followed Barnes’s servant out a back door into a yard. The servant pointed at what appeared to be stables, were stables. The two officers hurried past them, hurried across a snow-laden field, scrambled over a whitened rail fence.
     Discovering a country lane a half mile away, the wind at their backs, the cold seeping through their coats, fearfully, miserably, they fled.
 
 
“Stand aside, Barnes,” the aproned militiaman demanded. “We aim t’have ‘em!”
     “Whom?!”
     “The British officers, damn you!” Thrusting a thick forearm against Barnes’s chest, the blacksmith shoved the merchant aside. The file of townsmen, the first two snickering, tramped into the house.
     “They are my wife's relatives, from Penobscot! They’re traveling to Lancaster,” Barnes told Doctor Curtis, the last to soil his entry hall carpet. “They’ve already left!”
     Half turning, Curtis sneered.
     The militiamen began their “search.” They overturned chairs, lifted and dropped beds, yanked off their rods drapes, scattered books, and emptied desk drawers. Two men hurled to the floor every garment hung in the bedroom closet. They tracked across his clothing, drapes, books, papers, the oak plank floor, and every imported carpet liquid filth. So angry did he become that, returning to the foyer, Barnes withdrew from his ornate floor vase his mahogany walking stick.
     The aproned militiaman, carrying a gilt-edged serving plate, approached him. His belligerent eyes moved from Barnes's grip on the walking stick to the Loyalist's compressed lips. A grin cleaved the man’s heavy face. Away from his belly, gift-like, he advanced the plate. Barnes reached for it; the militiaman watched it drop. With the sole of his right shoe he pulverized the largest piece of broken china. “Barnes!” he snarled, pressing his belly against the merchant’s abdomen. “You hide and feed the enemy! You're a damned traitor! If we don’t catch them, we're going t’burn this house down!”
     They went through his rooms a second time. Two of them scoffed at him, walking stick held impotently across his thighs. Briefly unattended, shame-faced, he placed it back inside the vase.
     Staring at its handle, he listened to the mob’s utterances. His disdain had become full-bore hatred. Like a potion heated in a cast-iron pot it would bubble, until His Majesty's fist expunged every trespassing criminal! Save physical confrontation he would do anything to assist his government. He would celebrate the red-coated army’s arrival; he would direct joyously their plunder. They, his Majesty's foot, would be his redeemer, their destructiveness his rejuvenation!
     He would prepare for the event with disciplined restraint. He would exercise forbearance, as he had not wielding his cane. The deadliest enemy is he who by appearance is judged the milksop. How vengefully he would assist all to rent them asunder!
     As they were preparing to leave, one of them said, “If we catch ‘em in your house again, we'll pull it all the way down about your ears!” The villain’s right hand struck Barnes’s stomach. “Mind my words!”
     He would. He was heeding their threats, their insults, their wanton destruction, safe-keeping every injury this day and the many days antecedent!


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 28-32
 
            Citing the consequences of abandoning their mission, De Berniere had swayed again Browne’s thinking. The thought of being passed over for promotion; of being branded by junior and senior officers as shy, irresolute, insufficient; of being forced, conceivably, to leave the Army had convinced De Berniere that they had to risk a second attempt. Making the decision to return to Worcester had not reduced, however, the ensign’s angst. He had new uncertainties that were distressing him.
     They were probably damned, regardless! That he had not told Browne! The less he gave the depleted captain reason to question, to make decisions unilaterally, the better for both.
     There stood Browne, De Berniere’s imperious, fifteen stone anchor weight, obtuseness’s brother, gazing out the window, witnessing the harbingers of a great storm: massing clouds, the rumble of thunder, blasts of wind bowing their windowpane.
     Rain, snow, sleet were not the greatest of De Berniere’s concerns. Two situational difficulties weighed far heavier.
     Except for the recalcitrant innkeeper, Isaac Jones, De Berniere knew of no one in Worcester who supported the Crown. It was incumbent, therefore, that he and Browne make the cowardly innkeeper serve! Loyalty. Sacrifice. “Your safety is secondary, sir. We must call upon your courage, your devotion, your fidelity to King and Country.” Or, because that loyalty had caused him grievous injury, “Punish them, Mr. Jones. What better way to punish them for what they have done to you, sir, than to apprise General Gage of what they attempt to protect!”
     Beneath their window a mongrel dog, its fur rippling and flattening, stepped gingerly over icy wagon ruts. Its ears lifted. Something cast from a downstairs window had landed four feet in front of the dog's front paws. The dog munched on it.
 De Berniere turned away.
     He could, decidedly would cajole Jones; but more than likely he would have to bully the man. De Berniere frowned at the road, frowned at the gray-nosed mongrel. The problem was that forced information could easily be false information. Providing General Gage bad intelligence would destroy his career!
     Persuading Jones presupposed the surmounting of their second difficulty, their safe arrival! They would have to pass through Marlborough, where, he was convinced, militiamen had awaited the arrival of three British spies. Despite what he had told Browne’s servant, could they realistically assume that, three days having elapsed, the Marlborough town leaders had ended their vigil?
     Experiencing mild abdominal discomfort, De Berniere accompanied Captain Browne downstairs for an early lunch. When the snowfall, which had begun before noon, relented at 2 p.m., like criminals escorted to the gibbet, De Berniere and Browne stepped onto the Weston/Sudbury road. Twenty minutes later they were in trouble.
     What had begun as a light snowfall was now a full-blown snowstorm. Gusts of wind staggered them. Icy particles pelted their faces, leggings, and coats. Their heavy, buckled shoes soon carried balls of frozen mud, which they scraped off every so often on road-side fence rails. Sixteen miles to walk, De Berniere calculated. Each foot up, each down, circulate the blood, don’t stop. He began to count. One left finger down every ten steps. Two thousand steps, one mile.
     It occurred to him that the storm might work to their benefit. Whomever they might pass would not see British officers in questionable disguise but two snow-covered travelers. Who would take singular notice?
     They passed through Sudbury, then over a causeway across a great swamp. Only when they were within three miles of Marlborough did they see their first traveler. They did not hear his approach. Not until he had ridden past did they notice him, and then, only briefly, their heads lowered against the wind.
     Seconds later, feeling Brown's pushing hand, De Berniere saw that the traveler had stopped. His horse, blasted from behind, side-stepped and bridled. The traveler signaled for them to halt.
     “What is your destination?” he commanded. Not receiving an answer, he repeated the question.
     Marlborough!” Captain Browne shouted. “To see a friend!”
     The man stared at Browne, then De Berniere.
     “Bad weather for it!”
     “The storm caught us!” De Berniere said. He kicked the debris-laden sole of his right shoe against his other shoe.
     “A local man knows when a 'northeaster' is comin'! From where do you travel?!”
     Boston!”
     The traveler smirked. “They in Boston also know a 'northeaster'!”
     Neither De Berniere nor Browne answered. De Berniere feigned indifference. “I didn’t think the weather would be this bad,” he said truthfully, ending the awkward silence.
     Another pause. The surly rider continued to stare.
     “We shall see our friend soon enough!” De Berniere added. “In about three miles, I conceive.”
     The man frowned, deeply. The horse bridled; he pulled its reins toward his chest. Stooping, he asked, “Is it true … that you are British officers?”
     De Berniere's chest pounded. His cheekbones tingled. Yet he kept his eyes fastened.
     “No!” Captain Browne shouted, more loudly than what the wind required. “We live in Boston, I said!”
     “We promised our friend in Marlborough that we would see him, today!” De Berniere glared at the provincial. “It doesn’t matter what you think!” His angry response surprised him. He determined the reason. Not having accepted his explanation, the man had dishonored him.
     Another silence. The horseman maintained his scrutiny. They, powerless to control his questioning, waited.
     How would he answer if the man asked for the name of their “friend”? De Berniere recognized. He had forgotten who it was in Marlborough that the Weston innkeeper had recommended. The Loyalist’s name was written on a torn piece of paper deep inside his right coat pocket.
     Pulling his reins sideways, the provincial turned his horse around. Putting boot heels to flesh, he rode off into the gusting snow.
     De Berniere and Browne resumed their tussle with the storm.
     “We are in grave danger!” Browne declared.
     “I realize that, sir!”
     “Our speech is not in character with our appearance!”
     “I do not believe Howe could have helped us!”
     “Howe be damned! That rider will spread an alarm against us, and we walk into it!”
     “Where else are we to walk except back to Weston?! Can we do that now?!”
     “Do you see a farmhouse?! This snow blinds me!”
     “I have seen nothing! We will see nothing until we reach Marlborough!”
     “You realize what they will do to us! Once this storm is over, they’ll display us on their bloody common! Exhibit us, De Berniere! Sweat us!”
     “Or tar and feather us, Captain! Force us thus the entire way to Boston!”
     Thereafter chagrined, striving to appear resolute, they did not speak.
     About to remove his right glove to retrieve the piece of paper, De Berniere recalled the Loyalist’s name. Henry Barnes. The Weston innkeeper, Isaac Jones, had told them that the Tory was a wealthy applejack distiller and merchant, a man of commercial importance. De Berniere and Browne had intended to pass through Marlborough separately fifteen minutes apart. Due to the storm and the near certainty that they would soon be arrested, they would now have to seek refuge at the merchant’s residence. If they were lucky, the storm having abated, they would strike off separately for Worcester early the following morning. All was predicated on the fanciful notion that they could ask a bystander, out in the storm, to direct them to Barnes’s residence without suffering immediate, harmful consequence! Who would be so bold as to station themselves by the road in such a fierce storm? Forewarned of their proximity, militiamen!
     Madness.
     Reaching the outskirts of the town, they passed two buildings and saw directly ahead a large white empty space surrounded by skeletal trees. Here is the village common, De Berniere concluded. Eight or nine onlookers were watching in front of what had to be the town’s meeting house. De Berniere saw no firearms. Where were the militiamen? Out of sight? Waiting? Why were these particular townsmen attending? To witness his and Browne’s arrest!
     A squat, burly man wearing an apron stepped in front of them. Browne, two steps ahead of De Berniere, commenced to stare the provincial down.
     “Where d'you be going in this storm, master?!” the man questioned. Flakes of snow eddied past him.
                                                                 “Pray direct us to the house of Mr. Henry Barnes,” Captain Browne responded haughtily. De Berniere winced.
     Raising his broad chin, the man pointed toward bare-limbed trees and a barely discernible house. Shielding his eyes with a gloved hand, Browne stepped off. De Berniere followed. Ten seconds later De Berniere looked back. His thick legs spread wide, his stout arms folded across his chest, the aproned man returned De Berniere’s stare.
     Approaching the house, De Berniere saw two figures scurry away.
     Henry Barnes immediately opened his door. 


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Lincoln's Respect
 
In February 1864 before Douglass would pen his request [that his son Charles be discharged from the army], he delivered an address at Cooper Union in Philadelphia that stated his view of the mission of a war, which had “filled our land with mere stumps of men, ridged our soil with 200,000 rudely-formed graves, and mantled it all over with the shadow of death.”  Growing support of the Democratic Party’s desire to reach a compromise with the Confederacy to end the war had caused Douglass to reaffirm his position.
 
I end where I began. No war but an Abolition war; no peace but an Abolition peace; liberty for all, chains for none; the black man a soldier in war, a laborer in peace, a voter at the South as well as at the North, America his permanent home, and all Americans his fellow countrymen.  Such, fellow-citizens, is my idea for the mission of this war (McFeely 231).
 
Many Republicans during the early months of 1864 favored nominating a different man as their Presidential candidate for the upcoming election.  Former senator Salmon P. Chase and former candidate John C. Fremont were two possibilities.  Douglass liked the President personally, but another man less concerned about the prejudiced sentiment of the populace might accomplish more.  He would not oppose Lincoln’s abandonment.  In June, however, the Party did nominate Lincoln; now the nation would choose between the cautious, well-intentioned incumbent and former General George B. McClellan, whom abolitionists feared would negotiate away Negro emancipation.
 
During the fall months the war continued to go badly for the President.  General Grant’s campaign towards Richmond was halted at Petersburg, and General Sherman’s invasion of Georgia had apparently been nothing more than a campaign of skirmish and maneuver.  Now the President himself seemed certain that he would be defeated in the November election.  On August 19 he met for the second time with Douglass, to discuss and formulate a desperate plan.
 
The President wanted to make a strong effort to persuade slaves within the Confederacy to escape to freedom.  Such a mass exodus might help win the war before McClellan’s inauguration in 1865. The war had to end before McClellan had Presidential power.  Otherwise, Lincoln was certain that McClellan, to end the war, would give the South back its slaves.  Lincoln wanted Douglass to devise a plan and be the “general agent” to carry it out.
 
Douglass proposed in a letter dated August 29 that local agents be recruited at points along the front “most accessible to large bodies of slaves.”  They should be people who knew the territory.  Whether they would go behind the rebel lines themselves to encourage slaves to run away or advise such action from a place of safety, Douglass did not mention.
 
Douglass’s suggestions were never acted upon.  In early September General Sherman’s forces captured Atlanta, and the nation’s resulting jubilation seemed to foretell that Abraham Lincoln would serve a second term.
 
After Lincoln’s re-election Douglass resumed his lecture schedule, but he managed to be in Washington for the second inaugural.  In fact he was in the crowd waiting for the opening of the ceremonies when he saw Lincoln touch the Vice-President at his side, say something and direct the other’s eyes toward Douglass.  It would have been cause for a moment of pride had not Andrew Johnson frowned.  Douglass turned to the colored woman who stood beside him and whispered, “Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he certainly is no friend of our race” (Bontemps 244-245).
 
Douglass decided that he would attend Lincoln’s reception at the White House later that day and persuaded the woman standing next to him, Mrs. Thomas J. Dorsey, to accompany him. No black man had ever before presented himself at such a function.  Douglass felt he had every right to, considering what the war had been fought for, what black soldiers had died for, and what he had done personally in behalf of the nation and his race.  His appearance would be a test of the sincerity of the administration not only to bring about emancipation of all slaves but equality of citizenship.
 
Together they joined the procession moving toward the entrance.  At the door two outraged policemen pounced upon Douglass.  His arms clamped firmly in their hands, he heard them explain, with obvious insincerity, that they had been ordered to admit no Negroes.
 
… Douglass calmly told the guards he did not believe they had any such orders.  Mr. Lincoln would certainly not approve, he ventured.  When the policemen attempted to rush him and Mrs. Dorsey into the exit, he decided to be as willful as they were.  He was there to congratulate the President, not to be tricked and insulted.  Seeing a familiar face in the line, he asked the individual going in if he would kindly inform Mr. Lincoln that Frederick Douglass was at the door-detained.
 
The response came quickly, and Douglass and Mrs. Dorsey were ushered into the East Room.  Towering over the crowd, Lincoln saw and greeted the highly visible Douglass from a distance.  “Here comes my friend Douglass.  I am glad to see you.  I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my inaugural address.  How did you like it?”
 
Douglass hedged.  He was reluctant to hold up the line.  “There are thousands waiting,” he said.
 
“No.  No.  You must stop a little,” Lincoln insisted.  “I want to know what you think of it.”
 
Douglass’s voice trembled.  “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”
 
“I’m glad you liked it,” Lincoln murmured.
 
By then Douglass and Mrs. Dorsey were moving along again, but the brief incident had not escaped notice.  The nest day it was widely discussed.  Frederick Douglass at the Presidential reception.  Lincoln chatting with him while others waited.  But to Douglass it was simply confirmation of the opinion he had already formed of the Emancipator’s attitude (Bontemps 245-246).
 
One month later the President was dead, assassinated by the half-mad actor, John Wilkes Booth.  Douglass was in Rochester when news of Lincoln’s death reached him.  He spoke at what may have been the first memorial service for Lincoln in any American city.  Douglass’s grief was genuine.  One observer, seeing him walk along Main Street, observed, “He had no word of greeting, only a hand pressure for his nearest friends.”   When Mrs. Lincoln sent Douglass the President’s walking stick, with a note explaining that Lincoln had spoken to her about sending Douglass some token of his respect, Douglass was doubly grieved (Bontemps 246-247).
 
It seemed no one who had championed the cause of the black man could fill the void left by the Emancipator’s death.  Certainly not the new President, Andrew Johnson.  But then Douglass’s despair was diverted by events that brought a swift end of the war.  General Lee surrendered his army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.  Remnants of Confederate forces elsewhere gave up their arms.
 
Douglass quickly perceived that the immediate future of his race would be determined by how the seceded Southern states were readmitted into the Union.  Radical Congressmen demanded that stern penalties be levied against those who had served the Confederacy.  One condition for readmitting the states would be the enfranchisement of the Negro.  President Johnson, however, favored lenient terms of readmission, and, Douglass suspected, continued domination of former slaves.  Because it would protect his people and permit them to vote, Douglass was determined that Radical Republican Congressional reconstruction be enacted.
 
The war between the states had ended.  The struggle to establish equality had not.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Douglass and Lincoln
 
… The deep lines on Lincoln’s face impressed Douglass immediately, but he also noticed that the President’s eyes brightened with interest when the name of Frederick Douglass was called.  Lincoln rose, shock hands cordially.
 
“I know who you are, Mr. Douglass,” he smiled, restraining Douglass’s modest attempt to introduce himself.  “Sit down.  I am glad to see you.”
 
Douglass expanded.  Here was a man he could love, honor and trust without reservation, an honest man.  “I was assisting to raise colored troops,” he began quietly.
 
Abraham Lincoln nodded.
 
Douglass continued.  In Massachusetts he had been very successful in getting men to enlist.  Now, working in Pennsylvania, he was finding it harder.  The men felt that the government was not dealing fairly.
 
Lincoln interrupted.  Could Douglass be more specific?
 
He could.  Three particulars might be mentioned. 
 
Lincoln listened silently with troubled eyes.  When Douglass had stated his case as fully as he could, the President replied slowly.  Douglass should not forget, he said, that the use of colored troops at all was a great gain, so great in fact that it could not have happened at the beginning of the war.  The differential in pay was frankly a concession  to popular prejudice and should not be allowed to obscure the fact that Negroes had much to gain from this war.
 
As to retaliation, that was an even harder problem.  If he could get his hands on a Confederate soldier who had been guilty of mistreating a Negro prisoner, the matter would be simple, but the idea of retaliating against innocent Confederate prisoners was revolting.  However, he thought the rebels would themselves drop such barbarous warfare.  In fact, he had already received word that colored soldiers were already being treated as prisoners of war.
 
On the third point Lincoln’s comment was short and emphatic.  He would sign any commission to a colored soldier his Secretary of War would present (Bontemps 235-236).
 
Douglass saw “one remark” of Lincoln’s “of much significance.”  He said he had frequently been charged with tardiness, hesitation and the like, especially in regard to the retaliatory proclamation, but had he sooner issued that proclamation such was the state of public popular prejudice that an outcry would have been raised against the measure.  “It would,” Lincoln told Douglass, “be said, ‘Ah!  We thought it would come to this: White men are to be killed for negroes.’”  Lincoln went on to deny that he was guilty of “vacillation” and implied that what Douglass was seeing was steady, if perhaps slow, progress, rather than any indecision on his part.  Douglass came away convinced that once Lincoln had taken a position favorable to the black cause, he could be counted on to hold to it.
 
And he came away elated.  Abraham Lincoln … had charmed his black visitor totally.  Douglass felt at ease in his presence, with no sense of inferiority.  This call on the president of the United States, in the Executive Mansion itself, was a crowning achievement for the boy who had once sneaked into Wye House (McFeely 229-230).
 
Douglass returned to Rochester to close his newspaper.  In its final issue, August 1863, he declared his reasons.  Financial backing was not one of them, even though the circulation of the newspaper had never been large, and funding it had always been difficult.  With the rise of other periodicals that supported the aspirations of black people, his Monthly was no longer a necessity.  At the end of his article, he announced, “I am going South to assist Adjutant General Thomas in the organization of colored troops” (Bontemps 240).
 
He received instructions, dated August 13, to report to General Thomas at Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Missing was any mention that he had been given a commission by the War Department.  In his responding letter, Douglass pointed out that fact.  He received, eventually, a letter that discussed his pay, his subsistence, and his means of transportation to Vicksburg.  Again, a commission, which Douglass believed he had been promised, was not mentioned.  Embarrassed and angry, Douglass set about booking lectures for the forthcoming winter months.  If they thought they had him, especially after he had announced in print he would work for them, they were mistaken!  He blamed Secretary Stanton for the betrayal, not the President.  More likely it had been the President, deciding again to go slowly against the grain of popular opinion.  Not until the war was almost won did Lincoln commission a black man; Martin Delany was made a major in February 1865.
 
Because politics did not intrude.  Abraham Lincoln did, as a friend, help Douglass with a personal matter.  The illness, a “long complaint,”of Douglass’s son Charles had persisted.  Through the intercession of the governor of Massachusetts, Charles had been transferred to another Massachusetts regiment, and, because of his condition, he had not been with his company during the bloody Wilderness Campaign and Battle of Cold Harbor.  He was seriously ill, stationed at Point Lookout, when Douglass, in August 1864, wrote the President that “I have a very great favor to ask.  It is … that you will cause my son Charles R. Douglass … to be discharged.”  Upon the letter, Lincoln wrote, “Let this boy be discharged.  A. Lincoln.”  Two weeks later Charles was a civilian, at a time when General Grant’s offensive against Robert E. Lee had cost a tremendous loss of life and Lincoln’s reelection in November was doubtful at best (McFeely 2300.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Recruiting Black Soldiers
 
Frederick Douglass began to campaign for the use of black soldiers in what was now to be a war of liberation.  In a speech in New York City in February 1863 he criticized those who opposed the use of Negro soldiers because they believed that black men would not fight or that they would be dangerous if armed.  He said nothing about Northern racists who favored their use.  “Every black man who joins the army enables a white man to stay home” was one slogan that was commonly uttered, now that the war was recognized for what it did to those who fought it.  A popular jingle of the day announced that
 
            In battle’s wild commotion
                        I shouldn’t at all object
            If Sambo’s body should stop a ball
                        That was coming for me direct (Bontemps 230).
 
On July 17, 1863, President Lincoln had signed into law a bill that authorized the use of black soldiers at “garrison forts, positions, stations and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”  Governor John A. Andrews of Massachusetts petitioned the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to permit him to raise two regiments of Negro soldiers; and, after some delay, the petition was granted.  Frederick Douglass was asked to help recruit volunteers.  Enthusiastically, he set about doing so.  Two of his sons, Charles and Lewis, were signed up.  Eventually, he raised enough volunteers to comprise two companies.  Commanding the black regiment, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, to which their two companies belonged, was Robert Gould Shaw, a young Harvard graduate and member of an influential Massachusetts family.  General David Hunter, commander of the Department of the South, requested that the regiment be sent to South Carolina.  Douglass was on the dock in Boston May 28, 1863, to watch his companies, and his two sons, embark.
 
Back in Rochester, Douglass began to urge other states to follow Massachusetts’s example.  Almost immediately the citizens of Philadelphia authorized the raising of Negro troops.  To their surprise, few blacks volunteered.  Douglass was asked to come to Philadelphia to help.
 
The problem was discrimination within the service.  The solicitor of the War Department had taken the position that blacks should be paid as laborers, not as soldiers.  Later, Douglass learned that only white soldiers were given enlistment bounties.  And, once enlisted, only they could advance in rank.  Additionally, the Confederacy had formally declared that black soldiers captured in battle would be treated as insurrectionary slaves rather than prisoners of war, a death sentence in actuality.  Yet Douglass continued to try to enter black citizens, insisted that despite the unequal treatment, being a soldier gave the black man the best opportunity to better himself.
 
Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S..; let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth … which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States (Bontemps 233).
 
In mid-July the Fifty-Fourth Regiment fought bravely in their unsuccessful frontal assault upon Fort Wagner.  Casualties were heavy.  1,515 Union soldiers fell; the Confederate force had only 174 casualties.  Douglass’s two sons were spared, however.  Illness had prevented Charles’s participation.  Lewis wrote,
 
… Men fell all around me.  A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking.  How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here (McFeely 226).
 
Afterwards, the Confederates buried the Union dead, with the black soldiers and their white commander, Robert Gould Shaw, all in a common grave.
 
The Regiment had proved false the argument that black soldiers would not fight.  Encouraged, Douglass crossed and re-crossed the Northern states to recruit more black companies.  However, contempt for and palpable hatred of the black soldier made his work even more difficult.  Douglass was in Philadelphia in July when ugly race riots broke out in New York City and other Northern cities.
 
… Poor white men and women, furious about the federal government’s new conscription of troops, from which rich men could exempt themselves by paying a substitute, took out their anger not on the rich but on scapegoats: the niggers had caused the war; they could suffer for it.  As not-so-poor haters of blacks joined in, houses were burned and scores of people killed.  Brains were dashed out against lampposts; a crippled black man was tortured and hanged; a colored orphanage was burned (McFeely 227).
 
Later in the summer, accompanied by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas, Douglass visited the War Department and talked to Secretary Stanton about the inequity of pay received by black soldiers.  Stanton replied that he had always advocated equal pay, and a bill establishing it had passed the House only to be defeated in the Senate.  Stanton pledged that equal pay would become an eventuality as would the promotion of black soldiers into officer ranks.  He urged Douglass to place himself under the authority of General Lorenzo Thomas, who was actively organizing colored troops along the Mississippi River.  Black enlistment was needed more in the South than it was in the North, Stanton declared.  Douglass took the invitation to mean that if he accepted the offer, Stanton would have him commissioned an officer in the army.
 
Then Douglass was directed to the White House.  The President had asked to speak to him.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.