A Triptych on the Civil War

By Earnest McBride

Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor

David Walker and the African War Party
David Walker’s “Appeal to the Colored citizens of the World, but in particular to those of the United States,” written in 1829, was the most resounding call to war against slavery in American history.“Somebody must die in this cause,” Walker told his friends who urged him to go to Canada after a reward of $10,000 was put on his head.

In his Appeal, he said no black man should think of leaving America, either by force or by choice.Born free in 1785 in Wilmington, N.C., Walker died in 1830 in Boston. In his masterpiece, he was adamant about claiming the United States for African Americans.“America is more our country than it is the whites’,” he wrote, “We have enriched it with our blood and tears….

We have earned our property and homes with our blood.”Did he actually call for war? “They want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us in order to subject us to that wretched condition. Therefore, if there is an attempt made by us, kill or be killed. Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant who takes the life of your mother, wife and dear little children?

”Walker’s Appeal was, indeed, a clear call for Africans to go to war against those who held them in slavery.Walker’s Appeal served as a fulcrum that elucidated the anti-slavery battle cries of Africans in the Americas before and after his time.

First revolts:New York and NatchezThe New York City Slave Revolt of 1712 inspired David Walker, and he reported such past events as a correspondent for Freedom’s Journal, the first black newspaper in the U.S. Another alleged plot in 1741, called the New York Conspiracy, resulted in 31 blacks and five of their white allies being executed.

In Natchez in 1731, African warrior Samba Bambara and his African tribesmen joined the Natchez Indians in an effort to defeat the French there. Because a black woman told a French soldier of the plot, Samba and his principal allies were caught and were either locked away in chains or were executed for their efforts.

Stono Rebellionin South CarolinaThe African rebellion in Stono, S. C., in 1739 was an advancement over the Natchez plan under Samba. Numbering more than 100, these warriors marched with their guns 20 miles south of Charleston in response to Spain’s offer of “freedom and land to any British colonial slave who made their way to Florida.”

They were intercepted near Charleston. Forty blacks and 20 whites were killed. Haiti andNew OrleansHaiti’s revolution began in 1791 and became the universal inspiration of black slaves and other human captives in all the white colonies around the world. The true hero of Haiti’s freedom is Jean Jacques Dessalines, not Toussaint l’Ouverture.

Toussaint was beholden to his former masters and wanted to make the white colonists feel at home in the New Haiti. Dessalines, after coming to power in 1801, banished all whites from Haiti, forever.The first successful servile revolution was permanent and served as a beacon to black people everywhere. Nevertheless, thousands of Haitians, black and white, moved to the U.S. between 1795 and 1811.

The New Orleans Slave Revolt of January 8, 1811, was a direct inspiration of Haiti and an outgrowth of the African warrior spirit among Louisiana captives.More than 500 men and women marched on the city, but Territorial Governor William C. C. Claiborne and his armed USA militia stopped the black rebels west of New Orleans along what is known as the “German Coast.”Among the innumerable disgruntled black Americans who viewed the Haitian Revolution as a model to be replicated wherever blacks were held in bondage, were Denmark Vesey (1762-1822) and Gabriel Prosser (ca.1775-1800).

On August 30, 1800, Prosser had a black army of 1,000 ready to take over Richmond, VA, and kill all whites “except Methodists, Quakers, Frenchmen and the poor.” (Citation found in Dictionary of American History, 2003). Vesey raised an army of over 9,000 in Charleston, South Carolina in 1822. His objective: Wipe out all the white population of Charleston. Grimke, in “Right on the Scaffold (1901),” says

“The conspirators had no choice in the matter… The liberty of the blacks was in the balance of fate against the lives of the whites…. Therefore, the whites, men, women and children, were doomed to death.”Vesey was betrayed by two trustworthy slaves (to their white masters) and was hanged July 2, 1822.DuBois: JohnBrown was rightIn 1831, Nat Turner; in 1859, John Brown.

Both staged bloody assaults on the slave masters and the institution of slavery in Virginia. Turner killed 66, Brown a handful. Both died – at the end of a rope – for their causes; i.e., for acts of war that got stalled after the first .round of assaults. But their deeds took root in the hearts and minds of thousands of blacks and whites and by 1861, the war – the Civil War – was on.

Noted pacifist Henry David Thoreau praised Brown and his men for staging the Harper’s Ferry raid and asked that their lives be spared by the court in October 1859. “I think that for once the Sharp’s rifles and the revolvers were employed in a righteous cause,” Thoreau said. “The tools were in the hands of one who could use them. He has a spark of divinity in him.” The most succinct evaluation of John Brown’s action came from an admirer born nine years after the Harper’s Ferry raid.“John Brown was right,” said W. E. B. DuBois.

II

The U. S. African Brigade in the Civil War
The official beginning date of the Civil War is April 12, 1861. The first ten black regiments to see battle in the Mississippi Valley were designated as “The African Brigade.” These regiments consisted of troops mustered into the U. S. Army beginning in September 1862 with the Louisiana Native Guard and continuing under that name or its variants (“Corps d’Afrique” in Southern Louisiana and “African Descent” in other parts of the Mississippi Valley) until the entire Black Corps was renamed the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in May 1863.Formation ofthe USCT in 1863General Lorenzo Thomas, the U.S. Adjutant General for most of the Civil War, is considered to have been the proud father of this African Brigade after Lincoln gave him the go-ahead on March, 26, 1863.Although the U.S needed men to bear arms against what some thought to be a more seasoned and better-generaled Confederate military, only a handful of black men were allowed into the Union ranks before September 1862.Standing at the ready were the black sons and daughters of the Nat Turner-John Brown generation, waiting to storm the barricades of the Confederate slave masters under the flag of legitimacy.The black and tan Louisiana Native Guards had been organized with their own officer corps since 1745 under the French. They were ready to fight, but stood rejected by both the Confederacy and the U. S. Department of War. The First, Second and Third Louisiana (Corps d’Afrique) were the first three regiments deployed by the United States, two of which (the First and Second) had black officers in command from the very first; i.e., September 1862. Imagine the impatience of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, both deadly serious anti-slave warriors many years before the Civil War came. The same applies to Sojourner Truth and Henry Highland Garnet; Martin R. Delaney and Charlotte Forten;  Charles Lenox Remond and Frances Harper, as she sang out her plaintive lines of poetry, “Bury Me in a Free Land…. Make it among earth’s humblest graves, but not in a land where men are slaves.” Let’s get it on, they all said.Why the black delayin going to war?A note from the National Archives Website says U.S. laws barred any enlistment of free black men before July 1862, when the new Militia Act was passed. And at the inception of the war, there was no chance that any slaves would be mustered in. “The issues of emancipation and military service were intertwined from the onset of the Civil War,” the Archives post says. “News from Fort Sumter set off a rush by free black men to enlist in U.S. military units. They were turned away, however, because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812). In Boston disappointed would-be volunteers met and passed a resolution requesting that the Government modify its laws to permit their enlistment.”Douglass sees adream come trueLincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation after the Union victory at Antietam Sept. 16-18, 1862. Although written on Sept. 22, it would not go into effect until Jan. 1, 1863. Douglass became a recruiter for the Massachusetts 54th Cavalry, the black regiment of “Glory” fame. And he became completely ecstatic going about his new job.“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S.,” crowed Douglass, a military advisor to Lincoln from then on. “Let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”And the rest is history.#

III

Secession: It was (all) about Slavery
Mississippi, the second state to secede on Jan. 8, 1861, made no bones about its reasons for shafting the United States of America:“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” the second paragraph of the declaration of secession says. “(It is) the greatest material interest of the world. The labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.”Jefferson Davis, the one and only president of the Confederacy, fully embraced the Mississippi Secessionist declaration, which is presumed to have been the exclusive work of future Senator and U. S. Supreme Court Justice L.Q.C.  Lamar.Davis’ Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, also crowned slavery as the cornerstone of the fledgling system. Stephens sought to rescue reason from Thomas Jefferson’s purported erratic view of nature, the idea “that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature.” “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea;” Stephens said in his once-famous Cornerstone Speech of March 31, 1861. “Its foundations are laid; its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”Although three of the seven states of the original group joined in the confederacy cloaked their reasons for severance in less racist and econometric terms, slavery was the dark cloud overshadowing all of their radical actions.Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas, stated outright that they were willing to go to war over slavery. Tennessee avoided issuing a written document of its reason from joining the Confederacy.Alabama, the locus of the seat of government for the Confederacy, paid its tribute to those who would defend to the death their right to enslave their fellow man (and woman) in its declaration.“As it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States, Be it resolved by the people of Alabama in Convention assembled, That the people of the States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri, be and are hereby invited to meet the people of the State of Alabama, by their Delegates, in Convention, on the fourth day of February, A.D. 1861, at the city of Montgomery, in the State of Alabama…”That’s right, folks, it was all about slavery.