Descent into Rebeldom and its Impact on Northern Soldiers

Has there been a specific study that has dealt with how Union soldiers’ opinions concerning things like slavery, emancipation, ect., change as they transitioned from their homeland and descended South and witnessed, firsthand, the nature of slavery?

Additionally, how did their experiences going South, entering Rebeldom, change their point of view on Negro soldiers, and everything else that was involved in race issues, if at all? For example, here are some quotes from various soldiers from Indiana:

“Mother said she was afraid I would turn to an Abolitionist. If I had been one at home, I have seen enough to make me a Negro hater since I came here.” (Frankfort, Ky., Oct. 15, 1861)

“I suppose you hear plenty of talk about the free negroes I don’t know how the folks like it nor don’t kear [sic] if it will only bring the war to an end any sooner….We are in war and anything to beat the south.” (Jan. 8, 1863, Ft. Barnard, Va.)

“They [sic] is two or three Negro Regts here. They make good Soldiers and save the white soldiers a good deal of hard work. They make a fine appearance on drill. I am in for the Black Soldier. I say bring them on.” (Joseph Hollis, Folly Island, S.C., Sept. 9, 1863)

“Though I live in the negro country, I haven’t changed my opinion of them, only strengthened it. They are not good for anything, unless driven to work, so you don’t need to be afraid that I will fall in love with them, though it is the case with many soldiers.” (Winchester, Tenn., Nov. 6, 1863)

“I seen a new part of the ‘Elephant’ today viz. a squad of Negro soldiers drilling. They did a great deal better than many white troops I have seen with the same opportunities.” (Tullahoma, Tenn., May 31, 1864, p. 142)

“Nearly all the guards along the road are Negroes. They are fine looking soldiers. They always turn out at a present arms when the train passes. Their accouterments and guns are as bright as they can be, and the broad smile that marks their countenances attest their like of the change from Chattels to U.S. soldiers.” (Louisville, Ky., Sept. 17, 1864)

“Up to the time we landed I had not noticed any negro troops, but after we left Akins landing I saw nothing else…They flocked out to see us as we passed, and I never saw a blacker set of Negroes in my life. They beat the ‘Ace of Spades.’” (March 10, 1865)

With these quotes being from different soldiers it’s not possible to measure how they were impacted as they moved South and saw things such as slavery, Southern Women, Southern society, ect., and how that real life, face-to-face exposure impacted them.

If I took 100 or so soldiers and followed their evolution in thinking as they went South, that might make from interesting findings, would it not?

Oh, and if someone has done this please point me in that direction….

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7 Responses to Descent into Rebeldom and its Impact on Northern Soldiers

  1. matt mckeon says:

    I agree that such a study would be interesting. Are you thinking of a survey of soldier’s letters describing their feelings around black troops, or black people in general, to try to identify the trends and evolution of their thinking and beliefs?

    As far as it “being done before” Chandra Manning’s “What This Cruel War is Over,” traces the changing perceptions of African Americans by the Union army using contemporary letters and camp newspapers.

  2. matt mckeon says:

    What is a little discouraging, in my mind, is the myth that African Americans will destroy racism by demonstrating courage on the battlefield. Howell Cobb says “If they(blacks) prove to be good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” Or as another Confederate politician wrote, slavery would be a “monsterous tissue of lies.” Well blacks did very well as soldiers. Did Cobb change his mind?

    African Americans fought bravely at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill. Then on US Navy ships in 1812. Then at the Battle of New Orleans. Then in the Civil War. Then in the Indian Wars. Then in the Spanish American War. Then in World War One…you get the drift. This courage and sacrifice meant some change, but it wasn’t until the 1950s Civil Rights movement do we find massive change.

  3. matt mckeon says:

    A lot of posts lately. Is someone out of school for the summer?

  4. elektratig says:

    Chandra Manning’s excellent book immediately also came to my mind as the closest I could think of.

  5. Chris says:

    Matt, indeed, school is out and I have been more active!

    I have Chandra Manning’s book and if you are aware of my site,, you know she has written a piece for it that deals with Civil War soldiers and Lincoln.

    Howell Cobb, he is speaking from a purely Southern view and if I am not mistaken, aren’t his comments concerning the arming of slaves? But true, he makes a good point that throws the Southern war effort in disarray with his logical argument from their perspective. If blacks made good soldiers than they would make good citizens.

    Blacks did indeed make just as good a soldier as any white man. I am doing some work on Fort Blakely, the last significant land battle of the war and where a large force of USCTs fought (5500).

    Thanks guys for the comments!


  6. Naim Peress says:

    You might want to think of reading James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades. That shows an evolution in attitudes toward slavery by Union soldiers.

    Naim Peress

  7. Chris says:

    Naim Peress, thank you for your comment. I have read McPherson’s book and agree that he does deal with, among many things, how soldiers viewed slavery. I am looking for a study that deals exclusively with a group of soldiers and how their political and social viewpoints changed as they entered the South, and lived, fought, and of course died there. How did that specific experience impact their opinions about blacks, slavery, and other things.

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