The Great Conspiracy

There was also another element, in chains, at the South, which at this
time must have been trembling with that mysterious hope of coming
Emancipation for their Race, conveyed so well in Whittier’s lines,
commencing: “We pray de Lord; he gib us signs, dat some day we be Free”
–a hope which had long animated them, as of something almost too good
for them to live to enjoy, but which, as the War progressed, appeared to
grow nearer and nearer, until now they seemed to see the promised Land,
flowing with milk and honey, its beautiful hills and vales smiling under
the quickening beams of Freedom’s glorious sun. But ah! should they
enter there?–or must they turn away again into the old wilderness of
their Slavery, and this blessed Liberty, almost within their grasp,
mockingly elude them?

They had not long to wait for an answer. The 1st of January, 1863,
arrived, and with it–as a precious New Year’s Gift–came the
Supplemental Proclamation, bearing the sacred boon of Liberty to the
Emancipated millions.

At last, at last, no American need blush to stand up and proclaim his
land indeed, and in truth, “the Land of Freedom.”


Little over five months had passed, since the occurrence of the great
event in the history of the American Nation mentioned in the preceding
Chapter, before the Freed Negro, now bearing arms in defense of the
Union and of his own Freedom, demonstrated at the first attack on Port
Hudson the wisdom of emancipating and arming the Slave, as a War
measure. He seemed thoroughly to appreciate and enter into the spirit
of the words; “who would be Free, himself must strike the blow.”

At the attack (of May 27th, 1863), on Port Hudson, where it held the
right, the “Black Brigade” covered itself with glory.

At Baton Rouge, before starting for Port Hudson, the color-guard of
the First Louisiana Regiment–of the Black Brigade–received the
Regimental flags from their white colonel, (Col. Stafford,) then
under arrest, in a speech which ended with the injunction: “Color-
guard, protect, defend, die for, but do not surrender these flags;”
to which Sergeant Planciancois replied: “Colonel, I will bring
these colors to you in honor, or report to God the reason why!” He
fell, mortally wounded, in one of the many desperate charges at
Port Hudson, with his face to the Enemy, and the colors in his

Banks, in his Report, speaking of the Colored regiments, said: “Their
conduct was heroic. No troops could be more determined or more daring.
They made, during the day, three charges upon the batteries of the
Enemy, suffering very heavy losses, and holding their positions 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

The New York Times’ correspondent said:–“The deeds of heroism performed
by these Colored men were such as the proudest White men might emulate.
Their colors are torn to pieces by shot, and literally bespattered by
blood and brains. The color-sergeant of the 1st Louisiana, on being
mortally wounded (the top of his head taken off by a sixpounder), hugged
the colors to his breast, when a struggle ensued between the two color-
corporals on each side of him, as to who should have the honor of
bearing the sacred standard, and during this generous contention one was
seriously wounded.”

So again, on Sunday the 6th of June following, at Milliken’s Bend, where
an African brigade, with 160 men of the 23rd Iowa, although surprised in
camp by a largely superior force of the Enemy, repulsed him gallantly–
of which action General Grant, in his official Report, said: “In this
battle, most of the troops engaged were Africans, who had but little
experience in the use of fire-arms. Their conduct is said, however, to
have been most gallant.”

So, also, in the bloody assault of July 18th, on Fort Wagner, which was
led by the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment with intrepidity, and
where they planted, and for some time maintained, their Country’s flag
on the parapet, until they “melted away before the Enemy’s fire, their
bodies falling down the slope and into the ditch.”

And from that time on, through the War–at Wilson’s Wharf, in the many
bloody charges at Petersburg, at Deep Bottom, at Chapin’s Farm, Fair
Oaks, and numerous other battle-fields, in Virginia and elsewhere, right
down to Appomattox–the African soldier fought courageously, fully
vindicating the War-wisdom of Abraham Lincoln in emancipating and arming
the Race.

The promulgation of this New Year’s Proclamation of Freedom
unquestionably had a wonderful effect in various ways, upon the outcome
of the War.

It cleared away the cobwebs which the arguments of the loyal Border-
State men, and of the Northern Copperheads and other Disunion and Pro-
Slavery allies of the Rebels were forever weaving for the
discouragement, perplexity and ensnarement, of the thoroughly loyal out-
and-out Union men of the Land. It largely increased our strength in
fighting material. It brought to us the moral support of the World,
with the active sympathy of philanthropy’s various forces. And besides,
it correspondingly weakened the Rebels. Every man thus freed from his
Bondage, and mustered into the Union Armies, was not only a gain of one
man on the Union side, but a loss of one man to the Enemy. It is not,
therefore, surprising that the Disunion Conspirators–whether at the
South or at the North–were furious.

The Chief Conspirator, Jefferson Davis, had already, (December 23,
1862,) issued a proclamation of outlawry against General B. F. Butler,
for arming certain Slaves that had become Free upon entering his lines–
the two last clauses of which provided: “That all Negro Slaves captured
in arms, be at once delivered over to the Executive authorities of the
respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to
the laws of said States,” and “That the like orders be executed in all
cases with respect to all commissioned Officers of the United States,
when found serving in company with said Slaves in insurrection against
the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy.”

He now called the attention of the Rebel Congress to President Lincoln’s
two Proclamations of Emancipation, early in January of 1863; and that
Body responded by adopting, on the 1st of May of that year, a
Resolution, the character of which was so cold-bloodedly atrocious, that
modern Civilization might well wonder and Christianity shudder at its

[It was in these words:

“Resolved, by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, In
response to the Message of the President, transmitted to Congress
at the commencement of the present session, That, in the opinion of
Congress, the commissioned officers of the Enemy ought not to be
delivered to the authorities of the respective States, as suggested
in the said Message, but all captives taken by the Confederate
forces ought to be dealt with and disposed of by the Confederate

“SEC. 2.–That, in the judgment of Congress, the proclamations of
the President of the United States, dated respectively September
22, 1862, and January 1, 1863, and the other measures of the
Government of the United States and of its authorities, commanders,
and forces, designed or tending to emancipate slaves in the
Confederate States, or to abduct such slaves, or to incite them to
insurrection, or to employ negroes in war against the Confederate
States, or to overthrow the institution of African Slavery, and
bring on a servile war in these States, would, if successful,
produce atrocious consequences, and they are inconsistent with the
spirit of those usages which, in modern warfare, prevail among
civilized nations; they may, therefore, be properly and lawfully
repressed by retaliation.

“SEC. 3.–That in every case wherein, during the present war, any
violation of the laws or usages of war among civilized nations
shall be, or has been, done and perpetrated by those acting under
authority of the Government of the United States, on persons or
property of citizens of the Confederate States, or of those under
the protection or in the land or naval service of the Confederate
States, or of any State of the Confederacy, the President of the
Confederate States is hereby authorized to cause full and ample
retaliation to be made for every such violation, in such manner and
to such extent as he may think proper.

“SEC. 4.–That every white person, being a commissioned officer, or
acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes
or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall
arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military
service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily
aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or
conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile
insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death, or be
otherwise punished at the discretion of the Court.

“SEC. 5.–Every person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as
such in the service of the Enemy, who shall, during the present
war, excite, attempt to excite, or cause to be excited, a servile
insurrection, or who shall incite, or cause to be incited, a slave
to rebel, shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise
punished at the discretion of the court.

“SEC. 6.–Every person charged with an offense punishable under the
preceding resolutions shall, during the present war, be tried
before the military court attached to the army or corps by the
troops of which he shall have been captured, or by such other
military court as the President may direct, and in such manner and
under such regulations as the President shall prescribe; and, after
conviction, the President may commute the punishment in such manner
and on such terms as he may deem proper.

“SEC. 7.–All negroes and mulattoes who shall be engaged in war, or
be taken in arms against the Confederate States, or shall give aid
or comfort to the enemies of the Confederate States, shall, when
captured in the Confederate States, be delivered to the authorities
of the State or States in which they shall be captured, to be dealt
with according to the present or future laws of such State or

But atrocious as were the provisions of the Resolution, or Act
aforesaid, in that they threatened death or Slavery to every Black man
taken with Union arms in his hand, and death to every White commissioned
officer commanding Black soldiers, yet the manner in which they were
executed was still more barbarous.

At last it became necessary to adopt some measure by which captured
Colored Union soldiers might be protected equally with captured White
Union soldiers from the frequent Rebel violations of the Laws of War in
the cases of the former.

President Lincoln, therefore, issued an Executive Order prescribing
retaliatory measures.

[In the following words:


“WASHINGTON, July 30, 1863.

“It is the duty of every Government to give protection to its
citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to
those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service.
The Law of Nations, and the usages and customs of War, as carried
on by civilized Powers, permit no distinction as to color in the
treatment of prisoners of War, as public enemies.

“To sell or Enslave any captured person, on account of his Color,
and for no offense against the Laws of War, is a relapse into
barbarism, and a crime against the civilization of the age.

“The Government of the United States will give the same protection
to all its soldiers, and if the Enemy shall sell or Enslave any one
because of his color, the offense shall be punished by Retaliation
upon the Enemy’s prisoners in our possession.

“It is therefore Ordered, that, for every soldier of the United
States killed in violation of the Laws of War, a Rebel soldier
shall be executed; and for every one Enslaved by the Enemy or sold
into Slavery, a Rebel soldier shall be placed at hard work on the
public works, and continued at such labor until the other shall be
released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of War.

“By order of the Secretary of War. ABRAHAM LINCOLN. E. D.
TOWNSEND, Assistant Adjutant-General.”]

It was hoped that the mere announcement of the decision of our
Government to retaliate, would put an instant stop to the barbarous
conduct of the Rebels toward the captured Colored Union troops, but the
hope was vain. The atrocities continued, and their climax was capped by
the cold-blooded massacres perpetrated by Forrest’s 5,000 Cavalry, after
capturing Fort Pillow, a short distance above Memphis, on the
Mississippi river.

The garrison of that Fort comprised less than 600 Union soldiers, about
one-half of whom were White, and the balance Black. These brave fellows
gallantly defended the Fort against eight times their number, from
before sunrise until the afternoon, when–having failed to win by fair
means, under the Laws of War,–the Enemy treacherously crept up the
ravines on either side of the Fort, under cover of flags of truce, and
then, with a sudden rush, carried it, butchering both Blacks and Whites
–who had thrown away their arms, and were striving to escape–until
night temporarily put an end to the sanguinary tragedy.

On the following morning the massacre was completed by the butchery and
torture of wounded remnants of these brave Union defenders–some being
buried alive, and others nailed to boards, and burned to death.

[For full account of these hideous atrocities, see testimony of
survivors before the Committee on Conduct and Expenditures of the
War. (H. R. Report, No. 65, 1st S. 38th Cong.)]

And all this murderous malignity, for what?–Simply, and only, because
one-half of the Patriot victims had Black skins, while the other half
had dared to fight by the side of the Blacks!

In the after-days of the War, the cry with which our Union Black
regiments went into battle:–“Remember Fort Pillow!”–inspired them to
deeds of valor, and struck with terror the hearts of the Enemy. On many
a bloody field, Fort Pillow was avenged.

It is a common error to suppose that the first arming of the Black man
was on the Union side. The first Black volunteer company was a Rebel
one, raised early in May, 1861, in the city of Memphis, Tenn.; and at
Charleston, S. C., Lynchburg, Va., and Norfolk, Va., large bodies of
Free Negroes volunteered, and were engaged, earlier than that, to do
work on the Rebel batteries.

On June 28th of the same year, the Rebel Legislature of Tennessee passed
an Act not only authorizing the Governor “to receive into the Military
service of the State all male Free persons of Color between the ages of
fifteen and fifty, or such number as may be necessary, who may be sound
in mind and body, and capable of actual service,” but also prescribing
“That in the event a sufficient number of Free persons of Color to meet
the wants of the State shall not tender their services, the Governor is
empowered, through the Sheriffs of the different counties, to press such
persons until the requisite number is obtained.”

At a review of Rebel troops, at New Orleans, November 23, 1861, “One
regiment comprised 1,400 Free Colored men.” Vast numbers of both Free
Negroes and Slaves were employed to construct Rebel fortifications
throughout the War, in all the Rebel States. And on the 17th of
February, 1864, the Rebel Congress passed an Act which provides in its
first section “That all male Free Negroes * * * resident in the
Confederate States, between the ages of eighteen and fifty years, shall
be held liable to perform such duties with the Army, or in connection
with the Military defenses of the Country, in the way of work upon the
fortifications, or in Government works for the production or preparation
of materials of War, or in Military hospitals, as the Secretary of War
or the Commanding General of the Trans-Mississippi Department may, from
time to time, prescribe:” while the third section provides that when the
Secretary of War shall “be unable to procure the service of Slaves in
any Military Department, then he is authorized to impress the services
of as many male Slaves, not to exceed twenty thousand, as may be
required, from time to time, to discharge the duties indicated in the
first section of the Act.”

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