[Photo credit: Officers 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Slocum, April 1865, Library of Congress.]
The Knoxville Whig, Knoxville, Tennessee
September 27, 1865
The Negro Question Again.
The following letter and our rejoinder are documents that will explain themselves:
OFFICE POST PROVOST MARSHAL,
Knoxville, Tenn., September 2, 1865.
Editors Knoxville Whig:
SIR: From the tenor of the article which appeared in your last issue, relating to the troubles between the colored soldiers and whites in East Tennessee, I judge that you have heard but one side of the story. In the affair spoken of as having taken place at Loudon, the white soldiers were the aggressors, assaulting the soldiers of the 42d U.S.C.I. with missiles thrown form the cars, some them also firing at them. Some of the officers of the 8th Tennessee Cavalry admit that their men commenced the assault.
The killing of Hendricks, of the 9th Cavalry, was a sad affair, and we regret that it should have occurred; but the first of that difficulty was the assault of a drunken white soldier upon one of color. On Tuesday morning of this week, a colored soldier on guard at the Holston bridge, who had stepped to the spring a few yards from the bridge, was set upon by several white soldiers, who knocked him down, took his gun from him, and beat him severely; and several times during the past two weeks cases have come before me in which it was clearly proven that the whites were the parties to blame in the matter. Yet of these nothing has been said. I do not mention these things to add fuel to the flame already kindled between the soldiers, but merely to show that the colored troops are not always in the wrong.
When any complaints have been made by citizens or soldiers, the case has been investigated and the guilty party punished if he could be found. We all respect the noble men who, for four years, have stood by the Union on many a hard fought field, but they should have, in that time, learned to respect the uniform of the army, whether worn by white or black, and that if aggrieved there are authorities to take charge of the matter and that things are only worse by attempting to take the law into their own hands.
I remain, your ob’t serv’t.,
Capt. 14th U.S.C.I. and Pro. Mar. Post.
REPLY. – In the article I published, I gave four cases of the recent shooting of white men by colored soldiers. I stated distinctly that the three first named cases I learned of none of the particulars of, and that I was willing to concede that both parties might be to blame. But the killing of Allen Hendricks, of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry, by an indiscrete, excited, and fool negro in Federal uniform, by running him through with a bayonet when he had committed no offense, and had attacked no one, white or colored, I pronounced it an outrage and a wicked murder, as I still do, and just such a case as ought not to be tolerated. The case that occurred at the bridge I had never heard of, and from the account given of it by the Provost Marshal, I not only pronounce it “a sad affair,” but I unhesitatingly blame the white soldiers.
This much for the local occurrences of the last few days, and now for some general remarks upon the all-absorbing question of the negro. Thousands of free colored persons are congregating in and around the large towns in Tennessee, and thousands are coming in from other states, one-third of whom cannot get employment. Indeed, less than one-third of them want employment, or feel willing to stoop to work. They entertain the erroneous idea that the Government is bound to supply all their wants, and even to furnish them with houses, if, in order to do that, the white occupants must be turned out. There is a large demand for labor in every section of the State, but the colored people, with here and there a noble exception, scorn the idea of work. They fiddle and dance at night, and lie around the stores and street corners in the day time. And some of the indiscrete teachers of the negro character, have been known to tell them not to hire to white people! Having the single idea in their heads of abolition, they advise the simple and credulous negro to a life of precarious subsistence, of idleness and dancing and of crowding into the towns to be educated, in preference to good wages and comfortable homes in the country. If some great change is not made, when winter comes on, and if the military force is withdrawn, as they will be, there will be great suffering and fearful mortality among them! There is a bad state of feeling now between them and the whites, and it is daily growing more bitter. Many of the negroes are insulting to white families, who never owned any of their color, and never did them any wrong. They frequently elbow unprotected white women off of our narrow pavements, and curse white men passing them, just to show their authority. Others swearing on the streets – and we have heard them – that they will clean out the d—–d town! And still another class swear that if they are not allowed their rights at the ballot-box they will resort to the cartridge-box! And they swear they will be backed up by the Government. As one desiring the welfare of the colored people, they will permit me to say, that they can’t drive the Legislature of Tennessee into conferring upon them the elective franchise. They can, by the demonstrations they are making in this direction, deprive themselves of any such privilege, so far as Tennessee is concerned. The Federal Government has no right to control the suffrage question in Tennessee. And the great Union party of the Nation will have more sense than to attempt to control the question by Congressional legislation.
General Tillson, at Memphis, has determined that he will compel the free people of color to leave the city and surrounding towns, even if their removal requires military force. He has sent a patrol through the city to learn who have employment and who have not, and to notify them that no further supplies will be furnished to them that cannot support themselves and refuse to do so. At Memphis they have been contracting for wages, and, becoming dissatisfied, break their contracts and leave off abruptly. Gen. Tillson has notified them that this will not be allowed, that they must make good their contracts, and that he will compel them to work at the rates and places agreed upon. I rank Gen. Tillson among the best men we have ever had in command at Knoxville; and I am pleased to find that he is still showing his good sense and love of justice at Memphis. We lack such discipline among the colored people in this end of the State, and I hope it will not be long until more rigid regulations are adopted by the Commissioners of Freedmen, who, as I understand it, have control of this branch of affairs. There is no better man in the service than General Fisk, and if he fails to do his whole duty, it will be because his headquarters are at a distance, and he is not posted as to the state of things here and along the line of this road.
President Johnson will remove all troops from East Tennessee before a great while, and the colored people as well as the whites will have to take care of themselves. A portion of them I know, and I feel assured they will be industrious and quiet citizens, providing for themselves and families. The great majority of them will not, and will get into trouble – many of them will break into the penitentiary! They will fail by their threats of violence to accomplish any good, and he is their best friend who advises them against this course of conduct. – Colored soldiers in Federal uniforms, with guns and pistols in their hands, must not suppose that East Tennesseeans will be intimidated by them, not suffer their families to be abused. I know these people, and I know they will not submit to be run over by negro soldiers. And knowing this, I desire to keep down any conflict between the races. The East Tennessee troops, who have fought three dreadful years to free negroes, and get the privilege of coming back to their old and cherished homes, are not the men to be run over by colored soldiers who came into the fight at the eleventh hour. And those who have the immediate control of the colored troops, and are in daily conversation with them, had as well understand this fact at once. Loyal men in East Tennessee conceded to the colored people their freedom, and their right to enjoy all they can make , or even realize from the aid of the Government, and the still further privilege of educating their children; but they are not prepared to see all their churches and school houses turned over to them, and the innocent white children of Union parents, who never owned any slaves, denied houses of worship and house in which to teach school, because a few impudent teachers, up-starts from the North, out of any other employment, have conceived the idea of immortalizing the negro! There are those of us here, claiming to be on the side of the Union, who still think, notwithstanding the result of the war, that a white child is as good as a black one ! – There are those of us here, o the Union side, who do not recognize the right of the Government, after emancipating the negroes of Union men, to take their lands and property as a punishment for their having owned slaves! There are those of us here, claiming that there is no discount upon our Unionism, who don’t recognize the right of a Captain or Lieutenant in command of colored troops, upon the representation of a negro of bad character, arresting respectable loyal white men with negro bayonets, and marching them from one county to another for trial, when their condemnation has been agreed upon by negroes in advance! And there are thousand of true-hearted Union citizens and discharged Federal soldiers in East Tennessee, who will die right here, in a second war, before they will submit to any such insults, wrongs, and outrages!
I speak out plainly, because the state of the public mind requires it. There is a deep, intense, a desperate feeling getting up throughout this end of the State upon this subject. I think I see where and what it will lead to, and I desire to remedy the evil. I advise the white population to treat the negroes justly in all respects, and not to disturb them in their lawful and peaceful pursuits. They were armed and uniformed by the Government, and out not to be denounced on that account, where they conduct themselves properly. On the other hand, let those how have control of the negroes advise them to a quiet and peaceful course, and to reconcile themselves to see white men and their families enjoy what rightly belongs to them. Let them frown down all malicious camplaints from negroes of bad characters against white persons who have always stood fair. Let them cease to arrest gentlemen of character and standing, and of loyalty, because some enraged slave has fancied he can procure such arrest. A day of reckoning will come hereafter, and if these incroachments upon the rights and liberties of loyal men are impudently continued, that day will come sooner than any of us want to see it!
Since writing the foregoing, I am informed that at a colored ball in the University building in this city, three colored persons were killed in one night. It is said they were shot by white men dressed in women’s clothes. Of course I condemn, in unmeasured terms, any such outrage, and I make mention of it to show the state of feeling getting up between the races. These balls are too frequent, and all wrong. White soldiers, and officers, attend them and dance with colored women. One Ohio soldier, a man of very fair education, procured a license to marry, but not disclosing the color of his intended, and actually married a young wench, formerly a slave in this city! If this sort of alliance suited his taste, I have no complaints to make. But I do complain that the morals of the colored population are not so good since their freedom as when they were in bondage. And at the speed we are all making in the direction of their enlightenment, our teaching, preaching, praying, singing and dancing, will take half of them to ruin in a very short time.
The officer addressing me the foregoing letter, states that “we all respect the noble men who, for four years, have stood by the Union,” but he thinks that in that time “they should have learned to respect the uniform of the army.” One-half of all colored soldiers in uniforms in East Tennessee have no respect for that uniform, and do not appreciate its dignity and importance. Two of them in full uniform, some time since, upon a narrow sidewalk in this city, knocked the writer of this article into the gutter, throwing him upon his hands and knees. He was trying to get out of their way, and they saw it, but being feeble, and leaning upon a staff, he moved too slow for their ideas of progress. I made no complaint, but concluded that these colored ruffians had not “earned to respect the uniform of the army,” and I went my way – not rejoicing – but feeling in the left knee that I was worsted by the encounter, which I had not brought about, but sought to prevent! Soldiers and officers, wearing the Federal uniform ought all to be gentlemen, no matter what their color, but the only two colored soldiers I ever encountered did not prove to be of that stripe. I have no wish to try them again – I might light upon others less refined who would run me through with the bayonet! Being denied a white man’s choice, I only ask a negro’s privilege of getting out of the way!
The plain truth is, the colored soldiers have not been properly instructed. Who is at fault I am not able to say. Believing that their longer continuance in East Tennessee will be productive of no good, but of much harm, I have written to President Johnson to remove them to those localities where they are needed, and where the people were a unit in bringing on the rebellion. Indeed I have informed the President that no troops are needed in East Tennessee of any color, and that the loyal people and the civil authorities are fully able to preserve order and take care of the country. The Bench, from the County Court up to the Supreme Court, is occupied by loyal Judges; the Prosecuting Attorneys are loyal men, and so are the Sheriffs and Justices, and we are prepared in East Tennessee to preserve order without the aid of troops.
I do not advise the removal of troops from Middle and West Tennessee, but, on the contrary, I would protest against their removal. There is too much of the spirit of rebellion in those sections of the State, and if the Federal bayonets were removed loyal men would not be allowed to hold courts or try rebel offenders.
THE SENIOR EDITOR.
Return to Their White Officers for more letters written by the men who led
Black soldiers in the United States Colored Troops