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Humanities Libertexts

16.5: Social Developments

  • Page ID
    7972
  • The Civil War was fought not only on the battlefields, but in the towns, villages, and cities of the North and South where tensions ran high as inflation skyrocketed and conscription threatened to take the bread winners to the front lines with little guarantee that they would return. Such tensions caused by the war were reflected in such events as the Richmond bread riots and the draft and race riots in northern cities, but especially in New York City, where hundreds were killed or wounded. In both cases, fear of the changes that would come with emancipation of the slaves was an important factor.

    16.5.1: Wartime Economic Problems

    The Confederate government’s economic policies created many problems for the civilian population, especially shortages of goods and inflation. In the antebellum years, the South imported items such as wool, coffee, tea, salt, finished cotton, iron, nails, and shoes from the North or from Europe. While the Union blockade had little effect in the first year of the war, southerners failed to produce substitutes for needed goods, and prices began to rise. The price of salt, used to preserve meat, went from $2 per bag in 1861 to $60 per bag in 1862. As the blockade became more effective, smugglers provided some supplies. But they tended to focus on war materials and luxury items because they brought in higher profits. The second reason for the shortages stemmed from the nature of the cotton economy. Before the war, the South grew mostly export crops, and it took time to convert to food production. After 1862, the Union controlled the best food-producing land in the South. Elsewhere near battlefields, many people stopped planting crops for fear they would be destroyed or confiscated. Furthermore, with so many men serving in the military, even with the use of slave labor, the agricultural economy became less productive. Lastly, lack of an internal transportation system made it hard to move goods around the country. Food supplies often rotted before they reached their intended destination.

    Early on, inflation became an issue for the Confederacy. Shortages obviously contributed to the problem of rising prices, but the government’s monetary policy seemed to be the major culprit. With the government constantly infusing more treasury notes into the economy, the value of the money depreciated. In other words, a person needed $100 in Confederate currency in 1865 to buy what $1 purchased in 1861. Wages did rise for most workers; however, they did not keep pace with prices. In 1862, wages for paid laborers increased about 55 percent; prices increased about 300 percent. In 1864, the average family needed $68 to purchase food, but a private in the Confederate Army made only $11 per month. Moreover, since the Confederacy chose not to make its notes legal tender, creditors did not have to accept them as a form of payment. For a soldier paid in treasury notes, it became increasingly hard to use those notes, a fact which further lessened their value. Southerners suffered a great deal because of the rising prices on the limited number of available goods. By closing months of the war, the inflation rate in the South jumped to over 9,000 percent.

    Economically speaking, the North weathered the war better than the South, but northerners still faced economic hardships because of shortages and inflation. Government-issued greenbacks lost value at a time when consumer goods became hard to find, so prices rose. The North experienced an inflation rate of about 80 percent as prices slowly edged upward throughout the war. What might have cost about $100 before the war would cost about $180 after the war. However, the decision to make treasury notes legal tender helped keep inflation in check. Many people expected that as unemployment declined because of wartime production, wages would rise in proportion to prices. Unfortunately for northern workers, real wages declined by about 20 percent. In 1864, a six-member family needed $18.50 to live in New York City, but most only made $16.

    16.5.2: Conscription during the Civil War

    In the South, as in the North, the first months of the war witnessed an enthusiastic swell of voluntarism. However, as the war dragged on, both sides found it difficult to recruit the numbers needed to continue the military effort. A Confederate general wrote from Virginia in 1861 that “the full flush of patriotism led many a man to join who now regrets it. The prospect of winter here is making the men very restless and they are beginning to resort to all sorts of means to get home.” The Confederate government tried enticing men to re-enlist once their one-year service was up, promising $50 bounty and a one month’s furlough. Enlistment still lagged, and so in March 1862, Robert E. Lee, who served as Davis’s military advisor, recommended that the government pass a conscription law.

    The Confederate government complied and became the first government in the nation’s history to enact a mandatory draft; the Conscription Act, passed in April 1862, was amended almost immediately to exclude any man who owned more than 20 slaves. Exempted also were militia officers, civil servants, clergymen, and teachers. It was permitted for draftees to hire substitutes; by 1863 the usual substitution rate was $6,000 in confederate money or $600 in gold. A common saying in both parts of the country hinted at the resentment that was building: the struggle was “a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.”

    By early 1863, it was obvious that the North, like the South, would have to adopt mandatory conscription, and on March 3, the U.S. Congress passed the Enrollment Act which made all physically fit citizens and aliens who had filed for naturalization eligible for the draft. It allowed no exemptions by occupation, as was the case with the similar Confederate law, but did include just as many instances of substitution. The Enrollment Act established quotas by district equal to the number of eligible soldiers in the district, minus the number who had already served; as enlistments declined, districts began to bid against each other to fill their quotas. Historian James McPherson comments, “By 1864 it was possible for recruits in some districts to parlay federal, state and local bounties into a total payment of more than $1,000.”

    16.5.3: Protests and Rioting in New York

    Almost as soon as Congress passed the Enrollment Act protests began throughout the North, particularly in light of the fact that the wealthy could fairly easily “buy” a replacement. Fanned by the fear (promoted by proslavery speakers) that free blacks would take the jobs of draftees who were away at the front, northerners began to riot against the unjustness of the draft; these riots reflected a great deal of racial tension. The Democratic governor of New York, Horatio Seymour, reminded a large crowd at a Fourth of July celebration that the national government was acting in an unconstitutional manner by “forcing men into an ‘ungodly conflict’ waged on behalf of the black man.” Seymour also sent emissaries to meet with Lincoln to convince the president that the draft would unfairly target Irish workers. The New York Daily News affirmed that the purpose of the draft was obviously “to kill off Democrats.” Other newspapers would ultimately join the fray, some denigrating the law, some denigrating those who became rioters. On July 11, 1863, the first draftees were selected by lottery in New York City; their names appeared in the newspapers the following day, the same day that the casualty lists arrived from Gettysburg. Within two days a heinous riot broke out which many historians regard as one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. Fed by racism, fear, and the fact that most men could not afford the $300 exemption fee, demonstrations broke out and quickly turned to violence. Much of this violence was directed at New York blacks whom whites feared would take the jobs of those who were conscripted. On July 13, the mob first attacked and burned a draft office in Manhattan and then turned on an orphanage that housed over 200 black children. A contemporary described the scene in this manner:

    Toward evening the mob, furious as demons, went yelling over to the Colored-Orphan Asylum in 5th Avenue…and rolling a barrel of kerosene in it, the whole structure was soon in a blaze, and is now a smoking ruin. What has become of the 300 poor innocent orphans I could not learn. They must have had some warning of what the rioters intended; & I trust the children were removed in time to escape a cruel death.

    The children escaped, thanks to the work of the New York City fire fighters and a stander-by, identified only as an “unknown Irishman,” who called out, “If there’s a man among you with a heart within him, come and help these poor children.” Although the children slipped away, no one learned what happened to the “generous spirited man.” Other blacks were not as fortunate as those in the orphanage: “Many were stoned and beaten and several were lynched.” The rioters went from the orphanage toward Harlem where they “burned the aged-Colored Woman’s Home on 65th Street.” When a British visitor asked about the violence to American blacks, his response was “Oh, sir, they hate them here...they are the innocent cause of all of these troubles.”

    The rioters also focused their destruction on wealthy New Yorkers, whom they thought must be Republicans, both in the streets and in their Manhattan mansions. The office of Horace Greeley, a noted abolitionist and peace supporter, was burned and the New York police force threatened as it attempted to quell the rioting. After four days, and the arrival of several thousand military troops, the rioting ended; eleven black men had been lynched, more than 100 people had been killed and 400 more injured. Property damage was estimated at $1.5 million. But the draft continued, and when the next round was announced, forty-three regiments were moved to New York City to maintain order. The riot in New York was one of many in cities throughout the United States, as those enduring the war on the “home front” reacted to stress, scarcity, loss and fear. In the South, though there were protests, none rivaled that of the New York race riot.

    16.5.4: Bread Riots in the Confederacy

    For the civilian population of the Confederacy, the war brought more than the usual sufferings of having their families torn apart as the men went off to fight. The impact of the war on the Confederate home front was devastating, growing worse with each passing year. By 1863, the situation had become so dire in urban areas as to lead to the Bread Riots.

    Early Bread Riots

    In the spring of 1863, the Confederate economy was straining under the burden of war. The local, state, and national governments all made attempts to hold down prices and keep the economy moving but to no avail. Many farmers still focused on cash crops of tobacco and cotton which could be stored for later sale in the hopes things would improve rather than on growing food to sell. Other farmers had their crop production disrupted by the opposing armies marching through their area. Much of what food was produced was purchased by the Confederate government for the war effort as the troops in the field needed to be fed. Population levels rose in the cities as workers were needed for the factories, hospitals, and prisons. Outbreaks of smallpox, dysentery, and tuberculosis were common in the overcrowded hospitals and prisons and on occasion spread to the civilian population. Crowded conditions in the cities left few options for producing food. The result of these various factors was deprivation and even starvation among the civilian population in the cities of the South.

    Atlanta, Georgia, Mobile, Alabama, Salisbury, North Carolina, and Petersburg, Virginia were all sites of bread riots in early 1863. In the case of Salisbury, the first troops from the area tended to be young and unmarried, but the next wave of troops, taken in 1862, were the older, married men who were forced to leave their wives and children to fend for themselves. Within months these families were in dire straits, and the local government did nothing to aid them, leading to a bread riot on March 18, 1863.

    The Richmond Bread Riot News of bread riots further south reached Richmond in late March. By April, a group of women were ready to have their own riot in Richmond. The core group of rioters gathered in Richmond’s Capitol Square near the equestrian statue of George Washington with the intention of speaking to Governor John Letcher. A woman who witnessed the gathering wrote of the pitiful near-skeletal condition of one of the rioters and their intentions to gain bread. Governor Letcher refused to speak with them, so the rioters marched away to the business district, attracting followers as they went, and swelling their number to the hundreds, possibly thousands. Realizing too late the serious intentions of the rioters, Governor Letcher, along with the mayor of Richmond Joseph Mayo, attempted to disburse the crowd with no real effect: the rioters would simply move off to a new location.

    Homes as well as businesses were robbed. The large group of women who attacked the stores on Main Street was fairly calm, taking each store as they reached it. Others, such as boys, were more haphazard, smashing doors and windows, grabbing what they could and running away. Bystanders watched but generally did not interfere. A Confederate officer, Major John W. Daniel wrote an account several years later of what he experienced when he tried to stop one looting lady,

    “While I was gazing at the scene,” said the Major, “I saw a captain of a cavalry regiment, with whom I had a slight acquaintance. We were both in uniform. We agreed that something ought to be done to restore order and stop the robbery. At his suggestion we stationed ourselves at the door of a store already overrun. In a few seconds a virazo[sic] [virago] tried to pass us. . . . She carried in her arms a half dozen bars of yellow soap, a piece of dress silk, a long box of stockings, and some raisins and herrings.” I said: “‘. . . These goods are not yours. You have not paid for them, and you will not be permitted to leave this store with them.”

    She looked at me,” said the Major, “in a wild way . . . and then went to the counter and threw down the goods. As she came back she deliberately took me by the arm and slung me from her with such force that I went spinning around like a top, and struck the front of the building so hard that it took the breath out of me. She then quickly gathered up her load from the counter and walked out.

    It was left to Confederate President Jefferson Davis to personally handle the situation. According to various accounts, Davis addressed the group, offering sympathy, money from his own pockets, a promise to provide food, and a threat to have the City Guard open fire and shoot everyone if they did not clear the streets. Davis succeeded in persuading the rioters to leave, and calm was restored. Several of the rioters were arrested with their hearings dragging on through the summer and into fall.

    While many had a legitimate cause, others did use the event to commit crime. According to the Richmond Examiner, the rioters wanted anything but bread. When offered flour and rice as promised by Davis, many of them dropped it in the streets, preferring to rob stores of clothing and other items instead. The Richmond Examiner described the rioters as “a handful of prostitutes, professional thieves, Irish and Yankee hags, gallows-birds from all lands but our own…with a woman huckster at their head, who buys veal at the toll gate for a hundred and sells the same for two hundred and fifty in the morning market…” The “huckster” was Mary Jackson, described in a later article in the Examiner as, “a good specimen of a forty year old Amazon, with the eye of the Devil” who came to town that day brandishing a bowie knife and later a pistol as well as the knife and demanding “bread or blood,” exciting the crowd and threatening people.

    In fact not all of the rioters were of a notorious nature. One particularly prominent person arrested was Dr. Thomas Palmer, surgeon at the Florida or Davenport Hospital. During the war there was a designated hospital in Richmond for soldiers from each state. Dr. Palmer tended to the injured troops from Florida. He had been on the corner of 15th and Main when Governor Letcher arrived and ordered the crowd there to disburse. Those present did leave as ordered–except Dr. Palmer. Dr. Palmer was not rioting for bread, nor was he looting stores. He refused to obey first the Governor and then the Mayor in an apparent spontaneous protest against the government. When the rioters in the area moved on, they left Dr. Palmer alone to face the governor and mayor. He was arrested.

    More Bread Riots

    The Bread Riots indicated the suffering felt by the common people and their frustration with governments that offered no effective solutions. While bread and other foods and goods were available, the cost to the average person was too high to be affordable. One tell-tale sign of the desperation of the times was a cookbook published in Richmond in 1863. The Confederate Receipt Book. A Compilation of over One Hundred Receipts, Adapted to the Times offered among its recipes directions for curing meat without salt, making apple pie without apples, and even coffee without coffee beans.

    Although the President of the Confederacy personally stepped in to quell the Richmond riot, bread riots continued to occur throughout the South for the duration of the war as localities struggled with the impossible task of providing for the war and providing for the people at the same time. Cities such as Savannah and Mobile saw women take to the streets to demand relief. The September 1863 bread riot in Mobile, Alabama was typical. The women took to the streets, shouting “Bread!” and demanding an end to their suffering. The Army, in this case the 17th Alabama, was ordered to put down the riot but refused to attack the families of fellow soldiers. Then the local Mobile Cadets were ordered to disburse the women but were themselves driven away instead. The riots normally were small and did little to alleviate the suffering of the families beyond providing an outlet for their frustrations with the war. While there had been arrests made of the ringleaders in the Richmond riot which had been unusually large, most rioters in Richmond and elsewhere were allowed to just go home.

    16.5.5: The Emancipation Proclamation

    From the northern perspective, the first year and a half of the Civil War continued, to be a war for union. As the war dragged on, and particularly as the Union cause flagged in the field in mid-1862, Abraham Lincoln was already considering a move that would drastically change the character of the war. Shifting to a position that he would not have held a year earlier, Lincoln began to embrace emancipation of the slaves as a war measure. From the time the war broke out, free blacks had tried to enlist in the Union army, but the president, his cabinet, and most Republicans opposed this move. Lincoln commented in spring 1862 that “to arm the Negroes would turn 50,000 bayonets from the loyal border states against us that were for us.” William Lloyd Garrison, avid abolitionist and editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, dubbed Lincoln, himself evidently indecisive on the issue of emancipation “nothing but a wet rag.” In fact, one of the reasons that Lincoln was an attractive candidate for the Republicans in 1860, according to James McPherson was that “he was viewed neither as an abolitionist nor an advocate of racial equality.” Although he believed the phrase “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence was accurate, he feared the outcome should large numbers of slaves become freedmen; the differences in the two races might be too severe to overcome. Indeed five months into the war, Lincoln had made the remark that the Negro “had nothing to do with” the war and should not be “dragged into it.” Perhaps the following comment sums up his vacillation on the topic of manumission: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” And in 1862, he mused, “unexpected and unplanned ‘events,’ not he, had controlled his policy toward emancipation."

    By July, Lincoln had concluded that he should move ahead with emancipation. One reason was military. Slaves working in the field freed up southerners to fight against the Union. The loss of its slaves would seriously cripple the South’s ability to fight. The assumption, of course, was that southern states would pay any attention at all to an order issued by the Union president. Also, adding emancipation to the Union cause would open the door for the recruitment of African Americans as soldiers, augmenting the available manpower of the Union army. Another consideration was diplomacy. If the Union embraced emancipation, thus including the eradication of slavery in the Union cause, then British recognition of the Confederacy would become problematic; the anti-slavery British public and English attempts to suppress the slave trade over the previous decade would make supporting the pro-slavery South incongruous. As James McPherson notes, it was obvious that Lincoln could not satisfy everyone, but “he hoped that [proclaiming emancipation] would reenergize those citizens who might support emancipation and black enlistment if they thought that would help bring the Union victory.”

    Lincoln waited for the Union victory at Antietam to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It stated that the slaves in those areas still in rebellion against the United States were “henceforth and forever free,” insisting that this move was a “military necessity…absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union.” The statement also endorsed voluntary colonization of freed slaves (in other words, sending them back to Africa) and called on loyal states to effect “gradual emancipation.” On December 1, Lincoln addressed Congress and in his message recommended a Constitutional amendment providing for compensated emancipation, one that would be gradual (actually extending the termination date to 1900) to apply to “every state where it now exists.” Democrats mistakenly thought this pronouncement suggested that Lincoln was backing down on emancipation. This was not the case, however, and on January 1, 1863, final Proclamation was signed and put into effect. The document proclaimed that slaves were freed in those Southern states that were not occupied by Union troops. Southern areas to which the Proclamation did not apply were several counties in Virginia, several parishes in Louisiana, and the whole state of Tennessee. These areas were occupied by Union troops and therefore considered to be part of the Union. It appears that in the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln was not so much creating a general measure to end slavery, but one rather to punish those areas involved in rebellion.

    Not surprisingly, reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation was mixed. In the North, while some abolitionists praised the measure, others pointed out that the Proclamation freed only those slaves in areas still in rebellion against the Union, and thus not all slaves in all areas. Was this really a strong statement on slavery? And in fact, by exempting those areas under Union control, including the North, what impact did it really have? Surely the areas of the South not under Union control had no intention of paying any attention to the Proclamation. Secretary of State, William Seward, stated the opinion of many when he said, “Where he could, he didn’t. Where he did, he couldn’t.” Southern leaders universally denounced the proclamation as an incitement to riot, calling it a typical Republican trick, while the London Spectator quipped that the Proclamation’s message was “not that a human being could not own another, but that he cannot unless he is loyal to the United States.” James McPherson insists, however, that criticisms such as those of the Spectator missed the point. The Proclamation was a war strategy “directed against enemy resources,” and re-defined a “revolutionary new war aim: the overthrow of slavery by force of arms…A new union without slavery.” Early in 1863, Lincoln approved the enlistment of freed slaves in the Union army, writing to Andrew Johnson, military governor of Tennessee, “The bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once. And who doubts that we can present that sight?”

    Ultimately, the Emancipation Proclamation had far-reaching effects. The British government moved even further away from possibly recognizing southern nationhood. In short order, nearly 200,000 black soldiers were raised to bolster the Union ranks and helped swing the tide of the war in the Union’s favor. Finally, the death knell sounded for slavery. In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, he invoked Old Testament language when he proclaimed, “American slavery is one of those offences which in the providence of God…He now wills to remove [through] this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came…Fondly do we hopefervently do we pray-that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.”

    Although Lincoln did not live to see the passage of a Constitutional amendment, he realized that one would be necessary to give emancipation the force of law, and so from the time the Proclamation was released, had thrown his support toward such a move. By spring 1864, the movement for an amendment abolishing slavery in the country gained momentum. In early 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment and sent it to the states. In December 1865, eight months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and the assassination of Lincoln, the amendment became law and neither “slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Thus slavery ended in the United States.

    16.5.6: Black Americans and the War

    When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863, there was little immediate impact on slaves in the South. The Proclamation freed only those slaves held in states still in rebellion against the Union and slave owners in those states had no intention of supporting widespread manumission for many reasons, including the fact that they did not recognize federal law. And the slaves themselves did not engage in the rioting and looting predicted by Southern political leaders. On the other hand, as 1863 progressed and the presence of Union troops was more common in the South, slaves became restive and began to seize and redistribute property. These “freedmen” also tended to flock to federal camps. General Ulysses S. Grant commented that with the approach of union forces slaves fled the plantations and “flocked in vast numbers—an army in themselves—to the camps of the Yankees.” What the Union troops witnessed was a slave population “springing from barbarism…forsaking its local traditions and all the associations of the old plantation life…with feet shod or bleeding, individually or in families…an army of slaves and fugitives pushing its way irresistibly toward an army of fighting men.” The account of General H.W. Slocum, who accompanied Sherman, is similar:

    The advance of Sherman’s army…was known far and wide many miles in advance of us. It was natural that these poor creatures (the slaves), seeking a place of safety, should flee to the army, and endeavor to keep in sight of it. Every day, as we marched on we could see, on each side of our line of march, crowds of these people coming to us through roads and across the fields, bringing with them all of their earthly goods, and many goods which were not theirs. Horses, mules, cows, dogs, old family carriages, carts, and whatever they thought might be of use…They were allowed to follow in the rear of our column, and at times they were almost equal in number to the army they were following.

    To take care of these swelling populations living among his army in Tennessee, Grant assigned a chaplain, John Eaton of the Twenty-seventh Ohio Infantry, to set up a camp that would provide housing, food, and medical care for the blacks. By July 1864, almost 115,000 previous slaves were employed and living in the camps. Able-bodied men were engaged in service: 41,000 in military service as cooks, soldiers, servants, or laborers; the rest were in private service as mechanics, farm laborers, or blacksmiths.

    Blacks in the Military

    Although African Americans did eventually serve in significant numbers in the Union army and navy, it was not until 1863 that this practice began. And while it is understandable that the Confederacy would be reluctant to employ black soldiers, it is somewhat harder to understand why that was the case in the Union. It appears that while Union troops were willing to accept blacks as laborers in the military, they were much less willing to accept them as fellow soldiers. In addition, the Union Congress was evidently concerned about the reaction of the Border States to black troops, so it “refused to enlist even free blacks.” In fact, until 1863, it was common practice in Union armies fighting in Virginia and Tennessee to return escaped slaves to their masters rather than enroll them in the ranks of the army.

    The Second Confiscation and Militia Act of July 17, 1862 marked the first official authorization to employ African Americans in federal military service. This act allowed President Lincoln to receive into the military persons of African descent for any purpose “he may judge best for the public welfare.” However, the President himself did not take advantage of this authority until the official issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.

    Historian James Robertson maintains that “no blacks were officially accepted into Confederate military service.” His reason for saying this is that if there had been black units this would have inevitably surfaced in the voluminous military records of the war. He points out, however, that in the last months of the war, when troops were in short supply, the Confederate Congress authorized the recruitment of black soldiers. Only about three dozen men answered the call, and they never saw military action, nor were they allowed to carry weapons. Howell Cobb of Georgia commented on the issue of receiving blacks into military service, “Enlisting slaves as Confederate troops would be the beginning of the end of the Revolution. If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

    Some historians point out that though blacks in the Confederate army were not soldiers nor were there black Confederate regiments, both freedmen and slaves did serve as cooks, musicians, and common laborers. And others explain that some states, ignoring the official position of the Confederate government, called for the conscription of “free persons of color.” There were also instances in which Union commanders reported witnessing blacks fighting with the armies of the Confederate States. Union Colonel John Gibson Parkhurst, for example, recorded about the battle at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, “The forces attacking my camp were the First Regiment Texas Rangers, a battalion of the First Georgia Rangers, … and quite a number of Negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.”

    Violence against Blacks in the North and South A good deal of violence occurred toward blacks during the Civil War. The draft riots that took place in New York City in July 1863 quickly turned into racial violence. In addition to the instances mentioned earlier, the New York Times, July 15, 1863 reported that a “colored seaman’s boarding house” was attacked, its residents removed, robbed and burned, that a liquor store was burned “on account of a colored woman taking refuge there,” and that “a gang of nearly 500 rioters attacked the colored people residing at Nos. 104 and 105 Park street [in the Sixth Ward], drove them into the street, assaulting them with stones and other missiles.” Those who were attacked “look perfectly bewildered—they are unable to designate between friend or foe. Many have lost all they ever had in the world, and some of them may become charges on the county.”

    Racial prejudice also reared its ugly head during military action, especially in several notorious battles. One of the worst massacres of black troops occurred at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, though this was not an isolated incident. When the Confederate Army began to have morale problems in 1864, soldiers took their frustration out on the enemy in what David J. Eicher, calls “one of the bleakest, saddest events of American military history.”

    Confederate soldiers under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest mercilessly slaughtered black Union soldiers on April 12, 1864 after the battle of Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The incident quickly became known throughout the North, fanning the flames of hatred of the South. The New York Times reported on April 24, “The blacks and their officers were shot down, bayoneted and put to the sword in cold blood…Out of four hundred Negro soldiers only about twenty survive! At least three hundred of them were destroyed after the surrender! This is the statement of the rebel General Chalmers himself to our informant.” Similar slaughters occurred at Poison Spring, Arkansas and Petersburg, Virginia. At Poison Spring the Confederates successfully routed the Union army under Colonel James M. Williams, whose forces included the First Kansas Colored Infantry. After the retreat, the colored infantry were massacred by the Confederates and their Indian allies.

    In concluding this section on the experiences of African Americans in the war years, it might be enlightening to read the letter of a twenty-one year old black Union soldier serving in the 55th Massachusetts to his wife:

    Dear Wife i have enlisted in the army . . . and though great is the present national dificulties yet i look forward to a brighter day When i shall have the opertunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of fredom i would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will not be long before we shall have crushed the system that now opreses you for in the course of three months you shall have your liberty. great is the outpouring of the colered peopl that is now rallying with the hearts of lions against that very curse that has seperated you an me . . . i am a soldier now and i shall use my utmost endeavor to strike at the rebellion and the heart of this system that so long has kept us in chains...

    Samuel Cabble [sic]

    16.5.7: Before You Move On...

    Key Concepts

    The war created stress on the home front as well as on the front lines, and the anxiety that the populations in both regions felt because of the fighting and the fear of losing loved ones was exacerbated by such issues as manumission (freeing of the slaves), conscription, and the abundance, or lack thereof, of food. The draft riots in New York combined two of the three as men, facing an arbitrary conscription, were afraid that the jobs they left would be taken by freedmen, who would inevitably, once freed, leave the South for the North. Nerves were raw and the slightest disturbance could turn into full-fledged rioting. Nowhere was this more evident than in New York City and Richmond, Virginia, as citizens protested the draft and the effects of a runaway inflation. All of these events occurred in the seven months between January 1 and July 11, 1863; the Emancipation Proclamation was made official January 1; the Richmond bread riots took place in April and the New York City draft riots in July. It appeared to many Americans that the world had indeed turned upside down.

    Test Yourself

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Which of the following statements is true of the Emancipation Proclamation?

    a. It allowed Lincoln to follow through on his campaign promises and finally eliminate slavery from the Union.

    b. It was a military measure based on the congressional power to confiscate the property of traitors.

    c. It freed the slaves of any state in open rebellion against the Union, based on military necessity.

    d. It freed all slaves, and was passed only reluctantly due to Lincoln’s feeling that it would divide the Union.

    Answer

    c

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    During the draft riots in New York City, the rioters targeted the _________ population of New York City:

    a. Irish

    b. Polish

    c. Catholic

    d. Black

    Answer

    d

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    The main common feature of all the Bread Riots is that they were all led by women. Why?

    a. Women are natural riot organizers.

    b. There were few men around; most were off to war.

    c. Bread is a domestic issue, women handle domestic issues.

    d. Men did not want to be involved.

    Answer

    b

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

    Bread Riots occurred in which of the following cities?

    a. Boston, Washington, Richmond

    b. Atlanta, Mobile, Richmond

    c. New York, Chicago, Mobile

    d. Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore

    Answer

    b

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{5}\)

    The incident at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, is an example of the _________ that was/were a constant problem during the war.

    a. Abolitionism

    b. Pacifism

    c. Treasonous activities

    d. Racism

    Answer

    d

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