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  --  RECRUITING AS IT WAS.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XVIII.

Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany



THE appointment of the black major of infantry, at the time of its public announcement, created considerable discussion. As the causes leading to it have never yet been publicly known, to gratify a legitimate curiosity, we will give it, beginning with the materials with which he wrought out the claims of his people to the national consideration. Like every intelligent observer of events, he had noted that while the rebellion had progressed considerably, the status of the colored people had shown no decided change. The policy of the army relative to the slaves was vague and undefined, and, in many instances, brutal, while the fidelity and devotion of these blacks to the Union army find no parallel in modern times away from the pages of romance. No overdrawn picture, but abounding with truthful figures, while from its background arise countless suggestions to the nation, was that gracefully presented by Major Nichols in his "Story of the Great March," when he said, "The negroes all tell the general that the falsehoods of the rebel papers never deceived them, and that they believed his 'retreats' sure victories; that they would serve the Union cause in any way, and in all ways, that

they could--as soldiers, as drivers, or pioneers. Indeed, the faith, earnestness, and heroism of the black men are among the grandest developments of this war. When I think of the universal testimony of our escaped soldiers, who enter our lines every day, that, in the hundreds of miles which they traverse on their way, they never ask the poor slave in vain for help; that the poorest negro hides and shelters them, and shares the last crumb with them,--all this impresses me with a weight of obligation and a love for them that stir the very depths of my soul."

Yet these services were not sufficient to save the bondman from being returned to his abject condition. This is familiar to all, especially in the early record of the army of the Potomac; and for a long time during the war these humiliating scenes were being enacted, either openly or under some constitutional disguise.

The word "contraband" had been spoken into history by the great radical convert; but neither that, nor the reticence of the president concerning the status of the blacks seeking the Union lines, gave light to the dark, deplorable situation.

The president was cognizant of these acts, as he at one time stated; but apportioning to himself but limited powers under the constitution, he hesitated to proceed beyond these limits, unless he had the support of the people. Silently he awaited the time when the country, aroused to its honor and best interest, would cast out from it this ghoul that had sustained itself on the life-blood of the nation. He at last issued his Emancipation Proclamation; yet this could not accomplish everything. After the capture of Chattanooga, a

valiant commander wrote to Major-General Palmer in Kentucky, "Send the rebel sympathizers and their negroes down the river, out of the country, and let them seek a clime more congenial for themselves and their peculiar institution." Thus, whether displayed in military parade around Washington, or in cautious reconnoitrings on the banks of the Mississippi, or in the brilliant engagement of Chickamauga, to the terrible three days' struggle but glorious harvest of Gettysburg, the policy of the mighty armies of the Union converged to the same object--to ignore the negro's claims, and send the slave back to his master.

Delany viewed the moral bearing of this tendency upon the future of his people; he felt that in these repeated acts of injustice the energies of the blacks were fast being chilled.

On this subject he frequently expressed himself, and persistently urged measures then untouched as the only means which would insure success. He said when he made known his plans to his always noble hearted friend, Frederick Douglass, he gave him encouragement, adding that he was no soldier himself, but had given two sons to the war.

There were others to whom he made these measures known, though not the plans by which he intended placing them before the president, among them we find the names of John Jones, Esq., of Detroit, his colleague "in office," Dr. Amos Aray, once associated with him, Mr. George Vosburg, a man of sterling worth among his people, Dr. Willis Revels, of Indianapolis, and others not unknown to fame.

In his zeal he endeavored to induce the leading

politicians among the colored people to unite upon some settled policy by which they should be governed, and to this end he addressed a letter through a paper supported by them in New York, invoking a national convention of the representative men, for the purpose of defining their position in relation to the war; but it failed to meet the general approbation.

He saw the progress of the war producing contingencies, challenging policies, demanding of all some definite, immediate action. And the action of the president, apart from positive constitutional obligations, was based upon these. Under such circumstances, what need was most demanded was reliable, adequate means . These were best adapted to the desired end, and suggested by such as applied in person to the president.

He said, that "to wait upon the president at such a time to obtain anything from him could only be realized by having something, or plan, to offer the government, or it would be demonstrating an expression of Mr. Lincoln, with cap in hand, and ask, 'Mr. President, what have you to give me?' when the reply invariably was, 'Sir, what have you to offer me?'"

He saw at one time one of the possible contingencies of the war was an indication of foreign intervention. The government had its own methods and measures of meeting this event; but, aside from this, any aid would be acceptable. Where could this be found? Could it be made available? and who will offer it? were questions of importance with the government.

In view of the menacing attitude presented by two of the greatest powers of the world, with a probability

of others following them, he addressed a letter on the subject to the Anglo-African, setting forth what he considered the best measure to be adopted by the colored people to the interest of the country in the event of foreign intervention. Another and most momentous contingency he viewed from his stand-point was, the probability of the south calling the blacks to arms. This event, to every intelligent observer of the times, was from the first of as much importance to the government as that of foreign intervention. It was not least among the complicated problems awaiting the solution of the nation; for while all others might be met by the general usages and laws of war, diplomacy, and force of arms, the last could only be met by measures at once unprecedented, and peculiar to the method of meeting belligerents.

To present the means of meeting these ends was certainly of vast importance to the government.

Thus, in view of the threat of Jefferson Davis to arm the blacks, as slaves to fight for the establishment of a slave confederacy, he argued that some means should be devised in order to frustrate this design.

To many of the leading colored men of the North, and the old abolitionists, this was comparatively an easy task,--having originated that great scheme known as the Underground Railroad, which, for nearly forty years had baffled the comprehension of their foes--a scheme so well devised and skilfully conducted, that from one to forty were continually being passed out of every part of the far South to Texas, Massachusetts, and Canada.

These men had the same means of reaching the

slaves, and through this medium could reach them, in order to prevent their joining their oppressors.

None expected at the beginning of the rebellion that, in its extreme weakness, the tottering Confederacy would call for aid from those its very first utterance had sought to consign to perpetual degradation. And we knew not what temptation would be held out the next hour, in order to secure the aim of the South. Therefore, can the means be made available immediately, was a matter of painful anxiety.

At length he determined on the execution of his long-designed plans. An event renewed his zeal. In January, 1865, he received a despatch from a friend to go to Indianapolis, as Governor Morton had proposed to raise two additional black regiments for the service. And this friend, to whose telegram he responded, had presented his claims to the consideration of the friends of the movement, hearing that they were determined, if possible, to secure the appointment of a black officer for the state, as acting superintendent, commissioned with the rank of captain.

But intelligence being soon after received from the secretary of war disapproving of the measure, he immediately returned to Wilberforce College, where, more fully to identify himself with the interests of the country, as well as to secure educational advantages for his children, he had previously removed his family from Canada. Thence he set out for Washington. During the time he was engaged in recruiting for the service, he had been a keen observer of measures developed in the progress of the rebellion. He had been in correspondence with many of the leading men of both races

in the country, and in his own mind had been deducing measures applicable to the events transpiring relative to the colored people. Hence his presence in Washington, to see the chief magistrate, though well aware of the failure of others of his race who had preceded him there, to accomplish a satisfactory result. This consideration would have deterred many men, for among those who had sought the president were men noted for their high attainments and general popularity. Casting from him all suggestions of the impossibility of success by the strength of his character, without aid or adventitious surroundings, he struck out into a path before untrodden by others of his race.

How it was accomplished we propose to relate, as a part of the history of the great revolution, and as the crowning act of the noble president's life and his great secretary of war.

Said Dr. James McCune Smith of this movement, "Delany is a success among the colored men;" and subsequent events proved the correctness of the assertion.


  --  RECRUITING AS IT WAS.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XVIII.