[Home] [Book] [Expand] [Collapse] [Help]

Clear Search Expand Search

  --  THE GOLD LEAF   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XXII.

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



THE appointment of the black officer was received, as such advanced measures are generally, with comments of all shades. By the friends of progress it was hailed with general satisfaction.

True there was, prior to his appointment, one of like rank, but differing in position -- that of Dr. Augusta, of Canada, who was accepted after a most rigid examination, as is customary in such cases.

But in the appointment of this field officer there existed an indisputable recognition of the claims of his race to the country. With this interpretation those who formerly hesitated in accepting the policy of the administration now upheld it with confidence. And from the golden leaf of promise, borne upon the shoulder of the first black officer, a light clear and steadily seemed to shine forth, illumining with a strange, wild splendor the hitherto dark pages of his people's history, heralding the glory of the future to them.

Before he left Washington, he communicated with colored men, as far as was prudent, to make the necessary preparation in the event of a black army being organized, to be commanded by black officers. For in the Union army there were many men, from the North

especially, of fine talent and scholastic attainment, who, from their experience and knowledge gained in the military campaigns, could at once be made available.

Certain leading spirits of the " Underground Railroad " were invoked. Scouts incog . were already "on to Richmond," and the services of the famous Harriet Tubman, having been secured to serve in the South, had received her transportation for Charleston, S.C.

These arrangements being affected, he went to Cleveland, Ohio, to meet a council of his co-laborers, in order to enforce suitable measures by which the slave enlistment might be prevented, and to demoralize those already enrolled, as rumors had reached the North of such enlistment having been started at Richmond.

With his friend George Vosburg, Esq, in the lead, whom he likens always to "a claim alive, but unseen," the most active measures were instituted at this council, as their proceedings show.

These gave evidence that the appointment of one of their number was recognized by them as an appeal, though the day was far spent of the country's need for the aid of the colored men of the North, and at the first certain sound they hastened with their offerings.

A few days were spent at his home, preparing for his departure; and being delayed on the way by a freshest, he did not reach New York until the second day after the departure of the steamer for Charleston. While it delayed the principal measures, it gave him a week in New York, in which to perfect preliminary arrangements. Here business of importance was entered upon, and the eloquent William Howard Day, M.A.

was chosen to arrange the military policy of the under ground railroad relative to the slave enlistment.

Mr. Day, in obedience to instructions of the plans laid down, and in anticipation of some appointment, such as his splendid talents entitled him to, performed the task with ability and earnestness. There were others among the leading colored men who showed their appreciation of this movement; among them the learned Rev. J. W. G. Pennington, D. D, ma the following extract from his letter, dated March 29, 1868, will show:--

"Major: Finding that our views so nearly harmonize in reference to arming the slaves, I will give you one of the illustrations I use in my lecture on the duty of interposing our efforts to prevent the rebels from consummating the act: 'We have noticed by their own own papers that the rebel authorities have many of their great meetings in the African church in Richmond. It was there that Benjamin, the rebel secretary of state, first publicly announced the plan of arming the slaves. Did the pastor of that colored church and his congregation have the privilege of taking part in that meeting? Not a bit of it. Did they have the privilege of holding a meeting on the subject themselves in their own place of worship? No.

"What was the object of the rebels in holding their great meetings in the African church? Was it because it is one of the largest buildings in the city? No, they had another object. That was, to suppress and Union feelings that exist among the hundreds of slaves and free people of color who compose that congregation, and to palm off the lie to the world that they are

friendly to the colored people, and that those people are acting freely with them.

"Look at the devilish impudence of this scheme of holding meetings in the African church It is to drag the slaves and colored Christians with them into all the wickedness of the rebellion. Now, it is asked, Why we do not hear a voice from the pastor of that church and his people? The answer is obvious. They are prevented by the FORCE Of CIRCUMSTANCES from speaking a word.

"If the Son of God should enter that house, as he did the temple at Jerusalem (Mark xi. 15, 16), and thus give that congregation the right of free speech, you would soon hear a voice going out from that church, that would reach every slave in the South, telling them which way to fight. And that church will speak as soon as Grant takes Richmond And who does not long for the day when that, the largest colored church in the United States shall be free? Who would not aid in that great forward movement of the Army of the Potomac, that will result in clearing Richmond? But in this state of facts as to that church, we have precisely the position of the 200,000 slaves whom the rebels are about to arm against us!

"Let us not forget what slavery is. It is based upon the assumption, first, that the slave has no will of his own; second, that his sole business is to obey orders. Hence they will be put into the rebel army as slaves , to all intents and purposes, and substantially under slave discipline; they will be surrounded by circumstances which will make it far more difficult of them to escape than many think; and of course, for

the time being, they would be COMPELLED to do as old injury' What, then, is our duty? Our duty is to anticipate the action of the rebel organize, plan, and go forward, and settle the case for our brethren. We have no right to stand still, and presume that they will, when armed, turn at once on our side. And it is cruel to prejudge them in the matter. Our duty is to carry out the letter and spirit of the Proclamation of Freedom. It would be an awful state of things to see the 200,000 Union colored soldiers confronted by 200,000 of our own race, under the rebel banners... No, this must not be. It shall not be. It cannot be if we do our duty. That is, to go to our brethren, and tell them what to do.'"

A romantic incident is related in connection with the the Cleveland council. As Delany concluded, a moment of intense interest and silence followed, and suddenly an interesting girl of some fourteen years sprang to her feet, and rushed up to the platform where he stood, gently resting her hand upon his arm, and anxiously looking up into his face, exclaimed, "O, Major Delany, I ask one favor of you: will you spare my grandfather when you reach Charleston?" Giving the name of her grandfather in the same excited breath, she continued, "Spare him and grandma! There sits my ma: for her sake, if not mine, spare my dear grandpa family."

He strove to calm her anxiety, assuring her of the security of her grandfather's family, even if the genuine Schemmelfening had not already had the city. His mission was not with fire and sword for indiscriminate slaughter, but rather to guide his brethren to liberty.

On his arrival in Charleston, the honored grand-parents,

unconscious of this incident, were among the earliest called to give him welcome, and to offer him the generous civilities of their family; and these were ever after numbered among his most esteemed friends.

In expectation of a continuance of the war, he writes, "I was anxious to reach my destination, organize the black army; and see that elegant mulatto gentleman as field officer, hear his rich, deep-toned voice as he rode along the lines, giving command, or shouting in the deadly conflict, rallying the troops on to victory. Such a sight I desired to see in the cause of liberty and the Union. For William Howard Day, unobstrusive as he appears, is a brave, determined man: once aroused, he is as a panther, that knows no fear. But now that the war is ended, his aid in the battle-field will not be required. And the Union will be safe if reestablished on the basis of righteousness, truth, and justice."

Leaving New York, and having secured the ablest workers with whom to begin the great mission intrusted to him, he saved at Hilton Head, and in the same afternoon at Beaufort.

This beautiful little town, facing a bay of equal beauty, but of tortuous winding, never gave promise of rivalling or imitating the cities of Charleston and Savannah on either side in commercial greatness. In fact, its population was limited almost exclusively to the planters of the adjoining islands and their slaves, a few free colored families, and a less number of poor whites. The salubrity of the eliminate enhanced its attractions, and made it desirable as the summer residence of many of the wealthy magnates. The town was abandoned

by the entire white population at the approach of the naval force. Here were the headquarters of Brevet Major General Saxton, at which Major Delany reported himself for duty, immediately on his arrival. Some time afterwards, speaking of the noble general who led, by sealed orders, the list campaign sent forth to proclaim emancipation , he said that in his frequent intercourse with him there, he was soon convinced that the friends of his race were not confined to the executive department at Washington. This may be considered as the general opinion uttered by, learn; for among the colored people and poor whites of South Carolina, General Rufus Saxton stood as the beloved friend and benefactor, and esteemed among his brother officers generally as s gentleman and soldier.

At the post, while every officer rode with a black orderly, General Saxton's orderly was white !

The post was in active preparation for the flag raising at Sumter. And on the Saturday previous to the memorable 19th of April, the general and staff, Major Delany accompanying the party, sailed for Charleston.

Prior to leaving Beaufort he received the following order:--

BEAUFORT, S. C., April 5, 1865.

Special Orders. No. 7,

I. Major M. R. Delany , United States Colored Troops, in accordance with orders received from the War Department, will proceed without delay to Charleston, S. C., reporting in person to Lieutenant Colonel R.P. Hutchins , 94th Ohio Volunteer Infantry,

Recruiting Officer at that post, for the purpose of aiding in the recruitment of troops.

II. Major Delany will visit the freedmen of Charleston and vicinity, and urge them to enlist in the military service of the United States, reporting by letter from time to time to these headquarters the result of his labors.

By order of Brevet Major General R. SAXTON

Gen. Supt. Rect. & O.C.P.D.S.

Stuart M. Taylor , Asst. Adjt. Gen .

Major M.R. Delany , U.S.C.T.


  --  THE GOLD LEAF   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XXII.