"Bitter Tears" for Uncle Tom and Bullets for Black Soldiers: Race and Violence between White Officers and Black Soldiers in the Union Army

Thursday, January 7, 2010: 4:00 PM
Marina Ballroom Salon D (Marriott)
Michael E. DeGruccio , University of Notre Dame
In this presentation I will use pension files, surviving records from courts martial and regimental books to reconstruct the raw, volatile world between lower white officers and their black subordinates.  Many of the officers from the US Colored Cavalry came from New England and New York—making their regimental war narrative one of consistent contact between Yankee men and erstwhile slaves. Many of these officers—who seemed to have held deep disdain for slavery before the war, soon found themselves incapable of reconciling their romantic visions of slaves, and the contentious and roily experience of commanding a group of men on the cusp of freedom.  Though violence between officers and subordinates occurred everywhere in the army, the escalating troubles in this particular regiment suggest that scholars have overplayed the alliance between black soldiers and their officers.  The Second Colored Cavalry offers a glimpse into the troubled line separating the lowest white officers and the hundreds of black soldiers with whom they had daily, intimate contact. These two groups held distinctive views of manhood, self-making and familial obligations which had much to do with the growing murderous friction.  The central figure in this presentation is a young officer who cried while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and used this book as a template for understanding his contact with erstwhile slaves. He and his comrades could not come to terms with the kind of grit and resistance they found instead.
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