Posts Tagged ‘African Americans’

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The “Other Lincoln Bible”

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2014 by rob schoeberlein Tagged: , , , , ,

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The “Other Lincoln Bible,” Fisk University, Franklin Library

President Barack Obama at his inaugurations in 2009 and 2013 used a Bible once owned by the Lincoln Family. Known today as the “Lincoln Bible,” it resides currently at the Library of Congress. Do you know, however, about the “Other Lincoln Bible” at Fisk University and its Baltimore connection?

On September 7, 1864, a delegation of African American Baltimoreans paid a visit to the White House. The purpose was to express their gratitude, on behalf of city’s black community, to President Lincoln for his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which they termed “the most sublime State Paper of Modern Civilization.” They also wished to thank him for allowing African American men to shoulder arms in defense of the Union.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.[1]  Baltimore’s African American citizens soon organized a fund raising campaign to place a tangible token of their appreciation into the hands of the Chief Executive. Unfortunately, we don’t know the names of the committee members or their decision making when it came to the selection of the gift.[2]

The committee decided that a Bible would be the most appropriate gift for President Lincoln. Yet, this was to be no ordinary Bible. Only the finest would do. Here is a period description of the item:

The book in size is imperial quarto [about 11” x 15”], bound in royal purple velvet. On the upper side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, nine and a half inches in circumference, bearing a design representing the President in the act of removing the shackles from a slave. On the lower side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, four inches long and two inches wide, bearing the following inscription:

‘To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, from the loyal colored people of Baltimore, as a token of respect and gratitude….’

Accompanying the Bible is a solid black walnut case with a silver plate on the lid, on which is engraved a picture of the Capitol and the words ‘Holy Bible.’ [3]

Over five hundred individuals, more women than men, donated various amounts for a total of $580 ($580 in 1864 is the equivalent of $8522 in 2013). The elaborate binding and the engraved gold plate may have been fabricated locally. The work involved to produce the Bible, according to a scholar of Baltimore’s nineteenth century book trade, was within the capacity of a larger city firm such as Lucas Brothers.

In 1916, Robert Todd Lincoln donated the Bible to Fisk University. Today it resides with the Special Collections Department at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library.

 ***

[1] We simply do not know what the reactions of Baltimore’s citizens were to this momentous news. While some Baltimore newspapers recorded the jubilations of the “contrabands” in Washington, none featured any similar celebratory events within the Monumental City. Even the Baltimore Clipper, one of the staunchest Union sympathizing local papers, merely printed the text of the Proclamation and made no editorial comments.

[2] The Lyceum Observer, an African American owned and operated Baltimore newspaper printed from 1863 to 1866, might have provided those insights. Tragically, only a single issue has survived the ages.

[3] The New York Times, September 11, 1864.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

“Monuments Of Their Patriotism”: Building Baltimore’s Civil War Defenses, Summer 1863 (Part 2)

In Special Collections on July 15, 2013 by rob schoeberlein Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fort No. 1, West Baltimore

Fort No. 1, West Baltimore, Courtesy of Brown University Library

[On the 20th of June, 1863, hundreds of Baltimore’s African American men were pressed into service to build earthen fortifications to further secure the city from a Confederate Army attack.  It was very hard labor for a wage of $1 per day plus rations. ]

Payroll Slip, [July 1863] BRG41-3-1497A

Payroll Slip, [July 1863] BRG41-3-1497A

Who were the workmen? While a full accounting may be impossible, we know a few of them through some payroll slips at the Baltimore City Archives (http://guide.mdsa.net/series.cfm?action=viewDetailedSeries&ID=BRG41-3-105-10). Organized into squads under the supervision of white overseers, Joseph Barnes, a drayman from Mullikin Street and Eli Carpenter, a day-laborer from Cider Alley, toiled under the hot July sun with shovel, pick, and pounder stone. Young boys, paid a wage of .50 per day, bore water buckets from which the men would quench their thirst. It is possible that some construction assistance also came from teenagers who were paid .75 per day. Mealtime meant U.S. Army rations, which likely consisted of hard bread (hard tack) with about a pound of meat and some coffee.[1]

General Robert C. Schenck, the regional military commander stationed in Baltimore, took notice of the men and their work.  He “repeatedly urged President Lincoln to authorize enlistment of the several thousand blacks, mostly free, who labored on the fortifications around Baltimore”[2] and “to create from among them a reg[imen]t of Sappers & Miners.”[3] The President eventually agreed to Schenck’s request and Secretary of War Stanton appointed Colonel William Birney, the son of antislavery politician James G. Birney, to take charge of recruiting the workmen. Birney established a Baltimore-based recruiting office in Mid-July and in less than seven weeks filled the ranks of the Fourth US Colored Troops.

On the 20th of July, hundreds of African American laborers from the various project gathered together for a special ceremony.  They assembled at Fort No. 1, also known as Fort Davis, on West Baltimore Street (in the area of today’s Bon Secours Hospital) for the purpose of a flag presentation. The laborers had pooled together their money to purchase a very large, garrison-style flag for the use of the soldiers stationed at the fort.

Some special guests were also present. Two companies, about 160 men, of the newly formed Fourth United States Colored Troops, stood at attention, the gold buttons of their new blue uniforms glinting in the waning afternoon sun. It would be  sometime in late August before they would be issued any firearms. These soldiers, likely constituting Companies “A” and “B,” had been in army dress for only five days.

The workmen chose Colonel Birney to make the presentation speech on their behalf.  Here is an excerpt:

The flag they present you to-day, is in token of their loyalty. Their hearts are true. Whoever else may be swayed from duty, the black remains firm. Pluck him from the very core of rebeldom and he is a true man. You may trust him. All his aspirations are for the success of the right, the triumph of the nation. For him the success of traitors is his own degradation, the dishonor of his family, the doom of his race to perpetual infamy.

You may regard, sir, the presentation of this fine flag, as implying the readiness of the men of color to defend it. You have witnessed their alacrity in springing to the lines of these fortifications when Baltimore was menaced, their cheerfulness in volunteering their labor, their patience in its prosecution. These forts around the city will be monuments of their patriotism. [emphasis added] With equal alacrity, sir, do they respond to the call of the country, “To arms!” When the Goddess of American Liberty hands them the musket, they accept it with stalwart and ready arms, thankful to Providence that their frugal diet has prepared them for the soldier’s rations, that their life of continuous labor in the open air has inured them in advance to the hardships of campaigning, and that they have not now to learn patience and obedience, these two virtues of the soldier.[4]

Some of the workmen did step forward to join the ranks of their brothers and shoulder a musket for the Union cause. In the ensuing months some 1,000 African American men, from Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland, would fill the ranks of Colonel Birney’s command.

By the end of August, most of the work on the fortifications had been completed.[5] The forts served their purpose but were never actually tested in battle. The closest Confederate incursion came in July 1864 when Major Harry W. Gilmor with 135 men from the First and Second Maryland Cavalry (CSA) regiments traveled down the York Road as far as Govanstown (Govans), then a part of Baltimore County.

With the Civil War’s end, the fortification sites themselves became immediately obsolete and a hindrance to future city development.  Rather than the forts being “monuments” to the patriotism of African American men, the work soon commenced to obliterate them in their entirety.  All buildings were first auctioned off as surplus US Government property.  Next, though it took several years, the city passed ordinances calling for the dismantling of certain earthworks.  Fort No. 8, just south of Greenmount Cemetery, was leveled in 1869 while the Fort Federal Hill breastworks remained until 1879. But unlike the vast majority of the forts, both locations would eventually be designated as public parks, Johnston Square and Federal Hill, respectively. Most became the building sites for Baltimore’s famed row houses.  Fort No. 1 finally succumbed to development in the 1890s.[6]


[1]A Union soldier was entitled to receive daily 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal. The marching ration consisted of 1 lb. of hard bread, 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat, plus the sugar, coffee, and salt.

[2] The Black Military Experience , Ira Berlin, editor ; Joseph P. Reidy, associate editor, Leslie S. Rowland, associate editor. (New York : Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 184.

[3] Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), p. 317.

[4] Christian Recorder, July 26, 1863.

[5] Sun, August 28, 1863.

[6] Sun, November 24, 1903.

Articles

“Monuments Of Their Patriotism”: Building Baltimore’s Civil War Defenses, Summer 1863 (Part 1)

In Special Collections on June 28, 2013 by rob schoeberlein Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Workman's pay slip, July 1863

Workman’s pay slip, July 1863, BRG41, S3, 1497a

In mid-June of 1863, great alarm gripped Baltimore. The Confederate Army under the able command of General Robert E. Lee had crossed into Maryland and might advance in an attempt to take the city. Meetings to organize citizen militias took place throughout the wards. White male citizens, members of the various Union League chapters and the Union Club, mustered into home defense units. If Baltimore fell, the surrender of Washington might be inevitable.

On Saturday, the 20th of June, Mayor Chapman called a special session of City Council to consider the erection of additional defensive fortifications around the city.  In all, “twenty-two works of defen[s]e, of various size and strength… which, in case of attack… would be very difficult to break” were envisioned.  Supported in the endeavor by General Robert Schenck, the regional military administrator, with his offer of supplies and tools to assist in the task, the Council approved $100,000 to build earthen bulwarks to secure the city from Rebel attackers. The U.S. Army ultimately decided on the final location and the types of fortifications to be built.

Baltimore agreed to supply the manpower. General Schenck, however, required the immediate service of 1,000 men by 4PM on the very same day. Could such laborers materialize seemingly from the air? Schenck offered some additional assistance in the form of martial persuasion: “If you have any difficulty in furnishing the labor… I will furnish you the military power to enforce… impressment.”[1] Impressment meant that any person could be seized, without notice, and forced to work, on the fortifications.

The Baltimore City Police, supported by the military, immediately set about gathering all able-bodied men. They, however, singled out only African American males. The hapless men were simply arrested and forcibly marched out to the outskirts of the city under armed guard. It is doubtful that the men had any opportunity to even leave word with family or friends about their fate. A few apparently resisted though not without consequence.  An African American “servant,” a local euphemism for the word “slave,” of one Mrs. Fenby was shot in the foot as he tried to escape from his impressment.[2]

Reverend Alexander Wayman

Reverend Alexander Wayman

The heavy-handed actions of the authorities were unwarranted and an insult to the patriotism of the men. Reverend Alexander Wayman (1821-1895), Pastor of the Bethel A.M.E.Church and a leader in the African-American community, inquired about his son at a local police station and narrowly escaped being sent to work. Before leaving the station, he voiced, “Gentlemen, there is no need of the police officers running after us… this way. All that was necessary was to let us know that we were wanted, and you could have five thousand of us before sun-down.”[3]

Work on the fortifications took place around the clock. Wayman went out again to visit the workmen on early Sunday before his church service, and, once more, was almost made to shoulder a spade. Wayman advised the workman to “be brave” and assured them that “it will come out all right.”[4] The City did eventually come around as Wayman predicted. The City Fathers decided to pay each worker one dollar per day plus rations. Yet, it was a hard-earned dollar, an especially tough, back-breaking labor made worse by the clay-like soil that characterizes most of the region.  The fortifications put up varied in size but they all required the same mounding up and compression of soil. Armed with only pick, shovel and spade, and a large measure of determination on the part of the men, the earthworks did rise.

Heavy labor and hot sun made the work tough but overt racism while on their marches to and from their worksite made things even more onerous. Some white men and boys hurled stones or else insulted them along the way. The African American workmen devised the means to end these incidents. They took up a collection from among themselves and purchased a US flag which would, henceforth, lead them forward on their marches.  From that moment forward, any attack upon them was seen as an attack upon the flag so that the city police, prompted by the Provost-Marshall, provided them with additional protection. In an ironic turn of events, three white men who interfered with the workmen “were taken before the military authorities, who ordered them to labor four weeks on the fortifications with the negroes, without pay and [at] half-rations.[5]

Reverend William Whittingham

Reverend William Whittingham

Not all whites, however, held a low opinion of the men. Many appreciated what they were doing to benefit all Baltimoreans. The mere sight and sound of the marching men greatly impressed one resident of Madison Street, a major east-west artery. The Reverend William Whittingham (1805-1879), Protestant Episcopal Bishop and a staunch Union sympathizer, viewed many columns of men passing by his home on the morning of July 4th, a day typically set aside for rest and celebration. These times, however, were very different and the Confederate Army, though bloodied from the Gettysburg battlefield, would soon be on the march again. Bishop Whittingham recounted:

Daily, now, morning and evening we have long processions of hundreds (sometimes, as [in] last night, thousands) of blacks returning from work on the outer fortifications.  They work by relays, night and day, and are working all day today, holiday or not. They march two by two or four by four, with flags, sometimes singing – with much pride in their employment and evident content[ment] – altho’ they tell funny stories about the way in which they in which some… were run down and forced into service.[6]

To be continued…


[1] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: Series 1, Vol. XXVII, Part III (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1889), p. 235.

[2] Sun, June 22, 1863.

[3] A. W. Wayman, My Recollections of African M. E. Ministers, or Forty Years’ Experience in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Philadelphia: A. M. E. Book Rooms, 1881), p. 86.

[4] My Recollections, p. 88.

[5] Sun, July 3, 1863.

[6] Rev. William T. Whittingham to “Dear Children”, July 4, 1863 William Whittingham Papers (uncataloged series), F. Garner Ranney Archives, Maryland Episcopal Diocese.