This portrait of Civil War black soldiers really struck me in its powerful portraiture.
It’s from a blog by Ta-Nehisi Coates, In Every Black Man’s Eyes–Death To The Rebel, about the history of black soldiers in the Civil war, reflected back and forth through his personal history of blacks and guns. He also reflects on those black soldiers and the history of racism and the South. The blog is well worth reading but it was the portrait that stopped me cold.
This weekend I started in on Drew Faust’s This Republic Of Suffering and Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard. I was reading Faust’s meditation on how soldiers prepared themselves to kill, and I came across this incredible passage about the reaction of black soldiers to the Fort Pillow massacre perpetrated by Nathan Forrest. It’s written by one Cordellia Harvey, sent South from Wisconsin to help with the Union wounded:
“Since the Fort Pillow tragedy, our colored troops and their officers are awaiting in breathless anxiety the action of the government…Our officers of Negro regiments declare they will take no more prisoners, and there is death to the rebel in every black man’s eyes. They are still but terrible. They will fight…The Negroes know what they are doing.”
There’s another passage in which an enslaved black woman comes upon her mistress weeping uncontrollably over the latest news–she’s lost her only son. “Missus,” says the slave woman. “We is even now.” The “Missus” had, over the years, sold every one of this woman’s children into slavery in the deep south–all ten of them.