After Slavery: Educator Resources

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8. Black Troops, White Hostility, and Radicalization in the Upcountry

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Four: Freedom, Black Soldiers, and the Union Military in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

The report below, from the early autumn of 1865, was forwarded to General Ralph Ely, the Freedmen's Bureau Sub-Assistant Commissioner in Columbia, South Carolina, as evidence of conditions prevailing in western South Carolina. It vividly attests to the unsettled condition of the upcountry, where as late as August some black farm laborers had not yet received the news that slavery had been abolished, and where white planters seemed determined to place limits on the kind of freedom available to them in the new order. One of the important questions to be decided in the early aftermath of emancipation was whether and when federal troops should be withdrawn from the region. Here a Lieutenant in the 102nd USCT gives his opinion that they must remain in the region to guard the rights of freedpeople. He provides some evidence, as well, of the wide variation in support for black freedom in the ranks of the U.S. military, and of the varying effects that friendly or hostile officers could have on the plight of freedpeople in rural communities.

Black Troops, White Hostility and Radicalization in the Upcountry

[I] found the society of the Westn. Dist.a in a terrible state of disorder, the Freedmen not willing to work for nothing, and the Planters trying to compel them to work and not willing to agree to pay for it. There were many cases of driving whole families of Freedpeople off of plantations, with threats of shooting if they returned, and some cases of actual shooting. In many cases where the crops are 'laid by,' the Freedmen are told there is 'no further need of them,' that they had better go to the Yankee, etc. in some cases whipping and starvation is resorted to in order to compel them to leave and seek the means of sustaining life. [I find] comparative order [in Winnsboro]... The same result would probably have been attained all through the district, but soon after the arrival of the troops under Genl Chisholm the order came to muster out the majority of them and it was impossible to reach and correct all cases especially those a great distance from Hd Qtrs, or the rendezvous. It is my belief that as the troops are withdrawn, that everything pertaining to the Freedmen in that section of the country will be in a worse condition than ever, in short it will [mean] murder and starvation desolation and death; There is a feeling of deadly hatred towards the Blacks, and I have heard it expressed upon on many occasions... Hundreds of Freedmen have told me that the masters were only waiting for the soldiers to be taken out of the state, and then it was their intention to rule, and enslave the negro worse than ever... They do not recognize the freedom of the Negro, and the same course of treatment is still in force upon some plantations as when slavery actually existed.

[I find] some excuse for [tensions, related by local whites]. The first officer who went through that section of country...was Capt. Brown. He told all parties that the Negroes owned the lands and that they were to be divided up for their benefit; that the Whites must now do the work etc in that strain, causing the Negroes to think that they were to be encouraged in idleness. The next was Lieut. Ovatt Act. Provost Marshal. He talked directly in opposition to Capt. Brown, and to give force to his opinions, he caused a woman to be tied in the Court House of Chester, and administered with his own hands a flogging, upon her bare back[.] I was told by eyewitnesses, that it was a worse exhibition of cruelty than would be witnessed upon a plantation, in a lifetime, during the [worst] days of slavery. Next came a Capt Van Notingham who presented himself as a member of General Scofield's staff.b He called a mass meeting of citizens, white and black, and addressed them in a speech. He launched into a tirade of abuse of the colored race, told them that the 'Nigger' was made for slaves and nothing else that it was the duty of the white man to compel him (the Negro) to work and that he should be shot if he did not work, and that he had no right to ask anything for his labor. He said in his speech 'that all things were made by God in six days except the 'Nigger' 'that the seventh day the Devil made the Nigger, and when he saw how ill his work looked, he slapped it in the face, and that was how the nose of the Nigger became flattened.'...

Taking all these things into consideration it is not to be wondered at that there is discontent and difficulty. The question is how to avoid trouble in future. Justice to the Blacks will not be rendered by any Court or Magistrate of this State at present, it can only be done by the power of the US military force... I know it to be the wish of nine out of every ten Southern men to make emancipation a failure, that is make it an injury to the colored race in America, and to do so they will resort to every means in their power to degrade, and starve them if possible to exterminate them, so that at last they can say that a system of free labor would not work well in the south, and that slavery was right.

aAlvord had recently returned from duty in Chester, York and Lancaster Counties (the "Western District") and was submitting this report from Winnsboro.

bProbably General John M. Scofield [sometimes spelled 'Schofield'], who accompanied Sherman on his march through the Carolinas, and was assigned to the Department of North Carolina in 1865 before being appointed military governor of Virginia and later Secretary of War, by President Andrew Johnson. Schofield was a conservative known to sympathize with southern white opposition to Radical Reconstruction.

Source: Henry H. Alvord, 1st Lieut. 102nd USCT, (Winnsboro) to General Ralph Ely (Freedmen's Bureau, Columbia), September 8, 1865


Questions to Consider

  1. In Alvord's view, what are the impediments to peaceful relations between freedpeople and planters in the upcountry?

  2. Why does he consider the role of federal troops an essential one in the immediate postwar context? Does his account sound credible, and do you accept his warning about the likely results of troop withdrawal?

  3. Judging from Alvord's account, what is the range of sentiment regarding black freedom within the ranks of the Union military? Assuming that his observations are accurate, how much confidence can freedpeople have in the US troops as protectors of their rights? What are the alternatives to depending on federal troops?

  4. Why might it work to the interests of certain southern whites to ensure that the "system of free labor" is seen as a failure in the South? What can they do to make certain that this is the outcome of Reconstruction?

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