Edwin Forbes, "Chapter LXXX. "The Sanctuary"," Thirty Years After: An Artist's Memoir of the Civil War, (New York: Fords, Howard & Hulbert [c1890]) 317-318



Meager possessions were packed quickly when news came to a plantation that the Yankees were holding a near-by town, and although the country was picketed with Southern cavalry close up to the Union lines, the slave family stole from the old cabin at nightfall, and avoiding highways to escape capture, tramped through wood and thicket, and came, weary and foot-sore, in sight of the Union lines at daybreak.

I saw one group that I never shall forget, it impressed me so deeply with what the Federal success meant to these dusky millions. The old mother dropped on her knees and with upraised hands cried "Bress de Lord!" while the father, too much affected to speak, stood reverently with uncovered head, and the wondering, bare-legged boy, with the faithful dog, waited patiently beside them. As the bugle notes of the reveille echoed across the fields, and the star-spangled banner waved out from the flag-staff on the breastworks in the bright morning sun, I murmured, "A Sanctuary, truly!"

Four millions of slaves were freed during the war. At the beginning of the struggle they had an indefinite idea that their interests were vitally concerned, but so many reports reached them about the cruelty of our soldiers that some regarded us with fear. One old aunty was heard to ask if "dey had horns and tails." Gradually, as the war went ON, they understood more fully that success of the Union army meant freedom to their race, and indeed, with the instinct developed by generations of slavery, the majority of them from the first knew that whatever they could do to help the Yankees was a help to their friends. I do not believe that a Union soldier ever experienced anything but kindness and eager assistance from a negro during the war.

Yet in the long interval of uncertainty they were faithful to their masters, and in household and field cheerfully performed all labor, with admirable and affectionate fidelity protecting and supporting the wives and children of the men who were fighting to rivet their chains still closer. They even obediently built forts and breastworks, from whose front issued forth flame and iron hail on the heads of their defenders. No one can realize the fears and anxieties of these people as battles ebbed and flowed, their grief when the Union lines were beaten back, and their joy when victorious. But they listened to the roar of battle and saws the flag of freedom float or fall in silence; neither did they speak when the exultant cries of the men in gray arose on the air. No joy or grief of theirs could find expression in words or song, for any open manifestation at the success of the Union army meant death to them.

One incident along the line of Sherman's "march to the sea" was typical of many similar occurrences. When news came that the "Link um sogers" were advancing, and gray-clad couriers dashed along the dusty roads, spreading the intelligence and warning farmers to secrete their stock and make preparations for flight, much suppressed excitement was noticeable in the negro cabins. Old men would come in, and in marvelous fashion retail news picked up along the road to excited groups of negroes, in the midst of which the sudden report of a gun was heart. One black fellow exclaimed "Dat's thunder, I reckon." "Ho, no!" a second replied, "dat de Yankee guns, shore 'nuff." Then the sounds came louder and nearer, and all in a body the slaves hurried from the cabins to the mansion, where in great confusion "Massa," "Missus" and "de young folks" were packing up. The family carriage was at the door, into which trunks and traps were thrown, when a moment after the family entered, and starting off in great haste were soon lost in a cloud of dust. Shells now fell thick and fast, and the negroes were at their wits' ends to find a place of safety. The cellar of the mansion was soon thought of, and in its gloom, with gray faces and distended eyes, they hugged the wall for safety and listened to the turmoil outside. When the contest ended and the Rebel rear guard had limbered up its guns and clattered down the road to find a new position, for a time stillness prevailed. But the triumphant cries of the pursuing force were soon heard, and the frightened negroes left their place of refuge, and creeping up the stairs found the house filled with blue-coats--new faces-the much-talked-of Yankees.

The new-comers were hungry, as soldiers always were, and on making their needs known, all available food was soon placed before them by the willing black hands. The main army shortly after appeared in sight, and as it surged down the main street the colored folks at first stood motionless and stared at the strange sights; but when a cavalry regiment appeared with its proud-stepping horses and flashing sabers, a shout arose that would do a patriot's heart good. And now all the negroes poured fourth to join Sherman's army "marching through Georgia." Their few traps were packed and, abandoning the old plantation, they trudged along with the column, too happy in the sense of new-found freedom to apprehend danger.

Yes, the manacles have long since fallen from the hand of the slave, and in the words of Henry Ward Beecher, "he can now organize that little kingdom in which every human being has a right to be king in which love is crowned,--the family." He can now choose his occupation, his rights of property are protected, the avenues of learning are open to his children, and he can keep and rear them as he pleases. In spite of the trials and tribulations the negro must yet endure on his road to manhood and acknowledged citizenship, his year of jubilee has come. "Bress de Lord!"

 

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