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Wisconsin Union Soldiers and Runaway Freedwoman

Discussion in 'Period Photograph Examinations' started by ForeverFree, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree 1st Lieutenant

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    [​IMG]
    Cropped photograph of Wisconsin Union soldiers who helped a runaway teenager from Kentucky escape to freedom in 1862.
    Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number LC-DIG-ppmsca-10940

    This is titled “Jesse L. Berch, quartermaster sergeant, 25 Wisconsin Regiment of Racine, Wis. [and] Frank M. Rockwell, postmaster 22 Wisconsin of Geneva, Wis.” in the Library of Congress photograph collection.I want to offer a hat tip to Deborah Willis and Barbara

    This Civil War era image depicts a self-liberated teenaged woman (AKA runaway slave) from Kentucky who was eventually escorted to freedom with the aid of Union soldiers from Wisconsin. Recollect that Kentucky, while loyal to the Union, was a slave state throughout the course of the Civil War. (Maryland and Missouri, which were also Union slave states, abolished the institution before the war ended.)

    The story behind the picture is provided at the Oxford African American Studies Center website. The two men in the photograph were part of Wisconsin’s 22nd Infantry Regiment, which was “composed of numerous sympathizers to the abolitionist cause.” They escorted the young woman in the picture from Nicholasville, Kentucky, to the home of Levi Coffin, an Underground Railroad operator in Cincinnati, Ohio, disguising her as a “mulatto soldier boy.” The picture was taken in Cincinnati. The young woman, whose name is not identified, was eventually sent to Racine, Wisconsin.

    Hat tip to Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthhamer for highlighting this interesting image in their book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery.

    - Alan


     

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  3. Dave Wilma

    Dave Wilma Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    Correction to the title, if she was a runaway she wasn't a freedwoman. I assume that she came from an area of Kentucky that was under Union control and therefore not impacted by the Emancipation Proclamation. Only the ratification of the 13th Amendment or an act of manumission would have absolved her "duty to labor".
     
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  4. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree 1st Lieutenant

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    I played around with the title to come to an appropriate one. In the de jure sense, she was a slave. In the de facto sense, she was free. I guess I could have said "de facto freedwoman," but that would have been tedious. I do make it clear that she was a slave in Kentucky, and we're in agreement on the point of her status as a runaway from bondage.

    - Alan
     
  5. major bill

    major bill First Sergeant

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    I guess she Emancipatied herself.

    Mjaor Bill
     
  6. wilber6150

    wilber6150 Brigadier General Moderator

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    Self liberated lol
     
  7. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree 1st Lieutenant

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    That was the term used in the book I mentioned. I've always used the term runaway slave or fugitive slave, but maybe I'm behind the curve in terms of word usage...

    - Alan
     
  8. wilber6150

    wilber6150 Brigadier General Moderator

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    Its a great term captures the esscence of slaves trying to take back their own destiny..
     
  9. James B White

    James B White 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Apparently the politically correct term these days is "freedom seeker."

    http://www.nps.gov/subjects/ugrr/discover_history/terminology.htm

    I guess...
     
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  10. ExNavyPilot

    ExNavyPilot 2nd Lieutenant

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    Nice story and nice picture, except....

    1) It's telling that the names of the soldiers were preserved for history but not the name of the runaway/freedom-seeker. Perhaps it was to hide her identity from her former owner, but then again her face is shown clearly. It's sad that the soldiers are applauded by name for their courage but her name and argueably greater courage were overlooked.

    2) The guy to the girl's right really oughta be pointing his pistol somewhere other than at her head or at his comrade's belly. First and second rules of gun safety....:nah disagree:
     
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  11. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree 1st Lieutenant

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    My feeling too was that her name was not given to hide her identity. I do agree that her image is in the picture, after all; but perhaps the case was that this picture was not going to be widely distributed, so there was more risk of the girl's name being shared, than her image. Just a guess. Hopefully, nobody is going to find this picture in a newspaper and blow that explanation out the water.

    I totally agree that, this was an act of courage on the girl's part, and we should acknowledge and applaud that.

    lol. I hope those guns were not loaded...

    - Alan
     
  12. ExNavyPilot

    ExNavyPilot 2nd Lieutenant

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    They're probably studio props, but still...
     
  13. Dave Wilma

    Dave Wilma Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    autoemancipation
     
  14. James B White

    James B White 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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    Here's more of her story, but still no name, from Reminiscences of Levi Coffin:

    Among the regiments that collected at Cincinnati, during the time of Kirby Smith's threatened raid into Ohio, was one from Racine, Wisconsin, which, from the well-known anti-slavery sentiments of the commander, Colonel Utley, and the men composing it, had received the name of the Abolition regiment. While they were in camp near Nicholasville, Kentucky, a young mulatto slave girl, about eighteen years old, of fine personal appearance, was sold by her master, for the sum of seventeen hundred dollars, to a man who designed placing her in a house of ill-fame at Lexington, Kentucky. As soon as the poor girl learned of the fate in store for her, she fled from her master, and making her way to the camp of the Twenty-Second Wisconsin volunteers— the regiment referred to—told her story, and asked protection. The true-hearted men, to whom she applied for help, resolved to aid her, though the law did not then allow Northern troops to protect fugitive slaves who came within their lines.

    Her master soon came to the camp in pursuit of her, but the men secreted her, and he did not find her. The colonel now wished to send her to a place of safety, and two soldiers volunteered to conduct her to Cincinnati. One of their officers told them that he knew me personally, and recommended them to bring the fugitive to my house. She was dressed in soldier's clothes and hidden in a sutler's wagon, under some hay. The two men dressed themselves in citizen's clothing, and having learned the password that would open a way for them through the picket lines, took their seats in the wagon, and drove out of camp about one o'clock at night. They traveled almost without stopping until the distance—more than a hundred miles—was traversed, and they reached Cincinnati in safety.
    They came immediately to my [Levi Coffin's] house, and were ushered into the sitting-room, accompanied by their charge, who presented the appearance of a mulatto soldier boy. As there was other company present, they called me to one side and related their story. The "soldier boy" was given into my wife's care, and was conducted up-stairs to her room. Next morning he came down transformed into a young lady of modest manners and pleasing appearance, who won the interest of all by her intelligence and amiable character.

    The party remained a day or two, to recover from the fatigue of their journey, and during the interval visited a daguerrean gallery, where they had their pictures taken, the lady sitting, the soldiers standing, one on either side, with their revolvers drawn, showing their readiness thus to protect her, even at the cost of their own lives. Not content with escorting her to a free State, these brave young men telegraphed to Racine, Wisconsin, and made arrangements for their friends there to receive her, and I took her one evening in my carriage to the depot, accompanied by her protectors, and put her on board the train with a through ticket for Racine, via Chicago. She was nicely dressed, and wore a vail, presenting the appearance of a white lady. I conducted her to a seat in a first-class car, her soldier friends having previously taken leave of her in the carriage. As the train moved off they lifted their hats to her, aud she waved her handkerchief in good-by. They afterward remarked to me, that it seemed one of the happiest moments of their lives when they saw her safely on her way to a place beyond the reach of pursuers. They had done a noble unselfish deed, and were rewarded by that approval of conscience which contains the most unalloyed joy of life.

    After their return to camp, I received the following letter from one of them:
    "In Camp, Near Nicholasvii.le, Kentucky, 1
    "November 17, 1862.
    "FRIEND L. Coffin: As the Lord prospered us on our mission to the land of freedom, so has He prospered us in our return to our regiment. At five o'clock on Friday evening, after a ride of three days, we arrived at our camp near Nicholasville; and you would have rejoiced to hear the loud cheering and hearty welcome that greeted us on our arrival. Our long delay had occasioned many fears as to our welfare; but when they saw us approach, the burden of their anxiety was gone, and they welcomed us by one hearty outburst of cheers. The colonel was full of delight, and when he heard of the Friend L. Coffin, who had so warmly welcomed us to the land of freedom, he showered a thousand blessings on your head. The way was opened, and we were directed to you by an unseen but ever-present Hand. The Lord was truly with us upon that journey.
    "Your humble friend,
    "Jesse L. Berch."​
    The name of the other soldier was Frank M. Rockwell. Both were young men of true principles and high character, and, as representatives of the solid worth of Wisconsin's noble sons, were men that their State could regard with pride.

    I received a letter from Jesse L. Berch, a few months ago, making inquiries in regard to a book which he had heard I had published. When I replied, stating that my book was not yet published, I asked for news of the slave girl whom he had aided to rescue. He responded, giving information of her safe arrival in Racine, and of her residence there for a few months, concluding by saying, "Afterward she married a young barber and moved into Illinois, and I have never been able to ascertain her whereabouts since I came from the army, though Mr. Rockwell and myself have tried repeatedly.
     
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  15. ForeverFree

    ForeverFree 1st Lieutenant

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    JBW, thanks, this was a great find. I will see if I can add this to my blog posting.

    - Alan
     
  16. James B White

    James B White 1st Lieutenant Trivia Game Winner

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  17. wilber6150

    wilber6150 Brigadier General Moderator

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    I wonder if the soldiers survived the war..
     
  18. major bill

    major bill First Sergeant

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    Runaway slave or free men? I ran into this issue with escaped British slaves who formed a militia company in Detroit in 1805. The Territory was non slave, so do I call it an escaped slave militia company, armed slaves? Not sue the term I should use in my data base. Were their officers the first non white Michigan mlitia officers?

    Major Bill
     
  19. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    That's the first thing I noticed in the photo. Supposedly unloaded guns have killed more than a few.
     
  20. dvrmte

    dvrmte Major

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    I'm seeing some inconsistencies in the story. The back of the photo says September 16-22. That was before the 22nd Wisconsin arrived in Kentucky. The 22nd wasn't mustered in until September 2, 1862.
     
  21. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    Yep, the dates do get confusing when you look at the story more carefully.

    James B. White posted: "Here's more of her story, but still no name, from Reminiscences of Levi Coffin:

    "Among the regiments that collected at Cincinnati, during the time of Kirby Smith's threatened raid into Ohio, was one from Racine, Wisconsin, which, from the well-known anti-slavery sentiments of the commander, Colonel Utley, and the men composing it, had received the name of the Abolition regiment. While they were in camp near Nicholasville, Kentucky, a young mulatto slave girl, about eighteen years old, of fine personal appearance, was sold by her master, for the sum of seventeen hundred dollars, to a man who designed placing her in a house of ill-fame at Lexington, Kentucky. As soon as the poor girl learned of the fate in store for her, she fled from her master, and making her way to the camp of the Twenty-Second Wisconsin volunteers— the regiment referred to—told her story, and asked protection. The true-hearted men, to whom she applied for help, resolved to aid her, though the law did not then allow Northern troops to protect fugitive slaves who came within their lines.

    Her master soon came to the camp in pursuit of her, but the men secreted her, and he did not find her. The colonel now wished to send her to a place of safety, and two soldiers volunteered to conduct her to Cincinnati. One of their officers told them that he knew me personally, and recommended them to bring the fugitive to my house. She was dressed in soldier's clothes and hidden in a sutler's wagon, under some hay. The two men dressed themselves in citizen's clothing, and having learned the password that would open a way for them through the picket lines, took their seats in the wagon, and drove out of camp about one o'clock at night. They traveled almost without stopping until the distance—more than a hundred miles—was traversed, and they reached Cincinnati in safety.

    They came immediately to my [Levi Coffin's] house, and were ushered into the sitting-room, accompanied by their charge, who presented the appearance of a mulatto soldier boy. As there was other company present, they called me to one side and related their story. The "soldier boy" was given into my wife's care, and was conducted up-stairs to her room. Next morning he came down transformed into a young lady of modest manners and pleasing appearance, who won the interest of all by her intelligence and amiable character."

    But this is confusing because the records of the 22nd Wisconsin say:

    "The regiment arrived in Cincinnati on the 18th of September, that city being at that time under considerable excitement at the prospect of an attack from General Kirby Smith. On the 22d they crossed the river and took position in the intrenchments three miles south of Covington, to the left of Ft. Mitchell, where they remained until the 7th of October, when they marched to Camp Smith on the Lexington Pike, where they joined Gen. Burbridge's brigade. The regiment continued to move every few days, first to Camp Gilmore, thence to Eagle Creek, thence to Georgetown, thence to Lexington, where they remained six days, and on the 31st of October, were assigned to the First Brigade, Colonel Coburn, First Division of the Army of Kentucky. On the 13th if November they reached Nicholasville, on the Kentucky Central Railroad, where they were employed as provost guard duty until the 12th of December . . . " Quiner's Military History of Wisconsin p. 698

    So the photograph of the two soldiers and the runaway is dated Sept. 16-22 in Cincinnati. The narrative says came into their camp at Nicholasville, yet unit history says the 22nd Wisc. didn't reach that town until November 13th. Coffin's goes further to say they got in a wagon and escorted her the 100 miles back to Cincinnati. Guessing that would take at least four days, they couldn't have had the girl back in town for the photograph before November 17th at the very earliest.

    Who you gonna believe?
     

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