Friday, July 1, 2016

Major Wilder Dwight: March 9, 1862

Camp Near Charlestown, Virginia, March 9, 1862.

After finishing my letter to you yesterday, as I came out of the Provost Marshal's office, I saw a sight that I would gladly photograph for you. A large wagon full of negro men, women, and children, overrunning like the old woman's shoe. It had come in from the farm, near town, of some disloyal Rebel. There stood the load of helpless and deserted contrabands; an embarrassment and a question typifying the status of the slave everywhere, as the army marches on.

“You see that wagon,” said my friend and quondam enemy, the secession postmaster. “Well, that is an answer to all your talk of protection and good government.” “No,” said I; “under the government, and with the peace you then enjoyed, there were no such wagons. You had better hasten back under the government, or all your negroes will be in wagons or on foot, whither they choose. War is a rough master, but it has no rules or processes for the enforcement of the slave code.”

The question meets you at every turn. At the tavern where we stopped for a few days after coming to town were two slaves, — an Aunt Chloe, whose bread and pastry and cake realized Mrs. Stowe's fiction; her son George, eighteen years old, who waited on table, and whose free father is a carpenter in Charlestown. Day before yesterday, on going to town, I found “aunty” in great affliction. Her only boy, George, had “run away.” When General Hamilton went on to Smithfield, George went too.

He wanted to be free, instead of following longer the apron-string and status of his mother. Either his free father or our servants or the change of air had “poisoned” his mind, as our host, his “owner,” phrased it. I might add case after case. The leaven is working; there is no stopping it.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 205-6

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