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22436Letter from a USCT

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  • Bob Huddleston
    Oct 29, 2000
      When doing research every now and then one stumbles across something so
      powerful that you are taken aback and just sit and stare at it.

      This is one of those times. I was sitting Friday in the Old Army Records
      room at the National Archives. A professor from the University of Detroit
      was being introduced to the Civil War CMSR and Pension records of the United
      States Colored troops from a couple of staffers who have been working
      extensively with the files.

      The letter pasted below is in the file of Private Samuel Cabel (or �Cabelle�
      as he spelled it), Co. G, 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Colored).
      He enlisted on June 5, 1863 at Readville, MA and was described on the
      company records as being 21 years old, light complexion, �grey� eyes, and
      black hair. Cabel told the Massachusetts people that he was from Keokuk, IA,
      but in reality he was an escaped slave from Brunswick, MO. His occupation
      was given as a waiter.

      On August 29, 1865, Pvt. Cabel was mustered out at Charleston, SC.

      Included in his service file is a letter to his wife back in Missouri. As
      you read it, remember that it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and

      But not only could Cabel write but obviously his wife could read � and
      write. And Cabel's handwriting is very clear and readable, even if he is a
      little original in his spelling!

      I questioned if someone else might have written the letter for him and the
      NARA staffers informed us that they think the literacy rate among the
      soldiers was a lot higher than has been previously thought. Almost all of
      the men from slave states signed their enlistment papers with an �X� �
      perhaps at that moment their trust level with whites was not very high.

      But, the staff said, very quickly the men are writing letters and signing
      documents. Now that Uncle Sam had actually put them in a blue uniform and
      handed them a Springfield, the rules had changed.

      The letter is undated but must be from June or July 1863.

      It is reproduced as written � and my spell check did not like that one
      little bit!

      Take care,


      10643 Sperry Street
      Northglenn, CO 80234-3612
      303.451.6376 adco@...
      Fax: 303.452.3051

      Dear wife i have enlisted in the army i am now in the state of Massachusetts
      but before this letter reaches you i will be in north carolina and though
      great in the present national difficulties yet i look forward to a brighter
      day when i shall have the opertunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of
      freedom i would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will
      not be long before we shall have crushed the system in that now opreses you
      for in the course of three months you shall be at liberty. great is the
      outpouring of the colored people that is now rallying with the hearts of
      lions against that very curse that has separated you and me yet we shall
      meet again and oh what happy time that will be when this ungodly rebellion
      shall be put down and the curse of our land is trampled under our feet i am
      a soldier endeavry to strike at the rebellion that so long has kept us in
      chains. write to me just as soon as you get this letter tell me if you are
      in the same cabin where you use to live. tell eliza i send her my best
      respects and love ike and sully likewise i would send you some money but i
      now it is impossible for you to get it i would like to see little Jenkins
      now but i no it is impossible at present so no more but remain your own
      afectionate husband until death

      Samuel Cabble
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