Lincoln on Democracy
- Dear fellow WT enthusiasts,
This may seem like a digression. It will be short and quickly return to the
Aside from a fairer treatment of Thomas in the nation's textbooks, I wish
that the book "Lincoln on Democracy" (edited by Harold Holzer) could be
made required reading in our schools. It contains some of the best English
ever written this side of the Atlantic and shows how Lincoln groped toward
a solution of the greatest problem of his day: the stain and burden of
slavery. We do not see an omniscient saint, but rather a man learning and
changing his viewpoint as events unfolded.
Douglass said of Lincoln that whites were his natural children while blacks
were his only by adoption. However, "measuring him by the sentiment of his
country...he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined."
We could just as well apply this assessment to Thomas. He started out by
giving blacks a chance (as a boy giving the family slaves bible and reading
lessons), and he closed his Civil War career by again offering the colored
troops under his command another chance, namely to do something effective
and beyond mere ceremony toward ending the Civil War.
The affair at Ft. Wagner was pure ceremony, and that at Ft. Hudson came
close to being that. Regardless of what another contributor here felt free
to write, we can only hope facetiously, no breakthrough did nor could have
occurred at these two places because both were BACKWATER, and both fell
automatically by themselves when they became isolated due to other military
Comparing the importance of Ft. Wagner and Port Hudson to that of the
battle of Nashville goes beyond facetiousness and becomes malice and
distortion of the record. I leave the contributor unnamed so that he may
ponder his actions in annonymous tranquility. I will also leave Milliken's
bend to someone else to explain or explain away.
I will deal here with Ft. Wagner very briefly, if only because it is ET.
Under orders, Col. Shaw led his unit consisting mostly of colored troops
along a narrow path between water and quicksand in a frontal attack against
a well-fortified position. The attempt was suicidal and useless. One can
just hear some of the racist higher commanders saying among themselves:
"Heh heh heh, so they want to show that they can fight? Let'em have a go at
The situation was different at Port Hudson. Banks was a political general,
one of the burdens Lincoln had to bear in order to win elections. He was
not an effective battle commander, but he was an early and dedicated
abolitionist, but not so dedicated as to want black line officers to remain
in his service.
For the, again, frontal attack along an, again, narrow path on the, again,
well-fortified position at Port Hudson (which protected the Missippi at a
point between New Orleans and Vicksburg), and again without prior
reconnaissance, colored troops were sacrificed. Among Banks's army were
about 1000 colored troops. Some of them were former slaves, some of them
freemen. One unit of freemen, the 1st Louisiana Native Guards, had kept
their black officers up to this point. According to its white colonel, this
regiment had some of the best blood of Louisiana, "the offspring of sundry
white politicians, as well as numerous and wealthy free blacks from New
Orleans". ("Forged in Battle, Glatthaar, p. 124). One of its lieutenants,
the 16 year old John Crowder, may have been the youngest officer in the
Union army. The first assault was made with white troops and failed. Then
the black troops were ordered forward with no assistance from white troops
and only a token display of quickly silenced artillery. The black troops
attacked repeatedly, but to no avail, and suffered 20% casualties.
Afterward, the truce to collect the dead and wounded did not apply in this
sector, and the wounded were abandoned and the dead lay there for six more
weeks until the Port Hudson garrison surrendered (Glattharr, p. 129).
Port Hudson surrendered immediately when the fall of Vicksburg became known.
Is there anyone out there who dares to say that these men were well used?