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The negroes as slaves. From the N. O. Picayune, October 13, 1907.

Paper prepared by Capt. James Dinkins, of New Orleans.

The following paper by Captain James Dinkins, of New Orleans, was read at the recent Reunion of Confederate Veterans at Shreveport, La.:

Mr. President and comrades,—I have long thought that I would make record of the character and virtues of the negroes before and during the war, and I take advantage of the opportunity afforded me as a member of the History Committee to do so as far as I am able.

Should I leave the task undone—or rather did I fall to bear testimony in a public way to the fidelity of the negroes to their masters' familiar at all times, and specially during those dreadful days of the war—I would not fulfill an obligation to a loyal and devoted people. My own experience and that of my father and family and friends was so closely associated with the negroes, and those experiences were so satisfactory and pleasant, I feel impelled by every sense of duty, appreciation and love for my dear old black mammy, as well as for many of the other negroes, old and young, to record such facts as I can. I think it is but simple justice, because I do not believe that any people at any time ever proved themselves more loyal than the negroes did under the temptations that beset and tried them. I do not intend to say that all the negroes were good, but in most cases where they were unfaithful they were either wrought up by harsh and cruel treatment by heartless owners, or were incited by evildis-posed, envious, intermeddling incendiaries from the Northern States.

There was a natural desire, too, upon the part of some of the more intelligent negroes to throw off the yoke of slavery and be free, but as a rule the negroes were loyal to their masters' families and respected and loved them. The masters were, as a rule, [61] considerate and just to their slaves, and no stronger proof could be desired than was afforded by the conduct of the slaves generally during the war.

For months at a time there were numerous families of women and children wholly dependent on the negroes for support and protection. Those women and children were cut off from their male relations and friends, and yet from the beginning to the end of the war no such thing as an insurrectionary movement was known or heard of, nor the use of any incendiary language whatever charged, reported or hinted against the negroes. As a matter of fact the commands of the smallest child in the master's family were obeyed without a murmur.

True, a number of them left or were carried or enticed away and many who went enlisted in the Federal Army, but on the other hand, a large majority of them remained at home and actually hid themselves and the stock of their masters whenever they heard the cry, ‘Yankees coming!’

This is positively true. I could cite numerous instances and name parties were it necessary. Not only did a large majority of the negroes remain at their homes, but they took care of the property and families of their masters, raised crops, and did all other customary and necessary work just as they had before the war, when owners and overseers watched over them. I personally know instances where the negro men alternately slept on the gallery or before the door of their master's home in order to protect the family against all harm.

These are facts that flatly contradict and give the lie direct to the oft repeated assertions of the Abolitionist (slanders on the negroes) that the negroes hated the whites of the South and only worked for and obeyed them because they were compelled to do so.

These are facts, and no matter what may be the outcome of the developing of the future, as a race the negroes by their conduct and their fidelity in times and under circumstances that might well have and did put their allegiance and fidelity to the severest test, earned and entitled themselves to the kind consideration, the friendship and love of our people.

True, after the war had ended and they became free their ignorance was imposed upon and many of them allowed themselves [62] to be duped and misled into a feeling of distrust and a course of antagonism to their former owners, and the people of the South generally, which came very near causing a rupture that might have resulted in the destruction of all confidence, the severance of all ties and creating a permanent animosity between them.

I do not envy the men, or fiends, who could take advantage of the ignorant negroes and turn them against the white people and expose them to the possible dangers and evils of a bloody race conflict. The infamies practiced by the carpetbagger engendered the feeling of hatred in the negro's breast, and I firmly believe that but for this we would not have felt the horrors of the so-called ‘Reconstruction,’ and that we would have no negro question now. I do not believe that the effect those teachings had on the negroes then will ever be eradicated from the present or future generations, but whatever the future may develop, we must remember the loyalty of our good slaves.

I cannot better explain or illustrate what I desire than by repeating a conversation I had just after the great reunion at Richmond with a distinguished citizen and gentleman, whom I met at the Exposition, Dr. W. S. Christian, of Urbana, Va.

Dr. Christian was colonel of the 51st Virginia Infantry, and was captured after the battle of Gettysburg, while the army was crossing ‘Falling Waters,’ and sent to Johnson's Island, where the officers from Port Hudson were also imprisoned. Said the Doctor:

My recollection is that there were thirteen negroes who spent the dreadful winter of 1863-4 with us at Johnson's Island, and not one of them deserted or accepted freedom, though it was urged upon them time and again.

You remember that Port Hudson was compelled to surrender after Vicksburg had fallen. The officers were notified they would not be paroled as those at Vicksburg had been . They were told, however, they could retain their personal property.

Some of the officers claimed their negro servants as personal property, and took them along to prison with them.

Arriving at Johnson's Island, the Federal authorities assured the negroes they were as free as their masters had been, and were not prisoners of war; that they would give them no rations [63] and no rights as prisoners of war if they went in the prison, but they all elected to go in, and declared to the Yankees they would stick to their young masters to the end of time, if they starved to death by doing so.

Those Confederate officers, of course, shared their rations and everything else with their servants.

When we went in prison in August, 1863, there was a sutler's shanty in the grounds, where those who had money could purchase what they wanted to eat. Most of the Port Hudson men had money, and for a time they and their negroes fared well, until late in the fall, when the Yankees shut down on us. They had failed to influence the negroes, and decided to confine us strictly to prison rations, which were very scant.

It was then that the devotion and fidelity of the negroes was put to a test, but without exception, master and servant clung together in heroic sacrifice, and no more wonderful magnetic tie ever existed than that between those Southern officers and their slaves.

One of those gentlemen was my intimate friend and companion and roommate, Colonel I. G. W. Steadman, of Alabama. I do not recall his regiment. His brother, a lieutenant in the same regiment, was also a prisoner there. Colonel Steadman's negro was named “George.” He waited on us and was untiring in his efforts to do anything in his power for our comfort.

Frequently, to my knowledge, George was sent for to go before the commanding officer outside. We often said: “We have seen the last of poor George,” but at night George would be escorted back by a guard. I asked George what they said to him. He told us that Mister Pearson (he was the Yankee Major in command of the prison) would tell him he was a free man; that he had but to say the word and he would be taken out and given work at $2 a day, and good clothes to wear, and go and live anywhere he wanted—told him he was a fool, that his master would never be exchanged or get out of prison—that if he stayed with the Rebel officer he would starve in prison. He said Pearson told him all this and more. I then asked George what he said in reply, and what George said was: “Sir, what you want me to do is to desert. I ain't no deserter, and down South, sir, where we live, deserters always disgrace their families. I'se [64] got a family down home, sir, and if I do what you tell me, I will be a deserter and disgrace my family, and I am never going to do that.”

“What did Pearson say?” I asked. “‘Get out of here, you d——fool nigger, and rot in prison,’ and now, master, here I am, and I am going to stay here as long as you stays, if I starve and rot.”

The officers captured at Port Hudson were from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, I think.

There were thirteen negroes, all of whom remained faithful to the end, and although we had barely enough to eat to keep us alive, we divided equally with our servants.

I am glad to be able to record the name of “Pen,” who was one of the faithful servants among the thirteen. He belonged to Lieutenant Coleman, of Robert's Mississippi Battery, also Dave Jackson, who belonged to James W. Maddox, of Abbey's Battery. “Dave Jackson” and “Pen,” like George, refused numerous offers from the Yankees and returned home with their masters. I have information also of a most devoted servant, who belonged to the Schnexnaydres, of St. James Parish (who were members of Watson's Battery). This negro stated to the Yankees, at the surrender of Port Hudson, “I love my white folks above the freedom you talk about, and if I am ever free it got to come from them.”

Dr. Christian was unable to remember the names of the officers from Port Hudson, which is to be regretted, but I submit that no stronger proof of the loyalty of the negroes is needed than is given in the history of the Johnson Island prisoners.

It may not be out of place to relate a few instances which came under my own observation. The first two years of the war I served with Griffith's-Barksdale's Mississippi Brigade. In the company I belonged to was a gallant fellow, Kit Gilmer, who was badly wounded at Sharpsburg. Our wounded were placed in a large stone barn, near the battlefield. When the army recrossed the Potomac, on Friday, September, 19, 1862, I ran into the barn, as we passed by, to see my wounded friends. I bid Kit Gilmer and others good-by, believing I would never see them again.

After remaining a day or so near Shepardstown, we fell back [65] to Winchester, and among the first to greet us when we reached there was ‘Ike,’ Kit Gilmer's ‘nigger,’ who said, ‘Mars Kit is in dat house, I ain't gwine let dem Yankees git Mars Kit.’ Ike had appropriated a horse belonging to the old farmer, placed Kit on him, and, mounting behind, carried him to safety. Ike is living now, a respected citizen of Madison county, Miss., but poor Kit died many years ago.

My grandmother left me, at her death, a negro boy, ‘Jim,’ and stipulated in her will that she wanted him to be my playfellow, and not to work. Jim was two years older than I, and was my black mammy's eldest child. We were boon companions as boys. While playing near a pond one day (I was about 9 years old), I said to Jim, ‘Let's go to the watermelon patch.’ Jim always assented to any proposition I made. We plugged two or three melons, and finally found one to suit us, which we carried into the bushes and ate, reaching the house afterwards just as my father rode up from a round of the plantation. He said: ‘Jim, tell Tom to take my horse to the barn.’ Then, turning his attention to me, he discovered a melon seed in the fold of my jacket. With a frown he inquired, ‘Where did this watermelon seed come from?’ Jim heard the question, and, running quickly up to my father, said: ‘Master, I put that watermelon seed on Bud.’ ‘Well,’ my father said, ‘I shall whip you for telling me a lie and whip Bud for allowing you to do so.’ So he switched both of us. As soon as the cloud had passed, Jim and I were the same happy chums, but Jim was curious to know how master found out he told a lie.

Often times when I imagined an injustice had been done me my black mammy, noticing my lip trembling, would take me in her arms to her house. Many, many times I have sobbed myself to sleep with my head on her dear old fat shoulders. I wish so much she could know how now I appreciate her love, and how I revere her memory. It would be such a happiness to be able to tell her, but she died soon after the war. My dear old mammy was a type, there were others like her, and all of them were loved and respected by their master's children.

I remember a circumstance regarding my friend, Captain Sam Henderson, and his servant, Henry, which illustrates also the love for the master the negro always showed. [66]

Captain Henderson commanded the scouts, which were so valuable to General Forrest.

On one occasion he was in camp near Byhalia, Miss., with about twenty of his men, while the others were watching the enemy. Suddenly and unexpectedly a regiment of Yankees surrounded the party and all were made prisoners, except Captain Henderson, who escaped on foot.

They were all taken to Germantown, Tenn., not far distant, and confined in a house. During the night Henry slipped out with both of his master's horses, and the following day rode into the Confederate lines. Of course, Henry was cordially received, and it is needless to say remained faithful to the last.

Another instance among thousands occurred in Bedford County, Va. Judge Micajah Davis, an honored citizen of the county, was Collector of Internal Revenue, under appointment by President Davis. Judge Davis, like all his extensive family, was an ardent Confederate. When the Yankee General Hunter began his march of devastation down the valley, it became necessary for Judge Davis to keep out of his reach in order to preserve the records of his office. After making the necessary preparations for departure he called up one of his faithful old servants, and said: ‘Billy, I shall be obliged to leave home before the Yankees come, I am sorry to go, but I shall leave everything in your charge with confidence that you will do the best you can. There are some valuables in the house which your mistress will give you to hide; do what you think is best with them, but be sure the Yankees do not find them.’

When Judge Davis returned, after Hunter had been hurled back by Early, he found everything safe, due to ‘Uncle Billy's’ diplomacy with the Yankees.

The Judge said: ‘Billy, I think we may safely bring the silver back now.’ ‘Well,’ said Uncle Billy, ‘come with me, master, and we will measure for it.’ A short distance from the house Uncle Billy halted by a tree, to which he tied a line, and asked his master to hold the other end at a certain point; then fastening another line to a sapling he stretched it across the one held by the Judge. ‘Right there, master, where the lines cross,’ and [67] soon Uncle Billy had removed the sod and dirt, and brought forth the big box.

Uncle Billy remained faithful as long as he lived, as a matter of fact not a single negro belonging to Judge Davis ever deserted him.

The first, and so far as I know, the only memorial to the good old negroes was erected in Fort Mill, South Carolina, by Captain Samuel E. White. It is a beautiful shaft and stands near the Confederate Monument in Fort Mill.

It was erected ‘In memory and in gratitude of those faithful slaves who kept the trust laid upon them to guard the homes, the property and the honor of their masters who were serving the South in the field.’

Captain White was a gallant Confederate officer, and is a distinguished citizen, and this work adds to his fame. He also erected the first monument to Southern women.

When I recall to mind how the negroes conducted themselves before and during the war, and how faithful they were, my earnest hope and prayer is that the present and coming generations of negroes will yet try to emulate them, and so regain the confidence of the white people.

It is said that man improves from generation to generation. The negroes' progress since the Confederacy has scarcely borne out the promise of the days of mutual interest when the white master felt his responsibility and was fast christianizing his trusting servant in spirit as well as in name. Schools and all the other civilizing influences cannot overcome the selfishness and suspicion planted in the soul that would have been saved if the South had been left alone.

Love does not grow under the lash. Freedom is and should be evolution, and more than an emancipation proclamation is needed to fit a race for liberty.

These few stories of the war reveal a negro little known to-day, a negro whom fanaticism robbed of the kindest masters the world has held, a negro who found sweet content in the sunshine of God and human nature. A negro who cherished the home of which he knew himself a welcome part until worthy of his own. [68] A negro whose heart-strings vibrated to the music of duty and devotion.

A tear and a tribute to his memory, for he is lost to us; only out of the shadows comes the old refrain:

Old missus, she feel mighty sad,
And de tears run down like de rain,
And old massa he feel very bad,
Case he never see old Ned again.

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