Posts Tagged   George Stephens

May 1, 1863

This is Stephens’s third letter to the Weekly Anglo-African:

Camp Meigs, Readville, Mass., [VT]
May 1, 1863.

There is quite a stir in the camp to-day. Mayday has adorned herself in sunshine and garlands of green. Hundreds are flocking here from Boston and its environs to witness the military evolutions of the 54th Reg. Mass. Vol., and never did they acquit themselves so admirably. They moved with the regularity and.precision of Regulars. The gay concourse of visitors of both classes of our citizens seemed stirred with admiration and pleasure at the rapid progress of this splendid regiment in this school of the soldier. I do not exaggerate when 1 say that there is no regiment superior, if equal to this in physique and aptitude of its men. I suppose, in the upwards of a thousand men now ready to be mustered into the service of the United States, there arc twelve men who will yield to the severest vigors of a campaign in the field. Out of upward of fourteen hundred men, these nine hundred or a thousand have been chosen; the rest have been rejected because they did not come up to the highest standard of mental and physical proficiency.

Governor Andrew visited our camp yesterday and reviewed the regiment, and with other distinguished citizens expressed great satisfaction at the condition of the men and the police of the camp. I noticed among the guests on this occasion our distinguished citizens Dr. J. B. Smith and Lewis Hayden Esq. I never saw a body of men who seem to be so perfectly at home in camp and have so many ways to divert and amuse themselves. Singing, dancing, foot-ball, cricket, wrestling and many innocent games with the parades and drills, dispel ennui and dull monotony and keep our camp in a perfect whirl of animating scenes..

There are a few essentials needed, however, to the comfort of these men, who have in the face of the most disheartening influences taken up arms in defence of their country and liberty. There are many of the essentials to the soldiers toilet which the government does not furnish to her troops: such as coarse towels, needles, pins and buttons, besides some items of reading matter, such as testaments (pocket), newspapers, tracts, etcetera. A great many of the friends furnish them at times with tobacco, pipes and some few dainties, but those things I have above enumerated are very essential, absolutely so. Will the fair friends at home withhold their regards from the noble 54th and refrain from giving them some few of these testimonials of their admiration and respect? The Social, Civil and Statistical Association of Philadelphia have made an appropriation to purchase some of these items. Fair readers of Philadelphia will you not form your Sewing Circles to make for these men whatever may be necessary? While that Governor Andrew has made this regiment one which will reflect honor to our race, and as it has become the representative of the men of color in the North, it becomes the indispensable duty of every one at home to cheer and encourage them with sympathy and esteem, and to give them a tangible earnest of a cheerful cooperation with and support to, in this good cause. Ladies it would be strong evidence of your patriotism, intelligence and noble heartedness, did you organize your Sewing Circles in every locality from whence your friends have come to unite their destinies with the 54th. We desire to have a goodly number of copies of the Anglo-African sent to the address of our chaplain, for this shall be the medium through which all of the affairs of the regiment of public interest, shall be made known. When any sickness, accident or anything else shall take place, the friends and relatives of those in it can know all, learn all, through the columns of the Anglo-African.

Another item of interest is that the regiment is now fully armed with new Springfield Rifles. They were only partly supplied with old Harpers Ferry Muskets. The men can be seen everywhere going through the manual of arms, in which they are already quite proficient. There are already two colored men who are commissioned and attached to this regiment: Dr. John V. De Grasse of Boston, and Rev. Wm. Jackson of New-Bedford, recently of Philadelphia and a Baptist by profession of faith. Dr. De Grasse is only to be temporarily connected, it is understood, with the regiment, to be detached for some other field of action,- and, it is expected that Dr. Bachus, the previous acting Hospital Steward, will be commissioned as assistant surgeon of the regiment. So the great pathway to honor and emolument is opening wide to colored men.

The health of the men is good, particularly so. There are in the hospital the week ending to-day, Clark, Wellesly, Harrison, Chas. Owens, Miller, Toote, Shorter, and Phillips, and these are all the cases of ordinary diseases and are nearly all convalescent.

G. E. S.

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April 30, 1863

George E. Stephens joined Company B of the regiment today as a 1st Sergeant. His letters to the New York Weekly Anglo-African began on March 18, 1863. Five men altogether joined the regiment today.

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April 1, 1863

The second letter from Stephens and a letter from Shaw to his mother:

Philadelphia, [VT]
April 1,1863.

Mr. Editor.

—One of the most impudent assumptions of authority and a long string of the basest misrepresentations have been perpetuated by a number of white men under the leadership of one Frishmuth, an illiterate German, on the people of the State of Pennsylvania; men who possess no record on the question of anti-slavery, and have not the shadow of a claim to the confidence and support of the colored men of this State, and are regarded by every intelligent colored man in the city as irresponsible militarily, pecuniarily, politically, and socially. Many of these men claim to have held quite recently commissions in either the regular or volunteer service of the United States, and rumor, which seems to be well founded, says that at least three of these men were cashiered or dismissed from the service. It will be remembered that just as-soon as Gov. Andrew had obtained authority from the War Department at Washington to raise colored regiments, a simultaneous response of the colored men of every State in the North was made to the call of the noble old Bay State. Every one of us felt it to be a high and holy duty to organise the first regiment of the North at once, so that the irresistible argument of a first-class regiment of Northern colored men en route for the seat of war, might overwhelm or, if possible, scatter to the four winds the prejudice against enlisting colored men in the army, and at the same time giving cheer to the hearts of good and loyal men everywhere. But no sooner did that hateful political reptile, the copperhead, discover the generous response and patriotism which this call elicited, than the insidious and guilty work of counteracting or neutralizing these pure and earnest manifestations, commenced. Every influence has been applied to dishearten us; mobbed, as at Detroit and elsewhere, and in every town and village kicked, spit upon and insulted. The wily enemy knows full well that if they can impress on the minds of the masses the notion that the whites of the North are as bitter enemies as those of the South, it would be impossible to get a regiment of Northern colored men; then they would deride Massachusetts and the colored men, as they do Gen. Jim Lane of Kansas, for failing to realize certain promises and expectations regarding the promptness of our people to enlist, and yell like madmen, “niggers won’t fight!”

I am right glad that the black brigade is rolling up so bright a record. May they continue to drive before them the buzzard foe! You meet these copperheads at every step, and when violence is not resorted to, they come [with] the friendship and counsellor dodge. They ask, “Are you going to enlist in the army?” Of course, you answer “Yes!” They continue, “Any colored gentleman who will go down South to fight, is a fool. Every one of them that the rebels catch will be hanged, or sent into the Indigo mines, or cut up into mince-meat, or quartered and pickled, or spitted, or—or— What good is it going to do the colored people to go fight and lose their lives? Better stay home and keep out of harm’s way.”

These are the arguments that the copperheads insinuate into the ears of the credulous, the ignorant, and the timid. They do not tell you that the measure of the slaveholder’s iniquity is completed; that the accumulated wrongs of two centuries are a thousand-fold more horrible than two centuries of war and massacre. They do not tell you that it were “better to die free, than live slaves”—that your wronged and outraged sisters and brethren are calling on you to take up arms and place your interests and your lives in the balance against their oppressors—that “your dead fathers speak to you from their graves,” or “Heaven, as with a voice of thunder, calls on you to arise from the dust,” and smite with an avenging hand, the obdurate, cruel, and relentless enemy and traitor, who has trampled in the dust the flag of his country and whose life and sacred honor are pledged to wage an interminable war against your race. Oh no, to tell us these truths would be to nerve our arms and fire our hearts for the noble struggle for country and liberty. Men and brethren! for the sake of honor, manhood and courage—in the name of God, of country, and of race, spit upon the base sycophants who thus dare to insult you. But these are silent influences which are at work. The open, tangible, bolder ones are now at work in Pennsylvania. She presents a wide theater for operations. Her colored population is more numerous than that of any other Northern State; and if the copperheads can neutralize this State, half of the object has been accomplished and the system has been thoroughly organized. Ever since Frederick Douglass’ address appeared in the daily journals, these men have been holding meetings and stuffing the Philadelphia papers with false accounts of their glowing successes and influence over the colored people.

A few weeks ago they caused an article to appear in the Evening Bulletin which stated that sixty thousand dollars had been promised to them by colored men in this city. At a meeting of colored men held at Philadelphia Institute on last Wednesday two weeks ago, and upon which meeting Frishmuth and his associates introduced themselves, Mr. Rob’t Jones, the secretary of the meeting, read this article and demanded who the parties were that had subscribed this money. The whole gang were confounded. Not a name could be offered and not one colored man said that he reposed any confidence in those men. They forced themselves upon us, and spoke of the inadvisability of colored men enlisting in the Massachusetts regiment; that there would be authority given to them the next day to organize a colored brigade in Pennsylvania; that President Lincoln and Gov. Curtin were only arranging the preliminaries. Frishmuth said he loved the colored man and wanted to be “de Moses ob de cullerd population”—forgetting that Moses belonged to the race which he led out of the house of Egyptian bondage. There were many colored ladies present at the meeting, yet one of those unprincipled men used the most profane and disgusting language. They belong to that ignorant class of white men who, knowing nothing of the sentiments and intelligence of colored men, labor under the hallucination that they can lead where they will we should go, and that if a white man should say to us, “You are a good nigger,” we will be immediately overwhelmed with gratitude for the gracious condescension.

They have printed circulars scattered among the colored people in Philadelphia and adjoining counties, calling on them to join the 1st Colored Penn. Brigade. They hold “officers’ meetings” and report their proceedings to the daily papers. They told a friend this morning that they had not yet received authority to enlist colored men. Of course not. By what authority do they thus call upon the men of color of Pennsylvania to take up arms and thus mislead them and deceive the public? By these misrepresentations all through the State, the efforts of our people, in a military point of view, have been neutralized. Even so far west as Pittsburgh, the copperhead bait has been successful. Even Geo. B. Vashon has been gulled into participating in a war meeting in Pittsburgh, in response to what they were led to believe by the Philadelphia press, was a genuine call of Pennsylvania. We shall tear the curtain away, and expose to the people these gross frauds, and base attempts to deceive and mislead them. Many men were disposed to regard these men favorably, but all sympathy was lost when they placed themselves in opposition to Massachusetts, the cradle in which the sickly puling infancy of American liberty was nursed; who has made colored men equal before her laws; who has been the protectress and benefactress of the race; who in the darkest hour of adversity, when every other State seemed bound, hand and foot, at the feet of slavery, proclaimed the right of petition against slavery; whose representatives have been insulted, abused, and their persons violated, in the halls of Congress for thundering against the citadel of Human Wrong the burnished shafts of truth and eloquence, and for her unswerving devotion to liberty, the rebel sympathizing democracy, conscious of the irresistibility of truth and justice, and that this noble old State will never furl her banner of right while a single vestige of human wrong shall disgrace the country, are now striving to reconstruct the Union, leaving her and her sister States of New England out in the cold. Now, these men can see no potency in these claims of Massachusetts. When these facts are presented to them, they claim that we should have “State pride.” I would to God that they could have heard Isaiah C. Wears’ and Prof. Green’s scathing rebukes to even the presumption of State pride for Pennsylvania in the breasts of colored men—a State which, instead of restoring our stolen rights, stripped us of the elective franchise, and even within the last two weeks, passed in one branch of the legislature a law excluding colored men from the State. There is no meaner State in the Union than this. She has treated the families of her soldiers worse than any other State, and with her confirmed negrophobia could we expect the treatment of dogs at her hands? But in spite of all this, if such men as J. Miller McKim, Judge Kelley, or Col. Wm. F. Small should obtain authority to raise a regiment or brigade in Pennsylvania, I would give my heart and hand to it; but knowing, as I do, that no other colored regiment will be raised in the North until the Massachusetts one is placed in the field, I say, let every man lend his influence to Massachusetts. If, by any means, the 54th should fail, it will be a blow from which we Northern men would never recover. We would be ranked with the most depraved and cowardly of men. Our enemies, infuriated as they are beyond measure, would hunt us down like so many wild beasts, while our friends, shamed and humiliated by our criminal cowardice and imbecility, would be compelled to become passive witnesses of their unbridled violence.

Look at our brethren in the South! Those who have endured all of the horrors of the Southern prison-house, defying the menaces of the besotted tyranny, taking up arms to achieve with their valor those rights which Providence has designed that all men should enjoy. Has freedom stultified our sterner aspirations, and made us forget our duty? Has the Copperhead obtained an influence over us? If we thought that of what little freedom, we of the North enjoy, has had a tendency to nourish a disregard for our own and the rights of our fellow men, it were better that the mob-fiend drive us from off the face of the earth, to give place to those noble freedmen who are now bravely and victoriously fighting the battles of their country and liberty. We have more to gain, if victorious, or more to lose, if defeated, than any other class of men. Not abstract political rights, or religious and civil liberty, but with all these our personal liberties are to he secured. Many of us are insensible to the stern realities of the present hour, but they are here thundering at our very doors, and the sooner we awaken to their inexorable demands upon us, the better for the race, the better for the country, the better for our families, and the better for ourselves.

G. E. Stephens.

Readville [BCF]

April 1, 1863

Dear Mother,

I received your letter last evening, and you must excuse me for saying, I didn’t think your arguments very powerful. If I thought that being married were going to make me neglect my duty, I should think it much better never to have been engaged. As for Annie’s going out with me, I don’t think such a thing would ever enter my head. It is the last thing I should desire, as I have seen the evil consequences of it very often. The chances of my coming home in six months are very small; for, if we are put on the service we expect, we shall get into the interior before long. Indeed, one reason for my wishing to be married is, that we are going to undertake a very dangerous piece of work, and I feel that there are more chances than ever of my not getting back.

I know I should go away more happy and contented if we were married. I showed Annie your letter, and she wants to show it to Aunt Anna; to which I suppose you have no objection.

We have had another snow-storm, which makes drilling very uncomfortable, as there is little room in the barracks. Tell Father that Dr. Stone has gone to Buffalo to examine a hundred men there, so that his man Jackson cannot be put through immediately. As soon as he is, I will let him know.

Your loving Son

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March 18, 1863

George E. Stephens enlisted in Company B on April 30, 1863, and wrote regular letters as a war correspondent to the New York Weekly Anglo-African. This letter — a response to a book review —  was written the month before he enlisted.

March 18,1863.

Mr. Editor

—I was not a little surprised at your Boston correspondent’s, G. L. R/s, severe criticism on Wm. Wells Brown’s new book [online here]. I think he overlooks entirely the purpose for which the work seems to have been written:—a text book, a book for the times, an argument for the race which cannot be refuted. It should be circulated all over the country, to aid in the great and good work of dispelling the sin-begotten, infatuated notion—negro inferiority. The animus of G. L. R.’s criticism lies in this, that there are so many men of genius and distinction “left out,” such as Stephen Smith, Joseph Turpin, and a few others, or perhaps G. L. R. has his own crow to pick with this book. This principal objection to the “Black Man,” that everybody was not recorded within its pages, has cumulated in a most intense feeling. I have just seen a letter from a well-known colored gentleman who says, “there is a prejudice against the work here, created by those who are ‘left out,’ and what have those left out ever done to give them a place in this or any other book?” This shows the little appreciation that colored men are capable of placing upon the writings of their own race. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Mr. Brown’s book is the best argument ever put forth in defence of the negro.” It is a marvel that Mr. Brown has achieved so much with such scanty means.

Slavery and caste has so stultified our progressive tendencies, and the “demands of society” upon us for scientific or literary attainments have been so limited that we have been compelled for the sake of daily bread to devote ourselves to plebeian avocations, and if perchance distinction were achieved, it must be traced to fortuitous circumstances with scarce a hope of honor or emolument, and without the stimulus of manly competition in the arena of letters. Is it a dishonor to the race that there are few great men amongst us? No! But it is an honor to the race that Mr. Brown has “with his limited material given to the American people a work, which tells them that we possess the foundation material, on which we are about to build a superstructure of pure Christian civilization. Your Boston correspondent predicts that some person in the future will hand down to posterity his fame by doing or undoing what Mr. Brown has done in his work. This coming biographer could be famed for nothing, but his folly. The deeds and achievements for which the negro is destined, will wrap the terrible and humiliating history of the past two hundred years, in a brilliant wreath of martial and intellectual glory.

But Mr. Brown’s book does not claim to be a biography, but a sketch book of our most distinguished characters, and he transcended no  prerogative, when he presented a strong array of characters. But our critic will not be comforted. He in almost the one and same breath complains that Mr. Brown gives too many names—too much pork for a shilling, and denounces the book, because he left out such remarkable geniuses as Stephen Smith, Joseph Turpin & Co. As a text book it is invaluable, and it has been pronounced by intelligent men, white and colored, to be the best argument in favor of the black man’s ability yet published. Did G. L. R. read the sketch of Miss C. L. Forten with those gems of prose and poetic offshoots of her pen?’ a sketch which of itself is worth the price of the book. Did he forget to peruse the sketch of Benjamin Banneker, a literary effort which, I think, has done our great mathematician better justice than any other sketch? The intrinsic value of the work lies in the fact that he has brought out so many new characters. Frederick Douglass, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Nat Turner, and such men have been so frequently written about, that their names have become household words. But the young artists, Wm. H. Simpson, Edwin M. Bannister, with all their genius were never known to the public, till the “Black Man” made its appearance. Prof. Wilson and Alex. Crummell are fortunate in having Mr. Brown as their exponent. This work contains the first sketch ever published of Crispus Attucks though his name and deeds have often been in print. Mr. Brown exhibits the genius of nearly every one of his characters, either by quoting some of their writing or speeches, and this forms an interesting feature in the many beauties of his most important work.

G. E. Stephens

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