Academic journal article Military Review

A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens

Academic journal article Military Review

A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens

Article excerpt

A VOICE OF THUNDER: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens, edited by Donald Yacovone. 350 pages. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. 1997. $26.95.

Until the success of the movie Glory, black soldiers' roles in the American Civil War were largely ignored. Many diaries and compilations of letters from white soldiers and civilians have been published, but there are few firsthand accounts from blacks. Donald Yacovone fills this gap with George E. Stephens' correspondence. Stephens was a Weekly Anglo-African correspondent and 54th Massachusetts Infantry soldier.

Stephens' most striking contribution is his depiction of the extreme degree of racism among Northern citizens and Union soldiers. Northern blacks' intense disappointment in Abraham Lincoln was manifest at Lincoln's first election. Stephens wrote that the election represented only another in a "series of pro-slavery administrations." At the outbreak of war, Stephens' opinion hardened when Lincoln would not allow blacks into the Union Army. Blacks were later allowed into the Army but were organized into separate units with white officers and less pay than white soldiers. Stephens verbalized the bitterness this policy caused when blacks were shot for mutiny when they protested. The Emancipation Proclamation changed blacks' opinions toward Lincoln very little. Stephens and others recognized the proclamation had little practical effect, because it freed slaves in areas over which Lincoln and the Union Army had no control. …

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