Carrying the Home Front to War:
Soldiers, Race, and New England
Culture during the Civil War
David A. Cecere
Sunday I attended divine service … conducted by some abolitionists
… from … Massachusetts and there was so much talk about the
confounded niggers that I came out disgusted and by the way if any
one comes to you asking for contributions for the niggers, tell them
you have a son in the army who needs your help more than they do.
The niggers are used much better than the soldiers, and there is not a
soldier who does not hate the sight of a nigger.1
Thus wrote Sergeant George Turner to his father in June 1862. Six months earlier, while stationed at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in 1861, Turner had described to his cousin the "sport" that white soldiers derived from the presence of African American "contrabands" in the Union camp: "They sing and dance until our sides are nearly bursting with laughter and then … an empty barrel is brought before the audience, "and" we then offer one of the niggers five cents, to butt the head in with his wooly pate … and in goes barrel head, nigger head, and half his body." Two years later, Turner again wrote to his cousin: "When you hear nay one remark that nigger soldiers will not fight, please request them to come down here and judge for themselves. The 54th Mass Infantry 'colored' is as good a fighting
The author wishes to thank his advisor, J. William Harris, for all of his invaluable
assistance in bringing this article to fruition. He also wishes to thank W. Jeffrey
Bolster, Lucy E. Salyer, Randall M. Miller, Paul A. Cimbala, and his graduate stu-
dent colleagues at the University of New Hampshire History Department, all of
whom helped to make this essay a better piece of scholarship.
1 George M. Turner to Father, June 19, 1862, in Yankee Correspondence: Civil
War Letters between New England Soldiers and the Home Front, ed. by Nina Silber
and Mary Beth Sievens (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 85.