Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina

By Judkin Browning | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Effects of Occupation on Union Soldiers

On the oppressively hot afternoon of July 11, 1862, Captain William Augustus Walker of the 27th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, an avowed abolitionist, sat inside a house in downtown New Bern and witnessed a “great buck nigger, very black and very fragrant,” with “bare feet, tattered shirt and knotted hair,” fanning the flies away from a lieutenant as he wrote. Though Walker agreed that “the flies are really tormenting and the heat is intolerable,” he declared: “I had rather endure both, than to have one of those confounded dirty niggers anywhere within twenty feet of me.” He believed that “as a class they are lazy, filthy, ragged, dishonest and confounded stupid.” Ironically, Walker had strong convictions against slavery. Though he was devoted to “destroy[ing] from off the face of the country every vestige of this enormous crime,” and would sacrifice his life for it at the battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, he still could not abide the actual physical beings who personified the abstract institution of slavery.1

General Ambrose E. Burnside’s personal secretary, Daniel Read Larned, who was also in New Bern, shared the captain’s antipathy. He remarked to a friend, “The negroes are niggers all over. They are ignorant, lazy, [and] thievish.” Larned told Burnside’s wife that “they are the laziest, and the most degraded set of beings I ever saw.” To his sister, he admitted: “It seems as if all my letters have been ‘nigger, nigger’ since I came here, but if you could see them you would not wonder. They are amusing, yet disgusting.” Even U.S. Treasury agent John A. Hedrick, an antislavery Unionist as well as a native North Carolinian, held a low opinion of blacks in general. On his way to Beaufort, Hedrick described one of the contrabands on board his steamer as being of “the pure Guinea nigger style, full of talk and I think a little impudent.” These attitudes reveal that even well-meaning Yankees had a dif

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Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1- Antebellum Antecedents 9
  • Chapter 2- The First Year of War 27
  • Chapter 3- The Beginning of Military Occupation 55
  • Chapter 4- The African American Experience under Occupation 81
  • Chapter 5- The Experience of Northern Benevolent Societies during Occupation 105
  • Chapter 6- The Effects of Occupation on Union Soldiers 123
  • Chapter 7- White Rejection of Union Occupation 149
  • Conclusion 177
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 239
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