Firebrand of Liberty: The Story of Two Black Regiments That Changed the Course of the Civil War
Stephen V. Ash
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A nearly forgotten Civil War episode is restored to history in this masterful account.
In March 1863, nine hundred black Union soldiers, led by white officers, invaded Florida and seized the town of Jacksonville. They were among the first African American troops in the Northern army, and their expedition into enemy territory was like no other in the Civil War. It was intended as an assault on slavery by which thousands would be freed. At the center of the story is prominent abolitionist Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who led one of the regiments. After waging battle for three weeks, Higginson and his men were mysteriously ordered to withdraw, their mission a seeming failure. Yet their successes in resisting the Confederates and collaborating with white Union forces persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to begin full-scale recruitment of black troops, a momentous decision that helped turned the tide of the war. Using long-neglected primary sources, historian Stephen V. Ash’s stirring narrative re-creates this event with insight, vivid characterizations, and a keen sense of drama.
Richard Skinner to William Johnson, 27 January 1863, Richard Skinner Letters, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Official Records of the Navies, Series One, 12: xxi, 13: 465–66. 2. Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, 2, 18 March 1863; Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 September 1862; Charleston Daily Courier, 27 February 1863; Davis, History of the 104th Pennsylvania, 180. 3. Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, 2, 18 March 1863; Philadelphia
Rogers,” 377; Looby, Journal and Letters, 113; Benjamin R. McPherson to Theodore McPherson, 28 March 1863, McPherson Family Papers; Augusta Daily Constitutionalist, 1 April 1863. 57. “Letters of Dr. Rogers,” 377; Looby, Journal and Letters, 110, 113, 266; Higginson, Army Life, 121–22; Norwich log, 19 March 1863, RBNP. 58. “Tax Commissioners of Florida,” 4, 14, 67, 75, 101; New York Daily Tribune, 8 April 1863; assistant adjutant general to Joseph Hawley, 14 March 1863, RUSACC, Pt. 1, E-4088,
Magazine quadroons Quincy, John death of Jacksonville evacuation and as lay preacher wounding of radical Republicans Randolph, William reconstruction Thayer plan for Red River Reed, A. M. Reed, Harrison Reminiscences of My Life in Camp (Taylor) Republican Party, black recruitment issue and rice Rinaldo (horse) Rivers, Prince background of Beaufort march and as black soldiers’ spokesman Emancipation Day ceremony and Higginson’s estimation of literacy and command ability of
movement was divided. Some abolitionists insisted that only through politics could they accomplish anything. Others, led by William Lloyd Garrison of Boston, held that the compromises inevitable in politics would taint the movement: Abolitionists should renounce office seeking, refrain even from voting, and rely instead on “moral suasion” to convince Northerners and Southerners alike that slavery should be done away with. At one time or another Higginson embraced each of these approaches. He
the white soldiers towards the colored,” wrote one of the Gideonites in late April, “is dying away.” That same month a New York Tribune correspondent at Hilton Head remarked: “It is quite amusing to hear officers who were bitterly opposed to arming the negroes a few months since say that if we had but three or four more negro brigades we might accomplish something in this department.” Hunter echoed these observations; so did Saxton, who furthermore insisted that all the white troops would now