It is not unusual to read of a Union soldier or group of soldiers opposed to the abolition of slavery as a war aim, so seeing anti-abolition sentiments in this letter from a soldier in the first few months of the war is not a shock. I do find myself wondering what this private felt about the Emancipation Proclamation, preliminarily issued about 8 months later, if he survived that long.
This story further interests me because the 44th Ohio was one of the units in the northern Kentucky area around or just after the Siege of Cincinnati, a topic this blog has mentioned several times. It is kind of a local angle to this story.
Also note that both this newspaper and the individual who wrote the letter were from Ohio, a “free state” in the North, yet both still expressed anti-abolitionist attitudes. That is not surprising from Cincinnati, which had many ties to the South, and is pretty typical of the Enquirer’s attitudes.
Abolition Tracts Among the Volunteers
Camp Piatt, January 12, 1862
To the Editors of the Enquirer:
SIR: Inclosed you will find a cursed Abolition document - it will speak for itself - which the negro worshippers are distributing among the soldiers in large quantities. Comment, if it is worth comment - and of course it is - I leave you to make. If I had time, I would write a long article on the subject, but I have not, as I’m but a private - and that is the reason I got the document. Privates are supposed to have no sense, or just sense enough to be made to believe and do anything; but the paper got into the wrong hands this time. And, further, I will say, or ask, if such papers are allowed to be distributed among the soldiers so profusely, when will this war end? This much I would like to say to them: I am not fighting to free negroes; and if they want them freed, let them do the fighting themselves. I will not. I would as soon shoot a real Abolitionist as a Secesh. I consider that they are as much the instigators of this war as any man in the South, and even more so; yet they claim to be Union men. Such Union men ought to be in purgatory. They now boldly declare their purpose, and are distributing their infernal trash among the ignorant soldiers, as they suppose; But there are some of them sharp enough to see what they are driving at.
I am a native of Ohio, but not an Abolitionist, by any means; and I am fighting to put down rebellion, not to free negroes.
Forty-fourth Ohio Regiment
Here is how the editor reacted to this letter. In the first paragraph, I added the emphasis in bold because that is a line I’ve often seen or heard in discussions of slavery, but it is the first time I remember seeing it so explicitly stated in a period newspaper.
Cincinnati Enquirer January 26, 1862
VOICE OF A SOLDIER
We publish elsewhere a letter from a volunteer in the Forty-fourth Ohio Regiment in relation to the distribution among the troops of Abolition documents. Accompanying the letter was a tract Entitled “CATECHISM FOR WORKINGMEN.” It purports you have been published by the “American Reform and Tract and Book Society of Cincinnati, Ohio.” We have before noticed Abolition tracts issued from this manufactory, and designed for circulation among the troops. The one before us is filled with the usual Abolition sophistries, that slavery produced the war and ought to be destroyed. Purporting to be written “by the son of a blacksmith,” it makes an appeal to workingmen to aid in wiping slavery from off the face of the land. Every intelligent workingman knows that liberating four million slaves, to be the competitors in the field of voluntary labor with laboring whites, is not going to elevate but rather degrade the whites. The laboring whites at the South, though poor, know that they are not on a level with the blacks, as this tract asserts they are, but are a superior race. It is that knowledge that makes them take the interest they do in thwarting the schemes of the Abolitionists. The tract before us aims to induce the white laboring man and woman to aid in putting themselves on a level with the blacks.
“A SOLDIER” sees through the game, and tells the intermeddlers, who are the primary cause of the war, that he regards them in the same light he does the rebels, that he is fighting to put down the rebellion, not to free the slaves, and that he can not be made their tool. That is plain talk, and we rejoice to hear it from such a source.