Lieutenant Samuel K. Thompson of Co. C, 54th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment with unidentified soldiers posed with a Columbiad cannon at an earthwork fort. (1863)

Reception of the Colored Soldiers at Harrisburg

Harrisburg, Nov. 14.

This is a day that will long be remembered by the colored people of the State of Pennsylvania. In view of the large number of colored soldiers who are coming home, many of whom pass through this city, it was determined by the colored people of this city that they should have a fitting reception accorded to them. A committee was at once organized, and Mr. George E. Stevens, one of the original members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, who was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant for bravery at Fort Wagner, was selected to carry the arrangements into execution.

All last evening the streets were fairly alive with the soldiers, and their friends, but there was not the slightest confusion, and nowhere was there to be seen any insubordination. They remembered that all were looking upon them, and conducted themselves in a worthy manner.

Simon Cameron

Simon Cameron

But today was the great epoch. At nine o’clock the procession began to form on State street, north of the Capitol, and by ten o’clock the column was in motion. T. Morris Chester, of this city, acted as chief marshal assisted by a number of aids. They then passed through a number of streets to the residence of General Simon Cameron on Front Street. The line was drawn up in front of his house, when the old patriot appeared and was received with all the honors. He then spoke as follows:

I cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking the African soldiers for the compliment they have paid ate, hat more than all to thank them for the great service which they have been to their country in the terrible rebellion. I never doubted that the people of African descent would play a great part in this struggle, and I am proud to My that all my anticipations have been more than realized. Your services offered in the early part of the war, were refused; but when the struggle became one of life and death, then the country gladly received you, and. thank God, you nobly redeemed all you promised. [Applause.]

Like all other men, you have your destinies in your own hands, and if you continue to conduct yourselves hereafter as you have in this struggle, you will have all the rights you ask for, alt the rights that belong to human beings. [Applause] I can, only say again that I thank you from my heart for all that you have done for your country, and I know the country will hold you in grateful remembrance.

I cannot close without saying that there is at the head of the National Government a greet man, who is able and determined to deal justly with all. I know that with his approval, no State that was in rebellion will be allowed to return to the benefits of the Union, without Brat having a constitutional compact which will prevent slavery in the hind for all time to come; which will make all men equal before the law; which will prescribe no distinction of color on the witness-stand. and in the jury-box; and which will protect the homes and the domestic relations of all men and all women. He will insist too on the repudiation of all debts contracted for the support of the war of the rebellion. Remember, when the war began, there were 4.000,000 of slaves in this country, protected by law. Now all men are made free by the law. Thank God for all this! for He alone has accomplished the work!

William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was a weekly abolitionist newspaper published in Boston. The paper held true to the founder’s ideals. Garrison was a journalistic crusader who advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves and gained a national reputation for being one of the most radical of American abolitionists.

Brevet Major General J.B. Kiddon, one of the pioneer officers of colored troops, was loudly called for, and made a few remarks, which were well received by the assemblage.

The column then resumed its march, and proceeded to the Capitol grounds. Here the troops were again drawn up in line, in front of the main building. Seats were placed under the portico for the accommodation of the speakers and the invited guests, while the steps and grounds were filled with an eager audience.

Marshal Chester then introduced Rev. J. Walker Jackson, who offered prayer.

The band then played, -My Country, “tis of thes ,” alter which, Rev. Stephen Smith, the President of the day, made a few remarks, thanking the assembly and the Garnet League for the honor that had been conferred upon him.

The following letters were then read:

LETTER FROM GENERAL MEADE.

HEADQUARTERS MIL. DIV. OF THE ATLANTIC,
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 12th, 1865.

GENTLEMAN OF THE COMMITTEE: I regret exceedingly that my duties and engagements will not permit of my being present at Harrisburg on the 14th inst., at the reception which you propose to give to the returned colored soldiers. This reception meets my cordial approval, and I am glad that the colored soldiers are to be thus welcomed” I trust you will be enabled to give them a reception worthy of their services, of the cause they have been upholding, of the State whose honor they have been maintaining.

Respectfully yours,
GEORGE G. MEADE,
Major General U.S.A.

LETTER FROM GENERAL BUTLER:

LOWELL, Mass., November 3.

GENTLEMAN OF THE COMMITTEE: I may engagements will possibly permit, I will be present to meet my colored fellow-soldiers on their return from the service of their country. I have witnessed their patience and discipline la the camp, and their bravery and peed conduct on the battle-field, and. above all, their devotion and unswerving loyalty to the flag and the Government, and I deeply feel that they are entitled to the gratitude. bounty, and unfaltering justice of their fellow-country men. As the possibility of my being with you on this occasion is so doubtful, I beg that you will not publicly announce that I will be present.

Very respectfully,
BENJAMIN F. BUTLER.

Source: The Liberator, November 24, 1865
Top Image: Lieutenant Samuel K. Thompson of Co. C, 54th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment with unidentified soldiers posed with a Columbiad cannon at an earthwork fort. (1863)

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