Tag Archives: Civil War
To Arms

Men of Color, to Arms! (1863)

(Douglass’ Monthly – March, 1863) When first the rebel cannon shattered the walls of Sumter, and drove away its starving garrison, I predicted that the war, then and there inaugurated would not be fought but entirely by white men. Every month’s experience during these two dreary years, has confirmed that opinion. A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly upon colored men to help to suppress it. Only a moderate share of sagacity was needed to see that the arm of the slave was the best defence against the arm of the slaveholder. Hence with every reverse to the National arms, with every exulting shout of victory raised by the slaveholding rebels, I have implored the imperrilled nation to unchain against her foes her powerful black hand. Slowly and reluctantly that appeal is beginning to be heeded. Stop not now to complain that it was not heeded sooner. It may, or it may not have been best that it should not. This is not the time to discuss that question. Leave it to the future. When the war is over, the country is saved, peace is established, and the black man’s rights are secured, as they will be, history with an impartial hand, will dispose of that and sundry other questions. Action! action! not criticism, is the plain duty of this hour. Words are now useful only as they stimulate to blows. The office of speech now is only to point out when, here and how, to strike to the best advantage.

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even to die free, than to live slaves.

There is no time for delay. The tide is at its flood that leads on to fortune. From East to West, from North to South, the sky is written all over “NOW OR NEVER.” Liberty won by white men would lose half its lustre. Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even to die free, than to live slaves. This is the sentiment of every brave colored man amongst us. There are weak and cowardly men in all nations. We have them amongst us. They tell you that this is the “white man’s war”;— that you will be no “better off after, than before the war”; that the getting of you into the army is to “sacrifice you on the first opportunity.” Believe them not—cowards themselves, they do not wish to have their cowardice shamed by your brave example. Leave them to their timidity, or to whatever motive may hold them back.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s African American Newspapers Collection. This enormous collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 1800s and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day.


Confederate Conscription Exemptions in April 1862

The first general American military draft was enacted by the Confederate government on April 16, 1862, more than a year before the federal government did the same. The Confederacy took this step because it had to; its territory was being assailed on every front by overwhelming numbers, and the defending armies needed men to fill the ranks.

The compulsory-service law was very unpopular in the South because it was viewed as a usurpation of the rights of individuals by the central government, one of the reasons the South went to war in the first place.

Under the Conscription Act, all healthy white men between the ages of 18 and 35 were liable for a three-year term of service. The act also extended the terms of enlistment for all one-year soldiers to three years.

These are the original exemptions included in that first conscription law.  Additional exemptions were added later.

Part I of our Civil War collection, A Newspaper Perspective, contains articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.

Exemptions Under the Conscription Law of Congress

The following exemption bill was passed by Congress, and signed by the President just before the adjournment:

A bill to be entitled ‘An act to exempt certain persons from enrollment for service in the armies of the Confederate States:

SECTION 1. The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That all persons who shall be held to be unfit for military service under the rules to be prescribed by the Secretary of War…

  • all in the service or employ of the Confederate States
  • all judicial and executive officers of Confederate or State Governments
  • the members of both Houses of Congress, and of the Legislatures of the several States and their respective officers
  • all clerks of the officers of the State and Confederate Governments allowed by law
  • all engaged in carrying the mails
  • all ferrymen on post routes
  • all pilots and persons engaged in the marine service, and in actual service on river and railroad routes of transportation
  • telegraphic operatives and ministers of religion in the regular discharge of ministerial duties
  • all engaged in working iron mines, furnaces and foundries
  • all journeymen printers actually employed in printing newspapers
  • all presidents and professors of colleges and academies, and all teachers having as many as twenty scholars
  • superintendents of the public hospitals, lunatic asylums, and the regular nurses and attendants therein, and the teachers employed in the institutions for the deaf and dumb and blind
  • in each apothecary store now established one apothecary in good standing, who is a practical druggist
  • superintendents and operatives in wool and other factories, who may be exempted by the Secretary of War, shall be, and are hereby, exempted from military service in the armies of the Confederate States.

Collection: The Civil War – Part I: A Newspaper Perspective
Publication: The Charleston Mercury
Date: April 26, 1862
Top Image: Southern “Volunteers” by Currier & Ives ca. 1862


Feb. 27, 1864: Union Prisoners arrive at Andersonville

The first Union prisoners arrived at the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia on February 27, 1864.

The Liberator carried a story about the POWs at Andersonville on September 9, 1864:


Four representatives of the Union soldiers, now prisoners of war to the rebels and concentrated at Anderson, Georgia, have just proceeded to Washington, to state their condition to the Government, and see if some measures cannot be instituted for their speedy exchange. If their memorial, our soldiers state that

“Col. Hill, Provost Marshal General, Confederate States Army, at Atlanta, stated to one of the undersigned that there were thirty-five thousand prisoners at Andersonville, and by all accounts from the United States soldiers who have been confined there, the number is not overstated by him. These thirty-five thousand are confined in a field of some thirty acres, enclosed by a board fence, heavily guarded. About one-third have various kinds of indifferent shelter; but upwards of thirty thousand are wholly without shelter, or even shade, of any kind, and are exposed to the storms and rains which are of almost daily occurrence; the cold dews of the night, and the more terrible effects of the sun, striking with almost tropical fierceness upon their unprotected heads. This mass of men jostle and crowd each other up and down the limits of their enclosure, is storm or sun, and others lie down upon the pitiless earth at night, with no other covering than the clothing upon their backs, few of them having even a blanket.

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.


The Liberator & Slavery’s Funeral March (1865)

The Liberator was a weekly newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison in Boston, Massachusetts. William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in December, 1805. At thirteen years of age he began his newspaper career with the Newburyport Herald, where he acquired great skills in both accuracy and speed in the art of setting type. He also wrote anonymous articles, and at the age of twenty-one began publishing his own newspaper.

After the end of the Civil War in December, 1865, Garrison published his last issue of The Liberator, announcing “my vocation as an abolitionist is ended.” After thirty-five years and 1,820 issues, Garrison had not failed to publish a single issue. He spent the final 14 years of his life campaigning for woman’s suffrage, pacifism and temperance. He died in New York City on May 24, 1879.

This poem appeared in the final issue.

Slavery’s Funeral March

By J.C. Wagan

Mark! the mournful bells are tolling
Funeral dirges for the dead!
Hark! the muffled drums are rolling!
Mark the mourners’ measured tread!

Serfs, whose bonds now rent asunder,
Once believed he could not die,
Now behold, with awe and wonder,
Slavery’s funeral marching by!

All earth’s tribes are mutely gazing
On the pageant stern and dread,
Or to Heaven their thanks are raising
That man’s deadliest foe is dead. (more…)


What Shall be Done with the Yankee Prisoners? [1862]

This letter to the Editor of the Charleston Mercury, published under the pseudonym “Philanthropos,” ran on July 12, 1862.

To the Editor of the (Charleston) Mercury:

The possession of an immense number of Yankee prisoners, captured during the flight of the grand army of Gen. McClellan from the lines before Richmond, makes it an important matter to decide how the said captives can be used to most advantage. It is suggested:

  1. To exchange for Confederate prisoners held by the enemy.
  2. To give the foreigners (composing the larger part, probably of the late United States troops now held as our captives) for the first class to be exchanged.
  3. To hold the native Yankee prisoners in our custody, and put them to manual labor in factories, to make brooms, leather, shoes, buckets, thread, cloth, clocks, etc., until they shall be exchanged for the negros stolen from the plantations.
  4. That for each negro who has been sold or worked to death by the Yankees (exchange being impossible) a ransom of $800 be substituted
  5. That the Yankee prisoners held for this purpose shall be subject to the negro law of the State in which they are imprisoned, or until exchanged or ransomed. The object of this is to recover the negros stolen, and to prevent future loss and injury to southern masters and servants.
  6. That the negros be returned to their owners and the money distributed among those whose negros shall not be recovered.

I am, sir, &c.,


Part I of our Civil War collection, A Newspaper Perspective, contains articles gleaned from over 2,500 issues of The New York Herald, The Charleston Mercury and the Richmond Enquirer, published between November 1, 1860 and April 15, 1865.

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