Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
An American Colonel
By Charles Carleton Coffin (1823–1896)
 
[Born in Boscawen, N. H., 1823. Died in Brookline, Mass., 1896. Four Years of Fighting. 1866.]

WHEN the army began a forward movement in pursuit of Bragg, General Gillmore issued an order, known as General Order No. 5, which reads as follows:
          “All contrabands, except officers’ servants, will be left behind when the army moves to-morrow morning. Public transportation will in no case be furnished to officers’ servants.
  “Commanders of regiments and detachments will see this order promptly enforced.”
  1
  Among the regiments of the division was the Twenty-Second Wisconsin, Colonel Utley, an officer who had no sympathy with slavery. He had a cool head and a good deal of nerve. He had read the Proclamation of President Lincoln, and made up his mind to do what was right, recognizing the President as his Commander-in-Chief, and not the State of Kentucky. There were negroes accompanying his regiment, and he did not see fit to turn them out. Three days later he received the following note:
        
October 18th, 1862.    
  COLONEL: You will at once send to my headquarters the four contrabands, John, Abe, George, and Dick, known to belong to good and loyal citizens. They are in your regiment, or were this morning.
Your obedient servant,
Q. A. GILLMORE, Brigadier-General.    
  2
  Colonel Utley, instead of sending the men, replied:
        “Permit me to say, that I recognize your authority to command me in all military matters pertaining to the military movements of the army. I do not look upon this as belonging to that department. I recognize no authority on the subject of delivering up contrabands save that of the President of the United States.
  “You are, no doubt, conversant with that Proclamation, dated Sept. 22, 1862, and the law of Congress on the subject. In conclusion, I will say, that I had nothing to do with their coming into camp, and shall have nothing to do with sending them out.”
  3
  The note was despatched to division headquarters. Soon after an officer called upon Colonel Utley.  4
  “You are wanted, sir, at General Gillmore’s quarters.”  5
  Colonel Utley made his appearance before General Gillmore.  6
  “I sent you an order this evening.”  7
  “Yes, sir, and I refused to obey it.”  8
  “I intend to be obeyed, sir. I shall settle this matter at once. I shall repeat the order in the morning.”  9
  “General, to save you the trouble and folly of such a course, let me say that I shall not obey it.”  10
  The Colonel departed. Morning came, but brought no order for the delivery of the contrabands to their former owner.  11
  As the regiment passed through Georgetown, a large number of slaves belonging to citizens of that place fled from their masters, and found shelter in the army. Some of the officers who had less nerve than Colonel Utley gave them up, or permitted the owners to come and take them. A Michigan regiment marching through the town had its lines entered by armed citizens, who forcibly took away their slaves. Colonel Utley informed the inhabitants that any attempt to take contrabands from his lines would be resisted.  12
  “Let me say to you, gentlemen,” he said to a delegation of the citizens, “that my men will march with loaded muskets, and if any attempt is made upon my regiment, I shall sweep your streets with fire, and close the history of Georgetown. If you seriously intend any such business, I advise you to remove the women and children.”  13
  The regiment marched the next morning with loaded muskets. The citizens beheld their negroes sheltered and protected by a forest of gleaming bayonets, and wisely concluded not to attempt the recovery of the uncertain property.  14
  The day after its arrival in Nicholasville, a large, portly gentleman, lying back in an elegant carriage, rode up to the camp, and making his appearance before the Colonel, introduced himself as Judge Robertson, Chief Justice of the State of Kentucky.  15
  “I am in pursuit of one of my boys, who I understand is in this regiment,” he said.  16
  “You mean one of your slaves, I presume?”  17
  “Yes, sir. Here is an order from the General, which you will see directs that I may be permitted to enter the lines and get the boy,” said the judge, with great dignity.  18
  “I do not permit any civilian to enter my lines for any such purpose,” said the Colonel.  19
  The Judge sat down, not greatly astonished, for the reputation of the Twenty-Second Wisconsin, as an abolition regiment, was well established. He began to argue the matter. He talked of the compromises of the Constitution, and proceeded to say:  20
  “I was in Congress, sir, when the Missouri Compromise was adopted, and voted for it; but I am opposed to slavery, and I once wrote an essay on the subject, favoring emancipation.”  21
  “Well, sir, all that may be. If you did it from principle, it was commendable; but your mission here to-day gives the lie to your professions. I don’t permit negro-hunters to go through my regiment; but I will see if I can find the boy, and if he is willing to go I will not hinder him.”  22
  The Colonel went out and found the negro Joe, a poor, half-starved, undersized boy, nineteen years old. He told his story. He belonged to the Judge, who had let him to a brutal Irishman for $50 a year. He had been kicked and cuffed, starved and whipped, till he could stand it no longer. He went to the Judge and complained, but had been sent back only to receive a worse thrashing for daring to complain. At last he took to the woods, lived on walnuts, green corn, and apples, sleeping among the corn-shucks and wheat-stacks till the army came. There were tears in Joe’s eyes as he rehearsed his sufferings.  23
  The Colonel went back to the Judge.  24
  “Have you found him?”  25
  “I have found a little yellow boy, who says that he belongs to a man in Lexington. Come and see him.”  26
  “This man claims you as his property, Joe; he says that you ran away and left him,” said the Colonel.  27
  “Yes, sah, I belongs to him,” said Joe, who told his story again in a plain, straightforward manner, showing a neck scarred and cut by the whip.  28
  “You can talk with Joe, sir, if you wish,” said the Colonel.  29
  “Have not I always treated you well?” the Judge asked.  30
  “No, massa, you hasn’t,” was the square, plump reply.  31
  “How so?”  32
  “When I came to you and told you I couldn’t stand it any longer, you said, ‘Go back, you dog!’”  33
  “Did not I tell you that I would take you away?”  34
  “Yes, massa, but you never did it.”  35
  The soldiers came round and listened. Joe saw that they were friends. The Judge stood speechless a moment.  36
  “Joe,” said the Colonel, “are you willing to go home with your master?”  37
  “No, sah, I isn’t.”  38
  “Judge Robertson, I don’t think you can get that boy. If you think you can, there he is; try it. I shall have nothing to do with it,” said the Colonel, casting a significant glance around to the soldiers who had gathered about them.  39
  The Judge saw that he could not lay hands upon Joe. “I’ll see whether there is any virtue in the laws of Kentucky,” he said, with great emphasis.  40
  “Perhaps, Judge, it will be as well for you to leave the camp. Some of my men are a little excitable on the subject of slavery.”  41
  “You are a set of nigger-stealers,” said the Judge, losing his temper.  42
  “Allow me to say, Judge, that it does not become you to call us nigger-stealers. You talk about nigger-stealing—you who live on the sweat and blood of such creatures as Joe! Your dwellings, your churches, are built from the earnings of slaves, beaten out of them by brutal overseers. You hire little children out to brutes,—you clothe them in rags,—you hunt them with hounds,—you chain them down to toil and suffering! You call us thieves because we have given your Joe food and protection! Sir, I would rather be in the place of Joe than in that of his oppressor!” was the indignant outburst of the Colonel.  43
  “Well, sir, if that is the way you men of the North feel, the Union never can be saved—never! You must give up our property.”  44
  “Judge, allow me to tell you what sort of Unionism I have found in Kentucky. I have not seen a half-dozen who did not damn the President. You may put all the pure Unionism in Kentucky in one scale, and a ten-pound nigger baby in the other, and the Unionism will kick the beam. Allow me to say, further, that if the perpetuity or restoration of the Union depends upon my delivering to you with my own hands that little half-starved dwarf of a slave, the Union may be cast into hell with all the nations that forget God!”  45
  “The President’s Proclamation is unconstitutional. It has no bearing on Kentucky. I see that it is your deliberate intention to set at naught the laws,” said the Judge, turning away and walking to General Gillmore’s headquarters.  46
  “You are wanted at the General’s headquarters,” said an aid, soon after, to Colonel Utley.  47
  The Colonel obeyed the summons, and found there not only Judge Robertson, but several fine old Kentucky gentlemen; also Colonel Coburn, the commander of the brigade, who agreed with General Gillmore in the policy then current. Colonel Coburn said:  48
  “The policy of the commanding generals, as I understand it, is simply this: that persons who have lost slaves have a right to hunt for them anywhere in the State. If a slave gets inside of the lines of a regiment, the owner has a right to enter those lines, just as if no regiment was there, and take away the fugitive at his own pleasure.”  49
  “Precisely so. The Proclamation has no force in this State,” said the Judge.  50
  “I regret that I am under the necessity of differing in opinion from my commanding officers, to whom I am ready at all times to render strict military obedience, but (the Colonel raised his voice) I reverse the Kentucky policy! I hold that the regiment stands precisely as though there were no slavery in Kentucky. We came here as free men, from a free State, at the call of the President, to uphold a free government. We have nothing to do with slavery. The Twenty-Second Wisconsin, while I have the honor to command it, will never be a regiment of nigger-catchers. I will not allow civilians to enter my lines at pleasure; it is unmilitary. Were I to permit it, I should be justly amenable to a court-martial. Were I to do it, spies might enter my lines at all times and depart at pleasure.”  51
  There was silence. But Judge Robertson was loath to go away without his flesh and blood. He made one more effort. “Colonel, I did not come to your lines as a spy, but with an order from your General. Are you willing that I should go and get my boy?”  52
  The Colonel reflected a moment.  53
  “Yes, sir, and I will remain here. I told you before that I should have nothing to do with it.”  54
  “Do you think that the men will permit me to take him?”  55
  “I have no orders to issue to them in the matter; they will do just as they please.”  56
  “Will you send the boy into some other regiment?”  57
  This was too much for the Colonel. He could no longer restrain his indignation. Looking the Judge squarely in the face, he vented his anger in scathing words.  58
  The Judge departed, and at the next session of the Court, Colonel Utley was indicted for man-stealing; but he has not yet been brought to trial. The case is postponed till the day of Judgment, when a righteous verdict will be rendered.  59
  The Judge returned to Lexington, called a public meeting, at which he made a speech, denouncing the Twenty-Second Wisconsin as an abolition regiment, and introducing resolutions declaring that the Union never could be restored if the laws of the State of Kentucky were thus set at defiance. This from the Judge, while his son was in the Rebel service, fighting against the Union.  60
  But the matter was not yet over. A few days later, the division containing the Twenty-Second Wisconsin, commanded by General Baird, vice Gillmore, was ordered down the river. It went to Louisville, followed by the slave-hunters, who were determined to have their negroes.  61
  Orders were issued to the colonels not to take any contrabands on board the boats, and most of them obeyed. Colonel Utley issued no orders.  62
  A citizen called upon him and said:  63
  “Colonel, you will have trouble in going through the city unless you give up the negroes in your lines.”  64
  The regiment was then on its march to the wharf.  65
  “They have taken all the negroes from the ranks of the other regiments, and they intend to take yours.”  66
  The Colonel turned to his men and said, quietly, “Fix bayonets.”  67
  The regiment moved on through the streets, and reached the Gault House, where the slaveholders had congregated. A half-dozen approached the regiment rather cautiously, but one bolder than the rest sprang into the ranks and seized a negro by the collar.  68
  A dozen bayonets came down around him, some not very gently. He let go his hold and sprang back again quite as quickly as he entered the lines.  69
  There was a shaking of fists and muttered curses, but the regiment passed on to the landing, just as if nothing had happened.  70
  General Granger, who had charge of the transportation, had issued orders that no negro should be allowed on the boats without free papers.  71
  General Baird saw the negroes on the steamer, and approaching Colonel Utley, said:  72
  “Why, Colonel, how is this? Have all these negroes free papers?”  73
  “Perhaps not all, but those who haven’t have declared their intentions!” said the Colonel.  74
  The Twenty-Second took transportation on the steamer Commercial. The captain of the boat was a Kentuckian, who came to Colonel Utley in great trepidation, saying: “Colonel, I can’t start till those negroes are put on shore. I shall be held responsible. My boat will be seized and libeled under the laws of the State.”  75
  “I can’t help that, sir; the boat is under the control and in the employ of the government. I am commander on board, and you have nothing to do but to steam up and go where you are directed. Otherwise I shall be under the necessity of arresting you.”  76
  The captain departed and began his preparations. But now came the sheriff of Jefferson County with a writ. He wanted the bodies of George, Abraham, John, and Dick, who were still with the Twenty-Second. They were the runaway property of a fellow named Hogan, who a few days before had figured in a convention held at Frankfort, in which he introduced a series of Secession resolutions.  77
  “I have a writ for your arrest, but I am willing to waive all action on condition of your giving up the fugitives which you are harboring contrary to the peace and dignity of the State,” said the sheriff.  78
  “I have other business to attend to just now. I am under orders from my superiors in command to proceed down the river without any delay, and must get the boat under way,” said the Colonel, bowing politely.  79
  “But, Colonel, you are aware of the consequences of deliberately setting at defiance the laws of a sovereign State,” said the sheriff.  80
  “Are you all ready there?” said the Colonel, not to the sheriff, but to the officer of the day who had charge of affairs.  81
  “Yes, sir.”  82
  “Then cast off.”  83
  The game of bluff had been played between the Twenty-Second Wisconsin and the State of Kentucky, and Wisconsin had won.  84
  The sheriff jumped ashore. There were hoarse puffs from the steam-pipes, the great wheels turned in the stream, the Commercial swung from her moorings, and the soldiers of Wisconsin floated down the broad Ohio with the stars and stripes waving above them.  85
 
 
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