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April 25, 2012

From the letters of Garland H. White a freed slave and Army Chaplain upon taking Richmond, Virginia from the Southern armies

I love that Ta-Nehisi finds this stuff and shares it. There are so many facets of the Civil War that never even occurred to me to wonder about. Vast expanses of ignorance swaddled in propaganda. Like this account from an Army Chaplain when the North conquered Richmond and freed the slaves there. (Note: Coates brings this up to illustrate why The Band's song about the fall of Richmond, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," disgusts him.) Many of the Northern soldiers had been born in Richmond or nearby, so the people they were freeing were their own families, even if they didn't know it. But if the soldiers who had been sold as children didn't know their kin, their was someone who did know: their parents. Upon taking Richmond the freed slaves rushed out to greet the Northern soldiers and to look amongst them for their missing kids. This is an incredible account. Virginia - Ta-Nehisi Coates - Entertainment - The Atlantic
Among the densely crowded concourse there were parents looking for children who had been sold south of this state in tribes, and husbands came for the same purpose; here and there one was singled out in the ranks, and an effort was made to approach the gallant and marching soldiers, who were too obedient to orders to break ranks.We continued our march as far as Camp Lee, at the extreme end of Broad Street, running westwards. In camp the multitude followed, and everybody could participate in shaking the friendly but hard hands of the poor slaves. Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for one by the name of Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was bought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs, who lived in Georgia. Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his body-servant Garland was, he replied: "He ran off from me at Washington, and went to 'Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio." Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, "Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see you." I quickly turned, following the soldier until coming to a group of colored ladies. I was questioned as follows: "What is your name, sir?" "My name is Garland H. White." "What was your mother's name?" "Nancy." "Where was you born?" "In Hanover County, in this State." "Where was you sold from?" "From this city." "What was the name of the man who bought you?" "Robert Toombs." "Where did he live?" "In the State of Georgia." "Where did you leave him?" "At Washington." "Where did you go then?" "To Canada." "Where do you live now?" "In Ohio." "This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son." I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends. But suffice it to say that God is on the side of the righteous, and will in due time reward them. I have witnessed several such scenes among the other colored regiments.
I have a son. Looking on him I can't even imagine the pain I would feel if he were stripped from my arms and sold away to strangers hundreds of miles away. How could it not kill me? And then to think again what it must be like to be re-united with him after fifteen or twenty years. How incredible. I'm going to keep this letter from Garland H. White in a special place in my brain--the place where I put counter evidence and real world examples--for the next time someone talks about Southern Pride or waves a Confederate flag.