Rev. Thomas James’s account, African-american minister, cared for black union soldier’s in Louisville

Thomas James was an African-American minister sent by the American Missionary Society to care for the families of black Union soldiers in Louisville. He gave this stirring account of the conditions for slaves and freedmen in Louisville during the Civil War.

I returned to Rochester in 1856, and took charge of the colored church in this city. In 1862 I received an appointment from the American Missionary Society to labor among the colored people of Tennessee and Louisiana, but I never reached either of these states. I left Rochester with my daughter, and reported at St. Louis, where I received orders to proceed to Louisville, Kentucky. On the train, between St. Louis and Louisville, a party of forty Missouri ruffians entered the car at an intermediate station, and threatened to throw me and my daughter off the train. They robbed me of my watch. The conductor undertook to protect us, but, finding it out of his power, brought a number of Government officers and passengers from the next car to our assistance. At Louisville the government took me out of the hands of the Missionary Society to take charge of freed and refugee blacks, to visit the prisons of that commonwealth, and to set free all colored persons found confined without charge of crime. I served first under the orders of General Burbage, and then under those of his successor, General Palmer. The homeless colored people, for whom I was to care, were gathered in a camp covering ten acres of ground on the outskirts of the city. They were housed in light buildings, and supplied with rations from the commissary stores. Nearly all the persons in the camp were women and children, for the colored men were sworn into the United States service as soldiers as fast as they came in.

My first duty, after arranging the affairs of the camp, was to visit the slave pens, of which there were five in the city. The largest, known as Garrison’s, was located on Market Street, and to that I made my first visit. When I entered it, and was about to make a thorough inspection of it, Garrison stopped me with the insolent remark, “I guess no nigger will go over me in this pen.” I showed him my orders, whereupon he asked time to consult the mayor. He started for the entrance, but was stopped by the guard I had stationed there. I told him he would not leave the pen until I had gone through every part of it. “So,” said I, “throw open your doors, or I will put you under arrest.” I found hidden away in that pen 260 colored persons, part of them in irons. I took them all to my camp, and they were free. I next called at Otterman’s pen on Second Street, from which also I took a large number of slaves. A third large pen was named Clark’s, and there were two smaller ones besides. I liberated the slaves in all of them. One morning it was reported to me that a slave trader had nine colored men locked in a room in the National hotel. A waiter from the hotel brought the information at daybreak. I took a squad of soldiers with me to the place, and demanded the surrender of the blacks. The clerk said there were none in the house. Their owners had gone off with “the boys” at daybreak. I answered that I could take no man’s word in such a case, but must see for myself. When I was about to begin the search, a colored man secretly gave me the number of the room the men were in. The room was locked, and the porter refused to give up the keys. A threat to place him under arrest brought him to reason, and I found the colored men inside, as I had anticipated.

One of them, an old man, who sat with his face between his hands, said as I entered: “So’thin’ tole me last night that so’thin’ was a goin’ to happen to me.” That very day I mustered the nine men into the service of the government, and that made them free men.

So much anger was excited by these proceedings, that the mayor and common council of Louisville visited General Burbage at his headquarters, and warned him that if I was not sent away within forty-eight hours my life would pay the forfeit. The General sternly answered them: “If James is killed, I will hold responsible for the act every man who fills an office under your city government. I will hang them all higher than Haman was hung, and I have 15,000 troops behind me to carry out the order. Your only salvation lies in protecting this colored man’s life.”

During my first year and a half at Louisville, a guard was stationed at the door of my room every night, as a necessary precaution in view of the threats of violence of which I was the object. One night I received a suggestive hint of the treatment the rebel sympathizers had in store for me should I chance to fall into their hands. A party of them approached the house where I was lodged protected by a guard. The soldiers, who were new recruits, ran off in afright. I found escape by the street cut off, and as I ran for the rear alley I discovered that avenue also guarded by a squad of my enemies. As a last resort I jumped a side fence, and stole along until out of sight and hearing of the enemy. Making my way to the house of a colored man named White, I exchanged my uniform for an old suit of his, and then, sallying forth, mingled with the rebel party, to learn, if possible, the nature of their intentions. Not finding me, and not having noticed my escape, they concluded that they must have been misinformed as to my lodging place for that night. Leaving the locality they proceeded to the house of another friend of mine, named Bridle, whose home was on Tenth Street. After vainly searching every room in Bridle’s house, they dispersed with the threat that if they got me I should hang to the nearest lamp-post. For a long time after I was placed in charge of the camp, I was forced to forbid the display of lights in any of the buildings at night, for fear of drawing the fire of rebel bushwhackers. All the fugitives in the camp made their beds on the floor, to escape danger from rifle balls fired through the thin siding of the frame structures.

I established a Sunday and a day school in my camp and held religious services twice a week as well as on Sundays. I was ordered by General Palmer to marry every colored woman that came into camp to a soldier unless she objected to such a proceeding. The ceremony was a mere form to secure the freedom of the female colored refugees; for Congress had passed a law giving freedom to the wives and children of all colored soldiers and sailors in the service of the government. The emancipation proclamation, applying as it did only to states in rebellion, failed to meet the case of slaves in Kentucky, and we were obliged to resort to this ruse to escape the necessity of giving up to their masters many of the runaway slave women and children who flocked to our camp.

I had a contest of this kind with a slave trader known as Bill Hurd. He demanded the surrender of a colored woman in my camp who claimed her freedom on the plea that her husband had enlisted in the federal army. She wished to go to Cincinnati, and General Palmer, giving me a railway pass for her, cautioned me to see her on board the cars for the North before I left her. At the levee I saw Hurd and a policeman, and suspecting that they intended a rescue, I left the girl with the guard at the river and returned to the general for a detail of one or more men.

During my absence Hurd claimed the woman from the guard and the latter brought all the parties to the provost marshal’s headquarters, although I had directed him to report to General Palmer with the woman in case of trouble; for I feared that the provost marshal’s sympathies were on the slave owner’s side. I met Hurd, the policeman and the woman at the corner of Sixth and Green streets and halted them. Hurd said the provost marshal had decided that she was his

property. I answered — what I had just learned that the provost marshal was not at his headquarters and that his subordinate had no authority to decide such a case. I said further that I had orders to take the party before General Palmer and proposed to do it. They saw it was not prudent to resist, as I had a guard to enforce the order.

When the parties were heard before the general, Hurd said the girl had obtained her freedom and a pass by false pretenses. She was his property; he had paid $500 for her; she was single when he bought her and she had not married since. Therefore she could claim no rights under the law giving freedom to the wives of colored soldiers. The general answered that the charge of false pretenses was a criminal one and the woman would be held for trial upon it. “But,” said Hurd, “she is my property and I want her.” “No,” answered the general, “we keep our own prisoners.” The general said to me privately, after Hurd was gone: “The woman has a husband in our service and I know it; but never mind that. We’ll beat these rebels at their own game.” Hurd hung about headquarters two or three days until General Palmer said finally: “I have no time to try this case; take it before the provost marshal.” The latter, who had been given the hint, delayed action for several days more, and then turned over the case to General Dodge. After another delay, which still further tortured the slave trader, General Dodge said to me one day: “James, bring Mary to my headquarters, supply her with rations, have a guard ready, and call Hurd as a witness.” When the slave trader had made his statement to the same effect as before, General Dodge delivered judgment in the following words: “Hurd, you are an honest man. It is a clear case. All I have to do, Mary, is to sentence you to keep away from this department during the remainder of the present war. James, take her across the river and see her on board the cars.” “But, general,” whined Hurd, “that won’t do. I shall lose her services if you send her north.” “You have nothing to do with it; you are only a witness in this case,” answered the general. I carried out the order strictly, to remain with Mary until the cars started; and under the protection of a file of guards, she was soon placed on the train en route for Cincinnati.

Among the slaves I rescued and brought to the refugee camp was a girl named Laura, who had been locked up by her mistress in a cellar and left to remain there two days and as many nights without food or drink. Two refugee slave women were seen by their master making toward my camp, and calling upon a policeman he had then seized and taken to the house of his brother-in- law on Washington street. When the facts were reported to me, I took a squad of guards to the house and rescued them. As I came out of the house with the slave women, their master asked me: “What are you going to do with them?” I answered that they would probably take care of themselves. He protested that he had always used the runaway women well, and appealing to one of them, asked: “Have I not, Angelina?” I directed the woman to answer the question, saying that she had as good a right to speak as he had, and that I would protect her in that right. She then said: “He tied my dress over my head Sunday and whipped me for refusing to carry victuals to the bushwhackers and guerrillas in the woods.” I brought the women to camp, and soon afterwards sent them north to find homes. I sent one girl rescued by me under somewhat similar circumstances as far as this city to find a home with Colonel Klinck’s family.

Up to that time in my career I had never received serious injury at any man’s hands. I was several times reviled and hustled by mobs in my first tour of the district about the city of Rochester, and once when I was lecturing in New Hampshire a reckless, half-drunken fellow in the lobby fired a pistol at me, the ball shattering the plaster a few feet from my head. But, as I said, I had never received serious injury. Now, however, I received a blow, the effects of which I shall carry to my grave. General Palmer sent me to the shop of a blacksmith who was suspected

of bushwhacking, with an order requiring the latter to report at headquarters. The rebel, who was a powerful man, raised a short iron bar as I entered and aimed a savage blow at my head. By an instinctive movement I saved my life, but the blow fell on my neck and shoulders, and I was for a long time afterwards disabled by the injury. My right hand remains partially paralyzed and almost wholly useless to this day.

Many a sad scene I witnessed at my camp of colored refugees in Louisville. There was the mother bereaved of her children, who had been sold and sent farther South lest they should escape in the general rush for the federal lines and freedom; children, orphaned in fact if not in name, for separation from parents among the colored people in those days left no hope of reunion this side the grave; wives forever parted from their husbands, and husbands who might never hope to catch again the brightening eye and the welcoming smile of the help-mates whose hearts God and nature had joined to theirs. Such recollections come fresh to me when with trembling voice I sing the old familiar song of anti-slavery days:

Oh deep was the anguish of the slave mother’s heart

When called from her darling forever to part;

So grieved that lone mother, that broken-hearted mother

In sorrow and woe.

The child was borne off to a far-distant clime

While the mother was left in anguish to pine;

But reason departed, and she sank broken-hearted

In sorrow and woe.

I remained at Louisville a little over three years, staying for some months after the war closed in charge of the colored camp, the hospital, dispensary and government stores.

Wonderful Eventful Life of Rev. Thomas James, by himself
Third Edition, Rochester, NY: Post-Express Printing Company, Mill Street. 1887.

Source: http://www.ket.org/civilwar/aamerican.html

Nov 17, 1864 – 36th Illinois soldier writes mother in Newark (ILL) from Jefferson General Hospital in Jeffersonville, Indiana

Camp Joe Holt Hospital, Jeffersonville, Indiana

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November 17, 1864

Dear Mother,

Camp Joe Holt Hospital

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-1-43-40-pmI set down this morning to let you know that I have been moved further north. I got here last night about 9 o’clock. I feel as though I had got into America again. The town and everything looks so much different from what they did in Dixie. Our hospital is situated on the banks of the Ohio River so I can set and watch the boats play up and down the river. Sometimes there is as many as twenty to be seen at a time. [end of page one]

Last night they looked very pretty with their lamps all lit up. I am in hopes that this letter will reach you before [Rable] starts from home for you wouldn’t like to send those Yankees to N*ewark+ While I am here at Jeffersonville. I don’t know but this letter will be rather late. You need’nt send that box until I write again for here we have to get the consent of the Doctor before we can get any which thing in here. Maybe we won’t need it here. I don’t know whether we get any sanataries here or not. I will wait and see before I write for them.

I suppose that Mrs Harriet has commenced her school and that Father has got his [end of page two] corn picked by this time has he not, and you are trying to find something to do on Thanksgiving. Ain’t it most time for *initial indecipherable+ Tremain to get home. I think so if they don’t keep him over his time which they are very apt to do. I notice how are all the neighbors today and I get that letter that letter that I sent to him without the stamps on. I am most out of stamps. I expect I might have some if they would let me stay in one place long enough. I expect I will let me stay here now till they send me to the front and I don’t know for sure that will be. *end of page three+

Well I want this letter to go out in this mornings mail so I will stop writing. Give my love to all and write often. From your boy Franklin

Jefferson U.S. General Hospital Ward 17

Jeffersonville, Indiana
Franklin A. Whitney

Letter source: The Kraig McNutt Civil War Collection

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Post-war photograph of Franklin A. Whitney, 36th Illinois Infantry.
He was listed as from Mission, Illinois, when he enlisted as a Private on 2/29/64. He mustered into Company F, 36th Illinois infantry 3/19/64.
Mustering out 10/8/65 in Washington, D.C.

John Shuman, 88th Indiana Volunteers – September 30, 1862

Dear Father and the rest of the family,

I in form you that I am still well and feal [i.e. feel] well and I hope these few lines will find you all the same, except Aron – I understood he died the twenty third and got buried the twenty fifth. I was very sorry to hear such newes for when I left I did not think I would hear such newes as that is. But it is no more than we have to meat with some time our selfe. I heard that Jacob was sick. I would like to hear from their [him?] as soon as possible and I hope these few lines will find you all well. I suppose Mary Ett? was very sick yet. I would like to hear from her as soon as I can. The rest of the boys is all well and in good spirit. … [talks about various people, writing, names, letters, etc.] …

General Nelson got shot yesterday in Louisville by General Davis from Indiania. It was about eight o’clock in the morning. We are in general Reussau  Brigade [General Lovell Rousseau]. Now came in his brigade yesterday and I am glad that we did. I will let you further know that I see. Most of the boyes that is in the forty fourth except bass? Shoup? and James Tuck and John Heller and Lou Bats [or Bots / Butts?]. I hant [havt – [aint]] see them yet but they are all well, so the rest of the boyes said. I dont think that their is any danger of having a fight hear for their is to maney troops hear now. For their is some two hundred thousand hear so they say and some says their is more than that. But I know their is a heavy forse hear now. …

Old Goviner [Governor] Morton [Oliver P. Morton] from Indiana was in Louisville yesterday and general Boiels(?) was their and they had a fist fight. Goviner Morton blacked general Boiel(?) eyes for marching his men around for nothing, and when we got the newes we give three loud cheers for Goviner Morton. We only marches threw town ten times since we are hear and hant done any good yet. But I think that has come to an end now. William Culver wrote to me. He would like to know who was the ones that had give out on that march were we had that day. Charles Roadman [or Rodman?] was one, that was all that I know out of our company. Their was some more out of our company but I cant tell their names. …

Their was thirteen died out of our brigade on that march. Charles Roadman hant got over it yet and he wont for a while. He is in camp now but he looks poorly now. They cant tire me out so quick as that comes to. But it was awful hot that day and in the middle of town it was as hot as a bake oven and it was so dusty, what made it worse and no ere stering? what ever. … [talks about getting a newspaper, etc.] …

We are camp near the river now. I would like to go and see the forty-fourth when I get time. … Dear Father and Mother, you dont need to troble you selfe a bout me for I am well and I like soldier life very well as long as I keep well. But it is miserble plase for sick folks. … John Shuman

Source: eBay auction February 2011

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John Shuman, 88th Indiana Volunteers – September 25, 1862

Sept. 25, 1862. Louisville, Kentucky

Dear father,

I once more take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well and hope that these few lines will find you all the same. I will let you know that the rest of the boys is all well and in good spirits. I will let you know we had another march. We left our camp and
went about ten miles and there we was one day and a night and then we were called back to Louisville. They are expecting a fight hear [i.e. here] before long. The soldiers is coming in here every day. They say Buels [Don Carlos Buell?] army is coming in here today. Buel [Buell] is in town now but his army is coming in here today. They got som [i.e. some] entrenchments dug around Louisville and the other day we was called out in our entrenchment and we was their [i.s. there] till three o clock and then we was called out on picket guard and we came in here last night and then our reg was called out on picket guard except our company, and they havt came back yet.

We are in camp right by our entrenchment, about three rods from them. You ought to see the corn wasted. We help tramp down about 10 akers [i.s. acres] in five mimits [i.e. minutes] the other day and some of best kind of corn we have got. Lots of sweat [i.e. sweet] potato hear – the largest kind. That is all they rais in this country. That and corn. I havt seen no wheat since I left Indiana. I think that their is not much danger of a fight hear. Their is to [i.e. too] many troops coming in here. One of thr artiley is out drilling this morning. It looks nice to see them drill. They have got all brass pieces, they kept bright – as they can keep them. I would like to hear wither they are drafting their or not. I got a letter from Bill Culver last night … [various names, letter-writing, etc] … we may leave here , no telling when we will leave … John Shuman

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4th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) letters published in the Louisville Anzeiger, March 15,, 1864

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LOUISVILLE ANZEIGER

March 15, 1864

Friend Doern:

Baton Rouge, La., 28 Feb.

On Wednesday the 17th I arrived here and enjoyed finding the regiment as healthy and cheerful as ever. The 22nd and 7th Kentucky and two New York regiments, as well as several batteries are stationed here. You noted several weeks ago, that the 22nd Regiment had mustered in again [veteranized] and will soon come to Louisville on 30 days leave. We do not know anything here about this.

Baton Rouge is a rather lively place, a pretty state house is located here – the inside has been burned out, one has the idea that it will be rebuilt again. The institution for the blind is being used as a hospital. Also I must tell you that in the state election that took place on February 22nd, a German by the name of Michael Hahn was elected as governor.

Charles Gütig

Source: http://kygermanscw.yolasite.com/letters.php


The Louisville Anzeiger, a German American newspaper, and translated into English by Joseph R. Reinhart.

Kentucky Digital Library – http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7n2z12p13g/guide

4th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) letters published in the Louisville Anzeiger, July 22, 1862

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July 22, 1862

An officer of the 4th Ky. Cav. Reg. writes [that] the news that they had been in the fight at Murfreesboro is based on an error. The First squadron itself, Companies A and C departed for Lebanon on Friday morning before the battle, and on Sunday around midnight all troops located at Lebanon departed for Nashville. Companies of the 7th Penns. Cav. Reg. stay in Murfreesboro.


The Louisville Anzeiger, a German American newspaper, and translated into English by Joseph R. Reinhart.

Kentucky Digital Library – http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7n2z12p13g/guide

4th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) letters published in the Louisville Anzeiger, October 25, 1862

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October 25, 1862

Capt. Ruckstuhl received a large part of the horses for his squadron yesterday. Mr. Ruckstuhl still needs a few men for his second company, and young people who prefer the cavalry service to the others, refer to his notice.


The Louisville Anzeiger, a German American newspaper, and translated into English by Joseph R. Reinhart.

Kentucky Digital Library – http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7n2z12p13g/guide

4th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) letters published in the Louisville Anzeiger, July 16, 1862

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July 16, 1862

Camp Mihalotzy,
near Battle Creek, Tenn., 7 July 1862

Dear Worthy Editor:

Because I assume that you as journalists like news about military movements, and accept and are especially interested in Kentucky troops, allow me to inform you in this regard, and especially the German squadron of the 4th Cavalry Regiment stationed here. I am especially sorry that the subject today is in no way pleasant and will cause many hearts severe pain.

On Sunday morning about 8 o’clock a patrol left, consisting of 6 privates and a corporal from Company E, Capt. Schäfer; seven privates and a sergeant from Company E, Capt Blum; and five privates from Company F, Capt. Church; under command of Second Lieutenant Church; the camp with the order to carry out a reconnaissance toward Jasper (our earlier camp) and about seven miles from here. The way followed was the incomplete railroad leading to Jasper, which for most of the way led through woods and thick undergrowth and from eight to ten feet above the usual surface, As is customary with all reconnaissances, and especially here because the closeness of the enemy, who lay just opposite us and are separated from us by just the Tennessee River. Lt. Churc sent an advance guard of three men, including Sergeant Philipp Altenburger of Company G, about fifty yards in advance while the rear guard followed slowly with rifles and carbines ready to fire. Not quite four miles from here beams (crossties) are thrown all over for perhaps a stretch of 100 feet, so it’s totally blocked, and is difficult and most dangerous for horses and riders.


The Louisville Anzeiger, a German American newspaper, and translated into English by Joseph R. Reinhart.

Kentucky Digital Library – http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7n2z12p13g/guide

4th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) letters published in the Louisville Anzeiger, June 24, 1862

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June 24, 1862

We extract from a letter to us from Capt. Henry A. Schaeffer from the 4th Kentucky Cavalry regiment dated Camp Wardrace [Wartrace], June 20, that the detachment now under his command is stationed in Jasper, Tennessee, 200 miles from Camp Wardrace [Wartrace], under the command of Capt. Blume, until he returns again. The men are well and in good spirits. Their patrol that was supposed to last 10 days has lasted three weeks. They went through a lot of severe strain, and officers like the soldiers made their camp in the open without shelter, because they were in a hurry and could not take their tents with them. The saddle blankets were their beds and their saddles were their pillows. The rumor of their being captured or slaughtered is entirely without basis, because they also have not been in danger once, with the exception of one time on the way to Chattanooga, where they had to travel narrow paths. Capt. Schaeffer spoke gloriously about Lt. Henry Walter, who in command of the advance guard captured a number of Rebel cavalry between Jasper and Chattanooga; as well, he expressed praise over the fitness for duty of Capt. Blume. Further, he confirmed the death of the soldier Henry Burg from Louisville [and] from the Hecker Regiment. He was killed by the explosion of a bomb during the bombardment of Chattanooga, as the regiment left the skirmish field, also five others were wounded at some time or other.


The Louisville Anzeiger, a German American newspaper, and translated into English by Joseph R. Reinhart.

Kentucky Digital Library – http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7n2z12p13g/guide

4th Kentucky Cavalry (U.S.) letters published in the Louisville Anzeiger, June 17, 1862

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June 17, 1862

Lt. Hooker of the company of the 4th Kentucky Cav. Reg. to which the deceased John Collins from here belonged, writes in reference to his death.

The young Collins received permission to set out with a detachment of 40 men on a patrol. It went to McMinnville, where they took 8 to 10 persons prisoner. On their return they pitched camp around 11 o’clock at night and stayed in it until breakfast. While they ate, a superior number of Rebels approached and asked them to surrender; Collins did not want to surrender, pulled his revolver and fired six shots, after he saw all was in vain, he threw his weapon down and asked for pardon; the answer was a deadly shot from a cavalryman, who rode within ten paces of him. Lt. Hooker remarks that only two men from the company were killed and not eight, as reported.


The Louisville Anzeiger, a German American newspaper, and translated into English by Joseph R. Reinhart.

Kentucky Digital Library – http://kdl.kyvl.org/catalog/xt7n2z12p13g/guide