[WARNING: This column is for adults only and not for politically correct liberal Democrats afraid of accurate reports of the actual goings on of human beings on Planet Earth.]
One Hundred and Fifty years ago tomorrow, the sight of Old Glory being raised on the parapet of Confederate Georgia’s Fort McAllister prompted Union General William Tecumseh Sherman to use an exclamation of joy he first heard expressed by a slave at the Cobb Plantation ten miles outside of Milledgeville when the slave realized who Sherman was and what his arrival meant for his future dreams of freedom from slavery.
First, a recap of what has transpired since the historic 300-mile March from a conquered and vanquished Atlanta to Savannah began on November 15, 1864. Union forces were mostly successful with feints toward Augusta to prevent Confederate forces and the Georgia militia from combining to thwart the Union’s audacious live-off-the-land-of-the-enemy trek. Yes, there had been not insignificant battles in Georgia at Griswoldsville; outside Macon; Buck Head Creek, near Louisville; and Waynesboro outside Millen; with a related battle at Honey Hill in Jasper County, South Carolina.
But Union army casualties were light with the unusually cold and wet weather causing more significant delays that enemy attacks. The September 2nd Fall of Atlanta had secured the November re-election of a President Abraham Lincoln intent upon securing states united from sea to shining to sea and the capture of Savannah on December 21st would break the back of the Confederacy thus assuring the eventual surrender of their General Robert E. Lee to Union General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1985.
Now back to Sherman, referred to as “Uncle Billy” and the influence slaves he met during the March had on him. Sherman was personally escorted throughout by the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, constituted entirely of native Southerners who had remained loyal to the United States and its Constitution. Sherman was intimately familiar with Southerners due to his military service prior to the War Between the States and had been the head of what would become LSU when Louisiana seceded and took federal property there via an erstwhile bloodless coup months before shots were fired upon Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Sherman was enraged that Southerners would resort to what he considered anarchy against so prosperous a union. He was not an abolitionist and, while he harbored no ill will against Blacks, he defied orders from Grant and Lincoln to employ any Black regiments in either the Atlanta Campaign or the March to the Sea, preferring to trust those soldiers he knew.
But immediately upon departing Atlanta, his encounters with slaves at plantations abandoned by owners, either elsewhere fighting for the Confederacy or having fled rather than fight Sherman for their land, began to soften his view of their competence and to change his attitude and habits for the rest of his life.
Sherman’s and other Union armies had been having serious problems with slaves they had liberated following their armies as stragglers and while there were periodic problems even on the March to the Sea, Sherman gave credit in his memoirs to “an old, gray-haired man, of as fine a head as I ever saw”(and that called him an “angel of the Lord”) on such an abandoned farm near Covington, with helping to minimize the straggler problem by sending word throughout the Georgia Slave Grapevine to Savannah, ahead of his troops.
Sherman asked the old slave if he and all the slaves comprehended the fact that his army’s success was to be their freedom. The old slave answered yes and assured him that stragglers would not be a significant problem, but would Sherman allow young health negro men to follow and fight. Sherman agreed and always gave the old slave credit for assuring that his army never starved for having to share foraged food with stragglers.
Further down the road at the plantation of CSA Gen. Howell Cobb near the then-state capitol of Milledgeville, on November 21st, Sherman encountered an excited young slave man who insisted upon proof that Sherman was indeed,Sherman. It turns out that he had been fooled once before by some Confederate troops who beat him after he was friendly to them thinking they were Yankees.
Sherman told the young man to look outside and then tell him if he was, indeed, Sherman. Seeing all the miles of well-organized camps and camp-fires, the young man did so and came back grinning from ear to ear declaring over and over:
“Dis nigger cain’t sleep dis night!”
Now, three weeks later as Uncle Billy, much like Francis Scott Key at Baltimore gazing upon a Star-Spangled Banner atop Fort McHenry, sees the Stars and Stripes yet wave on the only Fort standing between him and Savannah, but rather than write a poem destined for national anthem status, he remembers the happy soon-to-be-former-slave he had liberated near Covington and himself declares:
“This nigger will have no sleep this night!”
Uncle Billy would use that phrase on joyous occasions for the rest of this life.
While a teen in S.C. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I banned the use of the n-word in my car and have never been moved to tears by its use in hip hop/rap songs. But when I think of the miracle of America at joyous times in the future, this nigger won’t sleep those nights either!
God bless America.
“What our forefathers with so much difficulty secured, do not basely relinquish.” – William Bradford