Sacred Soil: Virginia in the Summer of 1862


Written in the opening phase of the Peninsula Campaign, during the Union’s month-long siege of Yorktown, this letter is one of the 101 missives written over the course of the war by Virginian Thomas Henry Carter (1831–1908), an artillery captain in Lee’s army, to his wife, Susan Roy Carter. Before the war, Thomas Carter managed his family’s vast plantation, Pampatike, in King William County, which was worked by more than one hundred slaves; his family also owned a cotton plantation in Louisiana. King William County, in the heavily slaveholding Tidewater region, was a hotbed of secessionism, and Carter rushed to enlist in the Confederate army in the spring of 1861 and to form an artillery battery. His letters displayed both his deep ideological commitment to the Confederate cause and his frustration with aspects of soldiering and the Confederate war effort.

Near Yorktown
April 21st 1862

My precious Wife,
I have written twice since my arrival here but I fear from the irregularity of the mails they will be delayed on the route. I have received one from you through Rodes. I know you have written oftener but the letters have been delayed. We are still near Yorktown expecting a battle hourly. If the enemy bring up a fleet & plant a siege train in the woods on our front I have no idea that Yorktown will stand. It is impossible. We know that the best forts of masonry have fallen by dint of heavy firing & the resources of the enemy in this respect are boundless. By land we can whip them I think.

I do not know what to advise in regard to the servants at Pampatike. I believe half or three fourths of them will leave when the Yankees approach in foraging & marauding parties. Still I do not believe they (the Yankees) can reach Richmond but as soon as they get Yorktown they have possession of York River & our country will be open to marauders. The Army of course would not molest us as there is nothing they want except forage & our negroes which by the way is a great deal. My opinion is that the enemy are so close to our last line (Yorktown which is in short range of their field & siege Artillery) that in order to hold it we ought to attack them & drive them back & occupy a line a mile or two in front, cleaning away the woods which have afforded entire protection thus far to all their machinations. Such engineering the world never saw [—]to leave a wood which conceals their movements while we are in full view with naked eye. The plan would seem to be when the bombardment begins Johnston should attack on our right & break up their devilish arrangements. Our fortifications with a few exceptions are flimsy enough. I am having bombproofs made for the cannoneers which will be some protection. The parapet is so low that I would prefer fighting on the field where[,] by changing the position of our guns every few minutes by hand[,] the range of the enemy’s guns is broken & ravines & hollows can be used for the caissons. Johnston’s whole army[,] except Ewell’s Division an three Cavalry Regts[,] is here. Magruder commands the right, Longstreet the center & Hill the left, & G. W. Smith the reserve. Stuart’s Cavalry is here. Johnston commands the whole, & the military & naval operations of Norfolk & the Peninsula. Julian[,] Wm Newton[,] Wms Wickham[,] Col. Pendleton’s Artillery[,] Washington’s Artillery all here—a force between fifty & sixty thousand. There has been some dissatisfaction among the troops relative to the Conscription act. Some wish to leave now in the presence of the enemy, showing how little can be trusted to the dear people. Thirty nine of Pryor’s Regt. Asked for a discharge to join another Regt. Near Portsmouth, in which they had re-enlisted. They were put to work in the trenches under guard. If there is much more difficulty in this matter Johnston will make an example—shooting a few. If the Conscription act had not been passed so soon we should ave been ruined. Whole regiments would have left in the midst of a battle, Men will not stand this work except by compulsion or from principle[,] Demagogarism to the contrary. Whole Divisions are lying in the trenches day & night[,] in fair & foul weather[,] without cover. If the men who bring on war had to fight as privates there would never be another.

I sent my horse by Wm Edwards. Please get my watch from Mr. Fontaine. I shall not require the saddle bags. To my watch was attached my class ring. God bless you my own darling. My heart overflows with affection for you. Embrace my sweetest little children.

Ever y[ou]r own husband


  1. What does Carter reveal about the living conditions and morale and prospects of Confederate troops?
  2. To what does he attribute slave flight?



Even as the Confederate authorities took measures, such as deportation and property seizure, to crack down on Unionism in the Confederate capital, Confederate opinion makers closed ranks to preempt Northern appeals to the Southern masses and discredit visions of a restored Union. This editorial was written at a time of high anxiety in the rebel capital, on the eve of the battle of Seven Pines, with George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac bearing down on Richmond and its outnumbered Confederate forces.

Unionism in the South.

Our enemies are beginning to discover that the old Union in the South is a ghost, of which a glimpse can scarcely be obtained even in dreams. Some of them are honest enough to admit that all reverence for the Union in the South has disappeared. How could it be otherwise? When the cause of Liberty has received the baptism of blood, it is thenceforth a new creature; “old things have passed away—all things have become new.” We were struck with the remarks of an eloquent divine, that it is as true of such a cause as ours as it is of religion, that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.”—Up to the hour when every family in the land was called upon to lay some firstling of the flock, or some pet lamb, upon the altar of this war, it might have been possible that the South would again have relapsed into its old associations, but after that solemn sacrifice, never. The hands of these men are in the blood of our kindred and friends. They may conquer us; the yoke may be fastened upon our necks, but that is the only kind of Union that is henceforth possible. Union with them, a voluntary Union, would be indeed a covenant with Death and a league with Hell. It would be a degradation by our own hands, such degradation as the world has never seen, and which, of all people in the world, the people of the South are the least likely to perpetuate.

We can bear their yoke—if it be necessary—and wait and hope through centuries for deliverance, we can bear, if they choose to inflict it, the loss of property and life, of friends and brethren. We can wander impoverished among our own possessions, strangers in our own land; we can worship God in the rocks and woods; we can be thrust aside from every vocation of life by our invaders and conquerors; we can bear all these, and every other human ill; except a voluntary national companionship again with them! That will never be. The atonement of blood has been consummated, and we are born again. There is scarcely a family in our land which has not been clothed in mourning by these Restorationists of the Union. Can they restore the dead that cover our plains and hillsides? Can their incantations to the Union stir those brave hearts that the grass is growing over? Can their shout of Union bring back the union of the wife with her dead husband, of the mother with her noble son, or the sister with her cherished brother? When they can restore that union, then they can talk of bringing back the other but not till then.


  1. How does this editorial mobilize religious imagery and gendered language to stoke Confederate nationalism?
  2. How might Unionists such as Elizabeth Van Lew have countered such Confederate propaganda and depicted the status of Unionists in the South?



Born in England, Katharine Prescott Wormeley emigrated to the United States as a young girl and settled with her family in Newport, Rhode Island. At the outset of the Civil War, she formed a local female relief society that provided shirts to Union soldiers; like so many other women who sought a more active role, she then joined the hospital transport service of the US Sanitary Commission, working as a nurse and penning a series of letters during the Peninsula Campaign, which were later published, in 1889, as a book entitled The Other Side of War with the Army of the Potomac. Wormeley was also a noted linguist and translator.

“Wilson Small,” June 5.

Dear Mother,—I finished my last letter (to A., I believe) on the afternoon of the day when we took eighty men on the “Small,” and transferred them to the “Webster.”

We had just washed and dressed, and were writing letters, when Captain Sawtelle came on board to say that several hundred wounded men were lying at the landing; that the “Daniel Webster No. 2” had been taken possession of by the medical officers, and was already half full of men, and that the surplus was being carried across her to the “Vanderbilt,” that the confusion was terrible; that there were no stores on board the “Daniel Webster No. 2” (she having been seized the moment she reached the landing on her return from Yorktown, without communicating with the Commission), nor were there any stores or preparations, not even mattresses, on board the “Vanderbilt.”

Of course the best in our power had to be done. Mrs. Griffin and I begged Mr. Olmsted not to refrain from sending us, merely because we had been up all night. He said he wouldn’t send us, but if we chose to offer our services to the United States surgeon, he thought it would be merciful. Our offer was seized. We went on board; and such a scene as we entered and lived in for two days I trust never to see again. Men in every condition of horror, shattered and shrieking, were being brought in on stretchers borne by “contrabands,” who dumped them anywhere, banged the stretchers against pillars and posts, and walked over the men without compassion. There was no one to direct what ward or what bed they were to go into. Men shattered in the thigh, and even cases of amputation, were shovelled into top berths without thought or mercy. The men had mostly been without food for three days, but there was nothing on board either boat for them; and if there had been, the cooks were only engaged to cook for the ship, and not for the hospital.

We began to do what we could. The first thing wanted by wounded men is something to drink (with the sick, stimulants are the first thing). Fortunately we had plenty of lemons, ice, and sherry on board the “Small,” and these were available at once. Dr. Ware discovered a barrel of molasses, which, with vinegar, ice, and water, made a most refreshing drink. After that we gave them crackers and milk, or tea and bread. It was hopeless to try to get them into bed; indeed, there were no mattresses on the “Vanderbilt.” All we could do at first was to try to calm the confusion, to stop some agony, to revive the fainting lives, to snatch, if possible, from immediate death with food and stimulants. Imagine a great river or Sound steamer filled on every deck,—every berth and every square inch of room covered with wounded men; even the stairs and gangways and guards filled with those who are less badly wounded; and then imagine fifty well men, on every kind of errand, rushing to and fro over them, every touch bringing agony to the poor fellows, while stretcher after stretcher came along, hoping to find an empty place; and then imagine what it was to keep calm ourselves, and make sure that every man on both those boats was properly refreshed and fed. We got through about 1 a.m., Mrs. M. and Georgy having come off other duty and reinforced us.

We were sitting for a few moments, resting and talking it over, and bitterly asking why a Government so lavish and perfect in its other arrangements should leave its wounded almost literally to take care of themselves, when a message came that one hundred and fifty men were just arriving by the cars. It was raining in torrents, and both boats were full. We went on shore again: the same scene repeated. The wretched “Vanderbilt” was slipped out, the “Kennebec” brought up, and the hundred and fifty men carried across the “Daniel Webster No. 2” to her, with the exception of some fearfully wounded ones, who could not be touched in the darkness and rain, and were therefore made as comfortable as they could be in the cars. We gave refreshment and food to all; Miss Whetten and a detail of young men from the “Spaulding” coming up in time to assist, and the officers of the “Sebago,” who had seen how hard pressed we were in the afternoon, volunteering for the night watch. Add to this sundry Members of Congress, who, if they talked much, at least worked well. One of them, the Hon. Moses F. Odell, proposed to Mr. Olmsted that on his return to Washington he should move that the thanks of Congress be returned to us! Mr. Olmsted, mindful of our feelings, promptly declined.

We went to bed at daylight with breakfast on our minds, and at six o’clock we were all on board the “Daniel Webster No. 2,” and the breakfast of six hundred men was got through with in good time. Captain Sawtelle kindly sent us a large wall-tent, twelve caldrons and camp-kettles, two cooks, and a detail of six men. The tent was put up at once; Dr. Ware giving to its preparation the only hour when he might have rested during that long nightmare. We began to use it that (Tuesday) morning. It is filled with our stores; there we have cooked not only the sick-food, but all the food needed on the Government boats. It was hard to get it in sufficient quantity; but when everything else gave out, we broke up “hard-tack” into buckets full of hot milk and water a little sweetened,—“bread and milk” the men called it. Oh, that precious condensed milk, more precious to us at that moment than beef essence!

Tuesday was very much a repetition of Monday night.…

… All yesterday (Wednesday), after the early morning, things went better. Our tent-kitchen worked to a charm. Dinner was well through by 2 p.m., and we had time to look after the men individually, and to make preparations for two hundred more, who were expected by the railway at 4 p.m. They did not come, however, till 1 a.m. While my letter has been in progress (with countless interruptions) Mrs. Griffin and Mr. Woolsey have come in to report that the two Government boats, the “Louisiana” and “State of Maine” (which have taken the place at the landing of the “Vanderbilt” and the “Daniel Webster No. 2”), are in good order, have excellent hospital stewards; that the Commission has supplied them with ample stores; and that the two hundred men who came down this morning have gone quietly on board the “State of Maine” and are comfortable. I hope, I pray, the worst is over.

About nine hundred wounded remain to be brought down. Mr. Olmsted says our boats have transported one thousand seven hundred and fifty-six since Sunday; the Government and Pennsylvanian boats together about three thousand. Mr. Clement Barclay was with us on Monday night on the “Vanderbilt.” I believe he went with her to Fortress Monroe. He was working hard, with the deepest interest and skill. I went with him to attend to a little “Secesh” boy, wounded in the thigh; also to a Southern colonel, a splendid-looking man, who died, saying to Mr. Barclay, with raised hand: “Write to my wife and tell her I die penitent for the part I have taken in this war.” I try to be just and kind to the Southern men. One of our men stopped me, saying: “He’s a rebel; give that to me.” I said, “But a wounded man is our brother!” (rather an obvious sentiment, if there is anything in Christianity); and they both touched their caps. The Southerners are constantly expressing surprise at one thing or another, and they are shy, but not surly, at receiving kindness. Our men are a noble set of fellows, so cheerful, uncomplaining, and generous.

Remember that in all that I have written, I have told you only about ourselves,—the women. What the gentlemen have been, those of our party, those of the “Spaulding” and of the other vessels, is beyond my power to relate. Some of them fainted from time to time.

Several regiments have come up yesterday and to-day as reinforcements. Their bands are gay, and the trim look of the men almost amusing. The Southerners wear no uniforms, and are the shabbiest set of fellows. Short gray spencers, and trousers of any color or no color, are the nearest approach to regimentals that I have seen.

Last night, shining over blood and agony, I saw a lunar rainbow; and in the afternoon a peculiarly beautiful effect of rainbow and stormy sunset,—it flashed upon my eyes as I passed an operating-table, and raised them to avoid seeing anything as I passed.


  1. What does Wormeley’s diary reveal about the degree of medical preparedness on the Union side and about its responses to the escalating bloodshed?
  2. How can one compare and contrast her depictions of Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, and “contraband” fugitive slaves?



This address by Confederate Major General James Longstreet to the men of his division, promulgated during the Peninsula Campaign prior to the Seven Days battles, sought to rally Southerners to the defense of Richmond against McClellan’s advancing Army of the Potomac. The speech was printed approvingly in the Richmond Daily Dispatch and other Confederate newspapers; one Charleston, South Carolina, paper noted that “without doubt this calm and patriotic address, written by a genuine solider, will have a desired effect.” Northern papers reprinted the address, too, as evidence of the sway of proslavery elites over the masses. Longstreet’s effectiveness as a commander would go on to earn him a reputation as Lee’s “war horse” and right-hand man, along with promotion, in the fall of 1862, to the rank of lieutenant general and command of the First Corps of the reorganized Army of Northern Virginia.

Army before Richmond, June 17th, 1862.

You have marched out to fight the battles of your country, and by those battles must you be rescued from the shame of slavery. Your foes have declared their purpose of bringing you to beggary and avarice their national characteristic, recites them to redoubled efforts for the conquest of the South, in order that they may seize her sunny fields and happy homes. Already has the hatred of one of their great leaders attempted to make the negro your equal by declaring his freedom, they care not for the blood of babes, nor carnage of innocent women, which servile insurrection thus stirred up may bring upon their heads.—Worse than this, the North has sent forth another infamous chief, encouraging the lust of his hirelings to the dishonor and violation of those Southern women who have so untiringly labored to clothe our soldiers in the field, and nurse our sick and wounded. If ever men were called upon to defend the beloved daughters of their country, that now is our duty. Let such thoughts nerve you up to the most dreadful shock of battle; for were it certain death, death would be better than the fate that defeat would entail upon us all. But, remember, though the fiery noise of battle is indeed most terrifying, and seems to threaten universal ruin, it is not so destructive as it seems, and few soldiers, after all, are slain. This the Commanding General desires particularly to impress upon the fresh and inexperienced troops who now constitute a part of this command. Let officers and men, even under the most formidable fire, preserve a quiet demeanor and self-possessed temper. Keep cool, obey orders, and aim low. Remember while you are doing this, and driving the enemy before you, your comrades may be relied on to support you on either side, and are in turn relying upon you. Stand well to your duty, and when these clouds break away, as they surely will, the bright sunlight of peace, falling upon our free, virtuous, and happy land, will be a sufficient reward for the sacrifices which we are now called upon to make.

Major-General Commanding.


  1. Longstreet alludes to Union General John Frémont’s Missouri emancipation edict of August 30, 1861, but not to Lincoln’s revocation of that order. Why does Longstreet emphasize one but not the other?
  2. What does this address reveal about Civil War combat, notions of courage, and the role of commanders in motivating the rank and file?



In August 1862, President Lincoln faced increasing pressure over the fate of slavery in the United States. His attempts to convince border slave states to adopt gradual emancipation had been rebuffed, and Lincoln had written a draft of an emancipation proclamation that he meant to publicize as soon as Union forces won another victory. While this draft remained a secret, Radical Republicans and other prominent abolitionists publicly critiqued Lincoln for not acting aggressively enough against slaveholders. On August 20, Horace Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune, published an open letter to Lincoln titled “The Prayer of 20 Millions,” accusing Lincoln of unnecessarily prolonging the war by being insufficiently ruthless to slaveholders. Lincoln wrote his own public letter in response, showing himself to be willing to abolish slavery, but reasserting that the preservation of the Union remained the paramount goal.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, August 22, 1862.
Hon. Horace Greeley:

Dear Sir.
I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

A. Lincoln.


  1. Why does Lincoln differentiate between his “view of [his] official duty” and his “personal wish” for all men to be free?
  2. Many historians argue that Lincoln’s letter is an effort to prepare public opinion for his emancipation proclamation by arguing emancipation could be a tool to preserve the Union, but others detect an uncertain attitude toward the future of black Americans in the United States and an ambiguous attitude about immediate emancipation. What evidence for each interpretation can you find in this letter?



At the time he wrote this appeal, Robert Purvis (1810–1898) had already had a long career as an antislavery activist in Philadelphia. The son of a free black woman and a British immigrant cotton merchant, Purvis was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and moved with his family to Philadelphia at age nine. He headed Philadelphia’s Vigilance Committee, which aided fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad; was an outspoken critic of colonization and of Pennsylvania’s 1838 disfranchisement of blacks; and gained renown as an orator for the black convention movement and the American Anti-Slavery Society. During the war, Purvis tenaciously lobbied Lincoln and his administration to make emancipation a formal war aim. In this published appeal, addressed to Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas, whom Lincoln had appointed to promote colonization of ex-slaves in Central America, Purvis lays out African Americans’ objections to such a deportation scheme.

BYEBERRY, Philadelphia, August 28, 1862
Hon. S. C. Pomeroy, Government Colonization Agent

SIR,—I have read with deep and painful interest your address to the “Free Colored People of the United States,” and, as a “colored” man, beg the privilege of saying a few words in reply.

Forty-five years ago, an overture similar to that contained in your address came to the colored people from the city of Washington. That proposed Western Africa as the happy place where they were to be colonized— this proposes Central America. On the receipt of that proposition, a public meeting of the colored people of Philadelphia was called, with a view of expressing their opinions of it. It was held in Bethel Church, in the month of January, 1817, and my honored father-in-law, the late James Forten, was its chairman. It adopted a series of resolutions, the first and last of which were as follows:—

“Resolved, That as our ancestors (not of choice) were the first successful cultivators of the wilds of America, we, their descendants, feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil which their blood and sweat enriched, and that any measure, or system of measures, having a tendency to banish us from her bosom, would not only be cruel, but in direct violation of those principles which have been the boast of this Republic.

Resolved, That having the strongest confidence in the Justice of God and philanthropy of the free States, we cheerfully submit our destinies to the guidance of Him who suffers not a sparrow to fall without his special providence.”

Senator Pomeroy, these were the sentiments of the colored people of Philadelphia, and of the whole land, in 1817; they have been their sentiments ever since, and they will be found to be their sentiments now. Exceptions there may have been, and may be again. I speak of the whole, not of a fraction.

Sir, for more than Twenty years the question of Colonization agitated and divided this country. The colored people stamped it with the seal of their reprobation; the whites acquiesced in the justice of their decision, and the vexed and vexing question was put to rest. Now it is revived. The apple of discord is again thrown into the community; and as though you had not already enough to divide and distract you, a new scheme is hit upon, and deliberately sent upon its errand of mischief.

There are some aspects of this project which surely its advocates cannot have duly considered. You propose to exile hundreds of thousands of your laborers. The wealth of a country consists mainly in its labor. With what law of economy, political or social, can you reconcile this project to banish from your shores the men that plough your fields, drive your teams, and help build your houses? Already the farmers around me begin to feel the pinching want of labor; how will it be after this enormous draft? I confess, the project seems to me one of insanity. What will foreign nations, on whose good or ill will so much is supposed now to depend, think of this project? These nations have none of this vulgar prejudice against complexion. What, then, will they think of the wisdom of a people who, to gratify a low-born prejudice, will deliberately plan to drive out hundreds of thousands of its most peaceable, industrious, and competent laborers?

… But it is said this is a question of prejudice, of national antipathy, and not to be reasoned about, The President has said, “whether it is right or wrong I need not now discuss.”

Great God! Is justice nothing? Is honor nothing? Is even pecuniary interest to be sacrificed to this insane and vulgar hate? But it is said this is the “white man’s country.” Not so, sir. This is the red man’s country, by natural right, and the black man’s, by virtue of his sufferings and toil. Your fathers by violence drove the red man out, and forced the black man in. The children of the black man have enriched the soil by their tears, and sweat, and blood. Sir, we were born here, and here we choose to remain. For twenty years we were goaded and harassed by systematic efforts to make us colonize. We were coaxed and mobbed, and mobbed and coaxed, but we refused to budge. We planted ourselves upon our inalienable rights, and were proof against all the efforts that were made to expatriate us.

For the last fifteen years, we have enjoyed comparative quiet. Now again the malign project is broached, and again in the name of humanity, as before, are we invited to leave?

In God’s name, what good do you expect to accomplish by such a course? If you will not let our brethren in bonds go free—if you will not let us, as did our fathers, share in the privileges of the Government—if you will not let us even help fight the battles of the country—In Heaven’s name, at least, let us alone. Is that too great a boon to ask of your Government? 

Sir, I have spoken with freedom, but not, I trust, with disrespect. If I have expressed myself with warmth, put yourself in my place, and ask if you would not do the same. Sir, my revered father, William Purvis, of Charleston, S.C., was a loyal citizen of this country, and a true patriot. He died leaving an escutcheon without a stain. My father-in-law, James Forten, served this country in the Revolution of 1776, and suffered as a captive of war on board the British prison ship Old Jersey. He, too, died without a blot upon his memory. I, myself, have paid the taxes and borne the burdens of the Government without being allowed to share in its privileges. Of this I don’t now complain. In bitterness of spirit, but with unwavering loyalty, I have been true to the country which has never ceased to injure me. I have hoped and labored for better things. I still hope and labor for better things, and don’t complain. But let us alone. I elect to stay on the soil on which I was born, and on the plot of ground I have fairly bought and honestly paid for. Don’t advise me to leave, and don’t add insult to injury by telling me it’s for my own good; of that I am to be the judge. It is vain that you talk to me about “two races” and their “mutual antagonism.” In the matter of rights there is but one race and that is the human race. “God has made of one blood all nations to dwell on the face of the earth.” And it is not true that there is a mutual antagonism between the white and colored people of this community. You may antagonize us, but we do not antagonize you. You may hate us, but we do not hate you. It may argue a want of spirit to cling to those who seek to banish us, but such is nevertheless the fact.

Sir, this is our country as much as it is yours, and we will not leave it. Your ships may be at the door, but we choose to remain. A few may go, as a few went to Hayti and a few to Liberia, but the colored people as a mass will not leave the land of their birth. Of course, I can only speak by authority for myself; but I know the people with whom I am identified, and I feel confident that I only express their sentiment as a body when I say that your project of colonizing them in Central America or anywhere else, with or without their consent, will never succeed. They will migrate as other people do, when left to themselves, and when motive is sufficient; but they will neither be “compelled to volunteer,” nor constrained to go of their “own accord.”

Your obedient servant,


  1. Purvis chooses to offer up a history lesson in this letter. What aspects of prewar black politics does he emphasize?
  2. Purvis also highlights his own family lineage. How does that strengthen his argument?


Source: Graham T. Dozier, ed., A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), pp. 118–120.
Copyright © 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permisison of the publisher.

Source: “Unionism in the South,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, May 30, 1862.

Source: Katharine Prescott Wormeley, The Other Side of War with the Army of the Potomac: Letters from the Headquarters of the United States Sanitary Commission during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia in 1862 (Boston: Ticknor, 1889), pp. 102–11.

Source: Richmond Daily Dispatch, June 23, 1862.

Source: Roy P. Basler, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Vol. 5, pp. 388–89.

Source: Robert Purvis, “The Colonization Question—An Argument against It,” The Liberator, Sept. 12, 1862.

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