From the Richmond Dispatch, 8/7/1868, p. 2, c. 5
General Howard – The Negroes.
RICHMOND, August 6, 1868.
Editors of the Daily Dispatch:
Gentlemen, - In connection with the clever and, I doubt not, truthful report of General O. O. Howard’s address at Ebenezer church in your paper of yesterday, and your just and pertinent editorial remarks on the same subject to-day, I desire to bring to your recollection and that of the public a matter that has been very seldom noticed in the newspapers: I mean the cruelties practiced upon the negroes in the year 1865 and subsequently by the officers and soldiers of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Such things were never before heard of at the South, and shocked the sensibilities of the whole community. At Chimborazo, near this city, negroes, besides cruel beatings, were made to walk round the place in barrel shirts and were suspended upon a cross. In some places they were made to straddle some kind of wooden horse, with immense weights attached to their feet, remaining in this position for hours. In one case, in the county of Fluvanna, the sufferer endured this penalty for as many as fourteen hours, and the weights, if I remember correctly, were over seventy pounds. These facts and many others can be proved by thousands of respectable witnesses. Hundred of people saw the poor colored man who, on a hot day in summer, was exposed in a painful position at the corner of Main and Twenty-fifth streets in this city. He was encased in his coffin, which, being placed upright, his head was made to project out of the top and his feet at the bottom, his arms being painfully confined. Molasses and flour were freely used upon that part of his skin which was exposed, so that the flies might torment him as much as possible, while he had no use of his hands to drive them away. He remained in this situation for a painful number of hours – I forget how many – it may have been nearly all day. His alleged offence was impudence to two soldiers in the street, who, on the other hand, it was asserted, had been rude to his wife. He was exposed to other severe and degrading punishments, and confined for some time in prison.
In the days of slavery, in the midst of which I was reared, no vice ever made a man more unpopular than cruelty to his negroes. It attached a stigma to his name which went down to his children and injured their reputation. I have known some who, though they possessed every other requisite to make them popular, and were useful men, and even professing Christians, could not, by all they could do as citizens and good neighbors, overcome the prejudice excited by the fact that they were in the habit of passionately beating, feeding scantily, or otherwise treating badly, their slaves. I never saw more indignation excited in my native county than was aroused against a citizen, and a wealthy one too, who, in the course of some cruelties, unintentionally, no doubt, put an end to the life of one of his negroes. No amount of money or legal ability could save him from the penitentiary, to which he was sent for so long a period as amounted for imprisonment for life, and where he ultimately died. Mrs. Stowe, in one of her books, avers that slavery extinguished every manly sentiment in the breast of the southern people – even a regard for helpless woman. There was never a more unfounded slander. Weakness even in the negro brought around him friends and defenders. The laws protected him.
If General Howard knew the southern people better, his course among us would perhaps be different. Some parts of his conduct have favorably impressed us, and if he had not been poisoned by the virus of fanaticism – if he had, in his office, acted out the genuine feelings of the Christian philanthropist, which I hope he is at bottom, rather than the feelings of the semi-political religionist and the pious partisan and propagandist of radicalism, he would have gathered around him the sympathies and cooperation of a noble people, and, with their aid, have achieved results of vast usefulness to the negro.
He and others are yet to learn that abolitionism is false and delusive philanthropy. In doctrine it has everywhere shown itself to be the handmaid of infidelity; for its most Christian advocates, like Newman Hall, openly proclaim their fellowship with men of all shades of religious belief, and of no faith at all, provided they are humanitarians or abolitionists. In its practical effect upon the condition of the negro it has in three years, in these United States, hurried a people downwards with a fearful rapidity to which history hardly affords a parallel. All the cruelties practiced by southern masters since New and Old England first gave us the slave cannot equal the physical suffering already caused by emancipation, to say nothing of the immense moral and religious depreciation of the race. It is sad to look at St. Domingo and our country and see these fruits from the poetry of the amiable Cowper and the active philanthropy of Wilberforce and others, who, with, in many cases, little of their truly Christian spirit, had perpetrated their errors. Good men have made a great mistake. The devil in the garb of an angel of light has scattered “firebrands, arrows, and death.” The Gospel as preached by our Saviour and His apostles would gradually have cured all social and national evils. But men were wise above what is written. The work to be done now is to repair the vast damages, rather than go on doing Satan’s work, and in the name of religion fanning the old embers of hate, and adding a war of races to the untold cruelties inflicted upon both black and white by this sudden and terrible stroke of freedom.