Lincoln’s Goal, Weitzel’s Fear
Lincoln’s goal in emancipating slaves who would flock to the Northern invader was the same as Royal Governor Lord Dunmore in 1775, and British Admiral Cochrane in 1812: to incite race war and the massacre of the South’s white population. General Weitzel (below) was no doubt thinking of the fate of white citizens and French troops in the Haitian slave rebellion of the mid-1790’s.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Lincoln’s Goal, Weitzel’s Fear:
“Maintaining discipline among the black recruits, who had been in the army for only a few weeks, was a matter of concern. Although some members of the Native Guards had engaged in petty theft while in New Orleans, stealing oranges, chickens, and the like, now they were accused of much worse behavior. An officer in a New Hampshire regiment stationed at Thibodaux reported that “there are endless complaints of burnings, stealing, ravishing and lesser crimes” committed by soldiers from the 1st Regiment. “It is thought that Gen. Banks will have to disband them or put them under iron rule,” he wrote, “or to garrison the black troops at some fort far away from civilization.” Soldiers from the 2nd Regiment were accused of plundering the countryside and entering homes to steal jewelry and other valuables in the parish of St. John the Baptist.
The Union commander in the area was Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, a young West Point graduate from Cincinnati and son of German immigrants. Weitzel did not like having black troops under his command. “I cannot command those negro regiments,” he informed [General Benjamin] Butler. “The commanding general knows well my private opinions on this subject.” Weitzel was convinced that the presence of armed blacks would incite a slave uprising in the territory he occupied.
[Weitzel wrote:] “Since the arrival of the negro regiments symptoms of servile insurrection are becoming apparent. I could not, without breaking my brigade all up, put a force in every part of the district to keep down such an insurrection….I have no confidence in the organization. Its moral effect on this community, which is stripped of nearly all able-bodied men and will be stripped of a great many of its arms, is terrible. Women and children, and even men are in terror. It is heart-rending, and I cannot make myself responsible for it. I will go anywhere with my own brigade that you see fit to order me, but I beg you therefore to keep the negro brigade directly under your command or place some one over both mine and it.”
(Louisiana Native Guards, James G. Hollandsworth, Jr., LSU Press, 1995, pp. 36-38)