Thursday, May 17, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt eight)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

While Grant and Butler conferred, they took time out to review a black brigade camped nearby. The subject of black soldiers still occupied Grant’s mind. On April 15, he learned of a horrifying cavalry raid conducted by Nathan Bedford Forrest against Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Tennessee. Forrest had slaughtered dozens of black soldiers after they surrendered, slashing and bludgeoning the wounded till they succumbed. “The Fort Pillow Massacre is one of the most brutal and horrible acts of fiendishness on record,” Rawlins reported to his wife. Grant reacted with outrage. “If men have been murdered after capture,” he warned Sherman, “retaliation must be resorted to promptly.” As proof of his foe’s inhumanity, Grant liked to quote the boastful dispatch Forrest filed after the episode: “The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards . . . It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”

Further proof of Grant’s continuing concern for black soldiers was his uncompromising stand on prisoner exchanges. The previous year, Jefferson Davis had announced his intention of either executing captured black soldiers of returning them to slavery. This double standard for black and white Union soldiers was intolerable to Grant. In negotiating prisoner exchanges, he told Butler no distinction should be made between “white and colored prisoners; the only question being, were they, at the time of their capture, in the military service of the United States.” To back up his point, Grant suspended prisoner exchanges with the Confederacy until black and white equality was established. Even though he didn’t believe they had attained the same proficiency as the most experienced white troops, Grant continued to insist that black soldiers should be employed as widely as possible. In laying out instructions for Banks’s expedition up the Red River, he had expressed hope that “a large number of [black] recruits of this class” would be used. Having conferred with Butler, Grant was ready, at last, to take on Lee.

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