Vermont African Americans
Letters of Louden S. Langley
Before and during the Civil War
April 27, 1854
For the Green Mountain Freeman
Mr. Editor: - Having received the paper you sent me, though not till quite recently, owing to the unfrequency of my visits at Hinesburg, allow me now to say a few words to the public, through the columns of your paper, touching the prosperity of the Colonization Society.
I shall bear down against them without ceremony, nor does it require any. Sir, my attachments for a good policy towards all those whose color is identified with my own, will forever make me the antagonist of that Society. The small increase of the population of that Republic, by emigration from the United States, is alone enough to justify my last illusion. Even in a quarter of a century there have been sent out to that Republic only seven or eight thousand emigrants from the United States.
If the Society is actuated with such a love for my people, let men so interested, and every other, cease their efforts in behalf of that Society, (for their labor is in vain, so far as regards to the triumph of their policy,) and lend their influence in favor of giving us "liberty and equal rights" in the land of our birth. But they know very well that if colored people are equal with their "white fellow citizens" that their influence would be stronger for the immediate abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, (that is there tolerated, and with shame we may say it, before the very eyes of foreign ambassadors) as well as other places where Congress has a constitutional right to govern.
Mr. J. K. Converse, Secretary of the Society, in his report made in A.D. 1850, says that there were a few colored people in the vicinity of Burlington, whom he thought would go to the new Republic. Let me say to the Secretary that I am quite confident that no colored people in Burlington have gone or will ever go to Liberia. The majority of the emigrants from the United States are liberated slaves, who are compelled by the laws of free America to leave their native land; and even some of those, rather than go to that Republic, have been known to make their way north, under the pretense of going to Liberia after their arrival here.
The writer should warn all people whose color is identified with his own, to resist, with more than usual energy, the extraordinary efforts now made by the Colonizationists, inasmuch as they are founded on the most unjust prejudice against all the men of our race. What say you, Mr. Editor! Are you in favor of Colonization! If you are, my language is plain.
Hinesburg, Vt. L. Langley
(Appeared in GREEN MOUNTAIN FREEMEN)
February 8, 1855
For The Green Mountain Freeman
DESTINY OF CUBA
Mr. Editor: Allow me to relate, in the column of your paper, a story recently made to me by a gentleman named Phiseau. This gentleman was nineteen years a slave in the Island of Cuba, and came to this country in 1840. I am personally aquatinted with him, and his statement can be relied upon, as an authentic account of the exertions of the U. S. Cabinet to court Spain, so as to gain her good will relative to the Cuba question, that the destiny of that fair Isle is similar to that of Hayti.
He said his business was to go from the city of Havanna to his master's farm in the country every morning to take care of the cattle and horses as well as the other animals at that place, also to bring into the city at night a quantity of coffee. After his arrival at the farm one day, he was informed by a friend that a meeting among the slaves was that day secretly to take place. He took one of his master's horses and went to the meeting. He said that there two or three fellows present whom he suspected of being unfriendly to the cause, which prevented him from taking an active part in the affairs of the day. It was the unanimous voice of the meeting that they should designate some deserted part of the country, but in a convenient place, for digging either a great cellar or hole, for the purposes of secreting arms and gunpowder, and other utensils of war, preparatory to a rebellion. Each one that assisted in carrying arms to their magazine was, of course, instructed to convey them secretly, and without the knowledge of their most intimate friends. Unfortunately, for the meeting, the suspected persons, (slaves) to which I before alluded, proved fatal to their plans and preparations, and the plan which the meeting had advised to be adopted was prevented by the persons above mentioned; when, if permitted to succeed, all the Spanish power of arms, both in Europe and America, yea, and her allies too, could never have checked.
The above can, as I have before said, be relied upon as a fact, and an authentic account. Now I always entertained the conviction, even before the above fact was communicated to me, that the Island of Cuba - that Queen of the Antilles and brightest jewel in the Castilian crown, is just as much destined to be the development of the black race as that Hayti (Hay-te) should be governed by them. In spite of all that has been said or done, or that can be, by those pirate expeditions, and in spite of all the vigilance, united, of England, France and the United States, Cuba is destined to the descendants of the children of Africa, and when the sign comes right, it will pass into their hands, and the Southern States and Europe will find it best to hold their peace.
Suppose you, my readers, that an equivocal number of colored men, that is, as the Lopez expedition, should ever land on the shores of that fair Isle, how long do you think it would remain a dependency of Spain? I have given it as my opinion, that in less than two months the Island of Cuba would be in possession, and under the government, of those who they now hold in bondage, an institution of bondage, too, that half-civilized nations are becoming heartily ashamed of. Then away with that cruel prejudice against color, which the Whig and Democratic principles represented in the Baltimore platform, alone cultivate.
Now, in case a rebellion should ever happen among the slaves of Cuba, as I am quite confident there will, I presume there are many who will be influenced by prejudice to condemn both the actions and movements of the blacks, on the same ground that we condemn the actions of the Haytians, in regard to the seizure of property, and the immensity of the seizure. But let us look at the facts, and just consider that war is war, and that peace is peace, an that it was no worse, nor so bad, for the Haytians to seize the property of their masters, and drive them into exile, in time of war, than it was for the latter to claim both the body and service of the former, in time of peace. I am no advocate of war, I mean an unjust war; and as bad as I hate war, I hate tyrants and tyranny worse. Yes, I go further, and I say, that every nation has a God-given right to rebel against any laws, unjust laws, that the tyrants may deem fit to make and enforce, on the grounds that they are acting without the approbation of their people, and the Higher Law, which commands us, as the Hon. Mr. Smith said, "to do unto others as we would that others should do unto us," and who, but lunatics and insane persons, can say, justly say, but what he does? If any man of men can do so, let them speak.
I renew to you, Mr. Editor, the wish that this may appear in your columns.
Louden S. Langley
Hinesburg, Jan., 1854
(Appeared in THE ANGLO-AFRICAN)
January 30, 1864
New York, Jan. 23, 1864
Mr. Editor: The members of the 54th Mass. (from Vt.), now stopping in one of the Park Barracks, have received, and duly appreciate, the copies of your valuable paper that you kindly sent them this p.m., and desire me to express to your their thanks for the same. The Anglo-African contains much information with reference to the existing U. S. Regulations for the enlistment of colored troops, which they had not seen in print. Nine-tenths of the boys had been informed by selectmen, who were very anxious to fill their town quotas, that the colored recruits received from the U. S. the same pay and bounty as the white recruits. The writer had warned and told all those who had been thus informed, that such was not the case; but the boys preferred to believe the misrepresentations with which the officers (either from ignorance or a love of falsehood) had filled their ears.
They had confidently expected to receive the seventy-five dollars that the U. S. pays their white recruits until a couple of hours before their departure, when we were ordered to "fall in," after which we were informed by Lieut. Phillips, the officer in charge of us, the real facts of the case.
The intelligence, as might have been expected, was received with (I am sorry to state it) much cursing and swearing, accompanied with the declaration that they never would have enlisted had they been truly informed, and that they would not leave the camp until they had been paid the seventy-five dollars. The officers, apprehensive of more trouble, deemed it expedient to resort to more falsehood, so we were told that we would be paid as much as any recruits, and that our pay had been sent to our regimental headquarters, at which place we would be paid on our arrival there.
This course, it was alleged, was necessary, because we were going to a regiment from another State. This falsehood the boys believed and took courage, until to-day, when, with the aid of your paper, I have convinced them that what I had previously told them was true. I verily believe that but for the reconciling remarks of Lieut.. Phillips, the boys (although having no arms) would have shown a spirited resistance to marching. Not only Capt. J. F. Brannan, but Maj. W. Austin positively stated falsehoods wit reference to our pay. But let the sin rest where it belongs-on the U. S. government and not on its officers. The latter were between two fires-the honor of the State, and the requirements of the National government. Both must be preserved, and hence personal honor must be sacrificed.
The boys feel somewhat down-hearted, but hope for the best, and have some faith in the justice of Congress.
And now, Mr. Editor, I would ask what can, what ought to be thought of a government that asks, yea, even urges and forces men into its service, under a most horrid system of injustice, and thereby compelling its official agents to resort to falsehood, rather than be under the dire necessity of shedding the blood of its own soldiers, to enforce a compliance with its ungodly and cruel requirements? And, Mr. Editor, may we hope that Congress, for the sake of the honor of the country, and for the sake of the families of a portion of its able and true defenders, will soon remove this disgraceful distinction from the military statute of this great nation?
Louden S. Langley
A Colored Vermont Recruit
(Appeared in THE BURLINGTON FREE PRESS)
March 22, 1864
(Our Army Correspondence.)
FROM THE 54TH MASS. (COLORED) REGT.
54th Reg't Mass. Vol.s
Jacksonville, Fla. March 9, 1864
Editors of the Free Press:
You are aware that we (the Vermont men in this regiment) left Brattleboro Jan 23d, for I saw it stated in the Sentinel that "almost a mutiny occurred among the colored soldiers******* regiment" because the white soldiers received $75, the black soldiers received nothing! This, although coming from the Sentinel, is nevertheless true. It is also true that "they" (the colored soldiers) "had expected to be treated in this respect the same as the white soldiers, especially as they counted on the quota of the state."
The boys (52 in number) at the time of enlistment had been promised $18 per month $302 bounty and premium, and the same allowance for clothing as white soldiers. This would have entitled each man of us to the payment of $75 before we left Brattleboro. We would have been super-human had we sustained all of the disappointment that the truth conveyed without being greatly chagrined and disposed to "mutiny." Indeed, I think I may say that, if the boys had had their arms, that every man of them would have died on that spot before leaving camp without the payment of their just due. As it was they showed unmistakable signs that they had pluck, so much that it was feared by the officers that they would have trouble with us, and so recourse had to be falsehood. We were told that, owing to our going into a regiment from another State, our $75 had been sent to the headquarters of our regiment, where we would be paid off as soon s we arrived there! _ a falsehood that even Satan himself would blush to promulgate; but the boys, willing to believe what should be true, believed all would be right, and so the difficulty ended. Suffice it to say that we have sent a letter to our excellent Governor, J. Gregory Smith, complaining of our grievances, and asking for the interposition of his executive authority on our behalf.
We now number 44 effective men. We have six on the sick list at the different hospitals, both here at the Head, and have lost one by death _ private John H. Freeman, whose family reside in your village, and one has been missing since the battle of Olustee (Saturday 20th ult.)_Private Charles E. Nelson of Bristol_ and is supposed to have been captured by the enemy.
It is now over a month since we came on this expedition, and we have seen one battle and one defeat. From the time we landed in this city, until the day of the battle aforesaid, the rebels under Gen. Finnegan had not ceased to run; but the truth of the proverb that "it is a long road that never turns" was soon to be verified. On Wednesday the 16th ult. we left our camp, with a sufficient force, as we supposed, to crush all opposition, but the rebels having been largely reinforced from Georgia, were ready to give us a warm reception. On Saturday the 20th ult., we came up to the extreme front. It was about three P.M. when our regiment with a hearty cheer went into the fight. The enemy were strongly entrenched behind a breastwork of earth, which greatly protected them from the effect of our fire. Before we came up the rebs succeeded in capturing one of our batteries of six guns, and soon after we went into the fight they had endeavored to flank us by a regiment of rebel calvary. We wheeled and paid our respect to them, which soon set them to a "right about face." We fought bravely (i.e. the regiment, I was not in the fight, having been ordered to the rear by the Colonel, to guard the knapsacks of our men) until we were ordered to retreat. But the men had no idea of obeying the firm order, and it was repeated by Col. Hallowell three times before the order was obeyed. The 54th was the last regiment that left the field, and they retreated in good order, as did other regiments that participated in the fight. The loss to our regiment in killed, wounded and missing, was 97 men. Among the wounded was Private Emery Anderson of Hinesburgh, who received a ball through his leg just above the ankle joint. Many of our wounded were left on the field, from which place they crawled along into the thick bushes to hide themselves, and afterward were discovered and captured by the enemy. However, quite a few were brought off, and those whose wounds were in the flesh only about the head and arms, retreated with the rest of our army. Many of the wounded collected at a small house about three miles from the battlefield, where many of them were taken in by the ambulances and wagons that came along, and that were sent back (the number was very few) after them. The latter threw out every thing almost, that they might accommodate the wounded, to keep them from being captured by the enemy, whom it was understood were pursuing us. As our men left the field, the rebs rent the air with cheer upon cheer. It was after 8 P.M. when we left the vicinity of the battle, and before we could rest, we must march back to the place we had encamped the night before, which was a distance of 15 miles. All along the road were men who had, in the hurry and confusion, lost their regiments: some helping along the wounded, whiles not a few of the latter were helping along themselves, and marched the entire 15 miles without any assistance. Hard tack or army bread, was very plentifully strewn along the road for the double purpose of unburdening the teams or taking in the wounded, and of feeding the numerous stragglers that lines the road, from the rear guard (the 55th Mass. colored) to the van of the army. It was about 5 A.M. before the stragglers all came in, or when the rear guard of the army came up. The men were tired and foot-sore, having marched that day 32 miles, and had fought one battle and sustained a defeat.
At six the next morning we were on our road for the station (Baldwin) where we arrived about 12 M., from which place we pushed on (for a short distance at double-quick) until we arrived at Camp Finnegan, which is only seven miles from this city. We arrived at this city on Monday evening, 22d ult. where we have been ever since, laboriously engaged in fortifying. The rebels have been as near to us as Camp Finnegan, and have once drove in our pickets, when we were immediately ordered to the entrenchments ready for a brush. But the rebs have thus far shown more wisdom than valor in threatening Jacksonville, and it is now generally believed that if we see them we will have to go where they are.
The weather here for the past few days has been very cool, but to-day it is very warm, and owing to the sudden change the heat is somewhat oppressive. The pretty and odoriferous flowers that almost everywhere greet the eyes, remind one of June weather in Vermont. The country around this city has been stripped, and both man and beast the swine in particular bear evidence of great scarcity and want, all that presents a striking contrast to the thrift and abundance that everywhere greet one in Vermont.
The boys are all please with the draft, because they think it more than fair for all to share in the perils of the fight, as well as the blessings of the perfect and peaceful liberty that is sure to follow.
Louden S. Langley
Co., B. 54th Mass. Vols.
(Appeared in the ANGLO-AFRICAN)
August 6, 1864
FROM THE 33d REGIMENT U. S. COLORED TROOPS
Headquarters 33d U. S. Colored Troops
Folly Island, S.C., July, 1864
Mr. Editor : I propose to have a new figure appear occasionally in your columns, by way of informing your numerous readers, even at this late hour, what the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (now 33d U. S. C. T.) have recently been doing.
Our regiment was the first colored regiment raised during the present rebellion, and, like the glorious old 54th and the aspiring 55th Massachusetts Volunteers, we were promised by the U. S. government the full pay and allowances of white soldiers ; but, unlike them, for five months we were the happy recipients of what the government promised. But at the third payment, the monster showed his hydra head, in the disguise of an insolvent and tendered us ten dollars per month, assuring us that the deficiency would be made up at the next pay day. The government at that time having kept its faith (solemnly plighted us through the medium of Brig.-Gen. Saxton), we suspected no unfair play, and on the strength of the above promise, we felt disposed to trust the government, which up to that time, had exhibited a kindly spirit toward us. At this time, being the first colored regiment raised in the United States, we were regarded as experimenters, upon whose success or failure the weal or woe of our whole race depended.
The men had this idea thoroughly stamped upon their minds, and feeling the immense responsibility resting upon them as pioneers that were to forever settle the great question of the capability of the Negro as a soldier, or, in other words, the problem so often proposed, "Will the Negro fight?" was soon to be satisfactorily answered, with the most auspicious results to the race. Yes! the true pluck and soldierly endurance exhibited during the numerous expeditions and raids, both in Florida and South Carolina, which our regiment was engaged in during the first six months of its existence, were soon to forever close the slandering mouth of the demagogue, and even to effectually palsy the vituperative tongues of the major portion of the nation. This pluck and soldierly endurance, so gallantry displayed at Jacksonville, and on the mainland of South Carolina, has been lately reproduced on James Island. As your readers have long since read the full particulars of the expedition of which our regiment was a part, I will only briefly recapitulate.
On the first day of July, we received orders to report, at 7 p.m., to Lt. Col. Fox, 55th Mass. then at Pawnee Landing, on this island. From thence we crossed over to Long Island, and reported to Col. Hallowell, 55th Mass. We were not long in finding our way to James Island, and continuing to advance, we soon encountered the rebel picket, which however, were soon drove in ; but we succeeded in capturing one cavalry man (picket) together with his horse. Our force consisted of the 83d U. S. C. T., 103d N.Y. Vols. and the 55th Massachusetts Vols. Nearing the enemy, he soon opened a raking fire of grape and canister from a two gun battery, known as Fort Laniar. At about this time, Col. Hartwell, who was in command of the brigade, came to our regiment and ordered us to "fire in retreat," and at the same time, Lt. Col. Fox, who was in command of the 55th Massachusetts, which was at this time a little to the rear, commanded his regiment to "forward! double-quick!" Our Major, who was in command, inferring from the maneuvering of the 55th Mass., that the order to retreat was countermanded, immediately gave the order to "forward! double-quick!" and away we all rushed toward the fort, arriving there with the 55th Mass., and capturing two brass field pieces, one of which the rebels left loaded, not having time to discharge it at us. Of the 103d N.Y. I know nothing save that their colors were not seen at the fort. There was a peculiar fitness in the fact that the Star Spangled Banner of the first colored regiment raised, should be the first to float its bright stars and red stripes over the parapet of the captured position.
The loss of the 33d was slight-only four men killed and ten wounded. Surrounded by death, as I was, Mr. Editor, yet my visibility was so much excited by a comical fact which came under my observation. One poor fellow of the 103d N.Y., thinking himself badly wounded, came to the field hospital, and was examined for the wound (under his direction) in the most fleshy part of his body, but all in vain ; no wound could be discovered. In reply to the remark of the Surgeon that he was all right, the poor fellow insisted that he was wounded; but the Surgeon, not having time to palaver, peremptorily ordered him to his regiment, whereupon, Hans went limping away for his regiment.
Now, Mr. Editor, I have only referred to that part of the expedition which came under our observation, or that was connected with our brigade; but the 54th Mass., 7th and 9th U. S. Colored Troops (formerly 2d S. C. Vols) and the 1st Michigan Vols also several white regiments, all, as I understand, acquitted themselves nobly. Whether the expedition accomplished its purpose I know not, but it is claimed that it did. But none know for certain say "the powers that be."
If we ever receive any more pay, I intend to see what I can do for your excellent paper, by way of procuring subscribers for it in the regiment. The boys love to see newspapers, and what is better, they love to read them. Nine-tenths of them have their spelling books, and are endeavoring to fortify their minds, preparatory for citizenship and equality, for nothing else will ever satisfy the yearnings of the human mind.
L. S. Langley, Clerk at Hd'qrs.
Courtesy of Jim Fuller.