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Those who have seen Lincoln may recall the character of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, vice-president of the Confederacy.  Here's a photograph of the real Stephens, which tells a lot about him.

       Alexander H. Stephens, 1812-1883.
Often ill, Stephens was a physically small man, weighing 100 pounds or less.  His parents died when he was young, leaving him nothing.  But he was a good student and became a brilliant lawyer.  His practice enabled him to purchase 34 slaves and substantial farmland in Georgia.  

Stephens served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843 to 1859, and there he would have met Abraham Lincoln, who served a single term in the 30th Congress, from 1847 to 1849. (They were both Whigs.)

The photograph of Stephens at right shows what a highly successful businessman and politician would have looked like in the 1860s.  His suit is made of expensive fabric, and would of course have been hand-made by a highly skilled tailor.  

Stephens was deeply involved in the formation of the Confederacy, although he seems to have thought slavery would fare better under the Union. On March 21, 1861, before the commencement of hostilities (at Fort Sumter), Stephens, who by this time had been installed as the the Vice President of the the Confederacy, gave what has become known as the Cornerstone Speech in Savannah, Georgia.  This speech must be studied by everyone who wants to know what the Confederacy stood for: innate racial inequality.  Per Stephens:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.

Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away.

This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

In the Cornerstone Speech, Stephens described the establishment of the Confederacy as a "revolution".  Below the fold, let's look at another image, which IMHO shows a simultaneous, and more enduring, revolution.

The photograph (an ambrotype) shows an African-American man, dressed in the uniform of the Union, with his wife and their two daughters.

       African-American soldier and family,.
This photograph is of great historic value, as it is the only one known showing the family of an African-American Civil War soldier.  

It was found in Maryland, housed in an ornate frame.  It seems likely that the soldier was recruited into one of the seven regiments raised in Maryland of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).  The existence of the period frame shows that it had been preserved as a valued heirloom, likely by one of the daughters in the image.  

One editor at Wiki Commons claims that the button on the right side of the soldier's coat is a Lincoln campaign button, if so, that might allow this photograph to be dated to be sometime in 1864.  But regardless of the date, the image is compelling, and in itself is a smashing rebuttal to the Cornerstone Speech.

One of the badges of slavery was that the births and deaths of slaves were never recorded except to the extent necessary to establish the extent of the property holdings of their masters, and even then there were no family names employed.   A slave had no name that the law was required to recognize.  

This began to change with enrollment into the USCT.  By the 1860s, military necessity required names for the men who served in army, for purpose of payroll, rations, supplies, pensions, etc.  Simple recruitment into the army, without anything more, destroyed one of unseen but powerful tools of the slave order, lack of a name.

But there was more than this.  One of the sources of the recruits for the USCT was slave owners themselves, in the "border" (i.e. Union) slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware.  According to section 6 of War Department General Order 329, issued October 3, 1863, if a slave owner in these states was loyal to the Union presented a slave to be inducted into the Union Army, upon acceptance into the Army, the slaveholder would receive up to $300, provided he furnished proof that the slave had been granted his freedom, called "manumission."  (source  (It must be remembered that the Emancipation Proclamation did not affect the legal status of slaves in the border states.)  Records of such manumissions have been found in the archives of the USCT.

The soldier in the photograph may have been a free man already when he enlisted.  But the possibility of recruitment via manumission cannot be ruled out either.  Freedom did not come neatly packaged or evenly.  

       Letter of Samuel Cabble,.
Among the manumission documents of the USCT was located a letter from Samuel Cabble to his wife.  (link).  

Cabble, who had taken the name of his former owner, Robert Cabble, had escaped slavery in Missouri and joined the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of two regiments (the other being the famous 54th) of black troops raised by the Bay State.  

Cabble's former owner had intercepted the letter, which never reached Cabble's wife.  Later, the former owner tried to obtain the $300 bounty offered for manumitted slaves, but there's no record that it was ever paid to him, likely because he hadn't proven he'd been loyal to the Union.

In any case, Samuel Cabble's letter to his wife, which is written in a strong, clear hand (image here), is worth reading:

Dear Wife i have enlisted in the army i am now in the state of Massachusetts but before this letter reaches you i will be in North Carlinia and though great is the present national dificulties yet i look forward to a brighter day When i shall have the opertunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of fredom i would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will not be long before we shall have crushed the system that now opreses you for in the course of three months you shall have your liberty. great is the outpouring of the colered peopl that is now rallying with the hearts of lions against that very curse that has seperated you an me yet we shall meet again and oh what a happy time that will be when this ungodly rebellion shall be put down and the curses of our land is trampled under our feet i am a soldier now and i shall use my utmost endeavor to strike at the rebellion and the heart of this system that so long has kept us in chains . . . remain your own afectionate husband until death-Samuel Cabble
Samuel Cabble was later granted a pension, and died in a soldier's home in 1906.  His letter demonstrates, if any further demonstration is needed, that the black man was  not a mute witness to the Civil War, but an active, vital, knowing and highly partisan participant.  This was the real revolution.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 08:07 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Headwaters, Black Kos community, and Community Spotlight.


Samuel Cabble was optimistic about the future of this country, even in the middle of civil war and with his wife still in slavery. What do you think lies ahead for our country?

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