Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15, 1861 (Tuesday): Sherman Draws A Line On Fugitive Slaves

Colonel John Basil Turchin

                                                            LOUISVILLE, KY., October 15, 1861
Colonel Turchin:
   DEAR SIR:  Two gentlemen unknown to me, but introduced by Mr. Guthrie, say some negro slaves have taken refuge in your camp and are there sheltered.
   The laws of the United States and of Kentucky, all of which are binding on us, compel us to surrender a runaway negro on application of negro’s owner or agent.  I believe you have not been instrumental in this, but my orders are that all negroes shall be delivered up on claim of the owner or agent.  Better keep the negroes out of your camp altogether, unless you brought them along with the regiment.
     Yours, &c.,
                                                            W. T. SHERMAN,
                                                Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 4, Page 307

Not wishing to inflame sentiments in the border states, and not having the political capital to overcome the Democrats in Congress on the issue, the administration continued to enforce existing laws regarding slavery and, particularly, fugitive slaves.  Sherman here admonishes Colonel Basil Turchin, a Russian who had studied at the Imperial Military School at Saint Petersburg before coming to America just prior to the war.  Turchin would clash within a year with his next commander, Don Carlos Buell, over his views on treatment of the civilian population.  After famously declaring in May of 1862 "I shut my eyes for two hours.  I see nothing." his troops pillaged Athens, Alabama engaging in rape and looting.  Buell attempted to court martial him, but Lincoln intervened on his behalf.  

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