Saturday, December 1, 2012

December 2, 1862 (Tuesday): In Regard to Contrabands

General Quincy Adams Gillmore

Lexington, Ky., December 2, 1862
M. R. KEITH, Esq. Cleveland, Ohio:
MY DEAR SIR: I am in receipt of your note of the 26th ultimo, inclosing sundry slips from Cleveland newspapers, in which the writers condemn in unmeasured terms my course, as they understand it, in regard to contrabands. I am certain they do not fully appreciate the subject. I am convinced, and one week's sojourn here would thoroughly convince them, that the policy which they condemn, slightly modified, perhaps, is the only one adapted to the loyal State of Kentucky. The writers seem to forget that Kentucky is loyal; that she has now, and always has had, a full representation in Congress; that consequently we are not in the enemy's country; that martial law does not exist here, and that the civil authorities are in the full exercise and enjoyment of their legitimate functions, the same as they are in the State of Ohio or any other loyal State. They contrast, unfavorably to myself, my order and General Grant's on this subject, ignoring the fact, which contains the gist of the whole matter, that Mississippi and Tennessee, where General Grant is operating, are in persistent rebellion, by their own deliberate acts,while Kentucky is true to her to her allegiance.
    Force of circumstances has made me an unwilling and reluctant actor on this question; my education and profession make me, I trust, an unprejudiced one. While I regret that a course which is demanded of me by the positive orders of my military superiors, and which my own judgment dictates as eminently proper, should not meet the approval of my former friends, I congratulate myself that I am not yet, and never have been, placed in a position where I could be swerved from a plain and evident line of duty by any political party or organization sitting in judgment on my actions. As a soldier, I have schooled myself to ignore such things. My desire in these trying times is to serve my country to the best of my ability, obeying the orders of my military superiors according to the rules and articles of war.
     I have never returned a slave to any claimant, loyal or disloyal, and never will. I will not even turn them out of my lines if I know or suspect their owners or their agents are in waiting to seize them. Such a course would be not only a violation of the spirit of the law, but repugnant to my own feelings; but while I am unwilling that any of my troops should become "slave catchers, " I consider it my sworn duty to see that they do not contract the demoralizing habit of indiscriminate appropriation of private property, particularly slave property; in the loyal State and among the loyal people of Kentucky. They are not here for that purpose.
    I claim the right, under existing laws and orders and the usage and custom of war, to exercise entire military control over all non-combatants within my lines, whether clerks, teamsters, or servants, regardless of their color or social position. Any compulsory restriction of that right in the field would ruin any army, but especially a Union army in a slave State, and convert it into an ungovernable and licentious mob. If I have no right to keep contrabands beyond my lines, it is my duty to harbor them; and if bound to receive one, I am equally bound to receive thousands, without regard to sex, until every soldier, restrained only by individual caprice or lust, would have with him a negro man or negro woman, and this colossal and debauching abuse would find its only practical limit in satiety. What honor could such an army expect to reap on the field of battle! what punishment would be too severe for the commander who would prostitute it to such ignoble ends!
    Aside from considerations of professional utility and propriety, I have no feeling in this matter. It is not my aim to harm the negro or specially to serve the master but to serve and save from debasing vices the gallant soldiers intrusted to my care and prepare them from the honors and dangers of the day of battle. I claim to be a philanthropist, and shall rejoice to see every slave free in a legal and constitutional way at the proper time and in the proper manner; but it is not my duty in Kentucky to free them,and would not be if I held supreme command here, and I do not intend to become their custodian, to the demoralization of my command. When ordered to do so, I will discharge the duty to the best of my ability. Until then I shall exercise, at my discretion, under restrictions from superior authority, the right to send them away whenever they become a serious impediment to the discipline and efficiency of my command. Nothing short of this would satisfy my convictions of the duty I owe my country, or free me from the charge of incompetency and neglect.
    Please excuse the blunt and unfinished manner in which, for want
of time, I am compelled to express my opinions, and believe me, respectfully,your obedient servant,

     Q. A. GILLMORE,

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 20, Part 2, Page 163.

Gillmore was thoroughly Regular Army.  He finished first in his class at West point and was, by training and inclination, an engineer.  Prior to coming to Kentucky he had been in charge of hte successful seige of Fort Pulaski.  Here he frankly answers a letter from a civilian which enclosed newspaper clippings condemning him for his actions regarding slaves who came within his line.  From a legal standpoint, he is accurate in his description of what was done in Kentucky, which was technically not in rebellion..  But they were answers which did not satisfy those in favor of immediate emancipation, a growing number.

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