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Abraham Lincoln Civil War Caricature


August 9, 1862

‘Why, I du declare, it’s my dear old friend Sambo. Lend us a hand, old hoss, du.”

This masterful political cartoon anticipates the importance of former slaves to the Union war effort in the Civil War. A month after its publication Abraham Lincoln in September 1862 issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and in 1863 the recruitment of blacks commenced in earnest as noted by Wilson below. The Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee recognized the importance of the black soldier in 1863 and in March 1865, too late to affect the result, the Confederate Senate, against their stated principles motivating the conflict, authorized the use of slaves in the Confederate military with the offer of freedom in return for such service.

From Lincoln in Caricature by Rufus Rockwell Wilson

The cartoon by Tenniel, “One Good Turn Deserves Another,” appeared in London Punch on August 9, 1862. It reflects more humor and less malice than do most of Tenniel’s caricatures of Mr. Lincoln, who, here garbed as Uncle Sam, hands a musket and cartridge box to Sambo, saying ‘Why, I du declare, it’s my dear old friend Sambo. Lend us a hand, old hoss, du.”

 Nor was this appeal a vain one. Between 1863 and 1865 one hundred and eighty thousand men of African descent enlisted under the Union flag to prove “brave in action, patient under dangerous and heavy labors, and cheerful amid hardships and privations.” Mr. Lincoln early advocated the raising of colored troops, but at first faced determined opposition to such a measure from some of the members of his cabinet, likewise from some of his generals; and it was not until after the capture of Vicksburg and the opening of the Mississippi made the time ripe for action, that colored enlistments were pushed in a systematic and substantial way.

 Then the President had the earnest support of General Grant who on August 23, 1863, wrote him: “By arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers, and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion they strengthen us.’’ Events confirmed this prediction. Not only in and about Vicksburg, and in the capture of Port Hudson, but all along the Union front east and west the negro soldier fought bravely, nor did enlistments cease so long as there was need for them. 

No doubt the colored regiment that will live longest in history was the one that was first to go to war. This was the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers recruited in and about Boston in the opening weeks of 1863 and which had Robert Gould Shaw of immortal memory for its colonel. When in an attempt to capture Charleston in the following July, an assault was made on Fort Wagner Shaw and his men headed the storming column. They charged with spirit, and, despite a fire that made great gaps in their ranks, planted their flag on the parapet, Shaw waving his sword and crying, ‘‘Onward, boys!’’ But they could not retain their hold, and were forced to retreat. Shaw was among the fallen and was buried with his men.

Thirty-four years later there was erected on Boston Common a monument by St. Gaudens which portrays Shaw and his soldiers marching to Battery Wharf to take the steamer for the South. Across its base is inscribed these words of Lincoln: ‘‘And there will be some black men who can remember that with silent tongue and clenched teeth and steady eye and well-poised bayonet they have helped mankind on to this great consummation.’’ that consummation being proof ‘‘that among free men there can he no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet.’’

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