Continuing with the theme of desertion [and here] from the past week here is a fascinating passage from Heny McNeal Turner, who served as an army chaplain for the United States Colored Troops. The following excerpt was written at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia on September 18, 1864 and appeared in The Christian Recorder a week later.
The passage concerns reports that black soldiers were deserting and going over to Confederate lines.
Arriving at Deep Bottom in the afternoon, the night was very agreeably spent with Chaplain Stevens and Tho[ma]s Chester, the very efficient colored correspondent of the Philadelphia Press. I took a survey of the works, after visiting another detachment of my soldiers. I was informed that several colored soldiers of the Thirty-sixth United States Colored Troops had deserted from that post, only a few moments previous to my arrival, and had gone over to the rebels. Another soldier of the same regiment, in attempting to do the same thing, was caught and placed in custody. He was awaiting his doom, which I presume will be death. I can neither hear nor imagine the reason why these men desert to the rebels. Perhaps it is a mere wife-love, some of them having wives South to whom they feel much endeared, and not knowing any thing concerning their condition, it seems to prey upon their minds, until all fear, dread and manhood is lost. And thus they desert.
But the government is determined to shoot them as fast as detected in the attempt. This leads me to speak of three soldiers, with whom I conversed freely. They were laboring under much mental anguish on account of receiving intelligence that their wives at home had married or taken up with other men–the wives of two of them had remarried, and a third had absconded. My advice in the premises was asked, and I know of no answer which suited any feeling of indignation more than this, which I freely gave: “Let them go the devil!” (p. 150)
Turner’s correspondence was recently collected and published as Freedom’s Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner. The book comes with an introduction by Aaron Sheehan-Dean and is highly recommended.