Henry Grady Recalls His Father’s Camp Slave
This has to be one of the more interesting postwar references to Confederate camp slaves that I have uncovered. Henry Grady was an Atlanta newspaper editor, but he was best known as a leading voice in the “New South” movement, which embraced industrial development through northern investment. The challenge for men like Grady was in reassuring white southerners in the period following Reconstruction that such changes would not threaten traditional values or upset what was a fragile racial hierarchy.
What follows is an excerpt from a speech that Grady delivered to the Boston Merchants Association in December 1889, just weeks before his death:
I catch another vision: The crisis of battle-a soldier struck staggering fallen. I see a slave, scuffling through the smoke, winding his black arms about the fallen form, reckless of the hurtling death-bending his trusty face to catch the words that tremble on the stricken lips; so wrestling meantime with agony that he would lay down his life in his master’s stead. I see him by the weary bedside ministering with uncomplaining patience, praying with all his humble heart that God would lift his master up, until death comes in mercy and in honor to still the soldier’s agony and seal the soldier’s life. I see him by the open grave, mute, motionless, uncovered, suffering for the death of him who in life fought against his freedom. I see him, when the mound is heaped and the great drama of his life is closed, turn away and with downcast eyes and uncertain step start out into new and strange fields faltering, struggling, but moving on, till his shambling figure is lost in the light of this better and brighter day. And from the grave comes a voice saying: “Follow him! Put your arms about him in his need even as he put his arms about me. Be his friend as he was mine. And out into this new world-strange to me as to him, dazzling, bewildering both-I follow! And may God forget my people when they forget these.
Grady left out the fact that his father lost his life on July 30, 1864, at Petersburg, Virginia, in what came to be known as the battle of the Crater. The battle is best remembered for the early morning detonation of explosives under a Confederate salient followed by a Union assault that included an entire division of United States Colored Troops. Many of the black soldiers were executed after surrendering by Confederates who viewed their participation as nothing less than a slave rebellion. It is entirely possible that a black soldier killed Grady’s father.
I have already offered my reading of this passage in my manuscript, but I would love to know how you interpret this particular reference.