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Freedom's Witness

The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner

written by Henry McNeal Turner

Publication Year: 2013

In a series of columns published in the African American newspaper The Christian Recorder, the young, charismatic preacher Henry McNeal Turner described his experience of the Civil War, first from the perspective of a civilian observer in Washington, D.C., and later, as one of the Union army’s first black chaplains.
 
In the halls of Congress, Turner witnessed the debates surrounding emancipation and black enlistment. As army chaplain, Turner dodged “grape” and cannon, comforted the sick and wounded, and settled disputes between white southerners and their former slaves. He was dismayed by the destruction left by Sherman’s army in the Carolinas, but buoyed by the bravery displayed by black soldiers in battle. After the war ended, he helped establish churches and schools for the freedmen, who previously had been prohibited from attending either.
 
Throughout his columns, Turner evinces his firm belief in the absolute equality of blacks with whites, and insists on civil rights for all black citizens. In vivid, detailed prose, laced with a combination of trenchant commentary and self-deprecating humor, Turner established himself as more than an observer: he became a distinctive and authoritative voice for the black community, and a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal church. After Reconstruction failed, Turner became disillusioned with the American dream and became a vocal advocate of black emigration to Africa, prefiguring black nationalists such as Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Here, however, we see Turner’s youthful exuberance and optimism, and his open-eyed wonder at the momentous changes taking place in American society.
 
Well-known in his day, Turner has been relegated to the fringes of African American history, in large part because neither his views nor the forms in which he expressed them were recognized by either the black or white elite. With an introduction by Jean Lee Cole and a foreword by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Freedom’s Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner restores this important figure to the historical and literary record.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Front Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

Note on the Text

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-xiv

The U.S. Civil War, like nearly all wars, presents the spectacle of an event of purely human creation, quickly generating its own trajectory and spin, pulling and pushing people to take actions they might have fiercely resisted or never imagined only a short time before. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-32

Henry McNeal Turner (1834–1915) embodied the tumultuous spirit of his age. Born free but poor in South Carolina, he labored alongside slaves as a young boy. By the age of thirty, he had risen through the ranks of the Methodist Church and was appointed one of the first black chaplains of the Union Army during the Civil War. ...

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Chapter 1. Emancipation and Enlistment

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pp. 33-118

Turner’s first letter to the Christian Recorder was published on March 22, 1862, just over two years after Elisha Weaver relaunched the newspaper. He wrote to Weaver in response to President Lincoln’s March 6 message to Congress, where he recommended the passage of a joint resolution ...

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Chapter 2. Petersburg

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pp. 119-162

Turner was appointed chaplain of the 1st U.S.C.T. in the fall of 1863, and joined his regiment on November 15. However, he was soon sidelined by several serious illnesses, including smallpox, which prevented him from accompanying them to the Virginia front until the spring of 1864. ...

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Chapter 3. Fort Fisher

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pp. 163-190

This group of entries, dating from January 7, 1865, to February 18, 1865, includes Turner’s accounts of the First and Second Battles of Fort Fisher (December 23–27, 1864 and January 13–15, 1865, respectively), which the historian Rod Gragg describes as “an expedition riddled with controversy.”1 ...

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Chapter 4. Freeing Slaves, Meeting Sherman

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pp. 191-250

In February 1865, Turner was sent to North Carolina to help recruit newly freed slaves for the Union Army. While there, he also took the opportunity to recruit new members of the A.M.E. Church from these “great Southern fields.” On both fronts, Turner reveals the complex interplay between white and black, Northerner and Southerner, civilian and soldier. ...

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Chapter 5. Roanoke Island

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pp. 251-272

After the war, the Union troops that remained in the South became, in Edwin S. Redkey’s words, “the only official government in the ex-Confederate states.”1 Because the term of enlistment in the army was customarily three years, many white soldiers were mustered out at war’s end. ...

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About the Contributors

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pp. 273-274

Jean Lee Cole is an associate professor in the Department of English at Loyola University Maryland. She is the coeditor, with Charles Mitchell, of The Collected Plays of Zora Neale Hurston, and the author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity. ...

Back Cover

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p. 290-290


E-ISBN-13: 9781935978954
E-ISBN-10: 1935978950
Print-ISBN-13: 9781935978619
Print-ISBN-10: 1935978616

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 7
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: First Edition.
Series Title: Regenerations
Series Editor Byline: John Ernest and Joycelyn K. Moody

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Subject Headings

  • Turner, Henry McNeal, 1834-1915 -- Correspondence.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Chaplains.
  • United States. Army -- Chaplains -- Correspondence.
  • African American clergy -- Correspondence.
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church -- Clergy -- Correspondence.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States. Army -- African American troops -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, African American.
  • Virginia -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
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