Richmond, Va. August 16, 1865. pp., on a folded quarto sheet of lined paper. Original mailing folds. Fine. Item #WRCAM56586
An unvarnished letter from Union Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Thomas McArthur Anderson while in command of the 12th United States Infantry during the occupation of Richmond in the summer of 1865. Anderson's letter is illustrative of the racism present among some Union soldiers and officers during the Civil War and after. Thomas McArthur Anderson (1836-1917) served with distinction in the Civil War and much later in the Spanish- American War and the Philippine-American War. From 1866 to 1898, Anderson served for fourteen years in the Ringgold Barracks in Texas, as commander of the Vancouver Barracks in Washington state, and with the 14th Infantry in Alaska to protect miners at the outset of the Klondike Gold Rush.
In the present letter, Anderson writes to a fellow officer identified only as "C.P.H." expressing his displeasure about life in Richmond, paying particular attention to the African Americans he encounters in the city. The letter begins: "Since you last heard from me I have been sent into military banishment to this land of goats, broken down mules, free n****** [asterisks ours], bed bugs & bad whiskey. I try to bear exile from civilization with resignation & am the better able to do so as my Battalion is in splendid condition & there is once more a reunion of our regimental officers."
Anderson then states that many of his fellow officers have either died or left the service, but there are "many nice fellows" remaining. Anderson bristles at the fact that he is required to "obey all the senseless commands of a General who is only distinguished for his radical attachment to the negro interest." This is most likely a reference to Major General John W. Turner, who was in charge of occupied Richmond from June 1865 to April 1866, and who had served with both David Hunter and Benjamin Butler in Louisiana before earning his own command in Virginia. Both Hunter and Butler achieved widespread notoriety for their employment of African-American troops during the Civil War.
Anderson continues: "The negroes here are worse than the plagues of Egypt. They swarm alike through city & camp. Everywhere you hear their loud laughter see their ugly black faces. The double-barrelled Africans seem anxious for amalgamation that I have to have them driven from my camp. Some of the younger officers tell strange stories too about the ladies of the Southern hospital, to the effect that although they avoid them in public yet that they are very willing to give them sub-rosa meetings. Indeed I have serious apprehensions that the command will become sadly demoralized if they remain here." Anderson concludes the letter with fairly innocuous mentions of various people and places from home.
An interesting letter from a noted Union general expressing his baldly racist feelings about African Americans in Richmond just after the Civil War.