The struggles, sacrifices and successes of African Americans during one of the nation’s most turbulent times were at the forefront of conversation in Shamblin Theatre Saturday morning.
In conjunction with Lipscomb’s remembrance of the Battle of Nashville’s 150th anniversary, the Department of History, Politics & Philosophy hosted a Civil War symposium that detailed various aspects of African-American life during the war.
“The African-American Experience in the Civil War Era” brought three noted historians to share their takes on three different-yet-synergetic topics.
James M. McPherson, a Pulitzer-winning author and historian, John F. Baker, a genealogy expert and Joseph Glatthaar, an author and historian, all spoke about different sections of what African Americans endured during that time.
Tim Johnson, a professor in the department and the driving force in Lipscomb’s reflection of the battle’s sesquicentennial, said when planning the event, this particular topic came to mind.
“We wanted to focus on the African-American experience,” Johnson said. “We wanted to help tell the Nashville community about a story that is often overlooked.
That seemed an appropriate theme, given the number of African-American Union soldiers who fought in Nashville in December 1864.”
In his talk titled “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom,” Baker shed light on the story behind the plantation where his ancestors worked.
Baker said he conducted genealogical and historical research on the local plantation called Wessyngton, located in Robertson County.
“My research at Wessyngton started sort of accidentally,” Baker said. “When I was in the seventh grade, we used a social studies textbook called ‘Your Tennessee,’ and I came across this photograph entitled ‘Black Tennesseans,’ and for some reason, I seemed to be drawn to this photograph, and each time I would go to class, I would stare at it, thinking that I should know the individuals featured there.
“But, I had no idea at the time that I was actually staring at my own great, great grandfather and mother.”
During his address, Baker provided information on the history of Wessyngton, the family that owned the plantation and his family’s experience working there.
For his presentation “Blueprint from Freedom: Black Men in Blue,” McPherson told about the story of Black Union soldiers during the war.
To McPherson, black soldiers had two primary motives for joining the army. Firstly, the soldiers could help forge the path for the freedom of their race. Secondly, the soldiers could make an impact for the Union war efforts.
“Now, obviously, there’s no necessary incompatibility between these two motives,” McPherson said. “They could be mutually reinforcing. That is enlistment of black soldiers could both help win the war and advance the status of black people. And, that mutuality became increasing of the case in the Union cause as the war went on.”
McPherson provided plenty of history behind and insight into the involvement of black men in Union efforts during the war during his talk.
The celebrated historian said that the war efforts of black soldiers carried far more weight than victory, using a letter from Abraham Lincoln to reinforce the point.
“[Black soldiers] were not only fighting to help the Union achieve victory in the war,” McPherson said. “But that, by fighting, they were convincing Northerners that their race deserved freedom and rights.”
In his address, “Forged in Battle: The Relationship Between White Officers and Black Soldiers,” Joseph Glattharr provided insight between this important bond between commanding officer and soldier.
Glattharr provided a look into the world of a white commanding officer who was in charge of a black regiment, as well as how that relationship functioned during the war.
In line with McPherson’s message, Glatthaar said that black soldiers had to convince northern peers of their valor.
“The only way blacks could win credibility in northern eyes was on the battlefield,” Glatthaar said. “They weren’t going to win credibility digging ditches. They weren’t going to win credibility by guarding coastal fortifications away from combat. They had to do it on the battlefield.
“And, so, the white officers and black soldiers came together in a very effective way. The black soldiers fought valiantly.”
With permission of Home Page Media Group