Saturday, July 22, 2017

World War I Letters of Russell County, September 6, 1918

The following letter originally appeared in the September 6th, 1918 issue of the Lebanon News.

"Somewhere in France, July 10.

Dearest homefolks:

As to this being the 10th or not I do not know, but as to "somewhere in France" it certainly is. Wish I could could tell you just where I am. Anyhow, with three others, I am away from my company doing duty. At last the base censor has opened its heart and we are allowed to tell everything from the time we sailed up until about a month ago. So here she goes.

On the morning of October 18th we broke camp and landed in Hoboken, N. J., that evening and later in the day we said goodbye to dear old U. S. A. Had a nice trip coming over in spite of some of the boys getting sick. The name of the ship we came over on is the Covington, which was formerly a German vessel. There were 3,700 of us on this ship. After 14 days on water we finally landed at St. Nozare about daylight. I was on guard on the top deck. Can you picture how I looked. We remained on the ship for seven days then marched out to a string of freight cars for our next journey and my, my, how it was raining, but who cares for it to rain here? We piled into those cars like a bunch of sheep and were in them for two days and nights, landing in a small town by the name of Caucouleurs. This little place is something the size of Lebanon, but of course didn't remind me of Lebanon one bit. We stayed here until late in the fall, then started on a ninety mile hike. Don't remember names of all the towns we passed through. Orquevaux is the name of the town where we spent Xmas. After freezing to death two or three times we next landed in Rolamponts, where the boys met us with our horses. We stayed here up until the latter part of February when we boarded another freight train for Baccarat. Well, I had a time on this trip - got all mixed up and got away from my Company and had four horses hung to my throbbing heart. At last one night about one o'clock they stopped the train and said this is where you get off. Well, I did and my Company wasn't there. I put my saddle and bridle in another train, right a straddle of one those horses, and rode it until ten o'clock and as luck would have it, rode into Baccarat, where I found my Company. In this town is the largest glass factory in the world. This place is about the size of Abingdon, if not larger. Here is where we were when Hargis said the report of the guns jared him out of bed but he l----- a little but in times gone by there had been bombs dropped on this town - the main part or center was torn all to pieces. We have been through towns that the whole place was ruined, no one living there at all.

If I was back with the Company where I could see my map I could write three times this much, but would have to have more paper. Will write more next time in regard to our travels. This is the first opportunity to write since leaving Baccarat about a month ago, and we are a long ways from there now.

Yesterday while on duty a big wild hog came running across the field and I jumped into a shell hole and layed down. I wanted to shoot it with my pistol but there was an old French man with me and he said wait until I get my rifle, so he came back from his dug-out with the gun and then I shot him once and he fell over the but Frenchman said shoot him again, and I did again and again. It was the largest wild hog I have seen over here. We are going to have a feast tonight. Don't you want some pork?

Haven't heard from Frank yet, but had a card from Carroll Gray a few days ago.

Hoping you are all well, and best regards to everybody, I am,

Your son,

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Freedmen's Bureau Activities in Russell County

In 1865 the U. S. Federal Government established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands to help freed slaves integrate themselves into society. Freed slaves were re-connected to lost family members, schools were created, help was given in obtaining food and health care, and freed slaves were given legal advocacy in court cases.

More than 1,000 schools for freedmen were established in the South. Schools in Russell County began to be established in November of 1868. Although the records are unclear, it appears that in Russell County, schools were established at Lebanon and Dickensonville by Fountain Richardson (also spelled Richison), at Copper Creek by William F. Gardner, and at New Garden by Comadore Hurt. Hurt's tenure at New Garden appears to have been quite short, as Gardner is listed as the teacher at that school in January of 1869. Gardner and Hurt were local teachers, which Richardson had previously worked in Tennessee.

Record keeping was haphazard - the local administrator was in Abingdon and had control over several southwestern Virginia counties. Monthly reports exist to some extent for most of 1869. These reports consist of monthly reports listing various attendance figures, school rental information, and general comments by the teachers.

The Freedmen's Bureau appointed Brigadier General Henry Goddard Thomas the Sub-Assistant Commissioner for the 8th District of Virginia, which include most of the counties in Southwest Virginia. Thomas had a storied career in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising from Private to Captain in the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry, before being appointed Colonel in the 2nd United States Colored Infantry and subsequently appointed Colonel in the 19th United States Colored Infantry. He commanded a brigade in 1864 and participated in the Battles of Spottsylvania and the Wilderness.

In December of 1868, Thomas summarized activities for 35 schools, covering 19 day schools, 2 night schools, and 14 Sabbath schools. Seventy eight teachers were engaged, almost all "colored". Thomas held meetings in Wytheville, Abingdon, Marion, Jeffersonville (Tazewell) and Bristol.

When asked to describe "the public sentiment towards the education of the Freedmen and Poor Whites", Thomas wrote "None whatever as to poor whites, I shall probably have trouble in keeping up some of my county schools as chivalric gentlemen in the different localities will drive away my teachers." Perhaps this answers the question of Comadore Hurt's short tenure at New Garden.

Most brutally, in answer to the question "How long will Northern charitable aid be needed for Freedmen and Refugee Schools of your District?" Thomas wrote:

"Untill the present generation shall have passed away. The uneducated adult negroes of today, ignorant of everything except how to curry favor with old massa, with a large family, never earning more than 75 cents per day & cheated out of a part of that by a rapacious landlord who charges him $4.00 per month for a miserable unlighted cabin not worth pulling down for firewood & inclined as the race are everywhere to split up in everything into little factions, will not in this generation be able to support schools. Better white men and more intelligent negroes must replace the present men before the negroes unaided can keep up schools."

Despite these obstacles, enthusiasm was high. In January of 1869 Gardner wrote "I have had very good success [in] every matter as respects Col. schools quiet in my vicinity." He estimated the public response as "common". His New Garden school had 30 students, seven of whom were over the age of 16. Five were free before the Civil War. School was in session for three months at a time, five days a week, from 8am to 4pm.

Gardner soon encountered difficulty. He was not getting paid the full amount for teaching the school and wanted to return to farming. Additionally, his students were getting too advanced for him. In a letter to General Thomas, he wrote: "I cannot teach the students of this vicinity much longer. I expect to farm this season the reason is they are so advanced that I can not teach a part of them after the present cession not with standing I have taught  them from the alphabet." In his March Monthly report he concludes "I have discharged my duty to the best of my skill & judgement & the gentleman that examined my school recommended the progress good."

Fountain Richison's report for the Lebanon school in April of 1869 was more succinct. He was teaching 25 students, ten of whom were over the age of 16. None were free before the War. The school received $300 in aid from the Freedmen's Bureau and were housed in a building owned by "Miss Caroll" or "Marthay Carl" (presumably Martha Carroll, age 85, household #32, Lebanon District, 1870 Russell County Census.)

By May things had turned noticeably darker. Richison reports the public sentiment as "much opose by the rebels saying they outalarew it." Under Remarks he states "hear they thirten to burn houses and kill the teachers." His remarks in August were "oppose finaly through out wanting their labor."

Unfortunately the monthly reports by teachers end in August of 1869. Reports in other counties continue until 1870 or later. Very little information is available as to the state of these schools after 1869. In 1872 the United States Congress abandoned the program.