Monday, April 26, 2010

Free but foolish?

As Obama uses his racist message to get Blacks, Latinos, women, and the youth out to vote to keep his brainless robotitrons in office after this November, I have to wonder what the first volunteers of the 54th Massachusetts would had thought if they could see how events have unfolded since their historic formation. For those that are lacking in historical knowledge (which would be about 99.99999% of liberals) allow me to enlighten you from what I learned about them. Not just from the movie Glory, which is a fine movie, despite some creative licensing involved, but from the history I was able to learn from after seeing the movie that got me interested in learning about this obscure part of American history. For those of you that haven't seen the movie, there will be spoilers, though I don't think it would diminished from the fine film.

What we know about the 54th is from the letters and journal of their commanding officer, Colonel Clay. He was, I believe from connections with his family with the governor and their ties to Lincoln, a young caption that was wounded at Antietam. He was made commander (colonel in this case) of a new brigade. What made this one unique? It was all black. They were the first official black military brigade. Although the government was using them as a political PR move to appease the abolitionist, and it was clear they were never intended to fight, the journal entries that caught my attention were the vast majority of those that volunteer were: ex run away slaves. They seemed to learn quickly, more quickly than the white brigade that he commanded previously (most were lost at Antietam), but their spirits after hours. At first, their moral were high, free spirited and relaxed. They truly seemed to believe in what they were preparing to fight for and with no regards of what price they may have to pay. It seems this lesson in history has been lost on our current generation.

You see, these men knew what it was like in the South. They knew what slavery was like, tyranny of the majority of the South (yea, you can debate about State Rights, but this is what motivated them), how to be property of another human being with no rights of their own. They most likely understood better than any one during this time, early 1863, what it was the Union was trying to oppose. When the Confederacy threaten to take any captured "black" and put them back into slavery and execute any white officer commanding them, not one withdrew. They wanted to put an end to the institution at all costs as they knew what it was like to live under those conditions. Fighting for the Union, they got to choose how to even die if necessary which was more than they had when they were slaves of the South. It was clear they wanted to fight and put an end to slavery. However, those in the military circles had different plans.

Seems that bigotry was everywhere during the 19th century. Though they weren't slaves in the North, they weren't what you called equally respected either. Though the volunteers came from all circles of life, educated, illiterate, rural, urban, slaved and born "free", the unmitigated fact is that many western European descendant Americans still thought of themselves higher than those that weren't (see a lot of that even today, only it's not the Western Europeans now). Heck, even the Irish were disdained. They didn't view them worthy to put in battle even as fodder. They were to be mainly used for manual labor which eventually decayed the moral. The quartermaster even was keeping supplies from them til Shaw took matters in his own hands. It would be such task mastering that would finally get them into battle. I don't if the movie historical view was correct (he black mailed a corrupt general to get combat status for his regiment) as I couldn't find anything to confirmed nor deny, I'm sure something of that nature was necessary to get them into battle. They would only end up fighting two battles in South Carolina. The second, which gained them the respect they deserved was the frontal assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston. Graphically demonstrated the kaos and pure determination to fight, the 54 charged the fort. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong battle as half of them were wiped out, as well as many of the white brigades that attacked for the fort would never be taken. However, the news of their bravery and professionalism spread fast changing the tide of the war as more and more blacks volunteered, replacing many white troops whose 3 year terms were coming to an end.

Now let's fast forward 147 years. I have to wonder what these brave souls that went into the gates of hell, literally, to liberate their brothers only to see what they've become today. To become beholden to a government and political party that has the same contempt and disdain as those officers had. To gone from slaves of plantation owners to slaves of the government, drugs, and gang violence that take so many of their youth? To gone to thinking and doing for themselves to enslaved to the Democratic decree that says to be black you must believe, do, or think a certain way? Remember, these men fought for the first Republican President and yet now think it's the Republicans that oppress them. I can only imagine the bitter pill that they would had to swallow to recognized that. During Clinton's terms, Jesse Jackson (now there's a name I don't type too often) was giving a sermon, I don't remember which year or where, that he literate the same observations. I'll always remember the last statement he made. We've become free but foolish. I hate to think those of the 54th wasted their sacrifice to see their brothers become free but foolish, but I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, that they would be grossly disappointed that their courage and sacrifice to see how their brothers have become today.

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