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New York Soldier Does Not Want to Fight for “Negro” Freedom but Does Support the USCT
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It is hard to Sacrifise our Lives and to Leave house and our homes and Loved ones behind to Come away down in this forsaken Country to fight for what we supposed the Union. But Mary if this is what they Call fighting for the Union for to free the nigers I dont want to fight any such way. But now they say that if the negroes wants their freedom they must fight for it as our fore fathers did. They are arming and raising negro Regiments now in the South for to fight for their own freedom. That is Just what they Should of done six months ago.

[CIVIL WAR, UNION SOLDIER]. ROBERT H. GREENFIELD. Autograph Letter Signed, to his wife, Mary V. Greenfield, January 20, 1863, Camp Suffolk, Virginia. 3 pp., 4¾ x 7¾ in.

Inventory #24472       Price: $450

Complete Transcript

Camp Suffolk Va Jan. 20, 1863

Dear Wife

I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well and hope these few Lines will find you the same  I am very sorry to hear that you had to cry for that makes me feel Bad  But Mary I Can not Cry But I feel Just as Bad as one that does Cry But Every one must have their troubles it seems  Mary if there was any such thing as Coming home on A furlow I would Come wilingly for to pleas you if nothing more  But Mary when the time would come for me to Come Back you would feel Just as Bad as Ever don’t you thinks so  Mary do you think you would of felt as Bad if we would of waited and not married until I got Back  do you think that would of made <2> any difference  it would of made no difference with me for you are the only person that I Ever did Love and the only one that I Ever Can Love  But it is hard to Sacrifise our Lives and to Leave house and our homes and Loved ones behind to Come away down in this forsaken Country to fight for what we supposed the Union  But Mary if this is what they Call fighting for the Union for to free the nigers I dont want to fight any such way But now they say that if the negroes wants their freedom they must fight for it as our fore fathers did  they are arming and raising negro Regiments now in the South for to fight for their own freedom  that is Just what they Should of done six months ago  Well I guesse I will Change the Subject  it is Raining here now very hard indeed  it is very mudy here we followed one more of our Company to his grave to day  his name <3> was Ziba E. Barney[1]  he died with the measles  he is the third one that has Died out of our Company  it is very sickley here now But Mary I trust in god that I may Be spared and Return home once more for Mary I Can not Bear the thought of never seeing you again and I hope and pray that we may See one anoter and enjoy our selves as we did once and then we will make up for all the Lost time  Mary keep up good Courage and do the Best you Can  that I find is the Best way and I will try and write oftener here after  well it is most Bed time  I am very sorry to hear of Death of Con Kiley or any other person so take good Care of your self and I will try and do the same so give my Respects to your folks and my Love to Mary V Greenfield from her Ever true and Effectionate Husband

                                                                        Robert H. Greenfield

the world over

<4>

[Address:] Mrs Mary V Greenfield, / Oakland Livingston Co. / NY.

Historical Introduction

Many advisors to President Abraham Lincoln worried that white Union soldiers would not fight for the liberation of African Americans if he made emancipation an aim of the Union war effort. In this letter, written just three weeks after Lincoln signed his Emancipation Proclamation. Private Robert H. Greenfield complains of “fighting…for to free the nigers.” While officers could resign their commissions, and a few did, enlisted men like Greenfield had only two options: desertion and the risk of death if caught, or continuing in the army and adjusting to the new realities.

Greenfield chose the latter option and served with his regiment until discharged in June 1865. A later part of this letter suggests the beginning of a change that occurred in many Union soldiers. Greenfield writes, “now they say that if the negroes wants their freedom they must fight for it as our fore fathers did  they are arming and raising negro Regiments now in the South for to fight for their own freedom  that is Just what they Should of done six months ago.” Greenfield’s equating “negroes” with “our fore fathers” suggests his acceptance of them as men who should fight for their own rights, despite his racist views. The willingness of nearly 200,000 African-American men to fight in the Union army and navy changed the perceptions of many white Union soldiers, who welcomed the additional manpower and hoped it would shorten the war.

Robert Henry Greenfield (1837-1912) was born in Leicester, New York. He married Mary V. Lowell (1838-1903) the day before he enlisted, and they had four children between 1866 and 1877. Greenfield enlisted on August 13, 1862 at Nunda, New York, and was mustered as a private in Company I of the 130th New York Infantry (later converted to cavalry as the 19th New York Cavalry and then the 1st New York Dragoons) to serve for three years. He was appointed farrier in September 1863, when the regiment became the 1st New York Dragoons, and mustered out with his company in June 1865. After the war, he worked as a carpenter on the Pennsylvania Railroad for many years. For the last dozen or more years of his life, he was a street commissioner for the village of Nunda, New York, fifty miles south of Rochester.


[1] Ziba E. Barney (1840-1862) enlisted on August 6, 1862, at Burns, and mustered in as a private in Company I of the 130th New York Infantry on September 3, 1862. He died of disease at Suffolk, Virginia, on January 19, 1863.


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