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Wisconsin in the Civil War

An Army Chaplain Objects to Issuing Passes for Slave Hunting

John McNamara of Kenosha, and a chaplain for the 1st Wisconsin Infantry, writes home from Tennessee in April 1862. He denounces the interim rules requiring officers to allow slave owners inside Union lines to hunt for fugitives.

The chief business of our officers at this post is to issue passes to slave hunters, in obedience to higher authority. The new article of war forbidding officers to aid in returning fugitives, is carried out thus far, that we need not show the claimants where they are, nor take hold of them and help to get them away. But, on the other hand, passes are given to search our camps, and if the negroes are found in them, a word of sympathy must not be expressed by us, nor a finger lifted to save! I will be candid and say that without our direct aid it is a matter to catch a man fleeing for his life. But this is because the men want freedom, and will run in hopes of securing it.

Now, sir, we the officers and privates of this regiment, do not like this work. We came here to fight the common enemies of our country, and we want to do it. Field officers have ridden twenty-four hours in a drenching rain, in the night, too, to protest against their regiment being used in this way. Negro catchers say that Starkweather's brigade do not cheerfully obey orders. This unwillingness on our part to do the dirtiest of all work, is regarded by the negro claimants as "bad usage" and in consequence reprimands have come down to us!

Source: E.B. Quiner Scrapbooks: "Correspondence of the Wisconsin Volunteers, 1861-1865," Volume 2, page 160.

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Black servant in the Company I, 7th Wisconsin Infantry. From left to right: Lieutenant Joseph. N.P. Bird, Alonzo Gambel (black servant), Captain George H. Walther, and Lieutenant Christopher Lefler.

Black servant in the Company I, 7th Wisconsin Infantry. From left to right: Lieutenant Joseph. N.P. Bird, Alonzo Gambel (black servant), Captain George H. Walther, and Lieutenant Christopher Lefler.

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Colonel John C. Starkweather of the 1st Infantry.
Colonel John C. Starkweather
of the 1st Infantry.

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