[caption id="" align="alignright" width="250" caption="Black Union Army soldiers helped turn the tide in the Civil War."]
"Dont be uneasy my children I expect to have you. If Diggs [the children's master] dont give you up this Government will and I feel confident that I will get you
'Your Miss Kaitty [Diggs, the children's master] said that I tried to steal you But I'll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood...And I want her to remember if she meets me with ten thousand soldiers she [will] meet her enemy
"I once [thought] that I had some respect for them but now my respects is worn out and have no sympathy for Slaveholders. And as for her cristianantty I expect the Devil has Such in hell You tell her from me that She is the frist Christian that I ever hard say that aman could Steal his own child especially out of human bondage."--Former slave/Union Army soldier Spottswood Rice.
The following was sent to us by longtime Fathers and Families supporter Thomas O'Shea from Kansas. It's as deeply moving as anything I've read in a long time. The two letters are quoted from The Black Military Experience, Free at Last, Families and Freedom and Freedom's Soldiers.
The letters were written in 1864 by a former slave named Spottswood Rice. Rice had managed to escape bondage and make his way to Missouri where he joined a union regiment of former slaves. Rice was taken ill with rheumatism and confined to the barracks hospital. Apparently part of the first letter is not in his handwriting, leading me to believe that his illness forced him to dictate it to another person.
My Children I take my pen in hand to rite you A few lines to let you know that I have not forgot you and that I want to see you as bad as ever now my Dear Children I want you to be contented with whatever may be your lots be assured that I will have you if it cost me my life on the 28th of the mounth. 8 hundred White and 8 hundred blacke solders expects to start up the rivore to Glasgow and above there thats to be jeneraled by a jeneral that will give me both of you when they Come I expect to be with, them and expect to get you both in return. Dont be uneasy my children I expect to have you. If Diggs dont give you up this Government will and I feel confident that I will get you Your Miss Kaitty said that I tried to steal you But I'll let her know that god never intended for man to steal his own flesh and blood. If I had no cofidence in God I could have confidence in her But as it is If I ever had any Confidence in her I have none now and never expect to have And I want her to remember if she meets me with ten thousand soldiers she [will?] meet her enemy I once [thought] that I had some respect for them but now my respects is worn out and have no sympathy for Slaveholders. And as for her cristianantty I expect the Devil has Such in hell You tell her from me that She is the frist Christian that I ever hard say that aman could Steal his own child especially out of human bondage
You can tell her that She can hold to you as long as she can I never would expect to ask her again to let you come to me because I know that the devil has got her hot set againsts that that is write now my Dear children I am a going to close my letter to you Give my love to all enquiring friends tell them all that we are well and want to see them very much and Corra and Mary receive the greater part of it you sefves and dont think hard of us not sending you any thing I you father have a plenty for you when I see you Spott & Noah sends their love to both of you Oh! My Dear children how I do want to see you
This second letter is to the owner of one of his children.
I received a leteter from Cariline telling me that you say I tried to steal to plunder my child away from you now I want you to understand that mary is my Child and she is a God given rite of my own and you may hold on to hear as long as you can but I want you to remembor this one thing that the longor you keep my Child from me the longor you will have to burn in hell and the qwicer youll get their for we are now makeing up a bout one thoughsand blacke troops to Come up tharough and wont to come through Glasgow and when we come wo be to Copperhood rabbels and to the Slaveholding rebbels for we dont expect to leave them there root neor branch but we thinke how ever that we that have Children in the hands of you devels we will trie your [vertues?] the day that we enter Glasgow I want you to understand kittey diggs that where ever you and I meets we are enmays to each orthere I offered once to pay you forty dollers for my own Child but I am glad now that you did not accept it Just hold on now as long as you can and the worse it will be for you you never in you life befor I came down hear did you give Children any thing not eny thing whatever not even a dollers worth of expencs now you call my children your pro[per]ty not so with me my Children is my own and I expect to get them and when I get ready to come after mary I will have bout a powrer and autherity to bring hear away and to exacute vengencens on them that holds my Child you will then know how to talke to me I will assure that and you will know how to talk rite too I want you now to just hold on to hear if you want to iff your conchosence tells thats the road go that road and what it will brig you to kittey diggs I have no fears about geting mary out of your hands this whole Government gives chear to me and you cannot help your self
Spotswood Rice to Kittey diggs, [3 Sept. 1864], enclosed in F. W. Diggs to Genl. Rosecrans, 10 Sept. 1864, D-296 1864, Letters Received, ser. 2593, Department of the MO, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.
Here's a father, a slave, who escapes and manages to join the Union army to fight the Confederacy and what is most on his mind is the freedom of his children and reunification with them. As Thomas says, "remind you of any fathers today?"
While nothing fathers experience in family court today resembles the brutality of slavery in the old South, the concept that children are their mothers' first and that any claim on them by fathers is a kind of theft of what rightfully belongs to mothers, has a certain resonance. More than that, though is the sense of deep connection to his children that Spottswood Rice vowed to maintain against the evil institution of slavery, the military might of nations and his own illness.