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"Your old father Abe Lincoln is dead and damned": black soldiers and the Memphis race riot of 1866.

Between May 1 and May 3, 1866, racial conflict erupted violently in Memphis, Tennessee. Irish policemen and firemen, together with white laborers and small businessmen, rioted in the southern part of the city. For three days they attacked the black residents living in the shanty settlement surrounding Fort Pickering, a Union military installation on the outskirts of the city. The rioters initially focused their attacks on the former soldiers of the Third United States Colored Heavy Artillery regiment, which had disbanded April 30 - the last of three black regiments to be mustered out of United States service at Memphis. On May 2 and 3, however, the rioters increasingly targeted the civic institutions and property of the black community of south Memphis, including schools, churches, and black-owned houses. By May 4, when federal military authorities declared martial law and detachments of white troops enforced order in the city, two whites and at least forty-six blacks had been killed, between seventy and eighty others had been wounded, at least five black women raped, more than one hundred people (mostly black) robbed, and four churches, twelve schools, and ninety-one houses burned.(2)

Contemporary observers attributed the violence to the unruly conduct of black soldiers in Memphis and to the longstanding animosity between blacks and the Irish, who competed for work as manual laborers. The Memphis Daily Avalanche, for example, argued, "it is only with the negro soldiers that trouble has ever existed.... With their departure, will come order, confidence, and the good will of old days. Had we had [white troops] instead of negro troops, neither this riot, nor the many lawless acts preceding it during the past six months, would have occurred." The superintendent of the Memphis Freedmen's Bureau, Major General Benjamin P. Runkle, stressed that "there was also a conflict of labor between the Irish hack-drivers, dray-drivers, porters, laborers, &c, and the negroes employed in the same occupations; there was a good deal of bitterness felt upon the part of the Irish, from the fact that these southern gentlemen preferred to hire negro servants." Another observer, Ewing O. Tade, a representative of the American Missionary Association, stated succinctly that "the late Memphis Riot was beyond a reasonable doubt instigated by the Irish Police of this city."(3)

The rioters, however, were a diverse lot, and their ethnic and occupational background does not support such a narrow, socio-economic interpretation of the violence. While the Irish overwhelmingly dominated the city's police force and fire companies, they represented only 50 to 60 percent of the identifiable rioters; at least 40 percent of the rioting mob, and quite likely more, was American born. Most of the rioters were artisans, professionals, and small shop keepers, not the "lower sort" and "rowdies" described by contemporary accounts. Only 27 percent of the identifiable rioters came from the occupational groups that observers considered most likely to be in competition with blacks for employment.(4)

Nor was the riot a spontaneous eruption of racial hatred. The contempt that many whites maintained for blacks, after all, was pervasive both before and after the riot. Racism cannot in itself explain the violence. To understand what happened in Memphis during the first three days of May 1866, the events of the riot must be placed within the local context of Memphis and its particular history as a center for the recruitment and administration of black military units.

Black soldiers, whose uniform conferred upon them the authority of the victorious Union army, occupied a particularly strategic and powerful position within the larger community of black people living in Memphis, and were prominent in the efforts of the former slaves to redefine their position within southern society. The freedmen sought to repudiate the strictures of the traditional order and to claim their independence. Many of the white citizens of Memphis were committed to the enforcement of an altogether different vision of racial relations, in which blacks, while legally no longer slaves, remained subordinate to white authority. The violence of early May culminated numerous lesser confrontations in the preceding months. Conflict over the appropriate deportment and behavior of black men and women in Memphis had been festering for some time, as black soldiers insisted that whites treat them in a more dignified and equalitarian fashion.

Black soldiers, prominent in the Memphis garrison since 1863, were culturally significant both to blacks and whites. The experience of military life in the victorious Union army empowered many black soldiers, and thousands of blacks hastened to cities like Memphis to enlist in the Union army. Black non-commissioned officers exercised responsibility in active leadership roles in the military and figured prominently in the political leadership of black communities after the war. Black soldiers had access to firearms and training in their use, an inversion of social norms that, prior to the war, had reserved access to firearms almost exclusively to whites. Further, the social role of soldier, carrying with it the authority and prestige of the Union army, in itself enhanced the power and self-image of black soldiers. At a mass meeting in Memphis held on the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, participants expressed the sense of dignity that military service provided. "We are highly gratified by the appellation by which the colored soldiers are addressed by their officers, viz.: men; and we urge the colored men in all places, at all times, and under all circumstances to cease using that vulgar phrase, |nigger.'"(5)

When black men acted as provost guards in Memphis and other southern cities, they enforced a new order that, from the standpoint of many white Southerners, represented the world turned upside down. Thus, black soldiers were at once deeply threatening to those whites committed to the old order, and psychologically, as well as actively, liberating to blacks struggling to create the new. The presence of black soldiers in Memphis, and their relations with both black and white residents of the city, are central to understanding the riot. The riot was in part directed at stripping these men, in the most direct and brutal way possible, of the authority that federal service had provided them.(6)


The violence of the riot, and the social tension that underlay it, ultimately derived from the wartime migration of thousands of black men and women. Memphis, like most southern cities, experienced a vast influx of former slaves during and after the war. By March 1863, General Stephen A. Hurlbut was writing from Memphis requesting instructions on what to do with "the vast numbers of worthless negroes" that congregated around the city. Hurlbut reported the presence of almost 5,000 black men and women directly dependent on federal forces, as well as "a very large number ... not supported by the Govt." In 1865, when a city census was taken, the population stood at 28,000 of whom 11,000 were blacks. Large numbers of black people lived in the suburbs of Memphis, however, and a Freedmen's Bureau report of September 1865, estimated the total black population "in and about" the city at 16,000. In less than five years the black population of Memphis had expanded more than four-fold.(7)

Throughout the war the status of Tennessee slaves remained ambiguous, and federal policy regulating their treatment evolved as the exigencies of fighting the war and occupying the region demanded. Federal troops invaded Tennessee in February 1862, occupying Memphis in June. General William T. Sherman, who assumed command of Memphis in July 1862, hoped at first to avoid disputes about the status of fugitive slaves. However, he, like other Union commanders in Tennessee, quickly recognized the value of slave labor to the Confederate army, and took steps to deprive his opponents of its benefit. Sherman thus welcomed fugitive slaves and put them to work constructing fortifications around Memphis. In October 1862, assuming control of law enforcement in Memphis, Sherman ordered police to treat all blacks in the city as freedmen, until federal courts determined otherwise. A month later he issued orders declaring that "runaway slaves must be treated as free, and people encouraged to give them employment as such."(8)

Federal policy in Tennessee was complicated by the fact that many slaveowners, especially in the eastern part of the state, were unionist, and many army officers felt compelled to protect the slave property of such men. President Lincoln recognized the support of Tennessee unionists by exempting the state from the emancipation proclamation in January 1863. As a practical matter, however, slavery in west Tennessee was a dying institution following the passage in July 1862, of the Second Confiscation Act. That law confiscated and freed the slaves of secessionist slaveowners at the time that slaves came within Union lines, and complicated the efforts of unionist authorities throughout Tennessee to enforce local slave codes. In November 1862, Sherman declared the superiority of the Second Confiscation Act over local laws regulating slavery in Memphis, effectively ending the ability of local civil authority to enforce the slave codes. While the status of freedmen in Memphis remained ambiguous, by late 1862 they were no longer subject to the full repression of legal bondage.(9)

Memphis was an attractive destination for black men and women. While the war was in progress and the formal freedom of slaves belonging to unionist masters still unsure, the presence of Union military units, especially black military units, offered fugitive slaves some security from irate planters seeking to reclaim their property. Further, many black men were attracted to Memphis by the opportunity to enlist in the Union army. In fall 1863 Memphis became the military collection depot for black soldiers in west Tennessee, and a number of black regiments were raised there. By the end of the war, 39 percent of all Tennessee black men between the ages of 18 and 45 served in the Union army.(10)

After the war large numbers of former slaves migrated to Memphis to avoid difficult labor conditions on plantations. In the countryside, blacks were vulnerable to exploitation and violence when dealing with plantation owners and other whites. One Freedmen's Bureau official wrote from Memphis in April 1866 that "numerous outrages have been committed upon the Freedmen in this Sub-District and that Freedmen have, by reason of such outrages, been compelled to flee from the country and seek protection within the limits of the city...." In late 1865 another Union officer in Memphis reported that "large numbers of negroes are arriving daily from North Miss. many of the latter alleging that they have been driven out of Miss. by the militia organizations of that state who under the pretext of disarming them take all their property." For thousands of black men and women, the continued presence of U.S. troops, particularly black troops, and the Freedmen's Bureau offices in Memphis offered some protection from white aggression and greater power in asserting control over their own lives.(11)

Once large numbers of black soldiers came to be stationed at Memphis, members of their families began to settle there as well. Many Union officers, however, disapproved of the presence of the families of black soldiers. Colonel John Foley, commander of the 61st U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, which was stationed at Fort Pickering, complained bitterly about the disruptive effect of the families settled near the fort. The "several hundred negro women living in Temporary huts, between the camp of this regiment and the city" he reported in January 1865, "are, for the most part, idle, lazy vagrants, committing depredations, and exercising a very pernicious influence over the colored soldiers of this Post." These women, he continued, "are generally in a destitute condition, and their wants are partially supplied by soldiers of colored regiments who claim them as wives." Foley was particularly incensed that family members "carry off rations from the companies in spite of the utmost vigilance of company commanders, and also carry off axes, shovels, spades, and picks ... to use in building and maintaining these households."(12)

Union officers several times attempted to force the families of black soldiers to move to locations more isolated from the fort, but to small avail. Captain Thomas A. Walker commanded a detail to relocate the families of black soldiers to nearby President's Island, where they would work as field hands on neighboring plantations. He reported in a January 1865 letter that "the people are unwilling to be moved, and will give no assistance themselves, but lock their doors, and run to their husbands in the various military organizations for protection - the husbands swear their families shall not be moved to the Island and in some instances have come out in arms to prevent it." Earlier efforts to relocate the families of black soldiers to plantations around Helena, Arkansas, where "they can have daily communication by Boat with their husbands at Memphis," had been similarly unsuccessful.(13)

As the numbers of slaves and former slaves living in Memphis grew, connections between soldiers and the rest of the black community became increasingly complex, Many families depended on military wages to meet exorbitant rents and high food prices. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cowden, commander of the 59th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, investigated the conditions in which the families of his men lived. "In the largest house which is probably 18 x 35 feet and two stories high and containing four or five rooms there are seven families of soldiers of this Regiment most if not all of whom pay Mr. Boyle $8 per month." Another officer observed in December 1865 that "probably three fourths of these [colored] troops have families depending upon them for support - they have not been paid during the last six months and cannot provide for their families who being destitute trespass upon the property of citizens and many of them resort to stealing." Tensions mounted when landlords threatened black tenants with eviction, and soldiers responded to protect their families. In August 1865, Colonel Cowden defended the actions of one of his men. A local property owner had "sent a number of colored men to tear down the house in which a sick woman the wife of a soldier in the fort lay lying and her husband stopped them with threats until he could move his wife which he has done. This is what [the landowner] reported as one of the 59th having a gun and threatening to shoot &c...."(14)

Soldiers provided clothing for their families and perhaps for others in the black community as well. Colonel John Foley observed that "the soldiers of my regiment also steal each others clothes for their families to wear and dispose of... " Colonel A. Von Schrader, a Freedmen's Bureau inspector, noted in January 1866, "that a great many [black] people are found to wear more or less parts of the Uniform prescribed by the U.S. Army...." Such a widespread dispersal of federal military clothing had important implications for the black soldiers, since it linked them even more tightly to the rest of the black community and made it more difficult for the casual observer to distinguish between soldiers and black civilians. "Some of these People as instances have proved, have used the Uniform of the U.S. Soldiers as a garb under which to Commit Crimes in order that Persons belonging to the Army be Suspicioned of their foul deed," Von Schrader wrote. "If there can be no measures adopted to prohibit persons not belonging to the Army, to wear its Uniform, the best disciplined troops, will unjustly be charged with depredations which were not Committed by them."(15)


One important consequence of emancipation was a reduction in black labor. Since a planter's coercion could not match that possible under slavery, blacks did not work as hard or as long as they had before they became free. In addition, many withdrew entirely or partially from the labor force. Old people, children, and women removed themselves from plantation labor whenever possible. "Rather than work like slaves, the freedmen chose to offer an amount of labor comparable to the standard for free laborers of the time," two recent analysts of the postwar southern economy write.(16) The result was a massive shortfall in plantation labor that affected most parts of the black belt. In Memphis, as the magnitude of the labor shortage in the surrounding plantation districts became apparent, observers focussed on the growing population of freedmen living near Fort Pickering.

Early in the war many Union army officers wished that the problem of fugitive slaves would just go away. General Hurlbut, for example, rather naively remarked in March 1863 that "if the fugitives now lurking about Memphis could return to their homes in the city & vicinity & their former owners would receive them & and treat them kindly until the final determination of their status much of the misery and vice which infests the city & vicinage would be removed." By 1865, however, it was clear that large numbers of freedpeople would not voluntarily return to plantation labor. One officer reported "from my experience here I am entirely satisfied that the larger proportion of the freed persons will not hire out of their own choice but will rely on such a precarious living as they can make in the city."(17)

Efforts by blacks to escape plantation labor and to remove women and children from the labor force received scant sympathy, even from the officers of the Freedmen's Bureau. Planters and businessmen in Memphis complained constantly to federal officers about the "idleness" of former slaves. Many employers agreed with the Memphis attorney who remarked, "almost everybody is aware that the negro does not work as faithfully or as much as he did formerly while a slave, and persons who employ them are irritated a good deal by their shirking." Communications between officers in the army and the Freedmen's Bureau often echoed these concerns. John H. Grove, reporting in September 1865 on the conditions of black life in Memphis, asserted that while many blacks in Memphis lived comfortably and had jobs, "a large number are vagrants, who left the plantations upon which they were formerly employed ... who are idle and destitute...." General Nathan A. M. Dudley, Freedmen's Bureau superintendent for the Subdistrict of Memphis, wrote to his superiors in Nashville on September 30th, 1865. "There is a surplus population of at least six thousand colored persons women and children in and about Memphis who have no visible means of support who are, however, in a great measure induced to remain about the city by the employed colored people. Very many of this number are lazy, worthless vagrants who will never be induced to leave the life they are now leading except by use of force, as long a they can beg, steal, or obtain sufficiencies to sustain life." P. D. Beecher, a Freedmen's Bureau surgeon, offered an equally stern assessment of the situation of the black population, writing "I am satisfied, ... great numbers lead a life of prostitution, .. idleness or depending as means of support upon those who are more industrious." For onlookers like Dudley, Grove, and Beecher, the presence of black children, women, and old people who were capable of work but not actively working merely confirmed racist stereotypes of freedmen as lazy and indolent.(18)

As the summer of 1865 drew to a close, the Freedmen's Bureau in Memphis, headed by General Dudley, came under increasing pressure from military officers, planters, and white citizens to relocate the city's "surplus" black population to the plantations of the surrounding countryside. Major William Gray, one of Dudley's officers, remarked in September, that "I am daily urged by influential persons in the city" to compel freedmen and women to accept plantation jobs. Dudley's attitude regarding the status of the freedmen is apparent in a letter that same month, in which he wrote "worthless, idle, persons have no rights to claim the same benefits arising from their freedom that the industrious and honest are entitled to." In October he ordered that the streets be patrolled by soldiers from Fort Pickering to pick up "vagrants" and force them to accept labor contracts with rural planters.(19)

To some, and especially to blacks, this policy seemed akin to the reimposition of slavery. Warner Madison, a freedman, protested the Freedmen's Bureau policy of forcing blacks to accept labor contracts. "If you dont want to go with Mr. who ever it may be they dont find out whether you want to go or not at all they make out the agreement sell you for the price that the man give them," he wrote. "It is positively a fact that they get one dollar a head from these worst secession Men. and i have seen one case where a boy was made to go by the point of a bayonet.... "(20)

Many whites in and around Memphis, however, approved of Dudley's use of coercion. The Daily Appeal, a conservative Memphis newspaper, supported the Freedmen's Bureau policy. "While jealously guarding the rights of the freedmen," the Appeal opined, Dudley "inflexibly requires of them to labor for the support of themselves and their families, and to fulfill faithfully their contracts. If the Freedmen's Bureau, everywhere, was administered by such officers as Gen. Dudley, vagabondage would disappear, [and] labor would be reorganized harmoniously with the interest of both races.... " The Memphis Daily Avalanche, another of the city's conservative presses, described the inhabitants of the black shantytown about Fort Pickering. Living in "wretched, miserable huts and hovels, rudely constructed, with capacity of holding barely one person, and yet many of them crowded almost to suffocation," the people who lived in South Memphis were, in the eyes of the Avalanche, "the most drunken, blasphemous and licentious wretches that can be found among the negro race, in any city on this continent." Such people deserved no mercy or consideration, especially since their refusal to accept plantation work threatened starvation on themselves, and financial ruin on the planters.(21)

Northern republicans in Memphis were appalled by the Freedmen's Bureau policies. The Reverend T. E. Bliss, the white pastor of Union Church in Memphis, fired off a scathing letter to Dudley. "How is it that the colored children in Memphis even with their spelling books in their hands are caught up by your order & taken to the same place & there insolently told that they |had better be picking cotton.' Is it for the purpose of |conciliating' their old rebel masters & assisting them to get help to secure their Cotton Crop? Has it come to this that the most Common rights of these poor people are thus to be trampled upon for the benefit of those who have only wronged them all their days?" Bliss concluded indignantly "What a mockery to call those |Freedmen' who are still subject to such things!" A subsequent investigation of the situation in Memphis revealed that Dudley and his officers had indeed been bribed to supply planters with the black laborers picked up by their patrols, and that many blacks were bound over to planters by force. Dudley was removed from charge of the Freedmen's Bureau in Memphis in December 1865, but his successors continued to encourage the freedmen of Memphis to accept contracts to labor in the countryside.(22)

Union officers far more scrupulous than General Dudley were troubled by the large numbers of freedmen who appeared to have little or no regular work. General Davis Tillson, who served as head of the Freedmen's Bureau in Memphis in the summer of 1865, also attempted to induce the Memphis freedmen to accept labor contracts on the surrounding plantations. In a report of August 1865, he wrote, "we are proceeding cautiously but at the same time vigorously in removing the colored people who are without means of support from this city and vicinity. Precaution has been taken to have the freedpeople understand that the action of the Bureau is not in disregard of their rights or freedom but for their own good."(23)

Tillson's concern, at least in his view, was humanitarian. From his perspective (and many Union officers shared his view) the conquered South faced a massive food shortage if the former slaves refused to work. The large numbers of freedmen concentrated in places like Memphis, without jobs and therefore without the money to buy food, would be vulnerable to famine. Tillson justified his policy of relocating freedmen to the countryside, in some cases forcibly, by proclaiming that it was "to prevent inevitable suffering and dearth during the coming winter, among the large numbers of Freed people in and about this city." Major Arthur T. Reeve, superintendent of the Freedmen's Bureau for Shelby County (in which Memphis was located), likewise asserted in a December 1865 circular that unless the freedmen accepted contracts in the countryside they would find themselves destitute come winter. "If you neglect to enter into contracts ... you will find yourselves at the close of the present contracts homeless and without means of support." Reeve concluded paternalistically: "To the colored people in this city I would say, unless you have a good business to support you, you had better leave the vice and strife of the Crowded City and return to the Country, where the fields are needing your labor, and where you can secure comfortable and healthy homes, and good wages for your work."(24)

The freedmen, however, were not receptive to efforts to remove them from the city and put them to work on the plantations. Neither Tillson and Dudley's use of force, nor Reeve's paternal rhetoric succeeded in reducing the large numbers of former slaves in and about Memphis. John H. Grove noted in September 1865, that, "it seems almost impossible to induce [freedmen] to accept an offer to give them work upon a plantation. There are daily a number of planters, mostly from the states of Mississippi and Tennessee, who call on the office of the Superintendent to employ these people ... but in most cases they meet with no success." Indeed, black soldiers actively undermined the efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau to force freedmen to accept plantation work. General Tillson complained in August 1865 that "the [white] soldiers employed to visit the Freed people in and about Memphis and inform them that none but those having sufficient means or so permanently employed as to be able to take care of themselves will be allowed to remain" had reported that "colored soldiers interfere with their labors and tell the freed people that the statements made to them ... are false, thereby embarrassing the operations of the Bureau." One black man, protesting Tillson's labor policy, noted "I know laborers were wanted in the Country Many thousand would have Remained in Country & worked for wages if they had been treated Right." For most blacks, the situation in Memphis, difficult as it was, remained preferable to a return to plantation labor.(25)


At public meetings, private parties, and informal interactions in taverns and on sidewalks, the freedmen, and especially the black soldiers, challenged traditional norms for black behavior and demeanor. Blacks held mass public meetings at least three times in Memphis in the summer of 1865, including a parade led by the Fort Pickering military band on May 30 that began at Main and Beale streets, on the edge of the Memphis business district. In each instance officers at Fort Pickering released off-duty soldiers to attend. Captain Woodruff, adjutant to the commander of the Defenses of Memphis, reported to the commander of the fort that "it is the desire of the managers [of the parade] to have as many soldiers present as possible." Two months later, the Sons of Ham, a black fraternal organization, organized a celebration for the first of August that gathered in the heart of central Memphis. Colonel Ignatz G. Kappner, commanding officer of a black regiment at Fort Pickering, detailed a squad of a dozen men and a white officer, "as guards, ... to report at 7 o'clock A.M. tomorrow the 1st of August (in dress uniform) to the Managers of the Festival of the Sons of Ham," and announced in a circular "that as many of you men of this command as can be spared, be permitted to witness said celebration in charge of commissioned officers who will be responsible for their good behavior." Such mass displays, prominently attended by black soldiers, were disquieting for whites who remained committed to the cultural order of slavery.(26)

Union military officers routinely detailed black soldiers to police dances and other social events. In June 1865, for example, the commander of one black regiment received orders to "detail from your command (1) one non commissioned officer & two (2) men as guards for a colored ball."(27) Three months later the commander of the Third U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment at Fort Pickering reported to his superior "I have never received any orders to stop Negro dances, but have been ordered many times to furnish guards for such to prevent disturbances by citizens."(28)

Many white observers perceived dances (and other social events at which an independent black community was prominent) as disorderly, and both the civil and military authorities attempted to regulate them. Dances were the occasions of violence and confrontation between blacks and the white community. In late September 1865, Brigadier General John E. Smith barred all further black dances. "The public entertainments, balls, and parties heretofore frequently given by the colored people of this City, having been the cause of much of the disorderly conduct, late of nightly occurrence, by which the peace and quiet of the city are disturbed, hereafter no more balls, or parties of the character mentioned, among the colored people, will be permitted." Smith's policy was apparently less than successful, since Brigadier General Benjamin P. Runkle, Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent for Shelby County, deemed it necessary to issue orders regulating the operation of dance houses for the use of freedmen in early 1866."(29)

When the city police attempted to enforce these orders, trouble resulted. At one ball in February 1866 - held with the permission of the Mayor of Memphis - police broke in and arrested a number of soldiers' wives on charges of being prostitutes. "The husbands and brothers then interfered & prevented the arrest. The two policemen then went to the Engine house and returned with a force of some seven men armed with muskets & carbines and cocking their weapons demanded a surrender. They behaved in a very rough and boisterous manner crying |Shoot the damned niggers.'" On several other occasions black soldiers responded violently when their dances were interrupted by the police. "I saw about twenty or thirty [black soldiers] going right by my house," stated one observer, "firing in every direction, and the policemen had to get out of the way. I understood there had been a ball or something broken up. They came firing and cursing, and everybody had to get out of they way."(30)

Tension often arose between black soldiers who patrolled the area immediately surrounding Fort Pickering (including most of the black shanty town of South Memphis) and the Irish police that enforced order in Memphis itself. In the southern part of the city, especially along South Street where there were numerous taverns and bars that sold liquor to off-duty troops, conflicts frequently arose between the Memphis police force and drunken soldiers. Such conflicts were further heightened by ill-defined jurisdictions, since military patrols shared responsibility with the city constables for policing off-duty soldiers, and since many soldiers worked in Memphis when not on active duty. "Occasional disturbances take place on South Street caused by soldiers furnished with whiskey by citizen store keepers there," reported the commander of Fort Pickering. "Frequent arrests are made by patrols sent out by the officers ... at the first notice of a disturbance." Policemen attempting to maintain their perception of social order, particularly when they were heavy handed, provoked violent responses from the soldiers. "There have occurred on one or two occasions a conflict between parties of the colored soldiery and the city police," reported an officer in january 1866, "the police were in the first instance blameable for attempting the arrest of an innocent soldier and in the second place the colored troops for using arms and violence to effect the release of the prisoner." This kind of conflict would more than likely have been endemic regardless of any other antagonism between the soldiers and the police, and indeed, occurred between the constables and white troops as well.(31)

But conflict between the Irish police and black soldiers suggested a deeper animosity. H. G. Dent, like other observers, noted "within the last four or five months the negroes in South Memphis have been very annoying, firing off pistols at all hours of the day and night." Henry Parker, a captain in the Memphis militia, described the behavior of the black soldiers. "As a general thing, when they've had whiskey in them, they've certainly been very boisterous. I've once been shoved, myself, off the sidewalk by a negro in United States uniform, for the simple reason that he did not wish to get into the mud.... I've seen them push citizens off the sidewalk, using language not fit to be used by white or black." Such behavior on the part of black soldiers was fundamentally challenging to the Memphis police, who prior to the war had been charged with enforcing the local slave codes. The soldier's conduct was disorderly, but it was flagrantly so by comparison with the expectations of black public behavior under slavery.(32)

While the police could not systematically enforce black behavior appropriate to slavery, they took out their frustration on black soldiers whenever they could. When black soldiers refused to get off the sidewalks for white policemen, which blacks had normally been obliged to do before emancipation, the police responded forcefully on a number of occasions. First Sergeant Peter Robinson of the 88th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment described an incident involving a fellow noncommissioned officer in November of 1865. "A policeman came along with his hand in his bosom, and threw his whole weight against Sergt Backner." Harry Brown, another witness, told a commission investigating the incident "he just walked along and shoved him with his elbow as he passed hard enough to push sergt. Backner out of his place up against the other wall." Likewise, black "insolence" on occasion received violent retaliation from police. Joe Brown, a sergeant in a black regiment stationed at Fort Pickering, testified about an encounter with a policeman. The policeman, Brown related, "said to me I wish I could get a chance to kill all the Damned Nigger Soldiers and I said you cant kill me - he then stepped back a few paces and ran up and struck me with his club, on the head - at that time another Policeman came up and he struck me several times. And they thru me down and stomped me in the back while lying on the ground."(33)


Conflict between soldiers and policemen became routine in the weeks before the riot exploded on May 1. Captain A. W Allyn of the 16th Regiment of regulars stationed at Fort Pickering, whose men put a temporary halt to the riot that evening, was accustomed to wild and disorderly behavior in South Memphis. He did not intervene earlier, he claimed, because he did not realize that a riot was occurring. "Disturbances had been going on for a week, more or less; pistol firing and carousing." When asked who made these disturbances, Allyn replied, "I discovered it was a disturbance made by the negroes at a dance-hall where they were in the habit of going to dance. I heard several shots, but I thought the negroes were, as usual, discharging their pistols in the air."(34)

On Monday, April 30th a party of black soldiers, just mustered out of service, got into a fight with a number of city policemen. No one was killed, but one of the soldiers "was struck with a pistol [and] appeared to be considerably hurt; the blood ran from his nostrils and the side of his head." Many witnesses remembered the fight between the black soldiers and the police on April 30th as the real beginning of the riot.(35)

Certainly the mood of the city was tense at the end of April. The black veterans of the 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, mustered out of service on the last day of the month, were not given their discharge pay at their final muster. Many of them, without duties to perform, wandered into Memphis while they waited to collect their pay. On the first of May at about three o'clock several policemen attempted to arrest a black man, charging him with disorderly conduct, and were prevented from doing so by some fifty uniformed black veterans. The police came back about an hour later with reinforcements and arrested two of the soldiers, who again resisted. Shooting broke out, apparently started by the soldiers, who fired into the air, but then returned by the outnumbered police. At the end of the first skirmish one of the policemen was dead, and the police retreated in disarray.(36)

The police withdrew into Memphis, where they collected reinforcements and raised a citizen posse to quell the disturbance. They quickly spread the word throughout the city that the soldiers were rioting. Ellen Dilts, a resident of east Memphis, just north of the shanty town, recalled "the police went up and down and spread the alarm, and I should think there were a hundred policemen congregated." Large numbers of men throughout Memphis moved towards the neighborhoods around Fort Pickering. One businessman watched the crowd of citizens and police move past him. "I stopped one on the corner and asked what was the matter. They said if I'd go up there I'd see what was the matter; that the negroes were shooting everybody." U.S. Marshal Martin T Ryder stopped an excited policeman and asked him if the trouble was over. "He said it was not; that the negroes were all armed with guns, and that they could not fight them with pistols, but were going back to get guns."(37)

As rumors of black insurrection spread, Memphis city officials appealed to the local Union military commander, General Stoneman, to suppress the riot, and then organized citizen posses to suppress it themselves. One witness recounted how J. C. Creighton, Memphis City Recorder, spoke to a crowd on Adams street later that evening. "He put his hand in his pocket and took out his revolver. |By God,' he said, |I am a brave man; we are not prepared now, but let us prepare to clear out every God damned son-of-a bitch out of town.'"(38)

A mixed crowd of policemen and local whites descended on South Memphis, and the soldiers fought a brief skirmish with them, and then retreated to Fort Pickering. There Captain Allyn's garrison disarmed them. Allyn dispatched two squads of Regulars to patrol South, Shelby, and Main Streets. These men dispersed the crowd (although they did not disarm the Memphis police), and ordered the black veterans that they met to return to the fort. About ten o'clock Allyn's troops left South Memphis, and some time thereafter a larger "posse" arrived in the area. Finding no organized resistance, this new group split up into small groups to look for black soldiers. Under the pretext of searching for arms, and led by policeman and local community leaders, these men entered the homes of many blacks, beating and killing the inhabitants, robbing them, and raping a number of black women.

The white crowd rampaged in South Memphis until early Wednesday morning before dispersing, but returned later on Wednesday and the riot continued for another day. Small groups of whites, many from the surrounding neighborhoods, attacked blacks in the streets, and burned black houses, churches, and businesses. General Stoneman declared martial law the next day, effectively ending the riot on Thursday, May 3.(39)

The violence of the riot was not random. It was targeted at those black individuals and institutions most symbolic of black empowerment - the soldiers themselves, and the institutions that their presence sheltered. It was no coincidence that the riot occurred the day after the last black troops in Memphis were mustered out of federal service. As soon as these men lost the protection, and the ability to protect others, that their status as Union soldiers afforded them, they became vulnerable to white repression.

From the beginning the rioters focused on black veterans. Horatio N. Rankin, a black schoolmaster at Memphis, testified that "the policemen commenced shooting at the negroes on South Street but seemed to fire principally at those dressed in uniform." Thomas Leonard, Judge of Shelby County, similarly remembered seeing a number of unarmed black men and women during the riot. "The crowd was not firing at these colored people, but seemed to be looking after and pursuing the colored soldiers." Shelby County Coroner Francis Erickson who examined the bodies of thirteen black men killed in the riot, reinforced this testimony. "The bodies of all the negroes were dressed in soldier's clothes," he reported.(40)

White posse members assaulted blacks under the pretext of looking for firearms. It is clear, however, that while the rioters were very much concerned with disarming blacks, they sought more fundamentally to subjugate the black community, and especially community members with Union military connections. Dr. S. J. Quimby, formerly the surgeon of a black regiment, witnessed an assault upon a black veteran. "There was one man by the name of Fayette Dickerson, who had formerly been a soldier in the fifteenth colored infantry; he was standing by his house; two men came up and struck him over the head with a stick; they then shot him in the head, a glancing shot; they then shot him in the abdomen." They "then asked him if he had any arms about himself or the house." Another veteran was killed under similar circumstances. The rioters "went into the house of one man and asked him if he had any arms; he said not. They then went into his house and searched it and took everything valuable in the shape of watches and jewelry. They asked him if he had been out that day. He told them no; that he was in government service; they then shot him through the head."(41)

White policemen or citizens interrogated many blacks to determine if they were former soldiers. "Six white men stopped me in front of the Gayoso house, and one of them asked me if I had been a soldier," one freedman testified. "I told him I had been on a gunboat. He then called me 'a damned smoked Yankee,' and struck me on the left arm with a club, and broke my arm between the wrist and the elbow. One of the other men struck me on the head with a club, and knocked me down." Taylor Hunt was attacked by a policeman under similar circumstances. "After he had shot me," Hunt remembered, "he asked me if I was a soldier. I said no. He said it was a good thing I was not, and he then went along." The men who broke into Obadiah Stockley's house gave him some timely advice. "They asked me if I had been a soldier; said I had better not own it if I had."(42)

The rioters targeted homes where they believed soldiers could be found. Phyllis Premier described the actions of the men who broke into her house. "They got twenty dollars out of one of the trunks belonging to my brother; said they wanted to kill him because he was a soldier." Primus Lane was asked why he thought the mob selected his house to burn. "I will tell you as near as I can. I had a son in the army and my son came here; there was a grocery right opposite. They came to that store, and they must have let them know about my boy, and they came after him, I think."(43)

Likewise, the rioting crowd assaulted people wearing blue or wearing parts of a Union uniform. Dr. Quimby described the death of one of the soldiers from his regiment. "This corporal was either going or coming from some work he was doing. He was unarmed, but he had on at that time blue pants." One black woman described how the mob had refused to let a neighbor out of her burning house. A man in the crowd recognized her: "He seemed to know this woman said |That is a very good woman: it is a pity to burn her up, let her come out.' She came out and her little boy with her. The boy had blue clothes on. They pushed him back, and said |Go back, you damned Son of a Bitch.'"(44)

Four of the five black women who were raped during the riot had clear ties to the Union army. Francis Thompson testified that seven men entered her house Tuesday afternoon. "They said they must have supper, and asked me what I had, and said they must have eggs, and ham, and biscuit." Lucy Smith, who was with Thompson and whom the rioters also raped, recounted how "we got up, and made a fire, and got them supper.... What was left of the sugar, and coffee, and ham they threw into the bayou." After the men had forced the women to make them food, they drew their pistols and said they would shoot us and fire the house if we did not let them have their way with us. All seven of the men violated us two. Four of them had do with me, and the rest with Lucy." The men then broke open a pair of trunks owned by Thompson and robbed her of the money that was stored there. "We had some quilts in the room that we had been quilting red, white, and blue", Smith recalled. "They asked us if we had made them before or after the Yankees came. We said after. They said, You niggers have a mighty liking for the damned Yankees, but we will kill you, and you will have no liking for anyone then."' Smith explained at the end of her testimony: "There were some pictures in the room: we had General Hooker and some other Union officers, and they said they would not have hurt us so bad if it had not been for those pictures."(45)

Two other rape victims, Lucy Tibbs and Harriet Armour, were likewise associated with the army. The men who raped Tibbs robbed her of $300, which had belonged to her brother, a private in the 59th Colored Infantry. She testified of the men who broke into her house, "I think that there were folks that knew all about me, who knew that my brother had not been long out of the army and had money." Harriet Armour's husband was a soldier, and he was with the other soldiers in Fort Pickering while the riot was occurring. A neighbor described seeing men enter Armour's house. "I saw them going into the house and saw them coming out, and afterwards she came out and said they [had raped her]. She has sometimes been a little deranged since then, her husband left her after he found out what had been done, he said he would not have anything to do with her any more. They drew their pistols and made her submit."(46)

Much of the behavior of the mob served to emphasize and reinforce the powerless and dependent position of blacks. Thus, for example, the woman whose child was forced back into the burning building "fell on her knees and begged them to let the child out.... They let her little boy out afterwards." Another black woman who the crowd forced into a burning house got out by a back exit. "When I was running away with my babe," she recalled, a man put a pistol to my breast, and said he |what are you doing?" I am trying to save my babe.' |Sit down, said he, and I sat down, and they did not trouble me any more." For these women, supplication to white authority was sufficient to mollify the crowd. W. B. Greenlaw described the manner in which two black men were similarly intimidated. "At this time two white men spoke to the negroes and ordered them to get down on their knees, threatening to kill them." J. M. Randolph, a white witness, did not see any blacks killed, but he did see them "maltreated." "Maltreated in what way? Such as catching them by the head or throat and jerking them off the sidewalk.... Occasionally a policeman would catch a little darkey and jerk him across the sidewalk." Incidents like these created in actuality the white goal of black subordination. White Southerners could achieve this goal in Memphis only by destroying the most potent symbols of black power in the city - the soldiers themselves.(47)


The Memphis riot was a brutal episode in the ongoing struggle that continued well past the actual moment of emancipation to establish the boundaries around and possibilities for action by blacks. The rioters asserted dominance over blacks and attempted to establish limitations on black behavior. Where one cultural code had governed racial interaction under slavery, another, more appropriate to the new black status, had to be established after blacks claimed their freedom. The riot in Memphis was one of a series of similar incidents that occurred in urban centers throughout the south. "Whatever the precipitating incident", Leon Litwack has remarked, "nearly every race riot reflected that growing conflict between how ex-slaves and whites chose to define emancipation and the determination of whites to retain the essentials of the old discipline and etiquette."(48)

While the houses, schools, and churches of the black community in Memphis were repaired or rebuilt in the years following the riot, the three days of violence placed limits upon the ability of black men and women to assert their freedom. The riot was a graphic demonstration of white power and authority, a threatening manifestation of white determination to control and subordinate the black community. "The chief source of all our trouble being removed," the Daily Avalanche exclaimed, "we may confidently expect a restoration of the old order of things. The negro population will now do their duty.... Negro men and negro women are suddenly looking for work on country farms.... Thank heaven, the white race are once more rulers in Memphis." Austin Cotton, a freedman, explained to the Congressional committee investigating the riot why he was not maltreated. "No one abused me," he said. "It was because I was humble as a slave, almost. I have heard them say to me,'you are right, Uncle; you are humble, just like a slave."(49) Not every former slave chose to behave like Cotton. But the savage attacks on the former soldiers - those members of the black community most empowered to assert authority in post-emancipation Memphis - severely circumscribed the options of blacks who chose to behave differently.

Department of History

College Park, MD 20742


I would like to acknowledge the thoughtful criticism and assistance of Ira Berlin, Jan Eckert, Robert Friedel, Gay Gullickson, James Henretta, Steven Miller, and Leslie Rowland. All of the citations to records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) are from the files of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project (henceforth abbreviated FSSP) at the University of Maryland, College Park, directed by Dr. Leslie Rowland. I have included the project's control number with each citation.

(1.) "Memphis Riots and Massacres," 39 Congress, First Session, House of Representatives Report 101, 1865-1866 (1866), p. 7, henceforth cited as Report. This document has been reprinted. See United States Congress, House, Select Committee on the Memphis Riots, Memphis Riots and Massacres (reprint ed., New York, 1969).

(2.) Report, pp. 35-6; James Gilbert Ryan, "The Memphis Riots of 1866: Terror in a Black Community during Reconstruction," Journal of Negro History 62 (July 1977): 243. For other studies of the riot, see Jack D. Holmes, "The Effects of the Memphis Race Riot of 1866," West Tennessee Historical Society Papers 12 (1958): 58-79; Idem., "The Underlying Causes of the Memphis Race Riot of 1866," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 17 (Sept. 1959): 195-221; Altina L. Waller, Community, Class and Race in the Memphis Riot of 1866," Journal of Social History 18 (Winter, 1984): 233-246.

(3.) Memphis Daily Avalanche, May 12, 1866, p. 3, as quoted in Holmes, "Effects of the Memphis Race Riot," pp. 73-74; Report, pp. 276-277; E. 0. Tade to Rev. M[ichael] E. Strieby, 21 May 1866, in Joe M. Richardson, ed., "The Memphis Race Riot and its Aftermath: Report by a Northern Missionary," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 24 (Spring-Winter 1965): P. 64.

(4.) Waller, "Community, Class and Race in the Memphis Riot," pp.234-237. See Table 1 "Occupation of Rioters," for Waller's analysis of the occupation of rioters. I derived the twenty-seven percent figure by assuming that all artisans, laborers, unemployed persons, and persons whose occupation was unknown were from groups that competed with blacks for employment. It is thus likely that the figure errs on the high side.

(5.) Philadelphia Press, July 18, 1863; Boston Liberator, January 29, 1864, as quoted by John Cimprich, Slavery's End in Tennessee, 1861-1865 (University, Alabama, 1985), p. 104.

(6.) See Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, ser. II, The Black Military Experience, ed. Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (Cambridge, U.K., 1982), pp. 733-737, 765-770. For further discussion of the military experience of black soldiers, see Leon F. Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York, 1979), pp. 79-103, 267-274.

(7.) See Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long, pp. 310-22, on black migration to southern cities. Maj. Gen. S. A. Hurlbut to President Lincoln, Memphis, TN, 27 March 1863, Vol. 1/18, 16 AC, pp. 83-85 (#187), Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 385, 16th Army Corps, U.S. Army Continental Commands, RG 393, pt. 2, [henceforth abbreviated RG 393], National Archives and Records Administration [henceforth abbreviated NARA] [C-4861 FSSP]; Major General S. A. Hurlbut to Lt. Col. Jno A. Rawlins, Vol. 1/18 16 AC, p. 83 (#186), Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 385, General records, 16th Army Corps, RG 393, pt. 2, NARA [C-4860 FSSP]; J. H. Grove to Capt. W. T. Clark, Nashville, TN, 21 Sept. 1865, Box 2, G-41 (1865), Letters Received, Ser. 3379, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, Records of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, RG 105, TN and VA [henceforth abbreviated as RG 105], NARA [A-6130 FSSP]; on the 1865 city census, see Kathleen Berkeley, "Like a Plague of Locusts: Immigration and Social Change in Memphis, Tennessee, 1850-1880" (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1980), p. 168.

(8.) Order issued by D. C. Anthony, Provost Marshall of Memphis, Memphis, TN, 11 Nov. 1862, enclosed in E A. Nitchy to Maj. Gen. Curtis, 19 Nov. 1862, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, ser. 1, Volume 1, The Destruction of Slavery, ed. Ira Berlin, Barbara J Fields, Thavolia Glymph, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, (Cambridge, U.K., 1985), P. 439. See also Cimprich, Slavery's End in Tennessee, pp. 19-45.

(9.) See Ira Berlin et al., Destrucdon of Slavery, pp. 251-268. See also Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, pp. 11-15, and the extended discussion of federal policy in Tennessee in Cimprich, Slavery's End in Tennessee, pp. 33-45, 81-97.

(10.) Holmes, "Underlying Causes," p. 216; Ryan, "The Memphis Riots of 1866," p. 244; Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, Table 1, p. 12.

(11.) Special Order No. 50, Bvt. Brig. Gen. [Benjamin P. Runkle], Memphis, TN, 7 April 1866, Vol. 151, p. 30, Special Orders and Circulars Issued, ser. 3523, Subassistant Commissioner for the Subdistrict of Memphis, RG 105, NARA [A-6497 FSSP]; Bvt. Maj. Gen. Jno E. Smith to Bvt. Brig. Gen. Wm. D. Whipple, Memphis, TN, 20 Dec. 1865, No. 183, vol. 1/2 DWT, pp. 192-93 (#402), Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 2865, District of West TN, No. 183, RG 393, Pt. 2, NARA [C-2237].

(12.) On efforts to reestablish family ties after emancipation, see Berlin et al., Destruction of Slavery, pp. 1-56, 249-269; and Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long, pp. 229-247. Lt. Col. John Foley to Lt. Col. T Harris, 11 Jan. 1865, filed with Capt. T A. Walker to Capt. J. S. Lord, 24 Jan. 1865, in Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, p. 719.

(13.) Capt. T A. Walker to Capt. J. S. Lord, 24 jan. 1865, in Berlin et al., Black Military Experience pp. 719-720; Circular issued by Lt. Col. John Phillips, 4 April 1864, in Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, note, p. 720.

(14.) Lt. Col. Robert Cowden to Bvt. Brig. Gen. W. W. Morgan, Memphis, TN, 17 Aug. 1865, Letters Received, Box 39, 59th USCI, Regimental Books and Papers USCT, Colored Troops Division, RG 94, NARA [G-215 FSSP]; Bvt. Maj. Gen. Jno E. Smith to Bvt. Brig. Gen. Wm. D. Whipple, Memphis, TN, 20 Dec. 1865, vol. 1/2 DWT, pp. 192-93 (#402), Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 2865, District of West TN, No. 183, RG 393, pt. 2, NARA [C-2237 FSSP]; Lt. Col. Robert Cowden to Bvt. Brig. Gen. W. W. Morgan, Memphis, TN, 17 Aug. 1865, Letters Received, Box 39, 59th USCI, Colored Troops Division, RG 94, NARA [G-215 FSSP].

(15.) Lt. Col. John Foley to Lt. Col. T Harris, 11 Jan. 1865, in Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, p. 719; Lt. Col. A. Von Schrader to Brig. Gen. Wm. D. Whipple, Mobile, AL, 31 Jan. 1866, Vol. 53/95, pp. 39-40, Reports Sent, Ser. 1056, Inspector, Records of Staff Officers, Department of the Cumberland and Division and Department of TN (P), RG 393, Pt. 1 NARA [C-89a FSSP].

(16.) See Roger Ransom and Richard Sutch, One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation, (New York, 1977), pp. 44-47. Quotation is from p. 44.

(17.) Maj. Gen. S. A. Hurlbut to President Lincoln, Memphis, TN, 27 March 1863, Vol. 1/18, 16 AC, pp. 83-85 (#187), Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 385, 16th Army Corps, RG 393, pt. 2 [C-4861 FSSP]; Major Wm. Gray to Capt. W.T. Clark, Memphis, TN, 13 Sept. 1865, Box 66, Unregistered Letters Received, Ser. 3522, Subassistant Commissioner for the Subdistrict of Memphis, RG 105, NARA [A-6501 FSSP].

(18.) Testimony of Henry G. Smith to Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 294; J. H. Grove to Capt. W. T. Clark, Nashville, TN, 21 Sept. 1865, Box 2, G-41 (1865), Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, RG 105, NARA [A-6130 FSSP]; Bvt. Brig. Gen. N. A. M. Dudley to Capt. Clark, Memphis, TN, 30 Sept. 1865, Box 1, D-66 (1865), Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6108 FSSP]; P D. Beecher to Gen. Runkle, Memphis, TN, 18 May 1866, Unregistered Letters Received, Ser. 3380, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [AA,6057 FSSP].

(19.) Major Wm. Gray to Capt. W.T. Clark, Memphis, TN, 13 Sept. 1865, Box 66, Unregistered Letters Received, Ser. 3522, Subassistant Commissioner for the Subdistrict of Memphis, RG 105, NARA [A-6501 FSSP]; Bvt. Brig. Gen. N. A. M. Dudley to Capt. Clark, Memphis, M, 30 Sept. 1865, Box 1, D-66 (1865), Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6108 FSSP]. For a larger discussion of the policies of the Freedmen's Bureau, see Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 1988), pp. 153-170.

(20.) Warner Madison to Gen. Fisk, enclosed in Bvt. Brig. Gen. N.A.M. Dudley to Capt. Clark, Memphis, TN, 30 Sept. 1865, Box 1, D-66 (1865), Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6108 FSSP].

(21.) Memphis Daily Appeal, 8 Nov. 1865; Memphis Daily Avalanche, 17 May 1866, quoted in Holmes, "Causes of the Memphis Race Riot," pp. 204, 209. See for a wider discussion, Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long, pp. 336-449.

(22.) Rev. IE. Bliss to Gen. N. A. M. Dudley, Memphis, TN, 3 Nov. 1865, enclosed in W.T. Clark to Gen. Fisk, Memphis, TN, 18 Nov. 1865, Box 1, C-93 (1865), Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, Headquarters Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6100 FSSP].

(23.) Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson to Capt. W T Clark, Memphis, TN, 30 Aug. 1865, Unregistered Letters Received, Ser. 3380, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6054 FSSP].

(24.) Circular No. 5., Office Supt. R. F and A. L. Subdist. Memphis, TN, 28 Aug. 1865, Unregistered Letters Received, Ser. 3380, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6054 FSSP]; Maj. A. T Reeve, Circular, Memphis, TN, 19 Dec. 1865, Vol. 15 1, p. 19, Special Orders and Circulars Issued, Ser. 3523, Subassistant Commissioner for the Subdistrict of Memphis, RG 105, NARA [A-6494 FSSP].

(25.) J. H. Grove to Capt. W T Clark, Nashville, TN, 21 Sept. 1865, Box 2, G-41 (1865), Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, RG 105, NARA [A-6130 FSSP]; Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson to Bvt. Brig. Gen. Morgan, Memphis, TN, 26 Aug. 1865, Vol. 133, pp. 42-43 #86), Letters Sent, Ser. 3517, Subassistant Commissioner for the Subdistrict of Memphis, RG 105, NARA [A-6577 FSSP]; Anthony Motley to Gen. Fisk, 28 Sept. 1865, M-84, Registered Letters Received, Ser. 3379, Headquarters, Office of the Assistant Commissioner, TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6501 FSSP].

(26.) See, for further discussion of mass public activity by blacks, Cimprich, Slavery's End in Tennessee, pp. 104-117. These large public gatherings are documented by several circulars issued by Col. Ignatz Kappner: see Circular: Col. 1. G. Kappner [Commanding 59th USCII, Memphis, TN, 24 May 1865; Circular: Col. 1. G. Kappner, Memphis, TN, 30 May 1865; Circular, Col. 1. G. Kppner, Memphis, TN, 31 July 1865, Issuances, Box 40, Regimental Books and Papers USCT, 59th USCI, RG 94, NARA [G-217 FSSP]. Quotes are from Capt. J. G. Woodruff to Col. 1. G. Kappner, Memphis, TN, 30 May 1865, CN 181, box 2, Letters and Reports Received, Ser. 2842, Headquarters, Post and Defenses of Memphis, No. 181, RG 393, Pt. 2, NARA [C-8517 FSSP]; Special Order No. 138: Col. I. G. Kappner; Circular: Col 1. G. Kappner, Memphis, TN, 31 July 1865, Issuances, Box 40, Regimental Books and Papers, 59th USCI USCT, Colored Troops Division, RG 94, NARA [G-217 FSSP]. Emphasis is Kappner's.

(27.) Capt. Chas. P. Brown to Col. I.G. Kappner, Memphis, TN, 21 June 1865, C #179, Letters Received, Ser. 2821, Ft. Pickering, No. 179, RG 393, Pt. 2, NARA [C-1830 FSSP].

(28.) Col. I. G. Kappner to Bvt. Brig; Gen. W H. Morgan, Ft. Pickering, TN, 13 Sept. 1865, Box 2, K E 1 10 DWT 1865, Letters Received, Ser. 2869, District of West TN, No. 183, RG 393, pt. 2, NARA [C-2218 FSSP].

(29.) Special Order No. 240, Bvt. Maj. Gen. J. E. Smith, Memphis, TN, 24 Sept. 1865, Issuances, Box 40, Regimental Books and Papers USCT, 59th USCI, RG 94, NARA [G-217 FSSP]; Bvt. Brig. Gen. Benjamin P. Runkle, Circular, n.p., n.d. [entered in vol. between orders of 28 Feb. and 21 Mar. 18661, vol. 15 1, p. 24, Special Orders and Circulars Issued, Ser. 3523, Subassistant Commissioner for the Subdistrict of Memphis, RG 105, NARA [A-6495 FSSP].

(30.) Affidavit of Charles Swear, Robt. R. Church, and John Green, in Lt. S. S. Garrett to Maj. Wm. L. Porter, Memphis, TN, 17 Feb. 1866, Box 72, Affidavits and Statements, Ser. 3545, Provost Marshal of Freedmen, Memphis TN, RG 105, NARA [A-6586 FSSP]; Testimony of H. G. Dent before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 166.

(31.) One white regiment, the 11th Missouri, was sent to Memphis to allay fears of a black uprising rumored to be scheduled for Christmas of 1865. However, the soldiers proved to be so disruptive and uncontrollable that they were removed several days after they arrived. Indeed, compared to white troops, many observers thought the black soldiers were remarkably well behaved. See' e.g., Bvt. Maj. Gen. Jno E. Smith to Bvt. Brig. Gen. Wm. D. Whipple, Memphis, TN., 9 Jan. 1865, Vol. 1/3 DWT, pp. 20-4, Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 2865, District of West TN, RG 393, Pt. 2, NARA [C-2237 FSSP]; Lt. Col. A. Von Schrader to Brig. Gen. W D. Whipple, Mobile, AL, 31 jan. 1866, Vol. 53/95 DT, pp. 38-51, Reports Sent, Ser. 1056, Inspector, Records of Staff Officers, Department of the Cumberland and Division and Department of FN (P), RG 393, Pt. 1, NARA [C-89a FSSP]. Quotes are from Col. 1. G. Kappner to Bvt. Brig. Gen. W H. Morgan, Ft. Pickering, TN, 13 Sept. 1865, Box 2, K E 1 10 DWT 1865, Letters Received, Ser. 2869, District of West TN, No. 183, RG 393, pt. 2, NARA [C-2218 FSSP]; Bvt. Major Gen. Jno. E. Smith to Bvt. Brig. Gen. Wm. D. Whipple, Memphis, TN, 9 jan. 1866, Vol. 1/3 DWT, pp. 20-4, Letters and Telegrams Sent, Ser. 2865, District of West TN, No. 183, RG 393, pt. 2, NARA, [C,2237 FSSP].

(32.) Testimony of H.G.Dent before Congressional Delegation, Report, p.166; Testimony of Henry Taylor before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 130. Col. 1. G. Kappner of the 3rd USCHA at Fort Pickering reported that "the complaints of continued discharge of fire arms are certainly exaggerated, although hardly a night passes without some firing east of the fort." Kappner to Bvt. Brig. Gen. W H. Morgan, Fort Pickering, TN, 13 Sept. 1865, K E DWT 1865, Box 2, Letters Received, Ser. 2869, District of West TN, No. 183, RG 393, NARA [C-2218 FSSP].

(33.) Testimony of Peter Robinson and Harry Brown before the Military Commission in the Case of John J. Magevney, Memphis, TN, 8-22 Dec. 1865, MM3338, Court Martial Case Files, set. 15, RG 153, NARA [H-8 FSSP]; Statement by Sgt. Joe Brown, 11 Sept. 1865, in Berlin et al., Black Military Experience, pp. 743-744.

(34.) Testimony of Captain A. W Allyn before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 245.

(35.) Testimony of Ellen Dilts before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 64.

(36.) See Ryan, "The Memphis Riots of 1866," for an excellent description of the events of the riot. See also Testimonies of Ellen and Rachel Dilts, Dr. S. J. Quimby, and William Brazier before Congressional Delegation, Report, pp. 63-8, 104, 119-2 1.

(37.) Testimony of Ellen Dilts, David T Egbert,andmartintryderbeforecongressional Delegation, Report, pp. 64, 121, 252.

(38.) Testimony of George Todd before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 256.

(39.) See Ryan, "Memphis Riots of 1866," and Waller, "Community, Class and Race," passim.

(40.) Testimony of H.N. Rankin and Thomas Leonard before Military Commission Organized by Order of General Stoneman, Report, pp. 313-314.; testimony of Francis Erickson before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 109.

(41.) Testimony order.s.j.quimbybeforecongressionaldelegation,report,pp.104-105, 107.

(42.) Testimony of Louis Bennett before the Military Commission Organized by Order of Major General George Stoneman, Report, p. 330. Testimony of Taylor Hunt before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 101. Testimony of Obadiah Stockley before the Commission Organized by the Freedmen's Bureau, Repbrt, p. 336.

(43.) Testimony of Phillis Premier before the Commission Organized by the Freedmen's Bureau, Report, p. 338. Testimony of Primus Lane before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 97.

(44.) Testimony of Dr. S. J. Quimby and Cynthia Townsend before Congressional Delegation, Report, pp. 107, 163.

(45.) The rapes of these women are discussed in Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York, 1976), pp. 24-28. Testimony of Frances Thompson and Lucy Smith before Congressional Delegation, Report, pp. 196-197.

(46.) Testimony of Lucy Tibbs and Cynthia Townsend before Congressional Delegation, Report, pp. 161, 163; see also Testimony of Harriet Armour, pp. 176-177.

(47.) Testimony of Cynthia Townsend, Mary Jordan, and J.M. Randolph before Congressional Delegation, Report, pp. 125, 163, 234-235. Testimony of W B. Greenlaw before the Military Commission Organized by Order of Major General Stoneman, Report, p. 316.

(48.) Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long, pp. 280-281.

(49.) Memphis Daily Avalanche, 5 May 1866,p.2,ascitedinholmes, "Effects of the Memphis Race Riot," p. 71. Testimony of Austin Cotton before Congressional Delegation, Report, p. 102.
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Author:Hardwick, Kevin R.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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