A Union Soldier Describes His Attitudes Toward Race

Author: Samuel Shenk
Date: 1863


After the Battle of Antietam, Lee’s forces retreated into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with almost no interference. Frustrated by McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness, Lincoln replaced him with General Ambrose E. Burnside (1824-1881). In December 1862, Burnside attacked 73,000 Confederate troops at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Six times Burnside launched frontal assaults on Confederate positions. The Union army suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, twice the number suffered by Lee’s men, severely damaging northern morale.

After the defeat at Fredericksburg, Lincoln removed Burnside and replaced him with Joseph Hooker (1814-1879). In May 1863, Hooker tried to attack Lee’s forces from a side or flanking position. In just ten minutes, Confederate forces routed the Union army at the Battle of Chancellorsville. But the Confederate victory came at a high cost. Lee’s ablest lieutenant, Stonewall Jackson, was accidently shot by a Confederate sentry and died of a blood clot.

Despite Confederate victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Union showed no signs of giving up. In a bid to shatter northern morale and win European recognition, Lee’s army launched a daring invasion of Pennsylvania.

In this letter, a Union soldier mentions Lee’s offensive into Pennsylvania and offers insight into his own attitudes toward race.


Dear and Beloved Wife this afternoon I take the Pleasure to answer your kind and welcome letter I received today. I was very glad to learn that you was well at the time of writing I am well at the Present and I hope the Lord may let me have my good health During this Campaign…. I am very sorry to hear that the Rebels are in Pennsylvania But I hope the men will be Patriots enough to turn out and Chase or Drive the traitors from our soil. War news we have not as much as you have at home for all the news we have here come from our native State that is from Pennsylvania you need not get scared yet the Rebs will not get there yet you will stay where you are yet and don’t be scared…. I think if our government would take more interest to how they used the Poor Soldiers and less these stinken old worn out Negroes for the Rebs to feed and take that which to give to the Negroes I think this war would a great deal quicker get settled. But they take better care of the Negroes then they do of a Poor white Soldier.


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Samuel Shenk to his wife