Vicksburg, Miss., Feb. 1st 1865.
Sir: Agreeably to orders and my own duty, I have the honor to forward my report for the month ending 31st Jan. 1865.
The ninth day of the current month is the first anniversary of my entrance into military service. The present thus is a favorable time to make comparisons, and to note the progress which has been made. In reporting from month to month, it frequently happens, that the progress made in the regiment is not very apparent. But when we compute time by the year and not by the month, the change is vast and apparent to all.
During the past year, great progress has been made in a military aspect. This fact is evident to an observer at dress parade, and in the increased attention bestowed upon the minor duties of daily routine. The men are not only more manly, but far more soldierly. Their guns are uniformly cleaner, their brass brighter, their personal cleanliness and general appearance has vastly improved.
The improvement in an educational view is also very marked. One year ago, but a few, not more than fifteen in the regiment knew the alphabet thoroughly. But now the converse is true. The teacher, who is now employed in the regiment, has been connected with it for three months, and during that time, she has found but one person who does not know the alphabet.
In the religious life of the regiment, there has been great change; here even where we would least expect it; for history testifies to the reluctance with which any race give up their religious forms and customs, or their language. The haughty Norman strove, in vain, for years, to supplant the religion and language of the ancient Britons. But here we find a people, so tractable, with such unlimited confidence in their liberators, as to yield up set forms of expression, religious customs and manners, familiar from infancy for those of another race. This is due to no instruction given on these points, nor any effort to make a change. It simply shows the necessary tendency of the human mind to grow into the likeness of those with whom we are brought in contact. These colored people are easily moulded and shaped by the stronger minds which press upon theirs, and which command them.
During the year past, a deep and abiding foundation has been laid for a vast change in moral sentiment, in No. 15 Special Orders, Sec[re]t[ary]. of War legalizing marriages among the Freedmen.1 A revolution is rapidly going on among them in reference to the sacred nature and binding obligations of marriage. One more measure in this direction is greatly needed,–a court with power to grant divorces, on legal and scriptural grounds. The demand is urgent, that evil consequences may be avoided. One instance has come to my knowledge, in my own regiment, where a divorce should be granted, and that for reasons expressly stated in Scripture. It would be well and safe to apply to such persons the doctrine held by the christian church, during all ages, on this subject.
As I have witnessed the progress of freedom for the past year,–when slavery was abolished and forever prohibited in all the territories,–when the negro was admitted to equal rights in United States Courts as parties to suits and as witnesses,–as “the Statute book was cleansed of every support of slavery,”–as state after state has declared emancipation,–as I now witness how christian men and women are following our loyal and conquoring armies with the agencies of mental and moral instruction, to fit and prepare the freedmen for the duties of a new and higher life, every chamber of my heart is filled with rejoicing. Such tidings are grateful to our ears. My response, and that of my fellow officers to such legislation, is, the colored race is worthy of it. Respectfully Submitted.
C. W. Buckley
Chaplain C. W. Buckley to Lt. Austin R. Mills, 1 Feb. 1865, B-284 1865, Letters Received, series 12, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.
1. The order authorized “[a]ny ordained minister of the Gospel,” accredited by proper military authority, to perform such marriages. (Black Military Experience, p. 712n.)
Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 623–24, and in Free at Last, pp. 508–10.