Teachable Moment – Civil War “Impressed” Blacks

“Impressed Laborers” – by definition this is simply taking men into service by force,

with or without their consent. Spend time, read the names, listen to their stories.

During the Civil War the Union Army’s supplies were delivered by rail and water. Not unlike our highways fueling our economy today, the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers’ were highways fueling Grant, Sherman, Thomas and other Union Generals in our country’s mid-section. A recent post was about the Union Supply Depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee (see; Josiah Meigs and the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery, Battery “A”). The Nashville-Northwestern Railroad was the connecting road from that depot on the Tennessee River to Nashville and railroads to Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Decatur (AL).

When the war started 24 miles of rail had been completed from Nashville to Kingston Springs to the west. It would be the Union Army that would complete the line to the Tennessee River.

Federal troops camped at Johnsonville oversaw the construction. Much of the labor came from free blacks and escaped slaves joined by Irish immigrants. Many of the black laborers became members of the United States Colored Troops and some stayed behind after the construction to guard the railroad.

The paragraphs above is the story, quite compressed, taken from articles written to document the building of the railroad and the place it and Johnsonville had during the Civil War. Much more compelling to the actual events and people are original documents from the period. I must confess that despite the passion to learn, I am quite short on the technical ability to (literally) inset a document here and must lead you to complete the task of looking at, and appreciating its historical value, a treasure found online.

http://tnmap.tn.gov/civilwar/

  • Go to “Zoom To Engagement”
  • Down arrow and go to Johnsonville (11/4/1864)
  • On the detail panel to the right open the document “N&NWLabor_1863.pdf”

Fifty-seven (57) “impressed blacks” names written onto this Roll of Negros Impressed for Service on the North-Western Railroad, the majority from Montgomery County and Clarksville, TN.

Spend time, read the names, listen to their stories.

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