Today in History:

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson made a heartfelt plea to President Lincoln, penned in July 1863. In her letter, she articulated the injustices endured by her son and other Black soldiers fighting for the Union cause. As a mother and a descendant of a former slave, Hannah understood the gravity of the conflict and the stakes for African Americans seeking liberation.

Hannah's letter reflected her deep concern for the fair treatment of Black soldiers, who faced discrimination and brutality both on and off the battlefield. She advocated for their rights with courage and conviction, demanding equal treatment and respect for their sacrifices. Her words resonated with a sense of urgency, urging President Lincoln to address the injustices inflicted upon African American troops by Confederate forces.

Despite her lack of formal education, Hannah's letter conveyed a profound understanding of human rights and moral principles. She questioned the hypocrisy of a nation founded on the ideals of liberty and equality, yet plagued by the scourge of slavery and racial oppression. Through her impassioned plea, she challenged President Lincoln to uphold the values of freedom and justice for all Americans.


Buffalo [N.Y.]  July 31 1863

Excellent Sir   My good friend says I must write to you and she will send it   My son went in the 54th regiment.  I am a colored woman and my son was strong and able as any to fight for his country and the colored people have as much to fight for as any.  My father was a Slave and escaped from Louisiana before I was born morn forty years agone   I have but poor edication but I never went to schol, but I know just as well as any what is right between man and man.  Now I know it is right that a colored man should go and fight for his country, and so ought to a white man.  I know that a colored man ought to run no greater risques than a white, his pay is no greater his obligation to fight is the same.  So why should not our enemies be compelled to treat him the same, Made to do it.

My son fought at Fort Wagoner but thank God he was not taken prisoner, as many were   I thought of this thing before I let my boy go but then they said Mr. Lincoln will never let them sell our colored soldiers for slaves,  if they do he will get them back quck   he will rettallyate and stop it.  Now Mr Lincoln dont you think you oght to stop this thing and make them do the same by the colored men   they have lived in idleness all their lives on stolen labor and made savages of the colored people, but they now are so furious because they are proving themselves to be men, such as have come away and got some edication.  It must not be so.  You must put the rebels to work in State prisons to making shoes and things, if they sell our colored soldiers, till they let them all go.  And give their wounded the same treatment.  it would seem cruel, but their no other way, and a just man must do hard things sometimes, that shew him to be a great man.  They tell me some do you will take back the Proclamation,  don't do it.  When you are dead and in Heaven, in a thousand years that action of yours will make the Angels sing your praises I know it.  Ought one man to own another, law for or not,  who made the law, surely the poor slave did not.  so it is wicked, and a horrible Outrage, there is no sense in it,  because a man has lived by robbing all his life and his father before him, should he complain because the stolen things found on him are taken.  Robbing the colored people of their labor is but a small part of the robbery   their souls are almost taken, they are made bruits of often.  You know all about this

Will you see that the colored men fighting now, are fairly treated.  You ought to do this, and do it at once, Not let the thing run along   meet it quickly and manfully, and stop this, mean cowardly cruelty.  We poor oppressed ones, appeal to you, and ask fair play.  Yours for Christs sake

Hannah Johnson.

[In another handwriting]  Hon. Mr. Lincoln   The above speaks for itself   Carrie Coburn

Hannah Johnson to Hon. Mr. Lincoln, 31 July 1863, J-17 l863, Letters Received, series 360, Colored Troops Division, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.

Published in Freedom's Soldiers - The Black Military Experience, in Free at Last, in Families and Freedom.