TOWNSEND, Edward C. Fifteen autograph letters signed, 30 April 1863 - 15 December 1877, to Marion Teall. Together 59 pp., 4tos and 8vos, some written in pencil, all with original postmarked envelopes.
VIVID LETTERS FROM THE BATTLEFIELD BY A COMMANDER OF "COLORED TROOPS": "WAR TO SUBMISSION, THEN HANG THE LEADERS." A fascinating collection of letters--a virtual combat memoir--from Edward C. Townsend, Co. F, 152nd Regiment, NYS Volunteers, who proudly captained a company of "Colored troops" in the Army of the Potomac's 23rd Regiment. A native of Boston, Townsend's graphic letters are a potent mixture of abolitionism and evangelical fervor. He looks forward to "slaughtering" the rebel troops in April 1863, saying "I am not naturally bloodthirsty, but...I am eager for the mighty conflict to begin. Never did I feel more anxious to face the traitors than now..." For him, the Union army is a force for "national salvation" (12 May), and he recommends "War to submission, and then hang the leaders (28 May 1863).
He had just returned from a "severe campaign" he writes Marion on 20 December 1863, and gives a vivid account of Virginia fighting, pausing to defend his commanders. "No doubt you have read the slurs cast upon Genl. Meade, because he did not order his troops to make a certain charge upon a long line of the enemy's works...The sacrifice would have been too fearful, contemplating the objects to be gained...."
The bloody Wilderness campaigns of 1864 take some of the ardor out of Townsend's letters. He is grimmer and more fatalistic, yet can marvel that the "Johnnies" have not yet put a scratch on him. In April he is commissioned Captain in the 23rd regiment of U.S. Colored Troops. On 8 August 1864 he is "still in the land of the living" after the "terrible battle before Petersburg on the 30th of last month." That was the great Petersburg mine assault, into which Townsend's regiment charged after the explosion. He defends the performance of his black troops under fire. "There are plenty of fanatical and prejudiced minds who are perfectly willing to blame the Colored troops and without the faintest tinge of reason or justice," he writes. His soldiers made "a splendid and successful charge" while it was the white troops who disobeyed direct orders to advance.
On 18 April 1865, having survived the war, he is devastated by Lincoln's murder. "Never before did I shed tears over the death of a public man, but the flood would come this time, and I was no exception, for hundreds and thousands of men, strong men, who had not wept for years broke down with sobs and deep emotion over the news of our President's death....woe be to those who laugh at his death, or who shall dare to proclaim the least amount of sympathy for rebels."