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51. Iowa Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood to Lincoln on enlistment of African-American soldiers


51. Iowa Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood to Lincoln on enlistment of African-American soldiers


Letter from Iowa Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood to Abraham Lincoln protesting the actions of General Willis A. Gorman who would not allow Iowa Colonel William T. Shaw to enlist African-American troops in Arkansas as commanded by General Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the Department of the Missouri, in compliance with a recent Union law. Kirkwood frames his protest in the context of the need for officers to implement the recent Emancipation Proclamation unconditionally and in the spirit of declaration in order for it to have full effect. February 2, 1863.




Becki Plunkett and Stephen Vincent


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State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines

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State Archives of Iowa: Record Group 43 (Governor)

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Executive office Iowa February 2d. 1863 His Excellency[,] The President Sir[,] Appreciating as I do the responsibilities and cares of your position I have avoided obtruding upon you my opinions except in cases wherein I would in my judgment have been wanting in my duty to the country had I forborne to do so. A case of this kind in my judgment now presents itself illustrating a grave question of policy. On the 8th of January Col. Wm. T. Shaw received from Major General Curtis com[mandin]g the Department of the Missouri written orders to repair to Helena Arkansas and report to the office commanding the Eastern District of Arkansas for duty in organizing and mustering in troops to be raised from persons emancipated from servitude for garrison or other duty, as contemplated in the proclamation of his excellency the President of the 1st of January. In obedience to this order Colonel Shaw repaired to Helena making that point about the 16th January, and reported to Brig. General [Willis A.] Gorman commanding, delivering the order of Gen[.] Curtis. General Gorman promptly refused to recognize Col[.] Shaw as an officer under his command, positively refused to issue any orders or to afford Col[.] Shaw any facilities to execute the orders of Gen. Curtis[,] used grossly insulting language to Col[.] Shaw for being willing to act under such an order, stated that if he (Gen[.] Gorman) had any officer under his command that would help to execute such orders he would have him mustered out of service and that if any man should attempt to raise negro soldiers there his men would shoot them. Throughout the entire interview his demeanor and language to Col. Shaw was grossly insulting and abusive. Shortly after this interview a member of the 2d Arkansas Cavalry handed to Col. Shaw a letter directed on the outside the envelope "Col Shaw in charge of negro camp" The letter was as follows "Executive office[,] Helena Ark[ansa]s[,] Jan[uar]y 23[,] 1863 General Orders No[.] 2 No person or persons in the State of Arkansas shall be enlisted or recruited to serve as soldiers except by an officer duly appointed by the Military Governor of this State. Amos F[.] Enos[,] Secretary of State pro. tem." Colonel Shaw finding he could not execute the order of Gen[.] Curtis reported in person to him. Mr[.] President I do not desire to intermeddle in matters which I have not legitimate concern nor do I think I am so doing in bringing this matter to your notice. Col[.] Shaw is a gallant officer from the State of Iowa commanding the 14th Regiment Iowa Vol[unteer} Inf[ant]ry. He led his regiment bravely at Donelson and Shiloh, was taken prisoner at the latter place and after a long and severe imprisonment was parolled and exchanged in October & November last. Except in military position he is at least Gen. Gorman[']s equal. He has been grossly insulted while endeavoring as a good soldier should to execute the orders of his superior officer. But the precise point to which I desire to direct your attention is this. The proclamation issued by you on the 1st of January last was an act the most important you have ever performed and more important than in all human probability you will ever again perform. I shall not here argue whether its results will be good or evil. Had you not believed the good of the country imperatively demanded its issuance you would not have issued it. I most cordially and heartily endorse it. But Mr[.] President the proclamation cannot be productive of good results unless it [is] observed and put in force. You know its promulgation has afforded many men a pretext for arranging themselves against the country and if, having been promulgated it is allowed be [?] inoperative its effects must [be] all evil and none good. Then how may it be executed? Can it be, will it be executed by such men as General Gorman? Permit me to say in all frankness but with proper respect and deference, the history of the world cannot show an instance where a policy of a nature to array men strongly for and against it, was ever successfully carried into effect by its opponents. It is not in the nature of thing it should be so, and with the facts herein presented, within my knowledge, I cannot feel that I have discharged my duty without saying, that in my judgment, it cannot produce the good effects its friends believe it is capable of producing and must produce only evil unless you depend for carrying it into effect, upon those who believe it to be a wise and good measure. Many men holding high commands in the armies of the Union openly renounce the proclamation as an "abolition" document and say it has changed the war from a war for the preservation of the Union into a war for freeing the negroes. This is caught up & goes through the ranks and produces a demoralizing effect on the men whose political afiliation [sic] has been with the Democratic party and they say "they did not enlist to fight for niggers," while the men whose affiliation has been with the Republican party are as disheartened and discouraged at discerning[sic?] that the policy of the President which they heartily endorse and approve is ridiculed and thwarted by the men who should carry it into effect. If that proclamation is to be respected and enforced, it had better never have been issued. Permit me further to call your notice to the document copied herein issued by "Amos F. Eno Secretary of State pro tem." As the Governor of the loyal state of Iowa duly elected by the people of that state I would not feel at liberty to order that no persons should be enlisted or recruited as soldiers in Iowa except by an officer duly approved by myself and it certainly seems to me the subordinate of a military governor appointed by you for a state in rebellion against the government should not have that honor. This act of this man is evidence of the determination of men holding there authority from you to disregard & bring into disrepute the policy you have have felt bound [to] adopt. There is a further act of this Mr[.] Eno that I feel obliged to bring to your notice. He claims to act as Adjutant General of the Military Governor of Arkansas and I am informed by authority upon which I confidently rely that recently [?] he turned from 100 to 150 sick & worn out[?] soldiers out of a comfortable house wherein they had been placed in order to use the house as his Head Quarters, that these poor fellows were removed while it was raining and that some them actually died while being removed. I am unwilling to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I am not influenced by party political considerations. There are few men in this country with whom I differed polictically [sic] more unless than with Gen[.] Butler, yet it is to me a source of great pleasure that he is to supersede at New Orleans a distinguished and able officer of my own political faith. Gen[.] Butler is prompt, ready, & anxious to do the work assigned him [sic] are the men we must have to have success. I care not what their political opinions have [sic] they unconditionally [?] on the Union today.