New Bern, NC: 1864. Autograph letter. 4to, on ruled paper, in ink in a neat hand; with a full typed transcription. 6-pages, approximately 850 words, fully half of which is devoted to a plan to raise a regiment of African-American soldiers in Florida, in part: "I would desire an independent command in Florida with one Regt. of whites to start with and using them as I progress as material to officer the Colored Regts. with, for instance the 24th Mass. Regt. now there, a Regt. of excellent material. I was in the same Brigade with them when they were at Newberne and am personally acquainted with a large portion of their officer s. I would take with me Fred Douglass whom I learn I could get and one or two other eloquent colored men to make use of in 'drawing in' the Contrabands as security let them at once commence with what there are in our lines and as soon as this material is disposed of make inroads upon the territory of the enemy and bring in their slaves. Those Contrabands capable of doing a soldier's duty should be made soldiers of. Then I would have the same party whom I made use of to secure enlistments constantly moving about among the soldiers making inflammatory speeches and exciting among the most revengeful and deadly hatred towards those who have held them in bondage. A Negro's feelings are easily aroused and when they are thoroughly so they will fight like demons. I would rather have one thousand enraged and maddened men than three or four times that number of ordinary soldiers. A class of fighting men of this material would soon strike terror and consternation to the enemy." Very good. Folded for mailing. (11125). Item #64878
Col. Henry Sisson (1831-1910), commanding the 5th Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteer Heavy Artillery which he raised and led in the occupation of New Bern in late 1862, wrote to Sprague hoping that he would use his influence in Washington, to help him earn a promotion to brigadier general and command of the Department of Florida. The Sissons were a prominent early Rhode Island family, many of whose members had become staunch Republicans and abolitionists; he was well-connected and (apparently) an extreme abolitionist himself, writing further "there is not state with such a preponderance of slaves which can be so easily entered as Florida. Successful inroads upon that state would also have great importance in a commercial point of view. Gov. Smith [James Y. Smith, governor of R./I., 1863-66, succeeding Sprague who was elected to the Senate in 1862] ... will make a strong claim in my behalf on the ground that Rhode Island has now no Brig. Genl. from her Vols ... and that the entire Congressional influence of our state are united in my favor ... [which] should have much weight with the President. What a mistake he made in not allowing you to raise those colored troops at the time you asked it in Aug. 1862. If he had granted your request ... a Brigade could then have been raised much easier than a Regt. now." Sisson was discharged for medical reasons in late 1864 without having realized his vision. Noteworthy nonetheless is his confidence in the fighting spirit of Negro troops once instilled with a vengefulness worthy of John Brown. The whole plan and its ruthless means -- with Frederick Douglass, no less, and other "eloquent colored men" fueling the rage of liberated slaves -- cannot but evoke the memory of Harper's Ferry. Such tactics could not have found much acceptance among officers and advocates for African-American participation in the war. Surely they would have been mindful of the frequent hostility exhibited by white Union soldiers toward blacks, and the disturbances that could arise within Union ranks. Sisson served as Lt. Governor of Rhode Island, 1875-1877.