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Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (23 April 1864)
W., "The Black Hero" The Anglo-African (23 April 1864): [1]View Poem Image
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"In the fight at Suffolk," writes J. W. Jackson,[1] Sergeant-
Major of the 5th U. S. Colored Troops, from Balfour Hospi-
, Portsmouth, Va., "seventy-five of our Black Virginia
Cavalry[2] were surrounded by three regiments of rebel in-
, and gallantly cut through them, and an orderly-
sergeant killed with his sabre six of the enemy, and escaped
with the loss of an arm by grape-shot. He lies in an ad-
room, and is slowly recovering."
Brave man! Thy deeds shall fill the trump of fame, And wake responsive echoes far and wide, And on contemners of thy race cast shame, For thou has nobly with the noblest vied.
Thy deeds recall the charge at Balaklava,[3] Wherein six hundred were immortalized; Not any hero of that charge was braver And thy great valor shall be recognized.
No wolf pursued by hounds o'er hill and plain, At last more savagely stands up at bay, Finding past efforts to escape all vain, Then cleaves through dying hounds his bloody way.
Thine was the task amid war's wild alarm, The valor of thy race to vindicate; Now admiration all true bosoms warm And places thee among the gallant great.
It thrills our hearts to think upon the strife In which, surrounded by the rebel host, Thou didst deal death for liberty and life, And freedom win, although an arm was lost.
Oh, lion-hearted hero, whose fierce sword Made breathless thy oppressors, bravely bear Thy sufferings; for our sympathies are poured For thee and gladly would relieve or share.


  1. Probably John W. Jackson (b. 1839, Virginia). The 1860 census describes Jackson as a black farmer living in Scioto, Ross County, Ohio. He was one of the first men to enlist in 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Colored), later renamed the Fifth Regiment United States Colored Troops. Ohio governor David Tod received War Department authorization to raise this regiment on June 16, 1863; the first recruits were mustered into the ranks on June 22. Jackson joined Company C on June 26. The regiment formed at Camp Delaware throughout the summer and fall; it was ordered south, to Norfolk, Virginia, in November 1863. Jackson was promoted to sergeant major in early December.
    The Fifth Regiment United States Colored Troops served in Virginia, at Norfolk and Portsmouth, until January 1864; then they moved to Yorktown, where they stayed until May. The soldiers took part in operations against Petersburg and Richmond between June and December 1864. Jackson was mustered out of the service on September 20, 1865. The 1870 census describes him as a clerk in a livery stable at Chillicothe, and newly married.
    The source of the epigraph has not been identified; given Jackson's formal identification within the text, newspaper correspondence seems probable. The form and style of the epigraph must have conveyed meaning to contemporary readers; they did not necessarily need to know the source of a particular quotation in order to recognize the poem as a response to a public account of an African American soldier's courageous resistance. The epigraph's authority is rooted in the testimony of a distinguished soldier—Sergeant Major Jackson—rather than the name of a particular newspaper. Both Jackson's name and the form of the epigraph serve to mark the story of "The Black Hero" as established fact.
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  2. The First and Second Regiments of United States Colored Cavalry (USCC) were organized in Virginia, in late December 1863 under the auspices of General Benjamin Butler. The Second USCC, commanded by Colonel George W. Cole, served at Fort Monroe, Portsmouth, and Williamsburg, Virginia, during the first half of 1864. The "fight at Suffolk" comprised the unit's first battle experience. On March 9, 1864, the Second USCC "skirmished with Rebel infantry (said to belong to Ransom's Brigade) near Bethel Church, outside Suffolk, Virginia" (Noah Andre Trudeau, "'Proven Themselves In Every Respect to Be Men': Black Cavalry in the Civil War," in Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, ed. John David Smith [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002], 288). An isolated company found itself faced with a larger Confederate force; after the arrival of four more companies, the cavalrymen of the Second USCC were able to make a stand outside Suffolk. Confederate cavalry and artillery forced them to retreat (288).Go back
  3. The Nattle of Balaclava (October 25, 1854) took place during the Crimean War (1853–1856). In "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854), poet laureate Alfred Tennyson paid tribute to the British cavalrymen who charged Russian guns as a result of bungled orders. The Light Brigade lost more than 500 of its 700 troopers; Tennyson used "six hundred" not "seven hundred" in his refrain, because "six" was better suited to his metrical scheme. The poem proved hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and was oft-quoted during the Civil War. Abolitionist poets affirmed that African American soldiers were as brave as Tennyson's famous Light Brigade, acknowledged representatives of mid-nineteenth-century heroism. See also George H. Boker's "The Second Louisiana" (Anglo-African, June 27, 1863) and J. Madison Bell's "The Black Brigade" (Anglo-African, February 6, 1864).Go back