Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Mustered Out" May 1866, Little Rock Arkansas, A First Day of Freedom

Colorized Image  from Harper's Weekly illustration
of Black  Civil War soldiers  mustered out of service in Little Rock Arkansas
Source: Harper's Weekly, May 19, 1866

One of my favorite Civil War images was depicted in a Harper's Weekly illustration, of black soldiers being mustered out of the US Colored Troops in Little Rock Arkansas. 

The illustration was printed with the caption, "Mustered Out" and the scene depicted is beautiful.  The soldiers were greeted in the middle of the street by their wives and children, and the sight of it all, must have been so moving that a Civil War illustrator, for Harper's Weekly, captured that moment.

Dead center is the man in a loving embrace with his wife.  Her face is not shown, only the back side of her bonnet. His face is not shown, only the side of his head and his cap atop his head as he pours his affections upon his wife, and their embrace can only be described as so tender.

Soldier and wife in loving embrace

But so much more occurs in that image: 

One soldier introduces his comrade, to his wife. The soldier tips his hat to the Mrs. and the soldier proudly holds their child in his arms.

One soldier introduces his army buddy to his wife.

On the far right of that picture, very faintly, there is an image of a lady who stands alone in the street as if looking for her loved one to return.  

I mention her here, because I have to think about my ancestor Lydia Talkington.  Her husband never made it home. He was injured at Jenkins Ferry and later died from his wounds. And I still wonder as Union soldiers returned to her community in NW Arkansas, did she stand to the side, watching such a reunion?  Did her heart ache over and over, as she still scoured the crowd of men, hoping to see her own husband, although knowing that he had already died?  Did she wonder if it had possibly been a mistake and maybe, just maybe he might come home to her? Did such a scene that brought such joy to many, strike a bittersweet note in the hearts of those whose loved ones were lost?

In another part of that image, other soldiers stand embracing their wives and looking around as joy explodes all around them.  Not only were these men of war returning, but these families had a new beginning, a chance at last, at life! They could stay, they could leave, and these men now had a voice in the direction that their families could take!  They had taken the risk, and had won!

Other groups of soldiers with their wives and children

Those of us who research the 19th century whether Civil War era, or not, can appreciate that moments of pure joy were few and far between, for many who lived during those years.  But the pure joy of families reunited, and enjoying freedom for the first time, had to be a special time, for so many of our ancestors.  The fact that historical illustrators were so moved to capture this scene for Harper's Weekly, suggests that to have been there at that moment was special indeed. 

Over the years, as time would pass, images of former slaves were presented as caricatures and people to ridicule and that trend would be placed in magazines, postcards, newspapers, for decades.  

But at this moment at the very end of this War for Freedom, this is an image that viewers of any era, from any place, can understand.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

this is a beautiful picture. very moving.