George E. Stephens, the most
important African-American war correspondent of his era, served in the
famed black Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, subject of the film Glory.
His letters from the front, published in the New York Weekly Anglo-African,
brilliantly detail two wars: one against the Confederacy and one against
the brutal, debilitating racism within his own Union Army. Together with
Donald Yacovone's biographical introduction detailing Stephens's life
and times, they provide a singular perspective on the greatest crisis
in the history of the United States.
Stephens chronicled the African-American
quest for freedom in reports from southern Maryland and eastern Virginia
in 1861 and 1862 that detailed, among other issues of the day, the Army
of the Potomac's initial encounter with slavery, the heroism of fugitive
slaves, and the brutality both Southerners and Union troops inflicted
From the inception of the
Fifty-fourth early in 1863 Stephens was the unit's voice, telling of its
struggle against slavery and its quest to win the pay it had been promised.
His description of the July 18, 1863, assault on Battery Wagner near Charleston,
South Carolina, and his writings on the unit's eighteen-month campaign
to be paid as much as white troops are gripping accounts of continued
heroism in the face of persistent insult.
The Weekly Anglo-African
was the preeminent African-American newspaper of its time. Stephens's
correspondence, intimate and authoritative, takes in an expansive array
of issues and anticipates nearly all modern assessments of the black role
in the Civil War. His commentary on the Lincoln administration's wartime
policy and his conviction that the issues of race and slavery were central
to nineteenth-century American life mark him as a major American social