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A Wisconsin Soldier Refuses to Return Slaves to Their Owners in 1862

Introduction: One June day in 1862, Sgt. John Perry was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when two escaping slaves appeared at his regiment’s camp wearing iron shackles. African American refugees whoʹd escaped from their owners swarmed around every Union Army camp at the time, sometimes outnumbering the troops 2 to 1. This had led General Thomas Williams to issue General Order 46 on June 5, 1862, requiring all U.S. troops to return escaped slaves to their owners. Perry’s colonel, Halbert E. Paine, ordered the shackles and iron collars removed from these two slaves, and refused to return them into slavery. In the correspondence cited below, he explains his reasons for this direct disobedience of orders in letters to his commanding officer. Gen. Williams was not impressed by Paineʹs argument, and stripped him of his command and his weapons. A few months later Gen. Williams was relieved of his own command, Paine was raised to the rank of Brigadier General, and the more memorable of the two slaves left to enlist in a Union regiment of African American volunteers. The next year Paine lost a leg and Perry was wounded in the stomach at the Battle of Port Hudson, where the first African American regiments fought alongside the Wisconsin 4th Infantry.

Background Reading: Abolition and Other Reforms http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp021/ and The Iron Brigade, Old Abe and Military Affairs http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp023/

Documents to Analyze: ʺNews from the 4th Regiment ‐‐ Col. Paine Under Arrestʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1362 and ʺA Shameful Historyʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1363

Who, What, Where, When, Why: These two newspaper articles appeared in the Wisconsin press in the summer of 1862. The first prints letters between Col. Paine and Gen Williamsʹ staff. The second provides further details from Rev. A. C. Barry, chaplain to the 4th Infantry, who had just returned from the front.

Related Documents: Perry, John T. ʺPrize Story” [his account of the refugee slaves, referred to above] http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1352 and


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