Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 116 / Number 1
A Black Journalist in Civil War Virginia: Robert Hamilton and the Anglo-African
- By Debra Jackson, pp. 42 –72
This article recounts the experiences of African American newspaperman Robert Hamilton during his journey through the Union-occupied South from late 1863 until the end of January 1864. A native New Yorker and radical abolitionist, Hamilton was an engaging correspondent who addressed a variety of topics, from the food served to U.S.C.T. soldiers in camp to the excellent quality of Virginia soil; from the oratory powers of various preachers to the civil unrest by local whites grappling with the revolutionary events in their society. Hamilton's commentaries on aspects of this changing world allow readers to assess the viewpoint of a free black man of the North, with no personal experience of slavery, as he encountered freedpeople who confided their own stories of life within that institution. In one sense Hamilton was no respecter of color: if one finds that he rails against Union generals exhibiting pro-slavery sentiments, one also finds him indignant and impatient at the complaints by black soldiers of the unequal pay they receive from the U.S. government for their military service. Hamilton is adamantly pro-Union with an unswerving devotion to an aggressive prosecution of the war and the eradication of slavery. He had harsh words for the system that enslaved his people in the South and for able-bodied black men who doubt the merits of donning the Union blue. In the end, Hamilton remained an optimist in his critique of the collapsing Confederacy as he anticipated a new and prosperous Virginia and, indeed, a new nation.