What was it like to be an African-American soldier during the Civil War? The writings of George E. Stephens thunder across the more than a century that has passed since the war, answering that question and telling us much more. A Philadelphia cabinetmaker and a soldier in the famed Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment - featured in the film Glory - Stephens was the most important African-American war correspondent of his era. The forty-four letters he wrote between 1859 and 1864 for the New York Weekly Anglo-African, together with thirteen photographs and Donald Yacovone's biographical introduction detailing Stephens's life and times, provide a singular perspective on the greatest crisis in the history of the United States. 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 heroism and persistence in the face of danger and insult. The 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 critic.
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