Celebrate freedom Monday night
This year, in Natchez, a special freedom’s eve program will be at 6 p.m., Dec. 31, at the City Auditorium to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
This event in Natchez will feature an interdenominational choir led by Alvin Shelby. The entire community is invited to attend. Later, watch night services at various churches will be held as midnight approaches.
This program will have a special meaning for me as well as for many of those in attendance. Many will be great-grandchildren of enslaved people who heard the news of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago and waited for the arrival of Union troops in their neighborhood.
The Emancipation Proclamation depended on the Union Army occupying those areas which had left the Union in order for freedom to be realized.
One of those Union soldiers was my great-grandfather, Hermann, who was pinned down that night beneath the guns of Vicksburg and the Chickasaw Bayou. A dreadful hail of minnie balls and cannon balls fired from the heights of the Chickasaw Bluffs fell on them while they floundered in the swamp.
Chickasaw Bayou was the first major battle and only defeat suffered by Indiana’s 83rd Infantry Regiment during three years of war. New Year’s Day began a retreat from the bayou to their boats on the Yazoo River.
It would be nearly five months before they gained a position on high ground surrounding the fortress of Vicksburg. After Vicksburg surrendered, the Emancipation Proclamation began to take full effect in Adams County with the occupation of Natchez and the recruitment of the United States Colored Troops to hold this area for the Union.
My grandfather Hermann came to Indiana from Germany as a small boy. Born in 1841, he was about 21 years of age when he joined the Union Army 150 years ago.
Why he joined is not known. The Civil War was not going well for the Union, and the Mississippi River could no longer be counted on as an outlet for midwestern agricultural products.
The idea of “the Union” may have been taught to the immigrant child in Indiana schoolhouses. Perhaps it was his elders who better knew how the United States represented the last best hope for liberty after European freedom movements had been crushed in 1848.
The immigrants had experienced far greater freedom in the U.S. by being able to own their own land rather than live as landless peasants. The feudal bondage of their ancestors in serfdom was nowhere to be seen in the U.S. except in the far more severe bondage of African people in slavery.
Of course, for many young men of the 83rd, it was adventure that drew them to the awful war.
Freedom’s Eve for them was a baptism under fire which may have dampened their ardor for battle quickly!
They persevered because they were linked together by ties forged in battle, and each company felt obligated to entire communities of relatives and friends back home.
I will be at the Natchez City Auditorium at 6 p.m. on the 150th anniversary of freedom’s eve to remember my great-grandpa at Chickasaw Bayou and celebrate a victory which was being celebrated in the quarters long before the victory came.
David Dreyer is an Adams County resident.