On February 6 of this year, I wrote a blog post about Abraham, a formerly enslaved person who was “blown to freedom” at Vicksburg.
I found something very compelling about this man. He is young, seems to be relatively healthy, and has a look on his face in his DVD that is simple and direct. His story struck me as unusual, and it stayed with me for months after I initially read it. Luckily, Abraham’s story struck ECW reader Mike Maxwell in a similar way.
I am not sure if anyone knows why someone or something appeals to a person. It seems random to me, but I am no psychologist. Abraham, Mike, and I just hit it off. Mike replied to the initial post several times, and finally, I asked him if we could talk further, only not at ECW. We both had the same questions concerning Abraham. To whom did he belong initially? Was he really inside the mine? What happened to him immediately after the explosion? What happened later? Was General Logan involved in any way? Mrs. General Logan? We wanted to know more.
It is difficult to track down information when one is dealing with enslaved people. The destruction of massive amounts of Confederate war records alone is problematic, but slave records are hard to come by as well. We agreed to begin with information about the Third Louisiana Redan. First, I needed to know what a redan was. Apparently it is a fortification having two parapets forming a salient angle, an unfortified entrance usually protected by its location (as on the bank of a stream, at the head of a bridge, or in advance of a strong line), and often a connection (as by curtains) with other such fortifications as a simple form of fieldwork. Using this definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster, I looked at maps of the siege area at Vicksburg. I found the site of the redan and quickly saw why the idea of counter-mining the area to create a crater might have seemed like a good idea to the Confederates. Historian Harry Winschel relates the story of the results of the second explosion and Abraham for the American Battlefield Trust at this link: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/videos/vicksburg-third-louisiana-redan.
I plan to tell ECW readers the story of researching Abraham in a series of posts, of which this is the first. Mike and I found some incredible primary source information, including a letter from P. T. Barnum to General Logan. We learned a lot about how slaves were hired by the Confederacy to do jobs that white soldiers did not care to do–like digging a mine. We answered some of our questions, but not all of them. We even found more questions, but not always more answers. We met interesting people with whom we continue to correspond. We ran into many dead ends.
Working in tandem with a talented researcher like Mike Maxwell has been an enjoyable experience for me. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to try an idea out on someone else before jumping down a rabbit hole, and Chris Mackowski is not always available to haul my sorry self out of the ground. Mike is a pleasure to work with, and if you have not had the experience of historical teamwork, try it. I will share our methods, our successes, and our failures right here at ECW. So if our readers have ever wondered just exactly what it is that historians do, this series should serve as one example.
I am looking forward to telling as much of Abraham’s story as possible. After all this time, he deserves a little justice.