Did you know… Susie Baker King Taylor(Aug 6,1848- October 6, 1912)?
Susie King Taylor is the only black woman confirmed to have published a biography of the US Civil War. Taylor was born into slavery in the south. Her book “Reminiscences of My Life in Camp” chronicles her journey from slavery in Georgia to freedom as an author in the north, and her time with the Union army in the Civil War. She served as laundress and support staff for her husband’s colored regiment during the war, traveling with them, and gives a unique view of the Civil War battles through the eyes of an African American woman. “No such description has ever been given, I am sure, by one thus connected with a colored regiment, so that nearly 200,000 black soldiers (178,975) of our Civil War have never been delineated from a woman’s point of view.” – Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1st SC Volunteers. The book is freely available here, and is short, only 124 pages:
Susie’s family was brought to the South early, and was unusually long lived for slaves. According to her account, her great great grandmother lived to 120 years old, and had five sons in the Revolutionary War. Her parents were Hagar Ann and Raymond Baker, and she was born near Savannah, Georgia. When the Union attacked Fort Pulaski in Savannah, she was able to get to the Union lines on a boat, and freedom. While still in slavery, she had a few white playmates, and they taught her to read and write. When she arrived at the Union ship, the captain asked if she could read, or sew – he said she seemed different from the others. She proudly demonstrated both, to the captain’s amazement. She was 14. The captain asked her to start a school on St. Simon’s Island, teaching other colored children, and promising to supply books. Her school swelled to sixty, including some adults.
Then word came that the freed slaves were to be sent to Liberia, or back to their masters. Susie said she would never go back – Africa, which she had never seen, would be better. She does not record having been cruelly treated, yet she so valued freedom that she would rather have gone into the unknown than back into bondage. However, the trip to Liberia did not happen – it turned out to be one of many rumors circulating the island. During this time, the former slaves on St. Simon’s Island were not safe, as the Confederates would sneak over at night and kidnap anyone out of doors.
The men organized and drilled for defense. When the Union officers heard of their bravery, they organized them into a volunteer regiment – they could not yet be regular Army, and received no pay for eighteen months. Toward the end of that time, and after the order in 1863 that let them become regular army, a number of white officers stood with them in a protest to gain wages, including Captain C.T. Trowbridge, a staunch friend of Susie and her family. Susie continued her school, teaching many soldiers to read and write, teaching and doing laundry for over four years without any pay. She met and married Edward King, a non-commissioned officer.
The regiment was sent to Jacksonville, Florida, and engaged in the fight there. Susie records, “The shelling was so heavy, the colonel told my captain to have me taken into [ the captured ] town to a hotel, which was used as a hospital. … I expected every moment to be killed by a shell, but when I reached the hospital, I knew I was safe… it was plain that the flag of truce was a ruse, the bearer a spy, for the shelling was too accurate to be random.”
Her adventures in the war are too many to relate to all in this space. After the war, she and her husband returned to Savannah, but Edward died in 1866 in an accident unloading freight from a ship. Susie was pregnant at the time. Susie supported herself as a teacher and tutor. In the early 1870s, she journeyed to Boston as a servant of a wealthy white family and met Russell Taylor. They married in 1874. Except for a brief trip back to Savannah, she remained in Boston for the rest of her life. She wrote her book just after the turn of the century, and the white officers who had been with her in the war helped her get it published in 1902. She lived another ten years and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts.