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“Who Got Bloody?”: The Cultural Meanings of Blood during the Civil War and Reconstruction

  • James Downs

Abstract

Blood still stains the report that a federal doctor in Charleston, South Carolina sent to officials in Washington, DC, about the outbreak of smallpox in the winter of 1865. Smallpox, he reported, had infected 1568 freed people throughout the state from Orangeburg to the Sea Islands. The bloodstain on the report remains one of the few visual markers that illustrates the suffering and illness that the war engendered for newly emancipated slaves.

Keywords

Black People Cold Blood Cultural Narrative African American Experience Abolitionist Movement 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    This practice of creating hospitals, asylums, and almshouses in order to develop a labor force developed in the late eighteenth century in many American cities. See David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston: Little Brown, 1971).Google Scholar
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    Geoffrey Sanborn, “Mother’s Milk: Frances Harper and the Circulation of Blood,” English Literary History 72.3 (Fall 2005), 694–5. Also, Thomas Jefferson notes that the blush illustrates the differences between the races. He writes, “Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race?” Thomas Jefferson, Notes On the State of Virginia (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Ill edition, 2011), 165–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman’s Civil War Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006), 75–6.Google Scholar

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© James Downs 2014

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  • James Downs

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