#Throwback Thursday: The tale of Garland White

While in Washington, D.C. as a senator, William Seward, class of 1820, became a close correspondent with a house slave, Garland White. who was owned by Robert Toombs, class of 1828. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Union can claim a unique spot in American history. William Seward, Class of 1820, and Robert Toombs, Class of 1828, both served as secretaries of state during the American Civil War.

Seward served for the Union and Toombs for the Confederacy during the first few months of its existence.

President Abraham Lincoln considered Seward his right-hand man and sought his guidance for almost every major decision he made.

Seward’s actions during the early stages of the war kept Britain and France from aligning with the Confederate States of America.

He was also one of the targets of the Lincoln assassination plot.

Toombs, prior to the war, ardently attempted to keep peace within the Union.

When southern states seceded he became a major supporter of secession. Confederate Staes of America President Jefferson Davis appointed Toombs the first Secretary of State of the Confederacy in February of 1861, but the two had a falling out after Toombs criticized Davis’ command for an attack on Fort Sumter. He quit his cabinet position and eventuality became a brigadier-general in the Confederate Army.

It appears that these two shared only two real connections: both attended to Union and both served as Secretary of State.

These two men share one other connection and his name is Garland White.

White was a slave who belonged to the slave owning Georgian Robert Toombs. Yes, the very same Toombs from above!

White was extremely educated and studied to become a minster while still in bondage. In September of 1859, White was approved to “preach the gospel.”

Toombs, then a senator from Georgia, brought White to Washington, D.C., in 1860. Toombs and White lived just two doors down from, you guessed it, New York senator William Seward!

Seward was a strong abolitionist and considered radical for the 19th century racial attitudes.

During his stay, White and Seward corresponded quite often with each other and shared a respect for one and other.

Not only did White meet Seward, but while in D.C. White was able to escape his master and fled north to Canada.

When the war started White contacted Seward, who was Secretary of State, and expressed his desire to serve his country.

He quickly thereafter returned to the States and vigourously recruited to form the 28th United States Colored Troops.

White then again wrote to Seward asking for assistance in securing a position as a chaplain but expressed he would be more than happy to serve as a private.

White wrote, “I also joined the regiment as a private to be with my boys and should I fail to get my commission I shall willingly serve my time out.”

Garland White received his appointment as chaplain in October of 1864 through the order of the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.


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