The Parallel Timelines of Joseph Holt and Sandy in Leonard’s SLAVES, SLAVEHOLDERS, AND A KENTUCKY COMMUNITY’S STRUGGLE TOWARD FREEDOM

In her book, Dr. Elizabeth D. Leonard documents the lives and community of Joseph and Sandy Holt, particularly their time during the Civil War and its surrounding context. The interwoven stories of these two provide very different perspectives on the Civil War. Joseph was a slaveholder turned abolitionist who had family ties to confederates and held high level offices. Sandy was a former slave of the Holt family, purchased by Joseph himself, who managed to survive the awful system of slavery, marry, and escape to serve the Union in the Civil War during his middle-age. By placing the timelines of the stories of these men next to each other, we can see the contrasts and the intersections in these two extremely different lives.

Joseph Holt Timeline Sandy Timeline
1807: Joseph Holt was born in Breckenridge County, Kentucky

Mid-1820’s: Holt attended Centre College where he encountered criticisms of slavery. He also gave at least one speech that was critical of slavery

1845: Holt wrote a letter to his maternal uncle, Robert Stephens, saying that slavery was a “social political or moral evil”, but that there was not a safe way to abolish it

1856: Holt gave a speech defending the rights of states to manage themselves when speaking on behalf of Democrat James Buchanan’s presidential candidacy. His speech also spoke on the necessity of preserving the Union

1857: Holt and his wife, Margaret, left Kentucky for Washington D.C. after he was appointed commissioner of patents. Before leaving, he transferred ownership of all but a few slaves to his younger brother Thomas

1860: Margaret, Holt’s wife, died

October 1860: Holt emancipated his wife’s slave, Jane, who remained in his employ

Fall of 1860: Holt remained critical of abolitionists in his speeches and letters, as he was still primarily concerned with preserving the Union

Winter of 1860: Holt’s brother Robert declared that the time for Kentucky’s secession was soon

Early 1861: Holt was declared Secretary of War by Buchanan

February 11th, 1861: Holt received a letter from his brother Robert that may have been what caused him to abandon his last defenses of slavery

March 4th, 1861: Lincoln became president

March 6th 1861: Holt stepped down from the position of Secretary of War to focus on efforts to persuade Kentucky to remain in the Union

April 15th 1861: Lincoln issued a call for a militia to put down the rebellion

Late May 1861: Holt wrote a letter to Joshua F. Speed arguing against Kentucky’s claim of neutrality and blamed Southern nationalist slaveholders for the conflict. He also traveled to Kentucky to give speeches against Kentucky’s neutrality and the possibility of secession

October 1861: The Liberator said that Holt could not be expected to overcome the prejudices that came from the way he was raised

Fall of 1861: Holt’s former father-in-law, Charles A. Wickliffe, as well as other Unionists remained very supportive of slavery

April 16th 1862: Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act

May 21st 1862: Congress declared that laws and ordinances applied to black Washingtonians in the same way they applied to white Washingtonians

May 24th 1862: Holt freed his only remaining slave, Alfred, who also remained in his employ and eventually married Jane

September 3rd 1862: Lincoln appointed Holt the Judge Advocate General of the Army under the War Department

September 30th 1862: Holt petitioned the District of Columbia to free his brother and sister-in-law’s slave Caroline Robinson due to their part-time residence there

September 22nd 1862: Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

October 13th 1862: Holt also petitioned the District of Columbia on the behalf of Ellen Cox, another of his brother and sister-in-law’s slaves, for her freedom

December 1862:  The Liberator called Holt an abolitionist

January 1st 1863: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

March 13st 1863: Holt recommended either a court-martial or dismissal for a union solider who was criticizing the Emancipation Proclamation

May 1st 1863: The Confederate Congress passed the Retaliatory Act

Summer of 1863: Holt’s employee, Alfred,  possibly enlisted

Summer of 1863: Holt spoke to Lincoln for the protection and freedom of black soldiers, especially in the light of things like the Retaliatory Act

July 1863: Lincoln issued his response to the Retaliatory Act where he promised that if a black union soldier was enslaved or executed in violation of the laws of war the same or a similar punishment would be enacted on captured confederate soldiers

July 13th 1863: Holt talked to Lincoln on behalf of a black soldier, Sergeant Robert Sutton, who was being court-martialed

January 1st 1864: Holt urged Lincoln to overturn the court ruling in the case of a white man who tortured and murdered a fugitive slave woman in order to sentence him to a harsher punishment

July 1864: Holt was sent to Kentucky by the Secretary of War to meet with civil and military leaders to discuss the military situation. He did not visit his home county due to fears for his safety

Fall 1864: Holt returned to the war department. He issued a report on his home state that condemned the justification for white oppression of black people and reported positively on the recruitment of black men for the war in Kentucky

Final Months of the War: Holt served as judge advocate general and head of the War Department’s Bureau of Military Justice and continued to advocate for the rights of black soldiers and civilians

1824: Sandy was born to unknown parents in Virginia

1837-1840: Sandy was bought and brought from Mississippi, where he was taken due to a previous sale, to Holt’s Bottom in Kentucky by Joseph Holt for his brother’s wife

1842-1843: Sandy and other family slaves were periodically sent to Louisville to perform domestic chores and to look after the land and garden of the house of Joseph Holt and his first wife Mary

1846: Sandy’s name appears for the first time in historical record

1853: Sandy married Matilda, an important member of the local slave community

1853: Joseph Holt took out an insurance policy on Sandy, which he had never done before, to cover his unaccompanied steamer journey to Louisville from Holt’s Bottom in case of his death, injury, or escape

1857: Sandy’s ownership, along with many others, is transferred from Joseph Holt to Thomas Holt

1863: Sandy’s wife Matilda dies

Summer of 1864: Sandy, now forty years old, ran away to Owensborough to join the 118th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. By law he was required to register under the name of his owner, Holt.

June 1864: Adjunct General Lorenzo Thomas recommended that recruiters enlist even fugitive slaves who could only do the minimum of work due to physical disability, since they had no other place to go but their masters, who would punish them severely

July 1864: A surgeon was appointed for the 118th, which was important due to the prevalence of disease in the military

September 1864: Marion Lucas describes the mistreatment of black soldiers by their white peers in a letter

October 5th 1864: Sandy and his company were with Union forces that found the body of eighteen-year-old Robert Eaves, a recruit, who was lynched by local guerilla confederates

October 1864: Recruiters gathered enlistees from the Owensborough area and the 118th reached the minimum operational strength and began the journey of roughly seven-hundred miles from Owensborough to Baltimore, Maryland

October 8th 1864: The 118th is ordered to proceed to City Point, Virginia via Baltimore

October 24th-25th 1864: The 118th received their equipment and uniforms in Baltimore, and they were formally assigned to the XVIII Corps Third Division

October 1864: The 118th performed guard and fatigue duty, which was difficult but essential maintenance work

November 1864: The 118th were reassigned to the First Brigade and told to retire to the line to be trained due to concern over the condition of the regiment

November 3rd 1864: The 118th’s Lieutenant Colonel, Moon, was recommended by fifteen of the regiment’s white commissioned officers for promotion to Colonel because of his bravery and success with recruitment

November 1864: Moon was appointed Colonel of the 118th

November 1864: Unfavorable weather obstructed opportunities for federal forces to advance

November 1864: Sandy was hospitalized for parotitis

December 1864: Sandy was hospitalized for diarrhea

December 3rd 1864: The X and XVIII Corps were reorganized along racial lines. The white men were put in the XXIV Corp and the black men, including the 118th, were put in XXV where General Godfry Weitzel assumed command

Late 1864-1865: Sandy and his company performed labor for General Butler’s Dutch Gap Canal Project. There, Sandy was assigned to throwing up breastworks to help protect the others workers. He permanently injured his left wrist in the process of doing this

January 1st 1865: The ends of the Dutch Gap Canal were blown up with 12,000 Ibs of gunpowder. It was ultimately deemed a failure as the earth simply settled back to where it was before the explosions

January 7th 1865: Lincoln replaced Butler with Major General E. O. C. Ord, which upset many black soldiers

January 23rd-25th 1865: Sandy and the 118th were peripherally involved in the Fort Brady battle

 

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