How the Lieber Code gave white and black women recourse from the conflict’s horrific sexual violence.
Black women were in even more danger. Rape was one of the many horrors of slavery, though whites rarely recognized it as such. Interestingly, it was only in the context of war that Southern whites for the first time were forced to acknowledge the rape of black women. In the spring of 1863, John N. Williams of the 7th Tennessee Regiment wrote in his diary, “Heard from home. The Yankees has been through there. Seem to be their object to commit rape on every Negro woman they can find.” Many times, troops and ruffians raped black women while forcing white women to watch, a horrifying experience for all, and a proxy rape of white women. B. E. Harrison of Leesburg, Va., wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln complaining that federal troops had raped his “servant girl” in the presence of his wife. Gen. William Dwight reported, “Negro women were ravished in the presence of white women and children.” Just as the rape of white women implied that Southern men were unable to protect their mothers, wives and daughters, the rape of slave women told whites they could no longer protect their property.
A close examination of cases involving the rape of black women reveals that, while black women may have been particularly vulnerable to wartime rape, the Lieber Code brought them for the first time under the umbrella of legal protection. In fact, some black women were able to mobilize military law to their advantage.
In the summer of 1864, Jenny Green, a young “colored” girl who had escaped slavery and sought refuge with the Union Army in Richmond, Va., was brutally raped by Lt. Andrew J. Smith, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Thanks to the Lieber Code, though, she was able to bring charges against him, and even testify in a military court. …The idea that a former slave, and an adolescent girl at that, could demand and receive legal redress was revolutionary. Despite his attorney’s argument that Green had consented, Smith was discharged from the Army and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.
How depressing that the rape of black women only became a thing when the rapists forced white women to watch? It seems like the trauma of the person forced to watch mattered more than the trauma of the woman being raped to civilians.
Also, can we talk about how the rape of a black girl in 1864 garned more punishment than most military rapists get TODAY?