Within the next day or two I will release a post about Jim (James) Lewis and his brief story along the Potomac River. I find James’ story fascinating not only for the individual courage embarked upon, but how his journey symbolizes the larger history of America.
Over the past 18 months I have taken a keen interest in the interaction between African American refugees and Union soldiers. My overarching goal is to discover what relationships were formed between refugees and United States soldiers and how those relationships affected individual campaigns and the war as a whole. In this light, I follow in the footsteps of historians – Chandra Manning, Amy Taylor, and Jim Downs – who study emancipation as a process and not a beginning point or an ending point. The early stages of my research have taken me to the banks of the Rappahannock River and the 1862 occupation of Fredericksburg. I use Fredericksburg, Virginia as a case study to test some of my hypothesis and discover answers to some vexing questions. However, like all historians, sometimes we find information that is outside the current scope of a project but remains relevant when conclusions are expanded. Some choose to sit on the information and others awkwardly fit those sources in a footnote proving conclusions drawn stretch outside our current framework. I have used both methods but in today’s age I find myself a new avenue. Therefore, I bring to your attention the story of one Jim (James) Lewis, a refugee who gathered intelligence for the Union Navy on the Potomac River in the winter of 1861-1862.