“Henry McNeal Turner, chaplain of a black regiment, described a scene in May 1865, as African American troops marched with the victorious Union armies through North Carolina. Leaving Raleigh, Turner’s regiment reached the town of Smithfield, where they encountered a burned bridge and no other way to cross a river than to remove their clothes and wade, ‘chin deep,’ to the other side.
” ‘I was much amused to see the secesh women,’ observed Turner, ‘watching with the utmost intensity, thousands of our soldiers, in a state of nudity. I suppose they desired to see whether these audacious Yankees were really men, made like other men….’
“As Southern women ‘thronged the windows, porticos and yards, in the finest attire imaginable,’ Turner’s ‘brave boys would disrobe themselves, hang their garments upon their bayonets and through the water they would come, walk up the street, and seem to say to the feminine gazers, ‘Yes, though naked, we are your masters.’
“In this scene, charged with sexual and political symbolism, Turner captured a memory that haunted the white South for generations to come….”
— From “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” by David W. Blight (2001)