While 12 Years a Slave transforms its critical acclaim into awards gold, the debate rages on over whether Steve McQueen's film is perhaps too graphic in its brutal depiction of slavery. Now, a Civil War diary discovered by historian Adam Rothman reveals that the Best Picture nominee could've gone even farther.
Rothman came across the diary of Union soldier John Burrud in a California library and was surprised to discover that not only was the former New Yorker very familiar with the memoirs of Solomon Northup, but during the war he actually visited the Epps plantation. Burrud conversed with several emancipated slaves who said they knew Northup, and divulged details of his time there: One detail of the story that Burrud heard on the plantation jumps out of the diary: “He went by different names here ... They say he went by the name of Platt ... They said his master would whip him if he told his propper name which was Northup they named him Platt.” Burrud’s interlocutors called attention to the fact that they had known Northup as Platt. Either they stressed this piece of information or it made such an impression on the soldier that he repeated it several times in his diary.
After spending some time on Epps' land, surveying his system of savagery, and conversing with the freed slaves Burrud later gravely writes that Northup's story was genuine, perhaps not even enough. "Solomans book is true to the letter only it dos not portray the system as bad as it is it is not in the power of man to do it."
Those words are arguably more chilling than McQueen's film. Read Adam Rothman's entire piece on Burrud and his diary here.