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Blacks Enlist in the Union Army - History

Blacks Enlist in the Union Army - History

On July 17, 1862, Congress authorized the acceptance of black soldiers in the Union army. 186,000 Black served in the Union army. 38,000 lost lives. Like most of the casualties in the war, the majority of deaths did not take place in the battlefield, but were caused by disease.

African Americans in the Military

African Americans in the Military. Americans of African descent have participated in all the wars of the United States, serving their country and themselves, for military service has offered African Americans a means of economic, social, and political as well as military advancement. Black participation thus must be understood in the context of the importance of racial issues that developed as early as the colonial era, issues that have shaped the unique expansion of African Americans in the American military.

During the colonial period, the largest numbers of free blacks were in the northern colonies. These colonies were much more willing to include Americans of African descent in their militia than were the southern colonies, which held the majority of slaves, although some colonies used blacks in labor units for militia expeditions. But in cases of dire need, even colonies like South Carolina, where slaves greatly outnumbered whites, would arm slaves to fight in exchange for their freedom, as in the victorious campaign against the Yamasee Indians in 1715.

Following the 1739 slave revolt in Stono, South Carolina, however, most of the colonies excluded all blacks from military service. Laws for black exclusion were repealed in the North for freed blacks and often overlooked in the South, where despite the official policy of exclusion, free Americans of African descent were still armed during conflicts with the Indians and the French, and even slaves served as scouts, wagoners, laborers, and servants.

In the American Revolution, African Americans served with the New England “Minute Men” at Lexington and Concord and helped fire the “shot heard ’round the world.” Although blacks had served in the colonial wars before the revolution and still served in northern militias, when the Revolutionary War began in 1775, they were not at first welcomed into the Continental army because of the influence of the slave states in the new national government. It was not until after November 1775, when the British started to recruit blacks into their forces, that African Americans were officially allowed to join the Continental army. By 1776, faced with increasing shortages of volunteers, Gen. George Washington disagreed with the Continental Congress and declared that he could depart from the resolution that barred participation by blacks. Because Congress did not challenge Washington's action, more than 5,000 Americans of African descent served in integrated units in the Continental forces. Most of the southern states officially refused to use blacks in the military except as laborers, but in practice, some Southern black slaves were sent as substitutes. African Americans participated in many battles, including those of Bunker Hill, New York, Trenton and Princeton, Savannah, Monmouth, and Yorktown.

Following the Revolutionary War, the new United States virtually eliminated its army and navy. The U.S. Army was soon established and accepted blacks the U.S. Navy was created in 1798, accepting black sailors as it had during the revolution and continuing to do so throughout the nineteenth century. The smaller U.S. Marine Corps excluded blacks from its inception in 1798 until 1942. Black soldiers served in the War of 1812, but in 1820, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, responding to Southern slaveowners, banned any further enlistment by African Americans. As black veterans left, the U.S. Army became exclusively white until the Civil War.

The Civil War, a conflict over slavery as well as the nature of the Union, also raised the issue of black military service. The Confederacy, which used the black slaves as the basic agricultural labor force and which feared slave rebellion, refused to recruit blacks until 1865, when it was too late. In the North, the U.S. War Department in 1861 continued its policy of rejecting black enlistment, but in 1862 as slaves flocked to the Northern armies invading the South, some abolitionist Union generals began training them to fight. Official policy did not change until after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, 1 January 1863 then, when volunteering had slackened in the North and it had become a war to free the slaves, the Northern states and the federal government began recruiting the eager freedmen into black regiments with black noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and mostly white commissioned officers.

Eventually, 186,000 Americans of African descent fought for their freedom in the Union army (and another 30,000 in the Union navy), winning fourteen Congressional Medals of Honor in the process. Units of the U.S. Colored Troops fought in a number of major battles, including the 54th Massachusetts Regiment's assault during the siege of Fort Wagner at Charleston and the attack of the black Fourth Division of the Ninth Corps at the Battle of the Crater in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Confederates often refused to take black prisoners, and they killed a number of them at the Fort Pillow massacre in Tennessee. Although the black soldiers were paid less than the whites, their wartime service and heroism were cited as one reason for giving black men the vote in Reconstruction.

After the Civil War, there were black militia units in the southern states until the end of Reconstruction, and in some northern cities well into the twentieth century. Congress added four black regiments to the regular army (the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry). These 𠇋uffalo” Soldiers, as they were called by the Indians, served mainly in the West, but they also saw combat in the Spanish𠄊merican War and Philippine insurrection, as well as in the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916. Most of their officers were white, like John J. Pershing. Only three African Americans graduated from West Point, 1865� one of them, Charles Young (Class of 1884), remained the army's sole black officer until he was joined by Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.

With the increased segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching of black Americans at the turn of the century, race became an issue in the U.S. mobilization for World War I. NAACP leader W. E. B. Du Bois urged black men to join the military in order to regain the rights of citizenship and he obtained commissions for a few black junior officers (Col. Charles Young was forced into retirement). The southern𠄍ominated Wilson administration supported the army's insistence on continuation of racially segregated units, and, after a race riot in Houston in August 1917, limited these to eight black combat regiments. Conscription and voluntarism brought 380,000 Americans of African descent into the wartime army, but 89 percent were assigned to labor units and only 11 percent to the two combat divisions. Although the 93rd Division, which included the black National Guard units like the 369th New York (the “Harlem Hell Fighters”), distinguished itself fighting alongside French troops, after the armistice, the War Department concluded that in future wars, black soldiers should mainly serve as laborers. It cut back the one black regular regiment (the 25th Infantry) and excluded blacks from new specialties like aviation. By 1940, there were only 5,000 black soldiers (2 percent of the force) and five black officers in the army. The navy had been accepting fewer blacks since its changeover from sail to steampower in the later nineteenth century (there were only 441 black sailors in 1934) the Marines continued their all‐white policy.

At the outbreak of World War II, America reverted to its practice of turning to African Americans when it needed more troops. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., to be the army's first black brigadier general, and opened the Army Air Corps to black pilots. These 𠇋lack Eagles,” including Davis's son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who trained at Tuskeegee, Alabama, served in all𠄋lack units. In 1941, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened a protest march on Washington for equal opportunity in the defense workforce and the military. Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad dramatized such concerns by going to prison.

Most of the 900,000 blacks who served in the armed forces in World War II were in segregated units, chiefly in the army (and including black women, who served in segregated units of the WACs and the Army and Navy Nurse Corps). However, wartime demands for increased numbers of service people as well as the ideology of a war against Nazi racism contributed to some integration. The Coast Guard began racial integration on shipboard, and the navy followed on some fleet auxiliary ships. Army units were segregated for most of the war, but beginning with the Battle of the Bulge, when the army suffered shortages of white infantrymen, some 4,500 men from black service units volunteered and formed black platoons in formerly all‐white combat companies. Although the Marine Corps accepted a few black recruits, it largely maintained its racial segregation. Black service people, like other veterans, benefited after the war from the G.I. Bill.

In the postwar era, the armed forces initially sought to avoid integration, delaying even in the face of President Harry S. Truman's 1948 election‐year order (Executive Order 9981) for an end to segregation in the military—the armed forces were directed to provide equal treatment and opportunity regardless of race. The U.S. Air Force, however, had moved toward integration in 1949 after achieving independent status in 1947. Beginning in 1951, the reverses of the Korean War led to the end of all𠄋lack units in the army and Marines, and moved all the services toward racial integration in the enlisted ranks for greater efficiency. Black and white service people now fought side by side, dined in the same mess hall, and slept in the same barracks. Nevertheless, the officer corps remained white, with black officers representing only 3 percent of the army's officers and 1 percent of the air force, navy, and Marine officer corps.

The Vietnam War saw the highest proportion of blacks ever to serve in an American war. During the height of the U.S. involvement, 1965�, blacks, who formed 11 percent of the American population, made up 12.6 percent of the soldiers in Vietnam. The majority of these were in the infantry, and although authorities differ on the figures, the percentage of black combat fatalities in that period was a staggering 14.9 percent, a proportion that subsequently declined. Volunteers and draftees included many frustrated blacks whose impatience with the war and the delays in racial progress in America led to race riots on a number of ships and military bases, beginning in 1968, and the services' response in creating interracial councils and racial sensitivity training.

The Nixon administration ended the Vietnam War and the draft in 1973, and the All‐Volunteer Force (AVF) soon included a disproportionate number of African Americans. By 1983, blacks represented 33 percent of the army, 22 percent of the Marine Corps, 14 percent of the air force, and 12 percent of the navy. Black senior NCOs in the army increased from 14 percent in 1970 to 26 percent in 1980, and 31 percent in 1990. Blacks also increased in the officer corps by 1983, the army had almost 10 percent, the air force 5 percent, the Marine Corps 4 percent, and the navy 3 percent. Black women were an important component of the influx of women into the AVF, beginning in the 1970s by 1983, they comprised 17 percent of the army's officers and 20 percent of its enlisted women. For the air force, the figures were 11 and 20 the Marine Corps, 5 and 23 and the navy, 5 and 18 percent.

How does the enlistment of black soldiers in the union army make these southern states more vulnerable

an economic reason that the south needed a reconstruction plan is that plantations, factories, and other businesses were destroyed during the war.

when a country suffers, for example, a drought period, the market product is affected for a low offer, in this case, potatoes the government has to tax to the households, which have to give more money for the potatoes which they consume, that situation make them consume substitute goods even through loans, it could increase the financial market movement and the inflationary phenomena, the business has to increase salaries in order to the employees could buy a more expensive food (potatoes) and in order to inflation tha business had to buy expensive supplies in the factor market, while the rest of the world have to gain more money to consume the same amount of potatoes.

Black Soldiers in the American Civil War

African American soldiers at Fort Lincoln in 1864. The Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, were part of the defending forces of Washington, D.C. (Image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

Since the 1790s, black soldiers had been strategically excluded from state militias. Likewise, the United States Army did not officially recruit black soldiers until the Civil War. Only one branch of the U.S. military—the Navy—was progressive enough to allow some black workers to join their ranks. By 1861, the U.S. Navy began black shipmen to work some menial jobs, such as stewards and coal heavers.

Black Soldiers Raise Arms from the Beginning

When the American Civil War broke out at Fort Sumter, black men hoped things would change. Thousands enlisted into the military units where they were welcomed. Thousands more cheered from the sidelines, hoping the Confederacy’s secession would pave the way for abolition in the Union.

Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to take advantage of secession as a way to gain full-fledged citizenship through military patriotism. Oppressed for centuries, black residents saw hope in the chaos of the battlefield. That hope manifested even more as the Lincoln Administration, plagued by two years of ongoing Confederate rebellion, decided to enact the Second Confiscation and Militia Act of 1862.

This is a transcript from the video series The American Civil War. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The Second Confiscation and Militia Act

Signed into order on July 17, 1862, the Second Confiscation and Militia Act was actually the brainchild of military leaders in the struggling Union Army. After years and years of barring free black men from their ranks, the U.S. Army began taking steps toward allowing free blacks to enlist.

The act gave the U.S. President the authority to allow men of African descent to join the military for the sake of public welfare. An increased number of former slaves and decreased number of white soldiers paved the way to a new era of African-American military history, one that witnessed unofficial “colored infantries” sprout up in National Guard units across the South.

While the North would ultimately serve as a beacon of African-American military recruitment, it was the small Union regiments of the South that first embraced this untapped source of human capital. Generals like John C. Fremont (Missouri) and David Hunter (South Carolina) only antagonized the entire situation by trying to declare emancipation for all slaves in their military regions (a set of requests that were later revoked by superiors).

Nonetheless, the landscape was finally becoming ripe for black military involvement—just two days after the Second Confiscation and Militia Act was passed, slavery was finally abolished in territories of the United States of America, foreshadowing the coming of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Lincoln Administration began drafting the Emancipation Proclamation as early as July 1862.

The Emancipation Proclamation

Union officers in front of their tent, with two African Americans during the Petersburg Campaign, August, 1864. Many former slaves, emancipated in 1863, were employed as servants to Union officers. (Image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

By January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was officially signed. It stated that “[a]ll persons held as slaves within any States…in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” This newfound freedom excited blacks across North America and the Caribbean, encouraging thousands to join the earliest authorized “colored regiments” in Massachusetts, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass again applauded these civil rights gains, as black enlistment blossomed to 180,000 in total by the end of the war. In total, they made up nine percent of all men in uniform.

Black women assisted their newly-enlisted brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and sons by joining nursing and scouting efforts. Black women could not officially join the military, but hundreds of thousands of newly-emancipated black women helped out in alternative ways.

The Black Soldiers Enlist: A Lasting Myth

Contrary to popular belief, however, black soldiers did not enlist in the Confederate army. This longstanding myth has stood the test of time in the American historical canon, but it is categorically false in nature. There’s been a good deal of discussion and publication online lately about black men enlisting in the Confederate army, and you can read in some places estimates as high as 50,000 black soldiers in the Confederate army.

While there were many black men accompanying Confederate armies, they were not serving as soldiers. They were serving in noncombatant roles. Most historians suspect that the vast majority of them were coerced into these positions and would have preferred to be somewhere else rather than accompanying their slaveholders waging war. Many would have also preferred fighting alongside free blacks in the Union Army if provided the opportunity to do so.

Treatment of Black Soldiers in the American Civil War

A monument honoring the colored troops at the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Image: Sf46 / Public domain)

Regardless of the civil rights gains made during this era, black soldiers still remained second-class citizens in the eyes of many of their white counterparts. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died during the American Civil War, most dying from illness or infection. Units remained segregated like the rest of society—a reality the persisted until well into the twentieth century.

Black soldiers were also paid less than their white counterparts, reinforcing further economic injustices. Black prisoners of war suffered greatly at the hands of their former enslavers. They were more likely to be tortured or maltreated by their Confederate overlords. While emancipation afforded freedoms, these freedoms were only relative in a landscape still impacted by racist constructs.

Nevertheless, the civil rights gains made for African-Americans during the Civil War should not be downplayed. It represented a turning point in the African-American narrative, one that witnessed the end of slavery and the beginning of the long march to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. It also represented a turning point for the U.S. military, which suddenly, in desperate times, became a new source of occupation for hundreds of thousands of black soldiers.

Common Questions About Black Soldiers in the American Civil War

180,000 African American soldiers fought for the Union army during the American Civil War .

There is a longstanding myth about African American soldiers enlisting in the Confederate army . While there were many black men accompanying Confederate armies, they were not serving as soldiers. They were serving in noncombatant roles. Most historians suspect that the vast majority of them were coerced into these positions and would have preferred to be somewhere else rather than accompanying their slaveholders waging war. Many would have also preferred fighting alongside free blacks in the Union Army if provided the opportunity to do so.

African American soldiers joined the war from the beginning. 180,000 black soldiers fought for the Union army during the American Civil Wa r. Tens of thousands more also served in noncombatant roles in the Confederate army. Black soldiers received comparable medical treatment in the Union, but they were paid less than white soldiers, tortured more by Confederate prison guards, and segregated in their own units

The 1st Black Man to Wear the Union Uniform in the Civil War Wasn't Even Allowed to Enlist

When President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to fight the rebellious Confederate States in 1861, it took little more than a week for the "First Defenders" to arrive in Washington.

Many of those volunteers arrived in the capital by train from Pennsylvania -- where infantry and artillerymen were raised from places like Allentown, Reading and Lewistown -- and made their way to the defense of their nation.

When Lincoln rode out to meet them, one of the first units he came across was Pottsville's 100-man Washington Artillery, which was already filled with wounded troops.

Among the men Lincoln met that day was 65-year-old Nicholas Biddle, a former slave, who was wearing the uniform of the Washington Artillery despite being forbidden to enlist as a soldier.

He was also bleeding from a wound on his head, the first blood shed in the Civil War up until that point (the only deaths at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, came from a cannon accident during the fort's evacuation).

Where Biddle escaped slavery isn't known, only that he came to freedom through the Underground Railroad and settled in Pottsville. He took a keen interest in the town's two companies of militia, even volunteering to join. But since Black men were forbidden to join as soldiers, he signed on as an aide to its commanding officer, Capt. James Wren.

In spite of the Army's regulations, Biddle's fellow Pennsylvanians came to accept the former slave as one of their own and allowed him to wear the uniform of the Washington Artillery. When the militia answered the president's call, Biddle came with them.

To get to Washington, Pennsylvania's First Defenders first had to march through Baltimore, which was filled with Confederate sympathizers at the time.

Wren told Biddle that the sight of a Black man in uniform would spark outrage in Baltimore and warned him that he could be captured and reenslaved. The aide told his commanding officer that he was marching to D.C. with the trust of the lord and couldn't be scared by the devil himself.

The unit had to march across the city of Baltimore from one train station to another. For most of the journey, they were joined by a regular Army company and protected by local police, which somewhat limited the crowd's violence.

As the 475 Union troops moved through the city, residents pelted them with rocks, bottles and anything else that wasn't tied down. When the regular Army unit broke off and made for its station at nearby Fort McHenry, the crowd got even bolder, inflicting broken bones and other injuries.

Wren was right about the crowd's response to his African American aide. Being a Black man in uniform, Biddle suffered the worst of the mob. He was hit in the head by a brick as he boarded the second train, which caused a wound that not only knocked him down but caused him to bleed profusely.

By the time the 65-year-old Biddle arrived in Washington with his unit, the wound must have looked pretty bad because President Lincoln implored him to seek medical attention. But Biddle opted to stay with the Washington Artillery.

The Pennsylvanians remained in garrison in the capital until July 1861, days before the first pitched battle of the war at Bull Run. With their three-month enlistments complete, they returned to Pottsville.

Eventually, most of them opted to reenlist for three years and go off to fight with the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. As a group of former eastern Pennsylvania coal miners, they were instrumental in digging the tunnels under Petersburg, Virginia, that would lead to the infamous Battle of the Crater.

Biddle decided to stay in Pottsville, where he spent the rest of his life. When his fellow Pottsville veterans learned that he had died penniless, they chipped in and gave their friend a full funeral, complete with Union-style headstone.

American Civil War

It may seem only natural for us today that African-Americans would have fought on the side of the North in the Civil War. After all, they would have been fighting for their freedom and the end of slavery. However, despite wanting to end slavery, people in the North did not want African-Americans to become part of the army. Even President Lincoln was afraid that the border states would secede if he allowed former slaves to fight in the war.

African-American Soldiers Join the Army

Some abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, argued that African-Americans should be allowed to fight. As the war continued, the North needed more able-bodied men to fight. In early 1863, the Union decided to officially allow African-Americans to join the army. White and black soldiers would still be in separate regiments and black regiments would have white officers.

The First Black Regiments

The first black regiments played an important role. Many white people believed that the former slaves would not be brave enough to fight in battle. The first black regiments proved them wrong. They fought with courage and bravery in the face of gunfire and death. Two of the first African-American regiments fought under General Nathaniel Banks at the Battle of Port Hudson. General Banks would later praise them on their valor and character.

It took a lot of courage for any soldier to fight in the Civil War, but it was even more dangerous for black soldiers. If black soldiers were captured by the Confederates while fighting for the Union, they were executed or sold back into slavery. The Confederates also executed any captured white officers of black regiments.

One of the most famous black regiments was the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Their story was told in the award winning 1989 movie Glory. Their most famous battle was when they led the Union charge on Fort Wagner. They lost around 40% of their troops including their commander Colonel Robert Shaw. However, their bravery was an inspiration to all Union troops, especially other black regiments.

More African-American Soldiers

As the war continued, more black soldiers enlisted to fight for the North. They became a major part of the Union armed forces. By the end of the war, around 180,000 African-Americans had fought making a major difference and helping the North to win the war.

African Americans in the South

African-Americans also participated in the Confederate Army. They were mostly used as workers, although they were sometimes forced into battle when the fighting became fierce. Near the end of the war, in 1865, the South finally approved black soldiers.

African American Union Troops

African American Union Soldier When the Civil War started, African Americans could not join the U.S. Army until Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. By war's end, 178,000 African Americans had enlisted and served in 170 regiments. There were six distinct African American regiments raised in Alabama along with several other regiments of mixed race and origin between 1864 and 1866, fielding nearly 7,300 soldiers in the Union Army. Historians have not definitively determined what constitutes an "Alabama" regiment, and whether the partly white First Alabama Cavalry Regiment counts as "African American." Most Blacks recruited for these regiments were formerly enslaved men who came from northern Alabama, although some came from Tennessee as well. Union Recruitment Poster African American soldiers in the Union Army were put into separate regiments, called Corps d'Afrique, or African Descent, regiments. The term "colored" soon replaced that term and became universal when the army federalized the regiments into the United States Colored Troops (USCT). These regiments were commanded by white officers who were combat veterans chosen for their military competence. USCT regiments had excellent leadership, especially compared with white regiments in which commissions were often awarded on the basis of political influence, rather than military experience. African American Infantry Group Band The Union Army raised six Alabama state regiments, five of which were staffed primarily with formerly enslaved recruits. These five African American regiments initially were known as the First Alabama Siege Artillery Regiment (African Descent) and the First through Fourth Alabama Infantry Regiments (African Descent). In 1864 and 1865, these regiments were renamed. The First Alabama Siege Artillery regiment became respectively, the Sixth U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment, then the Seventh U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment, before finally being reorganized as the Eleventh United States Colored Infantry (USCI) in January 1865. When the "state" African American regiments were federalized in 1864, the First Alabama Infantry (African Descent) became the Fifty-fifth USCI, and the Second, Third, and Fourth Alabama Infantry (African Descent) became, respectively, the 110th USCI, the 111th USCI, and the 106th USCI. Another African American regiment was raised in Alabama after federalization. This was the 137th USCI, raised in Selma in 1865. These six regiments listed 7,296 men on their muster rolls over the course of their existence. The final "Alabama" regiment raised by the Union Army, the First Volunteer Alabama Cavalry, is not listed as a "Colored" regiment because it included units made up of white Alabamians loyal to the Union. Many of the 2,818 men listed on its rolls, however, were African American. Additionally, two other United States Colored Troop regiments, the Twelfth and 101st USCI (with a total of 2,791 men on their rolls), although not technically Alabama regiments, recruited heavily in Alabama and saw service in the state during the war. Crew Aboard the USS Miami Most African American regiments guarded supply lines, served as prison guards, and hunted Confederate guerillas. These were vital though unglamorous military duties required to keep the fighting armies in the field. Railroad guards protected bridges and railroad tunnels and rode aboard supply trains to protect them from raiders. Garrison troops protected towns, forts, and supply posts. Prison guards prevented captured Confederates from rejoining the war. Whereas African American regiments tended to get more than their share of "fatigue" duties, such as digging trenches and graves and cleaning latrines, they were not exclusively, nor even mostly, confined to these kinds of menial chores and drudge work. Blacks who were employed in these jobs were generally laborers hired by the Army. Only one-third of the regiments were assigned to field armies, but some of these troops played major roles at the Siege of Petersburg and the Battle of Nashville. African American Union Troops None of the Alabama units fought in these battles. Four companies of the First Alabama Siege Artillery regiment (then designated the Sixth USCHA) were present at the Fort Pillow Massacre in Tennessee and suffered heavily. Alabama troops in the 106th, 110th, and 111th USCI Regiments also engaged Nathan Bedford Forrest at Athens, Limestone County, on September 23-24, 1864. They fought courageously, the 111th USCI losing most of its numbers in the battle. Forrest convinced the Union commander to surrender by inflating the number of troops he claimed to have during a parley, but no Blacks were massacred as at Fort Pillow. In large measure, however, the African American Alabama regiments guarded railroad lines in Tennessee and Alabama and performed occupation duties after the Confederate surrender.

Regardless, it took courage to join the Army rather than simply to work as a laborer. Confederate soldiers treated African American soldiers and their white officers with extreme harshness. The chances of a soldier or officer in an African American being taken prisoner were low as many were killed outright. Even white Union troops treated them shabbily, though attitudes typically changed after a white regiment fought alongside an African American regiment. At the war's end, African American veterans were sent home with their uniforms, weapons, and ammunition. They had won a rough legal equality for African Americans in the South, which they kept until the end of Reconstruction.

Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865. New York: Longmans, Green, 1956.


Before the American Revolution, some blacks had already served in colonial militias in the French and Indian War, and a black man, Crispus Attucks, was the first to be killed during the 1770 Boston Massacre. Both free and enslaved black men fought at the battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill. However, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, many whites were reluctant to allow blacks to carry arms, because of fears of an armed slave insurrection. [2] One of Washington's first acts as commander in chief was to sign an order forbidding the recruitment of all blacks. Because of a shortage in manpower, George Washington quickly relented and allowed black soldiers to serve in the Continental Army. One state, Rhode Island, had an all black unit, and enslaved black soldiers in the unit were freed at the end of the war. In the rest of the military units, blacks served side by side with whites. One historian commented that the military during this time was more integrated than it would be until the Korean War. Many of these black soldiers, however, fought as slaves and continued as slaves after the war. [3]

After the creation of the Federal Militia Acts of 1792, the Army excluded black men, and, with very few exceptions, the prohibition remained in effect until the second year of the Civil War. [5]

War of 1812 Edit

Because of exclusion from the U.S. Army, most blacks either served in the U.S. Navy or defected to the British Royal Navy to gain their freedom. [6]

Civil War Edit

The history of African Americans in the Civil War is marked by 186,097 (7,122 officers, 178,975 enlisted) African-American men, comprising 163 units, who served in the Union Army. [7] Additional African Americans served in the Union Navy, with both free African Americans and fugitives from slavery joining the fight.

On the Confederate side, blacks, both free and enslaved, were used for labor, but the issue of whether to arm them, and under what terms, became a major source of debate among Southerners. At the start of the war, a Louisiana Confederate militia unit composed of free blacks from the extensive New Orleans Creoles of color was raised, but the Confederacy refused their service. On March 13, 1865, the Confederate Congress enacted a statute to allow the enlistment of African Americans, but few were recruited.

Asian and Pacific Islander troops also served with African-Americans in the United States Colored Troops, and a few served with white troops. [8]

Native Americans, such as General Stand Watie's Confederate Cherokee Battalion, fought in their own tribal regiments or battalions on both sides of the Civil War.

Buffalo soldiers Edit

The Buffalo soldiers were established by Congress in 1866 as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army. [9]

Spanish American War Edit

During the Spanish American War (1898), the Illinois 8th Infantry National Guard was federalized, and made history when its all-African-American officer corps led the unit in combat. [10]

Philippine Scouts Edit

The Philippine Scouts were a military organization of the United States Army from 1901 until after the end of World War II [11]

World War I Edit

African-Americans Edit

The American military was entirely segregated for African Americans during World War I despite the opposition of military training for black Americans by white supremacist politicians such as Sen. James K. Vardaman (D-MS) and Sen. Benjamin Tillman (D-SC), the decision was made to include African-Americans in the 1917 draft. [12] A total of 290,527 black Americans were ultimately registered for the draft.

Draft board officials were instructed to tear off the lower left corner of the Selective Service forms filled out by black registrants to mark these for segregated units. [12] The August 1917 Houston Riot of armed African-American soldiers, spurred by racist behavior by Houston police officers, additionally shaped the War Department's decision-making, and the great majority of black soldiers were assigned jobs like the building of roads, unloading of shipping, and other forms of common labor. [13] Two combat units of African-Americans were established: the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions. [14]

Including volunteers, 350,000 African-Americans served in the American Expeditionary Force on the western front, with one combat unit, the 369th Infantry "Hell Fighters from Harlem" being awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French allies for their bravery and competence in combat. [15] The 370th Infantry was given the name "The Black Devils" by the Germans and following their pre-war organization in Illinois, were the only American unit to have black officers. [16]

Hispanic-Americans Edit

The 65th Infantry Regiment, created during World War I, was the U.S. Military's last segregated unit composed primarily of soldiers of Puerto Rican descent, as well as immigrants from Latin America and Spain. [17]

Asian-Americans Edit

Asian-Americans fought in integrated units during World War I, and non-citizens were offered citizenship after the war as a result of their service. [18]

World War II Edit

During World War II, the United States Army established several new segregated units, and maintained several historic segregated units. [19]

African-Americans Edit

When the U.S. entered World War II, The US Army was racially segregated. Because of black protests against the Army's treatment of its black soldiers, military leadership began to attempt to address the issue beginning in 1943, but segregation in the armed forces remained official policy until 1948. [20] [21]

With the exception of 18 female African-American nurses who had served in World War I, the Army Nurse Corps, established in 1901, remained white until 1941, when pressure from the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, and Eleanor Roosevelt, caused the Army to admit black nurses. A quota of 48 nurses was set, and the women were segregated from white nurses and white soldiers for much of the war. Eventually more black nurses enlisted. They were assigned to care for black soldiers, and served in the China-Burma-India theater, Australia, New Guinea, Liberia, England and the Philippines. [22]

Japanese-Americans Edit

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, men of Japanese birth and descent were classified as enemy aliens and excluded from the United States draft. In addition, on the US mainland, the federal government forced most ethnic Japanese Americans to relocate from Pacific coastal areas to internment camps located inland of the Pacific and controlled by armed guards. It was not until 1944 that a fighting unit of Japanese-American Nisei (American-born) men were recruited and trained for military service. Japanese Americans were allowed to join only the Army, not the Navy, Marines or Air Corps. [23] The 442nd Infantry Regiment, consisting primarily of Japanese Americans, fought in Europe.

Japanese Americans already in training at the start of the war had been removed from active duty shortly after Pearl Harbor, and the Army stopped accepting new Nisei recruits in early 1942. [24] However, Japanese American leaders like Mike Masaoka and War Department officials like John J. McCloy soon began to push the Roosevelt administration to allow Nisei to serve in combat. A military board was convened in June 1942 to address the issue, but their final report opposed forming a Nisei unit, citing "the universal distrust in which they [Japanese Americans] are held." [25] Despite resistance from military and War Relocation Authority leaders, the President eventually sided with the War Department, and on February 1, 1943, Roosevelt announced the creation of a segregated battalion composed of Nisei soldiers and commanded by white officers.

Chinese Americans Edit

Unlike the Japanese Americans, 75% of Chinese American soldiers served in non-segregated units. [26] An estimated 13,000 Chinese-Americans served in World War II, with two units consisting of only Chinese-Americans, the 407th Air Service Squadron, and the 987th Signal Company, based in the China, Burma and India Theater. [27]

When the United States Army Air Service, the precursor to the Air Force, was formed in 1918, only white soldiers were allowed. [28]

During World War II, the Army Air Service needed more people, and recruited black men to train as pilots in the Tuskegee Airmen program. Black men and women also served in administrative and support roles. [28] With the exception of Japanese-Americans, Asian-American men and women were recruited into integrated units of the Army Air Service during World War II. [29]

Tuskegee Airmen Edit

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans in southern states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws. [N 1] The American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to racial discrimination, both within and outside the army. Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction. All black military pilots who trained in the United States trained at Tuskegee.

Although the 477th Bombardment Group "worked up" on North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat. The Tuskegee 332nd Fighter Group was the only operational unit, first sent overseas as part of Operation Torch, then seeing action in Sicily and Italy. They were deployed as bomber escorts in Europe, where they were very successful. [31]

War of 1812 Edit

At the beginning of the war, official U.S. policy forbade the recruitment of black sailors. However, a shortage of manpower forced the Navy to accept any able-bodied man. Modern estimates place the number of black sailors serving in the War of 1812 at 15-20% of naval manpower. [32] On some privateers, non-military ships which harassed enemy merchant ships, more than half of the crew was black. Life in the cramped quarters of the ships created a more egalitarian camaraderie, as well as mutual respect based on performance. However, many enslaved American blacks defected to the British Royal Navy after the British promised them freedom and allowed them to serve on their ships. [6] In a letter to Commodore Perry, who had complained about being given black crew members, Commodore Isaac Chauncey wrote that he had fifty black sailors on his ship, called them "excellent seamen" and said, "I have yet to learn that the color of skin, or the cut and trimmings of the coat, can affect a man's qualifications and usefulness." [33] Just before the Battle of Bladensburg Commodore Joshua Barney, on being asked by President James Madison ". if his negroes would not run on the approach of the British?" replied: “No Sir…they don't know how to run they will die by their guns first." [34] The Commodore was correct, the men did not run, one such man was young sailor Harry Jones a free black. Jones was wounded in the final action at the Battle of Bladensburg when Commodore Barney's Naval and Marine contingent were overrun. He remained a patient at the Naval Hospital Washington DC for nearly two months. [35] African Americans like Charles Ball and Harry Jones, despite prejudice and segregation, played a significant role in the Battle of Bladensburg and contributed to the American war effort in general. Michael Shiner, a black man who worked in the Washington DC Navy yard in the early to mid 19th century, chronicled the War of 1812, as well as the racial tension of the era, in his diary. [36]

1839: number of black sailors reduced Edit

From the end of the War of 1812 until the Civil War, modern scholars have had little reliable data regarding the number of black men in the naval service. The fortuitous discovery of a remarkable letter from Commodore Lewis Warrington, dated 17 September 1839, gives a better picture of the recruitment of African Americans during this period. Commodore Warrington was a vocal critic of black recruitment, writing "I deem it proper to represent to you what is a considered a great inconvenience if not an evil and that is the number of negroes which are entered at various places for the general Service" [37] Nonetheless Warrington to make his case that too many blacks were already in the naval service forwarded to the Secretary of the Navy a memorandum enumerating the number of black seamen recruited over a one-year period at five naval recruiting stations. This document provides data for naval recruiting stations at New York City, Philadelphia Pa., Baltimore Md., Boston Ma., and Norfolk Va. In total for that year, 1016 men were entered for naval service, “of which 122 were Black” or 12% of the total. [38] [39] On 13 September 1839, acting Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Chauncey issued a circular declaring that in view of complaints, the number of blacks in the naval service would henceforth be no more than 5 percent of the total number entered under any circumstances and no slave was to be entered under any circumstances. [40]

Civil War Edit

Unlike the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy was integrated during the Civil War. During the 1840s, federal regulations limited black sailors to 5 percent of the enlisted force, but during the American Civil War black participation grew to 20 per cent of the Union navy's total enlisted force, nearly double the percentage that served in the Army. Almost eighteen thousand men of African descent, and eleven women, served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. The ranking and status of black crew members depended on whether they had come on board as free or formerly enslaved, with the latter classified as "Boys" and given lower pay and rating. [5]

World War I Edit

On Navy ships, black sailors frequently worked as mess attendants, firemen, or coal passers, who hauled massive quantities of coal to fuel the ships. They were also promoted to petty officers. Navy ships continued to be integrated. [33] [41]

Interwar period Edit

"The Navy's racial segregation policies limited African Americans' participation in World War I and, after the war, barred black enlistments altogether from 1919 to 1932. The only black sailors in uniform during that period were the ones aboard in 1919 who were allowed to stay to retire."

In 1932 Blacks were allowed to serve on US Navy ships as stewards and mess attendants. [42]

World War II Edit

African-Americans Edit

In June 1940 the Navy had 4,007 African-American personnel, representing 2.3 percent of its total strength of nearly 170,000. All of these African Americans were enlisted men, and with the exception of six regular-rated seamen, all were steward's mates. They were characterized by the black press as "seagoing bellhops." Within a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the number of African Americans in the Navy had increased to 5,026 however, they were still restricted to working as steward's mates. [43] One exception was the black navy bandmaster Alton Augustus Adams, who was recalled to active duty after Pearl Harbor along with eight other black musicians and sent to Guantanamo Bay, creating the Navy's first racially integrated ensemble. [44]

The destroyer-escort USS Mason was the only Navy vessel in World War II with an entirely black crew who were not cooks or waiters. In 1995, 11 surviving crew members were all given belated recognition and letters of commendation from Navy Secretary John Dalton for having braved harsh weather and quickly welding the cracks in their ship so they could continue escorting support ships to England. [45]

The Navy did not allow women of color until January 25, 1945. The first African-American woman sworn into the Navy was Phyllis Mae Dailey, a nurse and Columbia University student from New York. She was the first of only four African American women to serve in the navy during WW2. [46]

Publicity surrounding the Port Chicago disaster on July 17, 1944 and the ensuing mutiny convictions of 50 black sailors spotlighted racism in the Navy and was a major impetus for Circular Order 48-46, [47] published on February 27, 1946, which desegregated the Navy.

African American Seabees

In February 1942 CNO Admiral Harold Rainsford Stark recommended African Americans for ratings in the construction trades. In April the Navy announced it would enlist African Americans in the Seabees. Even so, there were just two regular CBs that were segregated units, the 34th [49] and 80th [50] NCBs. Both had white Southern officers and black enlisted. Both battalions experienced problems with that arrangement that led to the replacement of the officers.

The Navy had a huge need for cargo handlers. [51] The lack of stevedores for unloading ships in combat zones was creating a problem. On 18 September 1942 authorization was granted for the formation of a different type of CB denoted by the tag "Special" for cargo handling. [51] By the end of the war, 41 Special Construction Battalions were commissioned of which 15 were segregated. Those Special CBs later became the first fully integrated units in the U.S. Navy. [52] The war's end also brought the decommissioning of every one of those units.

Of particular note were the actions of the 17th Special at Peleliu 15–18 September 1944. On D-day the 7th Marines were in a situation where they did not have enough men to man the lines and get the wounded to safety. Coming to their aid were the 2 companies of the 16 Marine Field Depot(segregated) and the 17th Special Seabee(segregated). The Japanese mounted a counter-attack at 0200 hours on D-day night. By the time it was over nearly the entire 17th had volunteered to hump ammunition, to the front lines on the stretchers they brought the wounded back on. They volunteered to man the line where the wounded had been, man 37mm that had lost their crews and volunteered for anything dangerous. The 17th remained with the 7th Marines until the right flank had been secured D-plus 3. [53] [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] According to the Military History Encyclopedia on the Web, were it not for the "Black Marine shore party personnel" the counterattack on the 7th Marines would not have been repulsed. [59]

Asian-Americans Edit

Prior to World War II, the U.S. Navy had recruited Chinese Americans but they had been restricted to serve only as stewards [62] This continued until May 1942, when restrictions ceased and they were allowed to serve in other ratings. [62] The Korean-American Susan Ahn Cuddy was the first Asian-American woman to join the Navy in 1942 and the first female to operate flexible-mount or turret-mounted machine guns on an aircraft in the Navy. [63] The Navy refused to accept Japanese-American recruits throughout World War II. [64]

In 1776 and 1777, a dozen Black American Marines served in the American Revolutionary War, but from 1798 to 1942, the USMC followed a racially discriminatory policy of denying African Americans the opportunity to serve as Marines. For 144 years, the Marines recruited primarily European Americans and Hispanic Americans, along with a few Asian Americans.

The USMC opened its doors to African Americans in June 1942, with the acceptance of African Americans as recruits in segregated all-black units. Other races were accepted somewhat more easily, joining white Marine units. For the next few decades, the incorporation of black troops was not widely accepted within the Corps, nor was desegregation smoothly or quickly achieved.

Spurred by executive orders in 1941 and 1948, the integration of non-white USMC personnel proceeded in stages from segregated battalions in 1942, to unified training in 1949, and finally full integration in 1960. [65]

By 2006, approximately 20% of the USMC was Black American and 15–18% Hispanic [66] more than the 30 to 31% of the U.S. ratio of minorities in the general population. [67]

Background Edit

The first black American to fight in a Marine role was John Martin, also known as Keto, the slave of a Delaware man, recruited in April 1776 without his owner's permission by Captain of the Marines Miles Pennington of the Continental brig USS Reprisal. Martin served with the Marine platoon on the Reprisal for a year and a half, involved in hard ship-to-ship fighting, but was lost with the rest of his unit when the brig sank in October 1777. [4]

At least 12 other black men served with various American Marine units in 1776–1777 more may have been in service but not identified as blacks in the records. However, in 1798 when the Marine Corps was officially re-instituted, Secretary of War James McHenry specified in its rules: "No Negro, Mulatto or Indian to be enlisted". [4] Marine Commandant William Ward Burrows instructed his recruiters regarding USMC racial policy, "You can make use of Blacks and Mulattoes while you recruit, but you cannot enlist them." [4] This policy was designed to set a higher standard of unit cohesion for Marines so that they would remain loyal, maintain shipboard discipline and help put down mutinies, as it was believed a multiracial crew would cause disputes and thus lower unit cohesion. [4]

The Marine Corps, being a combat arm of the Navy, did not recruit any black soldiers: instead, the USMC was serviced by US Navy supply personnel including black laborers. Unlike the United States Army which had separate regiments that a soldier could remain in for his entire military career, Marines were individually transferred to various ship's detachments and naval bases. After World War I, the number of blacks in both the Navy and the Army was reduced to about 1.5% of the total number of active servicemen, a proportion much lower than the number of blacks in the general population. [28]

Franklin Roosevelt administration Edit

During the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the growing political power of African Americans was increasingly felt in Washington, DC. Civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, and the National Negro Congress called for greater equality between the races. In 1938, the Committee on Participation of Negroes in the National Defense Program was formed by the Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper with a large black readership. Further calls to increase the proportion of blacks in the military were published in 1939. [28] [68]

After wars broke out in the late 1930s in Africa, China and Europe, black community leaders determined to use the black workforce's loyalty as leverage to gain greater racial equality at home. In June 1940, the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, published a declaration that the fighting around the world was certainly bad, "but the hysterical cries of the preachers of democracy for Europe leave us cold. We want democracy in Alabama, Arkansas, in Mississippi and Michigan, in the District of Columbia, in the Senate of the United States." [28] During the 1940 presidential election, both parties courted the black vote. Incumbent President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected, partly because substantial numbers of black voters crossed previous party lines and voted for the Democratic Party candidate.

In April 1941, the U.S. Navy convened its General Board to discuss expansion of the USMC. Major General Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the Marines, who lived in Delaware and Washington, DC in his early years and attended private schools, said that African Americans had no right to serve as Marines. He said, "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites." [68]

In 1941, civil rights activists Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, and A. J. Muste pushed Roosevelt to order fair employment for blacks in the federal government. Many rural southern African-Americans who had arrived in urban Northern and Western states in search of defense industry jobs during the second phase of the Great Migration were faced with constant discrimination in housing, on the job market, and in their recreational activities.

After the activists threatened to march on Washington D.C. in July 1941, Roosevelt - faced with a public relations disaster for his presidency and wanting to unite all Americans in striving towards defeating fascism - issued Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941, which ordered the elimination of racial discrimination from federal departments, agencies, the military, and private defense contractors, after which the planned march was cancelled.

Directed by Roosevelt and U.S. Navy Secretary Frank Knox to accept black recruits, Holcomb proposed a separate battalion of African Americans, a seacoast defense battalion armed with anti-aircraft and anti-shipping artillery. To make this battalion self-supporting, Holcomb determined that it would contain a rifle company, special weapons platoons, and a light tank platoon—all manned by black Marines. [68]

World War II Edit

In early 1942, Philip Johnston, a U.S. Army veteran of World War I, suggested to the USMC that they follow the example of the Army and recruit native speakers of the Navajo language to pass important tactical messages by radio, to serve as code talkers on the battlefield. On May 5, 1942, the first group of 29 Navajo recruits was accepted at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. [69] From 1942 to 1945, some 375 to 420 Navajo trained as code talkers, part of about 540 Marines who were native Navajo speakers during World War II. All of these soldiers served in desegregated units alongside Marines of various races. [70] A total of 874 Native Americans of various tribes served in the USMC in World War II. [23]

The USMC did not form battalions of Asian Americans. Rather, it integrated Asian American recruits with European American soldiers. [ citation needed ] The first Chinese American USMC officer, Wilbur Carl Sze, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in December 1943. [71] [72] In contemporary times, proportionately fewer Asian Americans join the U.S. military than appear in the U.S. general population. [73]

On June 1, 1942, the initial group of black USMC recruits was admitted, but they were not immediately trained because separate, segregated facilities had not yet been completed. The first Black enlisted Marine was Alfred Masters from Oklahoma City who enlisted June 1, 1942 at 12:01 midnight. Black volunteers began their basic training in August at Montford Point in North Carolina, a satellite base to Marine Barracks, New River, later called Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The first black recruit to arrive in camp was Howard P. Perry on August 26, followed that day by 12 others. [74] Perry enlisted in July. These and subsequent recruits were organized into the 51st Composite Defense Battalion, [75] a static artillery unit intended to hold land against attack.

By October 29, only 647 of a planned 1,200 recruits had passed entrance examinations: to avoid forming segregated training units to teach typing, truck driving and other specialist skills necessary to run the battalion, Holcomb required more than half of the recruits to demonstrate proficiency in these skills prior to acceptance. [68] This requirement was dropped in view of the delay it caused in bringing the battalion up to strength. Recruits were taught specialist skills by white USMC instructors brought into Montford Point, or they were sent to nearby Army classes. [68]

The black recruits were not allowed in Camp Lejeune unless accompanied by a white Marine, and their service papers were stamped "Colored". [76] Although the U.S. was by this time fully engaged in war, the recruits were assigned to inactive duty in the Marine Corps Reserve. Their units were segregated, as all the enlisted servicemen were black, with white officers and drill instructors. The commander of the black Marines at Montford Point was Samuel A. Woods Jr who worked to enforce segregation, protecting his troops from being detained by local authorities while they were visiting town. [77] By early 1943, the white drill instructors were leaving for war and were being replaced by black sergeants and corporals. [76]

After accepting more black recruits, the USMC formed the 52nd Defense Battalion. Both the 51st and 52nd shipped out to fight in the Pacific War, but as defense units holding land far behind the front lines they did not see much action. [78] In total, 19,168 African Americans joined the Marines, about 4% of the USMC's strength some 75% of them performed their duties overseas. About 8,000 black USMC stevedores and ammunition handlers served under enemy fire during offensive operations in the Pacific. Following the June 1944 Battle of Saipan, USMC General Alexander Vandegrift said of the steadfast performance of the all-black 3d Marine Ammunition Company: "The Negro Marines are no longer on trial. They are Marines, period." [65]

A testament to this came at Peleliu 15–18 September 1944. On D-day the 7th Marines were in a situation where they did not have enough men to man the lines and get the wounded to safety. Coming to their aid were the 2 companies of the 16 Marine Field Depot(segregated) and the 17th Special Seabee(segregated). That night the Japanese mounted a counter-attack at 0200 hours. The Field Depot Marines are recorded as again having humped ammunition, to the front lines on the stretchers they brought the wounded back on and picked up rifles to become infantrymen. By the time it was over nearly the entire 17th CB had volunteered alongside them. According to the Military History Encyclopedia on the Web, were it not for the "Black Marine shore party personnel" the counterattack on the 7th Marines would not have been repulsed. [59]

  • On Peleliu, shore party detachments from the 33rd and 73rd CBs received Presidential Unit Citations along with the primary shore party, 1st Marine Pioneers. [79] The three Commanders of the 7th Marine Ammo Co., the 11th Marine Depot Co. and the 17th Special CB all received the same commendatory letter. Before the battle was even over, Major General Rupertus USMC wrote to each that: "THE NEGRO RACE CAN WELL BE PROUD OF THE WORK PREFORMED [by the 11th Marine Depot Company/ 7th Marine Ammunition Company/ 17th CB]. THE WHOLEHEARTED CO-OPERATION AND UNTIRING EFFORTS WHICH DEMONSTRATED IN EVERY RESPECT THAT THEY APPRECIATED THE PRIVILEGE OF WEARING A MARINE UNIFORM AND SERVING WITH THE MARINES IN COMBAT. PLEASE CONVEY TO YOUR COMMAND THESE SENTIMENTS AND INFORM THEM THAT IN THE EYES OF THE ENTIRE DIVISION THEY HAVE EARNED A "WELL DONE"." [80][81] The U.S.Navy made an official press release November 28, 1944 of the 17th CB's copy of the "Well Done" letter from the Marine Corps. [82]

1946 to 1960 Edit

After World War II, the USMC reduced in size the number of African-American Marines dropped to 2,000 men, which was one-tenth of wartime levels. [65] In 1947, the Marine Corps forced African-American men to choose between leaving the service or becoming a steward (a food service position). [65] A few non-white Marines advanced in grade, such as Kurt Chew-Een Lee, a Chinese-American soldier who was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1946. Lee earned the Navy Cross under fire in Korea in September 1950, serving in the 1st Battalion 7th Marines at the time this was a primarily Euro-American unit. [83]

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the U.S. military regardless of race. He appointed the President's Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, two of whose five members were African American. In January 1949, the Fahy Committee (nicknamed after its chairman) met to hear concerns by armed forces' leaders about the new executive order, and both the Army and the Marine Corps leadership defended their practices of segregation. The Navy and the newly formed United States Air Force announced their intentions to follow the order. The USMC said that it had only one black officer among 8,200 white ones. [84]

In late 1949, all-black USMC units persisted, but the Marines had black and white recruits beginning to train together. The few black USMC officers were assigned exclusively to black units they were not asked to lead white Marines into combat. In 1952 after two years of the Korean War, the Marines cautiously integrated blacks into combat units. [65] In the late 1950s, black Marines were not rewarded with preferred or high-visibility assignments, such as embassy guard duty and guard duty in the nation's capital. [65] By 1960, full integration of the races had been completed by the USMC, but racial tensions flared up through the next decade, a period of civil rights activism in the larger society. [65]

"Marlboro" African-American bodyservant to white Confederate soldier

"Nearly 40% of the Confederacy's population were unfree. the work required to sustain the same society during war naturally fell disproportionately on black shoulders as well. By drawing so many white men into the army, indeed, the war multiplied the importance of the black work force." ⎡] :62 Even Georgia's Governor Joseph E. Brown noted that "the country and the army are mainly dependent upon slave labor for support." ⎢] The impressment of slaves, and conscription of freedmen, ⎣] into direct military labor, initially came on the impetus of state legislatures, ⎤] and by 1864 six states had regulated impressment (Florida, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, in order of authorization) ⎥] as well as the Confederate Congress. ⎦] Slave labor was used in a wide variety of support roles, from infrastructure and mining, to teamster and medical roles such as hospital attendants and nurses. ⎡] :62–63

The idea of arming slaves for use as soldiers was speculated on from the onset of the war, but not seriously considered by Davis or others in his administration. ⎧] As the Union saw victories in the fall of 1862 and the spring of 1863, however, the need for more manpower was acknowledged by the Confederacy in the form of conscription of white men, and the national impressment of free and slave blacks into laborer positions. State militias composed of freedmen were offered, but the War Department spurned the offer. ⎡] :19 One of the more notable state militias was the all black 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a militia unit composed of free men of color. It was the first of any North American unit to have African American officers. ⎨] The unit was short lived, and forced to disband in February 1862. ⎩] The unit was "intended as a response to demands from members of New Orleans' substantial free black population that they be permitted to participate in the defense of their state, the unit was used by Confederate authorities for public display and propaganda purposes but was not allowed to fight." ⎪] A Union army regiment was later formed under the same name after General Butler took control of the city [ citation needed ] .

Will the slaves fight?−the experience of this war so far has been that half-trained Negroes have fought as bravely as half-trained Yankees.

In January 1864, General Patrick Cleburne and several other Confederate officers in the Army of Tennessee proposed using slaves as soldiers in the national army to buttress falling troop numbers. Cleburne recommended offering slaves their freedom if they fought and survived. Confederate President Jefferson Davis refused to consider Cleburne's proposal but did not completely dismiss the idea. On November 7, 1864, in his annual address to Congress, Davis hinted at arming slaves. ⎬] ⎭] In fact, a number of prominent generals dissented, including Howell Cobb, ⎮] Beauregard, ⎯] and Anderson. ⎰]

Despite the suppression of Cleburne's idea, the question of enlisting slaves into the army had not faded away, but had become a fixture of debate amongst the columns of southern newspapers and southern society in the winter of 1864. ⎡] :4 ⎱] Representative of the two sides in the debate were the Richmond Enquirer and the Charleston Courier:

On January 11, 1865 General Robert E. Lee wrote the Confederate Congress urging them to arm and enlist black slaves in exchange for their freedom. ⎴] On March 13, the Confederate Congress passed legislation to raise and enlist companies of black soldiers. Originally black slaves were able to be forced into the army without the acknowledgement of their masters. On February 27, 1864, Confederate Congress had passed a law that allowed the army to impress slaves with consulting their owner, however this was not a law that was frequently implemented. ⎬] The legislation was then promulgated into military policy by Davis in General Order No. 14 on March 23, 1865. ⎵] The emancipation offered, however, was reliant upon a master's consent "no slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freedman" ⎶]

THE BATTALION from Camps Winder and Jackson, under the command of Dr. Chambliss, including the company of colored troops under Captain Grimes, will parade on the square on Wednesday evening, at 4* o’clock. This is the first company of negro troops raised in Virginia. It was organized about a month since, by Dr. Chambliss, from the employees of the hospitals, and served on the lines during the recent Sheridan raid.

Despite calculations of Virginia's state auditor, that some 4,700 free black males and more than 25,000 male slaves between eighteen and forty five years of age were fit for service, ⎷] only a small number were raised in the intervening months, most coming from two local hospitals -Windsor and Jackson- as well as a formal recruiting center created by General Ewell and staffed by Majors Pegram and Turner. ⎡] :125 A month after the order was issued, the number was still "forty or fifty colored soldiers, enlisted under the act of congress". ⎸] In his memoirs, Davis stated "There did not remain time enough to obtain any result from its provisions" ⎹]

African Americans in the CSA [ edit | edit source ]

"Rebel Negro Pickets as Seen Through a Field Glass", Harper's Weekly Newspaper, January 10, 1863.

A few other lesser known Confederate militia units of free men of color were raised throughout Louisiana at the beginning of the war. These units included: the Baton Rouge Guards under Capt. Henry Favrot, portions of the Pointe Coupee Light Infantry under Capt. Ferdinand Claiborne, and the Augustin Guards and Monet's Guards of Natchitoches under Dr. Jean Burdin. The only official duties ever given to the Natchitoches units were funeral honor guard details. ⎺]

After an August 1861 battle near Hampton, Virginia, Union army Colonel John W. Phelps, of the 1st Vermont Infantry reported on the Confederate forces he faced there. Colonel Phelps' report reflects his scouts as reporting that among the Confederate artillery there was the Richmond Howitzer Battery that was manned by negroes. ⎻]

One account of an unidentified African American fighting for the Confederacy, from two Southern 1862 newspapers, ⎼] tells of "a huge negro" fighting under the command of Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge against the 14th Maine Infantry Regiment in a battle near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 5, 1862. The man was described as being "armed and equipped with knapsack, musket, and uniform", and helping to lead the attack. ⎽] The man's status of being a freedman or a slave is unknown.

Following the July 1862 Surrender of Murfreesborough, Tennessee, Lieutenant Colonel John G. Parkhurst of the 9th Michigan Infantry reported on African Americans serving with the Confederate First Regiment Texas Rangers and the First Georgia Rangers. His report states "There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.". ⎾]

Several African Americans are known to have participated in some capacity on the Southern side in the Battle of Gettysburg. After the battle in July 1863, "reported among the rebel prisoners were seven blacks in Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers." ⎿]

Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the United States Sanitary Commission while observing Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson's occupation of Frederick, Maryland, in 1862: "Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number [Confederate troops]. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off or captured United States uniforms, but in coats with Southern buttons, State buttons, etc. These were shabby, but not shabbier or seedier than those worn by white men in the rebel ranks. Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army." ⏀]

Union Brigadier-General D. Stuart observed that ". the enemy, and especially their armed negroes, did dare to rise and fire, and did serious execution upon our men. The casualties in the brigade were 11 killed, 40 wounded, and 4 missing aggregate, 55. ". ⏀]

The number of African-Americans, both slave and free, that served in the Confederate Army in a direct combat capacity was minor, and was never official policy. After the war, the State of Tennessee granted Confederate Pensions to nearly 300 African Americans for their service to the Confederacy. ⏁] ⏂] Discussions amongst CSA officers on the potential enlistment of slaves is highlighted in the section above. While an accurate estimate of the number of African Americans who served in the Confederate armed forces may never be known, the United States Census of 1890 lists 3,273 African Americans who claimed to be Confederate veterans ⏃]


The issue of raising African-American regiments in the Union's war efforts was at first met with trepidation by officials within the Union command structure, President Abraham Lincoln included. Concerns over the response of the border states (of which one, Maryland, surrounded the capital of Washington D.C.), the response of white soldiers and officers, as well as the effectiveness of a fighting force composed of black men were raised. [4] : 165–167 [5] Despite official reluctance from above, the number of white volunteers dropped throughout the war, and black soldiers were needed whether the population liked it or not. [6] However, African Americans had been volunteering since the first days of war on both sides, though many were turned down. [7]

On July 17, 1862, the U.S. Congress passed two Acts allowing for the enlistment of "colored" troops (African Americans) [8] but official enrollment occurred only after the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. However, state and local militia units had already begun enlisting Blacks, including the "Black Brigade of Cincinnati", raised in September 1862 to help provide manpower to thwart a feared Confederate raid on Cincinnati from Kentucky. In May 1863, Congress established the Bureau of Colored Troops in an effort to organize black efforts in the war. [9]

African Americans served as medical officers after 1863, beginning with Baltimore surgeon Alexander Augusta. Augusta was a senior surgeon, with white assistant surgeons under his command at Fort Stanton, MD. [10]

In actual numbers, African-American soldiers eventually comprised 10% of the entire Union Army (United States Army). Losses among African Americans were high: in the last year and a half and from all reported casualties, approximately 20% of all African Americans enrolled in the military lost their lives during the Civil War. [1] : 16 Notably, their mortality rate was significantly higher than that of white soldiers:

[We] find, according to the revised official data, that of the slightly over two millions troops in the United States Volunteers, over 316,000 died (from all causes), or 15.2%. Of the 67,000 Regular Army (white) troops, 8.6%, or not quite 6,000, died. Of the approximately 180,000 United States Colored Troops, however, over 36,000 died, or 20.5%. In other words, the mortality "rate" amongst the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War was thirty-five percent greater than that among other troops, notwithstanding the fact that the former were not enrolled until some eighteen months after the fighting began.

Non-combatant labor duty Edit

Escaped slaves who sought refuge in Union Army camps were called contrabands. A number of officers in the field experimented, with varying degrees of success, in using contrabands for manual work in Union Army camps, and later in raising Black regiments of soldiers from them. These included Gen. David Hunter (1802–1886), U.S. Sen./Gen. James H. Lane (1814–1866), and Gen. Benjamin F. Butler (1818–1893), of Massachusetts. [4] : 165–167 In early 1861, General Butler was the first known Union commander to use black contrabands, in a non-combatant role, to do the physical labor duties, after he refused to return escaped slaves, at Fort Monroe, Virginia, who came to him for asylum from their masters, who sought to capture and reenslave them. In September 1862, free African-American men were conscripted and impressed into forced labor for constructing defensive fortifications, by the police force of the city of Cincinnati, Ohio however, they were soon released from their forced labor and a call for African-American volunteers was sent out. Some 700 of them volunteered, and they came to be known as the Black Brigade of Cincinnati. Because of the harsh working conditions and the extreme brutality of their Cincinnati police guards, the Union Army, under General Lew Wallace, stepped in to restore order and ensure that the black conscripts received the fair treatment due to soldiers, including the equal pay of privates.

Contrabands were later settled in a number of colonies, such as at the Grand Contraband Camp, Virginia, and in the Port Royal Experiment.

Blacks also participated in activities further behind the lines that helped keep an army functioning, such as at hospitals and the like. Jane E. Schultz wrote of the medical corps that "Approximately 10 percent of the Union's female relief workforce was of African descent: free blacks of diverse education and class background who earned wages or worked without pay in the larger cause of freedom, and runaway slaves who sought sanctuary in military camps and hospitals." [11]

Early battles in 1862 and 1863 Edit

In general, white soldiers and officers believed that Black men lacked the ability to fight and fight well. In October 1862, African-American soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, in one of the first engagements involving Black troops, silenced their critics by repulsing attacking Confederate guerrillas at the Skirmish at Island Mound, Missouri, in the Western Theatre. By August, 1863, 14 more Negro State Regiments were in the field and ready for service. Union General Benjamin Butler wrote "Better soldiers never shouldered a musket. I observed a very remarkable trait about them. They learned to handle arms and to march more easily than intelligent white men. My drillmaster could teach a regiment of Negroes that much of the art of war sooner than he could have taught the same number of students from Harvard or Yale." [12]

At the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 27, 1863, the African-American soldiers bravely advanced over open ground in the face of deadly artillery fire. Although the attack failed, the Black soldiers proved their capability to withstand the heat of battle, with General Nathaniel P. Banks (1816–1894) recording in his official report: "Whatever doubt may have existed heretofore as to the efficiency of organizations of this character, the history of this day's proves. in this class of troops effective supporters and defenders." [13] Noted for his bravery was Union Captain Andre Cailloux, who fell early in the battle. [14] This was the first battle involving a formal Federal African-American unit. [15]

On June 7, 1863, a garrison consisting mostly of black troops assigned to guard a supply depot during the Vicksburg Campaign found themselves under attack by a larger Confederate force. Recently recruited, minimally trained, and poorly armed, the black soldiers still managed to successfully repulse the attack in the ensuing Battle of Milliken's Bend with the help of federal gunboats from the Tennessee river, despite suffering nearly three times as many casualties as the rebels. [16] At one point in the battle, Confederate General Henry McCulloch noted "The line was formed under a heavy fire from the enemy, and the troops charged the breastworks, carrying it instantly, killing and wounding many of the enemy by their deadly fire, as well as the bayonet. This charge was resisted by the negro portion of the enemy's force with considerable obstinacy, while the white or true Yankee portion ran like whipped curs almost as soon as the charge was ordered." [17]

Fort Wagner, Fort Pillow, and beyond Edit

The most widely known battle fought by African Americans was the assault on Fort Wagner, off the Charleston coast, South Carolina, by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry on July 18, 1863. The 54th volunteered to lead the assault on the strongly fortified Confederate positions of the earthen/sand embankments (very resistant to artillery fire) on the coastal beach. The soldiers of the 54th scaled the Fort's parapet, and were only driven back after brutal hand-to-hand combat. Despite the defeat, the unit was hailed for its valor, which spurred further African-American recruitment, giving the Union a numerical military advantage from a large segment of the population the Confederacy did not attempt to exploit until too late in the closing days of the War. Unfortunately for any African-American soldiers captured during these battles, imprisonment could be even worse than death. Black prisoners were not treated the same as white prisoners. They received no medical attention, harsh punishments, and would not be used in a prisoner exchange because the Confederate states only saw them as escaped slaves fighting against their masters. [19]

After the battle, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton praised the recent performances of black troops in a letter to Abraham Lincoln, stating "Many persons believed, or pretended to believe, and confidentially asserted, that freed slaves would not make good soldiers they would lack courage, and could not be subjected to military discipline. Facts have shown how groundless were these apprehensions. The slave has proved his manhood, and his capacity as an infantry soldier, at Milliken's Bend, at the assault opon Port Hudson, and the storming of Fort Wagner." [17]

African-American soldiers participated in every major campaign of the War's last year, 1864–1865, except for Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in Georgia, and the following "March to the Sea" to Savannah, by Christmas 1864. The year 1864 was especially eventful for African-American troops. On April 12, 1864, at the Battle of Fort Pillow, in Tennessee, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led his 2,500 men against the Union-held fortification, occupied by 292 black and 285 white soldiers.

After driving in the Union pickets and giving the garrison an opportunity to surrender, Forrest's men swarmed into the Fort with little difficulty and drove the Federals down the river's bluff into a deadly crossfire. Casualties were high and only sixty-two of the U.S. Colored Troops survived the fight. Accounts from both Union and Confederate witnesses suggest a massacre. [20] Many believed that the massacre was ordered by Forrest. The battle cry for some black soldiers became "Remember Fort Pillow!"

The Battle of Chaffin's Farm, Virginia, became one of the most heroic engagements involving Black troops. On September 29, 1864, the African-American division of the Eighteenth Corps, after being pinned down by Confederate artillery fire for about 30 minutes, charged the earthworks and rushed up the slopes of the heights. During the hour-long engagement the Division suffered tremendous casualties. Of the twenty-five African Americans who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War, fourteen received the honor as a result of their actions at Chaffin's Farm.

Discrimination in pay and assignments Edit

Although black soldiers proved themselves as reputable soldiers, discrimination in pay and other areas remained widespread. According to the Militia Act of 1862, soldiers of African descent were to receive $10.00 per month, with an optional deduction for clothing at $3.00. In contrast, white privates received $12.00 per month plus a clothing allowance of $3.50. [22] Many regiments struggled for equal pay, some refusing any money and pay until June 15, 1864, when the Federal Congress granted equal pay for all soldiers. [23] [24]

Besides discrimination in pay, colored units were often disproportionately assigned laborer work, rather than combat assignments. [4] : 198 General Daniel Ullman, commander of the Corps d'Afrique, remarked "I fear that many high officials outside of Washington have no other intention than that these men shall be used as diggers and drudges." [25]

African-American contributions to Union war intelligence Edit

Blacks, both slave and free, were also heavily involved in assisting the Union in matters of intelligence, and their contributions were labeled Black Dispatches. [26] One of these spies was Mary Bowser. Harriet Tubman was also a spy, a nurse, and a cook whose efforts were key to Union victories and survival. Tubman is most widely recognized for her contributions to freeing slaves via the Underground Railroad. However, her contributions to the Union Army were equally important. She used her knowledge of the country's terrain to gain important intelligence for the Union Army. She became the first woman to lead U.S. soldiers into combat when, under the order of Colonel James Montgomery, she took a contingent of soldiers in South Carolina behind enemy lines, destroying plantations and freeing 750 slaves in the process. [27]

Blacks routinely assisted Union armies advancing through Confederate territory as scouts, guides, and spies. Confederate General Robert Lee said "The chief source of information to the enemy is through our negroes." [28] In a letter to Confederate high command, Confederate general Patrick Cleburne complained "All along the lines slavery is comparatively valueless to us for labor, but of great and increasing worth to the enemy for information. It is an omnipresent spy system, pointing out our valuable men to the enemy, revealing our positions, purposes, and resources, and yet acting so safely and secretly that there is no means to guard against it. Even in the heart of our country, where our hold upon this secret espionage is firmest, it waits but the opening fire of the enemy's battle line to wake it, like a torpid serpent, into venomous activity." [29]

Union Navy (U.S. Navy) Edit

Like the army, the Union Navy's official position at the beginning of the war was ambivalence towards the use of either Northern free blacks or runaway slaves. The constant stream, however, of escaped slaves seeking refuge aboard Union ships, forced the Navy to formulate a policy towards them. [30] Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Wells in a terse order, pointed out the following

It is not the policy of this Government to invite or encourage this kind of desertion and yet, under the circumstances, no other course. could be adopted without violating every principle of humanity. To return them would be impolitic as well as cruel. you will do well to employ them.

In time, the Union Navy would see almost 16% of its ranks supplied by African Americans, performing in a wide range of enlisted roles. [32] In contrast to the Army, the Navy from the outset not only paid equal wages to white and black sailors, but offered considerably more for even entry-level enlisted positions. [33] Food rations and medical care were also improved over the Army, with the Navy benefiting from a regular stream of supplies from Union-held ports. [34]

Becoming a commissioned officer, however was still out of reach for nearly all black sailors. With rare exceptions, only the rank of petty officer would be offered to black sailors, and in practice, only to free blacks (who often were the only ones with naval careers sufficiently long to earn the rank). [35] Robert Smalls, an escaped slave, was given the rank of captain of the steamer "Planter" in December 1864. [36]

Confederate Army Edit

Blacks did not serve in the Confederate Army as combat troops. [2] [38] [39] Blacks were not merely not recruited service was actively forbidden by the Confederacy for the majority of its existence. [2] Enslaved blacks were sometimes used for camp labor, however. Other times, when a son or sons in a slaveholding family enlisted, he would take along a family slave to work as a personal servant. Such slaves would perform non-combat duties such as carrying and loading supplies, but they were not soldiers. Still, even these civilian usages were comparatively infrequent. In areas where the Union Army approached, a wave of slave escapes would inevitably follow Southern blacks would inevitably offer themselves as scouts who knew the territory to the Federals. Confederate armies were rationally nervous about having too many blacks marching with them, as their patchy loyalty to the Confederacy meant that the risk of one turning runaway and informing the Federals as to the rebel army's size and position was substantial. Opposition to arming blacks was even stauncher. Many in the South feared slave revolts already, and arming blacks would make the threat of mistreated slaves overthrowing their masters even greater. [2]

The closest the Confederacy came to seriously attempting to equip colored soldiers in the army proper came in the last few weeks of the war. The Confederate Congress narrowly passed a bill allowing slaves to join the army. The bill did not offer or guarantee an end to their servitude as an incentive to enlist. Even this weak bill, supported by Robert E. Lee, passed only narrowly, by a 9–8 vote in the Senate. President Jefferson Davis signed the law on March 13, 1865, but went beyond the terms in the bill by issuing an order on March 23 to offer freedom to slaves so recruited. The emancipation offered, however, was reliant upon a master's consent "no slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freedman." [40] According to historian William C. Davis, President Davis felt that blacks would not fight unless they were guaranteed their freedom after the war. [41] Gaining this consent from slaveholders, however, was an "unlikely prospect". [2]

According to calculations of Virginia's state auditor, some 4,700 free black males and more than 25,000 male slaves between eighteen and forty five years of age were fit for service. [42] However, only a small number were raised in the intervening months, mostly as medics coming from two local hospitals -Windsor and Jackson- as well as a formal recruiting center created by General Ewell and staffed by Majors James Pegram and Thomas P. Turner. [43] : 125 They managed to recruit about 200. [44] Two companies of blacks were mustered, and they paraded down the streets of Richmond, albeit without weapons. At least one such review had to be cancelled due not merely to lack of weaponry, but also lack of uniforms or equipment. These units did not see combat Richmond fell without a battle to Union armies one week later in early April 1865. These two companies were the sole exception to the Confederacy's policy of spurning black soldiery, never saw combat, and came too late in the war to matter. [2] In his memoirs, Davis stated "There did not remain time enough to obtain any result from its provisions". [45]

According to a 2019 study by historian Kevin M. Levin, the origin of the myth of black Confederate soldiers primarily originates in the 1970s. [46] After 1977, some Confederate heritage groups began to claim that large numbers of black soldiers fought loyally for the Confederacy. [47] [48] These accounts are not given credence by historians, as they rely on sources such as postwar individual journals rather than military records. [2] [47] Historian Bruce Levine wrote:

The whole sorry episode [the mustering of colored troops in Richmond] provides a fitting coda for our examination of modern claims that thousands and thousands of black troops loyally fought in the Confederate armies. This strikingly unsuccessful last-ditch effort constituted the sole exception to the Confederacy's steadfast refusal to employ African American soldiers. As General Ewell's long term aide-de-camp, Major George Campbell Brown, later affirmed, the handful of black soldiers mustered in the southern capital in March of 1865 constituted 'the first and only black troops used on our side.' [49]

Non-military use Edit

The impressment of slaves and conscription of freedmen into direct military labor initially came on the impetus of state legislatures, and by 1864, six states had regulated impressment (Florida, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, in order of authorization). [50] [51] [52] Slave labor was used in a wide variety of support roles, from infrastructure and mining, to teamster and medical roles such as hospital attendants and nurses. [43] : 62–63 Bruce Levine wrote that "Nearly 40% of the Confederacy's population were unfree. the work required to sustain the same society during war naturally fell disproportionately on black shoulders as well. By drawing so many white men into the army, indeed, the war multiplied the importance of the black work force." [43] : 62

Naval historian Ivan Musicant wrote that blacks may have possibly served various petty positions in the Confederate Navy, such as coal heavers or officer's stewards, although records are lacking. [53]

After the war, the State of Tennessee granted Confederate Pensions to nearly 300 African Americans for their service to the Confederacy. [54] [55]

Proposals to arm slaves Edit

The idea of arming slaves for use as soldiers was speculated on from the onset of the war, but not seriously considered by Davis or others in his administration. As the Union saw victories in the fall of 1862 and the spring of 1863, however, the need for more manpower was acknowledged by the Confederacy in the form of conscription of white men, and the national impressment of free and slave blacks into laborer positions. State militias composed of freedmen were offered, but the War Department spurned the offer. [43] : 19

In January 1864, General Patrick Cleburne in the Army of Tennessee proposed using slaves as soldiers in the national army to buttress falling troop numbers. Cleburne recommended offering slaves their freedom if they fought and survived. He also recommended recognizing slave marriages and family, and forbidding their sale, hotly controversial proposals when slaveowners routinely separated families and refused to recognize familial bonds. Cleburne cited the blacks in the Union army as proof that they could fight. He also believed that such a policy would reduce mass defections of slaves to the Union: "The approach of the enemy would no longer find every household surrounded by spies . There would be no recruits awaiting the enemy with open arms, no complete history of every neighborhood with ready guides, no fear of insurrection in the rear. [2]

Cleburne's proposal received a hostile reception. Recognizing slave families would entirely undermine the economic foundation of slavery, as a man's wife and children would no longer be salable commodities, so his proposal veered too close to abolition for the pro-slavery Confederacy. [2] The other officers in the Army of Tennessee disapproved of the proposal. A. P. Stewart said that emancipating slaves for military use was "at war with my social, moral, and political principles", while James Patton Anderson called the proposal "revolting to Southern sentiment, Southern pride, and Southern honor." [57] [58] [2] It was sent to Confederate President Jefferson Davis anyway, who refused to consider Cleburne's proposal and ordered the report kept private as discussion of it could only produce "discouragement, distraction, and dissension." Military adviser to Davis General Braxton Bragg considered the proposal outright treasonous to the Confederacy. [2]

The growing setbacks for the Confederacy in late 1864 caused a number of prominent officials to reconsider their earlier stance, however. President Lincoln's re-election in November 1864 seemed to seal the best political chance for victory the South had. President Davis, Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, and General Robert E. Lee now were willing to consider modified versions of Cleburne's original proposal. On November 7, 1864, in his annual address to Congress, Davis hinted at arming slaves. [59] Despite the suppression of Cleburne's idea, the question of enlisting slaves into the army had not faded away, but had become a fixture of debate among columns of southern newspapers and southern society in the winter of 1864. [43] : 4 [60] Representative of the two sides in the debate were the Richmond Enquirer and the Charleston Courier:

. whenever the subjugation of Virginia or the employment of her slaves as soldiers are alternative propositions, then certainly we are for making them soldiers, and giving freedom to those negroes that escape the casualties of battle.

Slavery, God's institution of labor, and the primary political element of our Confederation of Government, state sovereignty. must stand or fall together. To talk of maintaining independence while we abolish slavery is simply to talk folly.

Opposition to the proposal was still widespread, even in the last months of the war. Howell Cobb of Georgia wrote in January 1865 that

the proposition to make soldiers of our slaves is the most pernicious idea that has been suggested since the war began. You cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers. The day you make soldiers of [Negroes] is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong – but they won't make soldiers. [58] [2]

Robert M. T. Hunter wrote "What did we go to war for, if not to protect our property?" [2] Confederate General Robert Toombs complained "But if you put our negroes and white men into the army together, you must and will put them on an equality they must be under the same code, the same pay, allowances and clothing. There must be promotions for valor or there will be no morals among them. Therefore, it is a surrender of the entire slavery question." [63]

On January 11, 1865 General Robert E. Lee wrote the Confederate Congress urging them to arm and enlist black slaves in exchange for their freedom. [64] On March 13, the Confederate Congress passed legislation to raise and enlist companies of black soldiers. The legislation was then promulgated into military policy by Davis in General Order No. 14 on March 23, 1865. [40]

Louisiana militia Edit

Louisiana was somewhat unique among the Confederacy as the Southern state with the highest proportion of non-enslaved free blacks, a remnant of its time under French rule. Elsewhere in the South, such free blacks ran the risk of being accused of being a runaway slave, arrested, and enslaved. One of the state militias was the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a militia unit composed of free men of color, mixed-blood creoles who would be considered black elsewhere in the South by the one-drop rule. The unit was short lived, never saw combat, and was forced to disband in April 1862 after the Louisiana State Legislature passed a law that reorganized the militia into only ". free white males capable of bearing arms." [65] [66] A Union army regiment 1st Louisiana Native Guard was later formed under the same name after General Butler took control of New Orleans.

Other militias with notable free black representation included the Baton Rouge Guards under Capt. Henry Favrot, the Pointe Coupee Light Infantry under Capt. Ferdinand Claiborne, and the Augustin Guards and Monet's Guards of Natchitoches under Dr. Jean Burdin. The only official duties ever given to the Natchitoches units were funeral honor guard details. [67] One account of an unidentified African American fighting for the Confederacy, from two Southern 1862 newspapers, [68] tells of "a huge negro" fighting under the command of Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge against the 14th Maine Infantry Regiment in a battle near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 5, 1862. The man was described as being "armed and equipped with knapsack, musket, and uniform", and helping to lead the attack. [69] The man's status of being a freedman or a slave is unknown.

Prisoner exchanges between the Union and Confederacy were suspended when the Confederacy refused to return black soldiers captured in uniform. In October 1862, the Confederate Congress issued a resolution declaring that all Negroes, free and slave, should be delivered to their respective states "to be dealt with according to the present and future laws of such State or States". [70] In a letter to General Beauregard on this issue, Secretary Seddon pointed out that "Slaves in flagrant rebellion are subject to death by the laws of every slave-holding State" but that "to guard, however, against possible abuse. the order of execution should be reposed in the general commanding the special locality of the capture." [71]

However, Seddon, concerned about the "embarrassments attending this question", [72] urged that former slaves be sent back to their owners. As for freemen, they would be handed over to Confederates for confinement and put to hard labor. [73] Black troops were actually less likely to be taken prisoner than Whites, as in many cases, such as the Battle of Fort Pillow, Confederate troops murdered them on the battlefield if taken prisoner, Black troops and their White officers faced far worse treatment than other prisoners.

In the last few months of the war, the Confederate government agreed to the exchange of all prisoners, White and Black, and several thousand troops were exchanged until the surrender of the Confederacy ended all hostilities. [74]