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“The Promise Being Made, Must be Kept…” Abolition, Emancipation, and Freedom for All, 166 Years After the Emancipation Proclamation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

February is Black History Month, it’s something that no American of any race, color, or creed should forget. African Americans, the decendants of slaves and slaves themselves fought for freedom that was only at best was in the promissory note of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Those men, and women in the case of Harriett Tubman and Sojourner Truth, paved the way for freedom for African Americans and all others who benefited from what they fought for: women, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and other Hispanics, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ Americans. That promise being made then, must be kept today, to the descendents of  this men, as well as all who benefited through their sacrifice: even the Southern Whites who at the time did not know then, or all too often today, that they too needed emancipation.

This article is a section of one of my yet unpublished Civil War books in which I spend much time dealing with the importance of emancipation and the role of Black soldiers during the American Civil War. I think it is important to remember as we get ready to close out Black History Month just how important these men are to American history and for the civil rights of all Americans.

Emancipation and the U.S. Military

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Men of the 4th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] The issue for Lincoln in 1861 and 1862 was the necessity of keeping the Border-Slave Sates of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which had not seceded from the Union. Lincoln repudiated the orders of General John Fremont, in Missouri, and his friend General David Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South regarding emancipation, not because he was in complete disagreement, but because he felt that the officers had overstepped their authority.

Lincoln understood that this might hurt him with the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. While Lincoln was certainly sympathetic to their cause, he insisted that such decisions were not within the prevue of local commanders, but that any such proclamations had to come from him, as Commander-in-Chief. He told Treasure Secretary Salmon Chase, who supported the measures of Hunter and Fremont, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” [2] Lincoln’s decision to reverse and repudiate the decisions of local commanders infuriated some in his cabinet and in the Congress. But Lincoln remained firm in that conviction due to the need to ensure the cooperation of the Border States the continued loyalty of which were absolutely vital to winning the war, without which no meaningful emancipation would be possible.

However, Lincoln did support the efforts of General Benjamin Butler. Butler commanded the Federal forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads. Butler had been a former pro-slavery Democrat who learned that the Confederates were using slaves to construct fortifications and to support their army on the Peninsula. In May 1862 twenty-three slaves escaped to his lines and their owner, a Confederate Colonel, “demanded the return of his property under the Fugitive Slave Law! With as deadpan expression as possible (given his cocked eye), Butler informed him that since Virginia claimed to have left the Union, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied.” [3]Butler then declared that since the escaped slaves had worked for the Confederate Army that they were “contraband of war – enemy property subject to seizure.” [4] It was a solid argument, since Southerners themselves referred to African American slaves as property was subject to seizure. Lincoln and Secretary of War Cameron approved of Butler’s action and “eventually, the Congress passed a confiscation law ending the rights of masters over fugitive slaves used to support Confederate troops.” [5]

Salmon Chase and other strong abolitionists opposed Lincoln vehemently for this, but it would not be long until Lincoln made the decision for full emancipation. This was first accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation, a military order that only applied to the states that had seceded. However, Lincoln would follow this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery.   The latter occurred when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865. This amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had already decided upon emancipation in the spring of 1862, however, following the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula he decided to postpone announcing it, Secretary of State Seward recommended against it until “until you can give it to the country supported by military success.” Otherwise the world might view it as an incitement for slave insurrections, “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” [6] The wisdom of Seward’s advice was profound, and Lincoln put off the announcement until after the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan, true to form opposed any such policy. When Lincoln visited him after his withdraw from the Peninsula, the defeated but still arrogant General handed Lincoln a memorandum on what McClellan viewed as the “proper conduct of the war.” McClellan advised Lincoln that the war “should not be a war looking to the subjugation of any State in any event…but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, the territorial organization of States, or the forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [7]

Lincoln was not seeking advice from his recalcitrant commander and put the letter in his pocket and simply told McClellan, “All right.” Interestingly enough just a few months earlier Lincoln would have agreed with McClellan’s views on the conduct of the war. However, with the passage of time and the realization that the Confederacy was fully committed to its independence as well as the continuance and even the expansion of slavery had come to the view that fighting a limited war with limited aims was foolish. He told another Unionist Democrat a few days after McClellan offered his advice that the war could not be fought:

“with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water….This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy this government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.”[8]

From Slavery to Soldiering

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Gun Crew of 2nd Colored Light Artillery 

But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and his administration began to change. After a year and a half of war, Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [9] Slave labor was essential to the Confederate war effort, not only did slaves still work the plantations, they were impressed into service in war industries as well as in the Confederate Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle, a British observer who was with Lee’s army at Gettysburg noted, “in the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves.” [10] The fact is that the slaves who accompanied the army remained slaves, they were not the mythical thousands of black soldiers who rallied to the Confederate cause, nor were they employees. “Tens of thousands of slaves accompanied their owners to army camps as servants or were impressed into service to construct fortifications and do other work for the Confederate army.” [11] This fact attested to by Colonel William Allan, one of Stonewall Jackson’s staff members who wrote “there were no employees in the Confederate army.” [12] slaves served in a number of capacities to free up white soldiers for combat duties, “from driving wagons to unloading trains and other conveyances. In hospitals they could perform work as nurses and laborers to ease the burdens of patients.” [13] An English-born artilleryman in Lee’s army wrote in 1863 that “in our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants….” [14] When Lee marched to Gettysburg he did so with somewhere between ten and thirty-thousand slaves in support roles and during the advance into Virginia Confederate troops rounded up and re-enslaved as many blacks as they could, including Freedmen.

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                                       Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation, was one of the first to grasp the importance of slave labor to the Confederate armies and how emancipation was of decided military necessity. Stanton, “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [15]

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [16] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy, not just in a military means, but politically, economically and diplomatically as Lincoln “also calculated that making slavery a target of the war would counteract the rising clamor in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy.”  [17]

Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.”[18] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union – as soldiers as well as laborers – was a natural corollary.” [19] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [20]

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Ulysses Grant concurred with Lincoln’s decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts, “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [21] William Tecumseh Sherman was supportive but also noted some facts that some radical abolitionists did not understand. He noted in his correspondence that, “The first step in the liberation of the Negro from bondage will be to get him and his family to a place of safety… then to afford him the means of providing for his family,… then gradually use a proportion – greater and greater each year – as sailors and soldiers.” [22] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [23] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as for the future of the U.S. Military services.

In conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation Secretary of War Stanton “authorized General Rufus Saxton to “arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States such number of volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000, and [you] may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them.”  [24] The initial regiments of African Americans were formed by Union commanders in liberated areas of Louisiana and South Carolina, and most were composed of newly freed slaves. Others like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments were raised from free black men in the north. Stanton’s authorization was followed by the Enrollment Act passed by Congress in March of 1863 which established the draft also allowed blacks to serve. By March Stanton was working with state governors to establish more black regiments. The units became known as United States Colored Troops, or U.S.C.T. and were commanded by white officers and organized into the infantry, cavalry and, artillery regiments organized on the model of white regiments. The U.S.C.T. “grew to include seven regiments of cavalry, more than a dozen of artillery, and well over one hundred of infantry.” [25]

Some Union soldiers and officers initially opposed enlisting blacks at all, and some “charged that making soldiers of blacks would be a threat to white supremacy, and hundreds of Billy Yanks wrote home that they would no serve alongside blacks.” [26]  But most common soldiers accepted emancipation, especially those who had served in the South and seen the misery that many slaves endured, one Illinois soldier, stationed who served in the Western Theater of war wrote, “the necessity of emancipation is forced upon us by the inevitable events of the war… and the only road out of this war is by blows aimed at the heart of the Rebellion…. If slavery should be left undisturbed the war would be protracted until the loss of life and national bankruptcy would make peace desirable on any terms.” [27]

Another soldier’s letters home show his conversion from being against emancipation to being fully for it. Corporal Chauncey B. Welton from Ohio wrote to his father after the Emancipation proclamation:

“Father I want you to write and tell me what you think of Lincoln’s proclamation of setting all the negroes free. I can tell you we don’t think much of it hear in the army for we did not enlist to fight for the negro and I can tell you that we never shall or many of us any how[.] no never.”

Following over two years of combat in which he served with Sherman’s army he became a vocal critic of the anti-abolitionist Copperheads in the North, especially former Ohio Governor Clement Vallandigham, as well as a strong proponent of abolition and opponent of slavery. By February 1865 his tone had changed “dear parents let us trust in Him that never forsakes the faithful, and never cease to pray… that soon we may look upon an undivided Country and that Country free free free yes free from that blighting curs[e] Slavery the cause of four years of Bloody warfare.” [28]

Even so racial prejudice in the Union ranks never went away and sometimes was accompanied by violence. It remained a part and parcel of life in and outside of the army, even though many Union soldiers would come to praise the soldierly accomplishments and bravery of African American Soldiers. An officer who had refused a commission to serve with a U.S.C.T. regiment watched as black troops attacked the defenses of Richmond in September 1864:

“The darkies rushed across the open space fronting the work, under a fire which caused them loss, into the abattis… down into the ditch with ladders, up and over the parapet with flying flags, and down among, and on top of, the astonished enemy, who left in utmost haste…. Then and there I decided that ‘the black man could fight’ for his freedom, and that I had made a mistake in not commanding them.” [29] Likewise, “Once the Lincoln administration broke the color barrier of the army, blacks stepped forward in large numbers. Service in the army offered to blacks the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for freedom….” [30]

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                                        The Defense of Milliken’s Bend 

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), which were mustered directly into Federal service. In sheer numbers the U.S.C.T. formations soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments.  However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments, the heroic accounts of those units reported in Northern newspapers, as well as the unprovoked violence directed against Blacks in the 1863 New York draft riots that helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [31]

Despite the hurdles and prejudices that blacks faced even in the North, many African Americans urged others to enlist, self-help mattered more than self-preservation. Henry Gooding, an black sergeant from Massachusetts wrote the editor of the New Bedford Mercury urging fellow blacks to enlist despite the dangers, “As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust a fancied security, laying in your minds, that our condition will be bettered because slavery must die…[If we] allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it – language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps the violence that will be heaped upon us.” [32]

The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, including white Northern soldiers, and the very real threat of death that they faced if captured by Confederates. In response to the Emancipation Proclamation and to the formation of African American regiments the Confederate Congress passed measures that would make Union officers who commanded African American troops as war criminals and return any black soldier captured by Confederate forces return to slavery, if those blacks captured in battle were not summarily tortured by their captors or executed as happened at Fort Wagner, Petersburg, and at Fort Pillow.

In late 1862 Major General Nathaniel Banks was in desperate need of soldiers and received permission to form a number of regiments of free blacks. Known as the First, Second and Third Regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards they were primarily composed of former slaves who had escaped to Union lines, as well as some mulattos who were the children of prominent white citizens of the city. During an inspection, the white Colonel of the Guards told another officer:

“Sir, the best blood of Louisiana is in that regiment! Do you see that tall, slim fellow, third file from the right of the second company? One of the ex-governors of the state is his father. That orderly sergeant in the next company is the son of a man who has been six years in the United States Senate. Just beyond him is the grandson of Judge ______ …; and through all the ranks you will find the same state of facts…. Their fathers are disloyal; [but] these black Ishmaels will more than compensate for their treason by fighting in the field.” [33]

In May of 1863 Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [34] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [35] A white Wisconsin soldier commented that the black soldiers “fought like devils,”while a soldier of the 156th New York wrote, “They charged and re-charged and they didn’t know what retreat meant. They lost in their two regiments some four hundred men as near as I can learn. This settles the question about niggers not fighting well. They on the contrary make splendid soldiers and are as good fighting men as we have.” [36] Banks too was caught up in the moment and said of these troops in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [37]

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                                54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner 

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54thMassachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [38] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.”[39]

The 54th Massachusetts first saw action in early June 1863 and at Shaw’s urging were sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [40]Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [41] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [42] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [43]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionist newspapers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”  [44]

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                  55th Massachusetts being welcomed in Charleston SC 

In the African American 55th Massachusetts, which was recruited after the 54th, twenty-one year old Sergeant Isaiah Welch wrote a letter which was published in the Philadelphia Christian Recorder from Folly Island South Carolina:

“I will mention a little about the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. They seem to be in good health at the present and are desirous of making a bold dash upon the enemy. I pray God the time will soon come when we, as soldiers of God, and of our race and country, may face the enemy with boldness. For my part I feel willing to suffer all privations incidental to a Christian and a soldier…. In conclusion, let me say, if I fall in the battle anticipated, remember, I fall in defense of my race and country. Some of my friends thought it very wrong of me in setting aside the work of the Lord to take up arms against the enemy…. I am fully able to answer all questions pertaining to rebels. If taking lives will restore the country to what it once was, then God help me to slay them on every hand.” [45]

Like the 54th Massachusetts, the 55th would see much action. After one particularly sharp engagement in July 1864, in which numerous soldiers had demonstrated exceptional valor under fire the regiment’s commander, Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell “recommended that three of the black sergeants of the 55th be promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.” But Hartwell’s request was turned down, and a member of the regiment complained, “But the U.S. government has refused so far to must them because God did not make them White…. No other objection is, or can be offered.”[46]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [47]

Douglass urged African American men to enlist to secure their freedom, even while noting the inequities still prevalent in society and in the military, in which they did not receive the same pay as whites, nor could they become officers. Appealing to duty and reality Douglass noted in a speech in Philadelphia urging black men to volunteer. In it he carefully defined the real differences between the purposes of the Confederacy which was to “nothing more than to make the slavery of the African race universal and perpetual on this continent,” which was “based upon the idea that colored men are an inferior race, who may be enslaved and plundered forever.” [48]

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         Sergeant William Carney 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the premier leader of the African Americans of his day, who had himself suffered as a slave, did not stop with that. Douglass understood that winning the war was more important that to what had been the attitude of the Federal government before the war and before emancipation, “Now, what is the attitude of the Washington government towards the colored race? What reasons have we to desire its triumph in the present contest? Mind, I do not ask what was its attitude towards us before the war…. I do not ask you about the dead past. I bring you to the living present.” He noted the advances that had been made in just a few months and appealed to his listeners. “Do not flatter yourselves, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government to you. You stand but as the plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty…” [49]

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54thMassachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg garrison attacked them. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.”[50]

The actions of the black units at Milliken’s bend attracted the attention and commendation of Ulysses Grant, who wrote in his cover letter to the after action report, “In this battle most of the troops engaged were Africans, who had little experience in the use of fire-arms. Their conduct is said, however, to have been most gallant, and I doubt not but with good officers that they will make good troops.” [51] They also garnered the attention of the press. Harper’s published an illustrated account of the battle with a “double-page woodcut of the action place a black color bearer in the foreground, flanked by comrades fighting hand-to-hand with Confederates. A brief article called it a “the sharp fight at Milliken’s bend where a small body of black troops with a few whites were attacked by a large force of rebels.” [52] In the South the result was chilling and shocked whites, one woman wrote “It is hard to believe that Southern soldiers – and Texans at that – have been whipped by a mongrel crew of white and black Yankees…. There must be some mistake.” While another woman in Louisiana confided in her diary, “It is terrible to think of such a battle as this, white men and freemen fighting with their slaves, and to be killed by such a hand, the very soul revolts from it, O, may this be the last.” [53]

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                               Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson 

By the end of the war over 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [54] Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [55]Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.”  [56]

The general of course, was wrong, for “Nothing eradicated the prejudices of white soldiers as effectively as black soldiers performing well under fire. And nothing inspired black soldiers to fight as desperately as the fear that capture meant certain death.” [57]  In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most of which was often attributable to the direction of their senior officers and the training that they had received. As with any other unit, well led and well trained regiments performed better than those whose leaders had failed their soldiers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations.

One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [58] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [59] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.”[60] In the battle Ferrero’s division lost 1,327 of the approximately 4,000 men who made the attack. [61]

Major General Benjamin Butler railed to his wife in a letter against those who questioned the courage of African American soldiers seeing the gallantry of black troops assaulting the defenses of Petersburg in September 1864: The man who says that the negro will not fight is a coward….His soul is blacker than then dead faces of these dead negroes, upturned to heaven in solemn protest against him and his prejudices.” [62]

In another engagement, the 1864 Battle of Saltville in western Virginia the troops of the 5th USCT Cavalry who had been insulted, taunted, and derided by their fellow white Union soldiers went into action against Confederate troops defending the salt works in that town. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Wade, order his troops to attack. Colonel James Brisbin detailed the attack:

“the Negroes rushed upon the works with a yell and after a desperate struggle carried the line killing and wounding a large number of the enemy and capturing some prisoners…. Out of the four hundred men engaged, one hundred and fourteen men and four officers fell killed or wounded. Of this fight I can only say that men could not have behaved more bravely. I have seen white troops in twenty-seven battles and I never saw any fight better…. On the return of the forces those who had scoffed at the Colored Troops on the march out were silent.” [63]

The response of the Confederate government to Emancipation and African Americans serving as soldiers was immediate and uncompromisingly harsh. “When in the autumn of 1862 General Beauregard referred the question of a captured black soldier to Davis’s latest Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, the later replied “…my decision is that the negro is to be executed as an example.” [64] Davis approved of the summary executions of black prisoners carried out in South Carolina in November 1862, and a month later “on Christmas Eve, Davis issued a general order requiring all former slaves and their officers captured in arms to be delivered up to state officials for trial.” [65] Davis warned that “the army would consider black soldiers as “slaves captured in arms,” and therefore subject to execution.” [66] While the Confederacy never formally carried out the edict, there were numerous occasions where Confederate commanders and soldiers massacred captured African American soldiers.

The Lincoln administration responded to the Confederate threats by sending a note to Davis that threatened reprisals against Confederate troops if black soldiers suffered harm. It “was largely the threat of Union reprisals that thereafter gave African-American soldiers a modicum of humane treatment.” [67] Even so, they and their white officers were often in much more danger than the officers and soldiers of all-white regiments if captured by Confederate forces.

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [68] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [69] After the assault of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner a Georgia soldier “reported with satisfaction that the prisoners were “literally shot down while on their knees begging for quarter and mercy.” [70]

fortpillowmassacred

                                                 Fort Pillow Massacre 

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even may have attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops, and “the best evidence indicates that the “massacre”…was a genuine massacre.” [71] Forrest’s soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ and slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but while Forrest did not order the massacre, he certainly was not displeased with the result. His subordinate, General James Chalmers told an officer from the gunboat Silver Cloud that he and Forrest had neither ordered the massacre and had tried to stop their soldiers but that “the men of General Forrest’s command had such a hatred toward the armed negro that they could not be restrained from killing the negroes,” and he added, “it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the negro.” [72] It was a portent of what some of the same men would do to defenseless blacks and whites sympathetic to them as members of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Liners, White League, and Red Shirts, during and after Reconstruction in places like Colfax Louisiana.

Ulysses Grant was infuriated and threatened reprisals against any Confederates conducting such activities, he a later wrote:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.”  [73]

The bulk of the fanatical hatred of Forrest’s troops was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58 – just over 20 percent – were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168 – just under sixty percent were taken.”  [74] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote:

We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [75]

A Confederate Sergeant who was at Fort Pillow wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [76] The captain of the Union gunboat Silver Cloud was allowed by the Confederate to bring his ship to the Fort to evacuate wounded, and to bury the dead was appalled at the sight, he wrote:

“All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers of the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered terrible death in the flames could be seen. All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy…. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen, Bodies with gaping wounds,… some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that little quarter was shown…. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and the hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter…. Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.” [77]

The rabidly pro-slavery members of the Confederate press lent their propaganda to cheer the massacre of the captured blacks. John R. Eakin of the Washington (Arkansas) Washington Telegraph, who later became a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court after Reconstruction, wrote,

“The Slave Soldiers. – Amongst there are stupendous wrongs against humanity, shocking to the moral sense of the world, like Herod’s massacre of the Innocents, or the eve of St. Bartholomew, the crime of Lincoln in seducing our slaves into the ranks of his army will occupy a prominent position….

How should we treat our slaves arrayed under the banners of the invader, and marching to desolate our homes and firesides….

Meanwhile, the problem has been met our soldiers in the heat of battle, where there has been no time for discussion. They have cut the Gordian knot with the sword. They did right….

It follows that we cannot treat negroes in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of the social system for which we contend. We must be firm, uncompromising and unfaltering. We must claim the full control of all negroes who may fall into our hands, to punish with death, or any other penalty, or remand them to their owners. If the enemy retaliate, we must do likewise; and if the black flag follows, the blood be upon their heads.” [78]

However, when African American Troops were victorious, and even after they had seen their brothers murdered by Confederate troops, that they often treated their Confederate with great kindness. Colonel Brisbin wrote that following Battle of Saltville that “Such of the Colored Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Enemy during the battle were murdered. The Negroes did not retaliate but treated the Rebel wounded with great kindness, carrying them water in their canteens and doing all they could to alleviate the sufferings of those whom the fortunes of war had placed in their hands.” [79]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.”  [80]

The importance of African Americans cannot be minimized, without them the war could have dragged on much longer or even ended in stalemate, which would have been a Confederate victory. Lincoln wrote about the importance of the African American contribution to the war effort in 1864:

“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or hundred and fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.” [81]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers faced discrimination, sometimes that of the white men that they served alongside, but more often from those who did not support the war effort. Lincoln wisely took note of this fact, and wrote that after the war:

“there will there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, the clenched teeth, the steady eye, the well poised bayonet, they have helped  mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” [82]

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Lt Stephen Swails, First African American Officer of 54th Massachusetts 

Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to “issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [83]

The families of the free blacks who volunteered also suffered, especially those who still had families enslaved in Confederate occupied areas or Union States which still allowed slavery. One women in Missouri wrote her husband begging him to come home “I have had nothing but trouble since you left….They abuse me because you went & say they will not take care of our children & do nothing but quarrel with me all the time and beat me scandalously the day before yesterday.”  [84]

However, the Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war, and even jaded White Union soldiers who had been against emancipation and who were deeply prejudiced against blacks began to change their outlook as the armies marched into the South and saw the horrors of slavery, Russell Weigley wrote that Union soldiers: “confronting the scarred bodies and crippled souls of African Americans as they marched into the South experienced a strong motivation to become anti-slavery men…Men do not need to play a role long, furthermore, until the role grows to seem natural and customary to them. That of liberators was sufficiently fulfilling to their pride that soldiers found themselves growing more accustomed to it all the more readily.” [85]

A sergeant of the 19th Michigan who had already lost a stepson in the war wrote to his wife from Georgia before being killed in action during the Atlanta campaign; “the more I learn of the cursed institution of Slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction…. After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better…. Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact will revolutionize everything…. Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.” [86]

But even more importantly for the cause of liberty, the sight of regiments of free African Americans, marching “through the slave states wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army and carrying rifles on their shoulders was perhaps the most revolutionary event of a war turned into revolution.” [87]

battle_of_nashville_kurz__allison

At peak one in eight Union troops were African American, and Black troops made an immense contribution to the Union victory. “Black troops fought on 41 major battlefields and in 449 minor engagements. Sixteen soldiers and seven sailors received Medals of Honor for valor. 37,000 blacks in army uniform gave their lives and untold sailors did, too.” [88] To fully appreciate the measure as to the importance and significance of the numbers of African American troops serving in the Union ranks has to compare that number with the number of active Confederate troops serving toward the end of the war. The approximately 180,000 African Americans serving in Union ranks at the end of the war outnumbered the “aggregate present” in Confederate ranks on January 1st 1865 by over 20,000 men. Of these troops “134,111 were recruited in states that had stars in the Confederate battle flag, and the latter figure in turn was several thousand greater than the total of 135,994 gray-clad soldiers “present for duty” that same day.” [89]

Of the African American soldiers who faced the Confederates in combat, “deep pride was their compensation. Two black patients in an army hospital began a conversation. One of them looked at the stump of an arm he had once had and remarked: “Oh I should like to have it, but I don’t begrudge it.” His ward mate, minus a leg, replied: “Well, ‘twas [lost] in a glorious cause, and if I’d lost my life I should have been satisfied. I knew what I was fighting for.” [90]

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                                  Flags of the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops 

After the war many of the African American soldiers became leaders in the African American community and no less than 130 of these former soldiers held elected office including in the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures. The liberating aspect of “the black military experience radiated from black soldiers and their families into the larger black community, so it spread into white society as well.” [91]  Many abolitionists who had served as officers, and officers who were assigned to the USCT or volunteered to serve with state raised African American regiments became leaders continued to be voices for expanding civil rights in the years following the war.

Following war’s end, the demobilized African American troops became the target of racial discrimination and violence, but even so, “black veterans continued to play a central role in black communities, North and South. The skills and experience black men gained during the war not only propelled many of them into positions of leaders and sustained the prominence of others, but it also shaped the expectations and aspirations of all black people. The achievements and pride engendered by military service helped to make a new world of freedom.” [92]

Sadly, much of the nation has forgotten the efforts of the Free Black Soldiers and Sailors who fought for freedom, but even so their legacy remains in the “contribution of black soldiers to Union victory remained a point of pride in black communities. “They say,” an Alabama planter reported in 1867, “the Yankees never could have whipped the South without the aid of the Negroes.” Well into the twentieth century, black families throughout the United States would recall with pride that their fathers and grandfathers had fought for freedom.” [93]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.435

[3] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[4] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.369

[6] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.109

[7] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.531

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.503

[9] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.101

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[11] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.45

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.313

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.465

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.48

[18] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[19] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[20] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.381

[22] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.10

[23] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[25] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.11

[26] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[27] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011 p.103

[28] Welton, Chauncey B. A Union Soldier’s Changing Views on Emancipationin The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William Gienapp, W.W. Norton Company, New York and London 2001 pp.242 and 245

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[30] Glatthaar, Joseph T. Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[32] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[33] Jones, Terry L. The Free Men of Color Go to War in The new York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.403

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.398

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War p.44

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[39] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[40] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[43] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.697

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[45] Welch, Isaiah H. Letter in the Christian Recorder 24 October 1863 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.225-226

[46] Trudeau, Noah Andre, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York and London, 1998 p.262

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[48] Douglass, Frederick Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.220-221

[49] Ibid. Douglass Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 p.221

[50] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865p.58

[52] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.97

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.59

[54] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.92

[55] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89 p.

[56] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[57] Berlin, Ira, Riedy, Joseph P. and Rowland, Leslie S. editors, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York 1998 pp.133-134

[58] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[59] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[60] Ibid.Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac pp.384-385

[61] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.537

[62] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[63] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.135

[64] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[65] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.566

[66] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p. 280

[67] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.188

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[69] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[70] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.281

[71] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[72] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[73] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[74] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.111

[75] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 378

[76] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.112

[77] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[78] Eakin, John R. The Slave Soldiers, June 8, 1864  in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 pp.210 and 212

[79] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[80] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[81] Ibid. Glatthaar Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victoryp.138

[82] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 113

[83] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 376

[84] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[85] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.192

[86] Ibid. McPherson For Cause and Comrades p.130

[87] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.191

[88] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar editors The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.296

[89] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.756

[90] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.36

[91] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[92] Ibid. Berlin et al. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War pp.49-50

[93] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

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“These acts… are overt acts of war.” The Attack on Fort Sumter

fort-sumter-higher-res

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is this is the first of a two-part installment of my Civil War text. The story follows the implosion of the Democratic Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession crisis. It describes who the attack came about and the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The remaining forts under Federal control in the South were a thorn in the side and a constant reminder to Jefferson Davis of the power of the federal government. As such he attempted to negotiate to obtain the forts, and when that offer was rejected out of hand by both Buchanan and Lincoln he began military preparations to seize them if negotiations failed. His task was complicated in Charleston where the Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson unexpectedly withdrew his entire garrison from the mainland to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The move was prompted by President Buchanan’s dithering on the status of the fort and garrison. Anderson was a Southerner who had decided to remain loyal to the Union, his second in command was Captain Abner Doubleday, a strongly committed abolitionist.

Under the cover of darkness the Union officers withdrew their men from old and weak Fort Moultrie in Charleston to Fort Sumter gaining him instant adulation in the North and condemnation in the South. Buchanan wanted to abandon the fort but “when it appeared that Northern public opinion was solidly behind Anderson, Buchanan changed his mind and attempted to persuade the South Carolinians to accept Anderson’s occupation of Fort Sumter as a legitimate exercise of federal authority.” [1] Jefferson Davis, who had not yet resigned from the Senate awaiting Mississippi’s declaration of secession complained that he “pleaded with Buchanan to give up Sumter and avert impending calamity. Once again the old imbecile refused, after his fashion, which is to say that he muttered to himself, nodded and tilted his head as if in agreement, begged leave to say a prayer, and then did nothing at all. Plainly the reins of state were in feeble hands. Had this lame-duck President withdrawn the troops from Sumter, he might have turned away the threatening of civil war.” [2]But Davis was blind to the political realities in the North that secession and seizure of other Federal installations had brought about. A prominent Northern Democrat wrote that “Anderson’s course of action is universally approved and that if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan….I am not joking – Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or Sumter given up.” [3] Congressman Dan Sickles who had been such a friend of the South for so many years, even backing peaceful secession, spoke out against the Southern seizure of federal installations, said that the secessionists had committed “a fatal error” and said “it will never do, sir, for them to protest against coercion, and, at the same moment seize all the arms and arsenals and forts and navy yards, and ships that may, through our forbearance, fall within their power. This is not peaceful secession. These acts, whensoever or whomsoever done, are overt acts of war.” [4]

major anderson

Buchanan made a belated attempt to reinforce and resupply the fort and on January 9th 1861, an unarmed civilian ship, the Star of the West entered Charleston harbor. But the operation was bungled, secrecy was broken and the South Carolinians knew the ship was coming, even as Anderson did not get the message about the relief expedition and permission to fire if the Star of the West was fired upon. As a result when Confederate gunners opened fire on the steamer, Anderson, who had instructions to defend himself and not for an instance such as this, did nothing to intervene. “If he opened fire, the United States and South Carolina would be at war…. Major Anderson hesitated, plainly uncertain, an immense weight of responsibility resting on him….” [5] As a result the Star of the West retreated, leaving the garrison unreinforced. But the secessionists “had overplayed their hand. The South Carolina gunners who fired on the Star of the West had, in effect, invited the Federal government to start the war then and there if it wanted a war….” [6] The firing on the Star of the West further inflamed Northerners. Dan Sickles thundered in the House chambers “the authorities of South Carolina, through their military forces, opened fire upon that defenseless ship, and compelled her to retire and abandon the peaceful and legitimate mission in which she was engaged. Now, sir, that was an act of war, unqualified war.” [7]

The debate continued as Buchanan eased out of office and the new Confederate government of Jefferson Davis took ownership of the situation in Charleston. Buchanan did not want to do anything overt to tip the balance in undecided slave states toward secession and Davis did not want South Carolina to act alone and risk a premature attack on the fort. But as both sides waited the balance of power in Charleston shifted, “as local troops day by day strengthened the ring of batteries confronting Sumter’s garrison.” [8] In incoming Lincoln administration debated what to do with some of the incoming cabinet members counseling withdraw and others resistance to Confederate demands. Lincoln gave serious thought to abandoning the fort but could not bring himself to authorize the action. He understood that if he ordered evacuation, “the credibility of his presidency and the Republican administration would be in pieces before either had scarcely begun.” [9]

Instead the new President sought more information and sent three men “down to Charleston to observe the situation and report on what they saw. The first two, both southern-born, were Illinois law associates, both reported reconciliation impossible…. The third, a high-ranking naval observer who secured and interview with Anderson at the fort, returned to declare a relief expedition was feasible.” [10] He also continued to meet with his cabinet members to decide on the appropriate policy to meet the challenge to federal authority in Charleston. “He met with Francis Blair, who, like his son, Monty, believed passionately that the surrender of Sumter “was virtually a surrender of the Union unless under irresistible force – that compounding with treason was treason to the Govt.” [11] On March 29th Lincoln again met with his cabinet and having weighed all of the options, decided to resupply the fort. His decision was to “not send guns or bullets to Sumter, only food and medicine. He would resupply, but not rearm, it. And he would announce the plan in advance so the South could not regard the effort as an act of hostility by an enemy.” [12] If the attempt succeeded “federal authority in South Carolina had been preserved, and Charleston could do little short of war to change it; if it failed, the failure would be due to Charleston’s decision to open fire, and the onus of beginning a civil war would lie on their hands.” [13]

Even as the Confederate moved even more troops and guns into position around the Sumter, more and more people of influence were growing impatient with the delays in gaining Fort Sumter and feared that if something was not done that in some places there might be a call to return to the Union. Jefferson Davis was under great pressure to act, a newspaper in Mobile Alabama editorialized that “If something is not done pretty soon…the whole country will be so disgusted with the sham of independence that the first chance the people get at a popular election the y will turn the whole movement topsy-turvy.” [14] Likewise, “Southern ardor was chafing at the bit anyway, and failure to meet the challenge threatened to undermine the government and weaken Southern resolve.” [15]

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General P.T.G. Beauregard C.S.A.

Knowing from Southern sympathizers still in Washington that a relief expedition was coming, General P.T.G. Beauregard “had already cut off Major Anderson’s purchases in the Charleston market the day before Governor Pickens received Lincoln’s message about the intention to provision Sumter.” [16] Pickens forwarded the message to Davis in Montgomery and Davis was forced to either back down on their threats or fire the first shot of the war, and even worse from a messaging standpoint, “that first shot would be for the immediate purpose of keeping food from hungry men.” [17]

Davis was extremely angry when he went into conference with his cabinet on April 9th upon getting the news of the relief expedition. The debate in the cabinet “ran long and heated. Davis favored proceeding with the bombardment. Charleston’s batteries were ready, and the South Carolinians were more than anxious,” [18] and the majority of the cabinet, with the exception of Robert Toombs concurred. He wrote:

“I summoned the Cabinet and told them that negotiation was now at an end, and that it was time to bombard the fort. Yes, I said, we would now be firing the first shot, but that was not our fault. It was Lincoln who intended war. He and that lying Seward had drawn the sword, and we were responding to them. We were defending our honor.

Toombs, my Secretary of State disagreed. “Sir,” he said to me, “firing at the fort is suicide. It’s unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it’s fatal.”

“Sir,” I said, “you are wrong.”

On April tenth, I ordered General Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to reduce it with his guns.” [19]

Beauregard delivered the ultimatum to Anderson, who rejected it noting that “his sense of honor and obligations to his government prevented him his complying; but in conversation with Beauregard’s aides he remarked that in any event, the garrison would be starved out in a few days.” [20] But the fear of the Confederates that the relief force might actually arrive and succeed in its mission prompted them to open fire on the fort at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 12th. The relief force was scattered by a gale and could not resupply Anderson. The bombardment lasted thirty-three hours, and while Anderson’s troops resisted but could not man all of their guns and were short on ammunition and powder. With the fort heavily damaged by over 4,000 hits and interior of the fort on fire, a fire that was threatening the powder magazines, Anderson gave the order to surrender. Beauregard allowed the assembled U.S. Navy ships to evacuate the garrison and as a parting gesture the Confederate General allowed Anderson’s troops to fire a last salute to Old Glory. They hauled down the smoke stained and torn Star Spangled Banner and marched to the ship taking them off the island with their drums beating the tune “Yankee Doodle.” Lincoln realized the importance of what had happened all too well. He noted, “They attacked Sumter. It fell and thus did more service than it otherwise would.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.136

[2] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.367

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.265-266

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.211

[5] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.180-181

[6] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.184

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.544

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[10] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.46

[11] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 335

[12] Holzer, Harold Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America Newmarket Press for itbooks an imprint of Harper Collins, New York 2012 p.80

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.272

[15] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.278

[16] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 pp.20-21

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.47

[18] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis p.323

[19] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.416-417

[20] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.21

[21] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.202

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“With Silent Tongue, the Clenched Teeth, the Steady Eye, the Well Poised Bayonet, They Have Helped Mankind on to this Great Consummation” Black Soldiers in the Civil War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This article is a section of one of my yet unpublished Civil War books in which I spend much time dealing with the importance of emancipation and the role of Black soldiers during the American Civil War. I think it is important to remember as we get ready to close out Black History Month just how important these men are to American history and for the civil rights of all Americans.

Emancipation and the U.S. Military

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Men of the 4th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] The issue for Lincoln in 1861 and 1862 was the necessity of keeping the Border-Slave Sates of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which had not seceded from the Union. Lincoln repudiated the orders of General John Fremont, in Missouri, and his friend General David Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South regarding emancipation, not because he was in complete disagreement, but because he felt that the officers had overstepped their authority.

Lincoln understood that this might hurt him with the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. While Lincoln was certainly sympathetic to their cause, he insisted that such decisions were not within the prevue of local commanders, but that any such proclamations had to come from him, as Commander-in-Chief. He told Treasure Secretary Salmon Chase, who supported the measures of Hunter and Fremont, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” [2] Lincoln’s decision to reverse and repudiate the decisions of local commanders infuriated some in his cabinet and in the Congress. But Lincoln remained firm in that conviction due to the need to ensure the cooperation of the Border States the continued loyalty of which were absolutely vital to winning the war, without which no meaningful emancipation would be possible.

However, Lincoln did support the efforts of General Benjamin Butler. Butler commanded the Federal forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads. Butler had been a former pro-slavery Democrat who learned that the Confederates were using slaves to construct fortifications and to support their army on the Peninsula. In May 1862 twenty-three slaves escaped to his lines and their owner, a Confederate Colonel, “demanded the return of his property under the Fugitive Slave Law! With as deadpan expression as possible (given his cocked eye), Butler informed him that since Virginia claimed to have left the Union, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied.” [3]Butler then declared that since the escaped slaves had worked for the Confederate Army that they were “contraband of war – enemy property subject to seizure.” [4] It was a solid argument, since Southerners themselves referred to African American slaves as property was subject to seizure. Lincoln and Secretary of War Cameron approved of Butler’s action and “eventually, the Congress passed a confiscation law ending the rights of masters over fugitive slaves used to support Confederate troops.” [5]

Salmon Chase and other strong abolitionists opposed Lincoln vehemently for this, but it would not be long until Lincoln made the decision for full emancipation. This was first accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation, a military order that only applied to the states that had seceded. However, Lincoln would follow this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery.   The latter occurred when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865. This amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had already decided upon emancipation in the spring of 1862, however, following the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula he decided to postpone announcing it, Secretary of State Seward recommended against it until “until you can give it to the country supported by military success.” Otherwise the world might view it as an incitement for slave insurrections, “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” [6] The wisdom of Seward’s advice was profound, and Lincoln put off the announcement until after the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan, true to form opposed any such policy. When Lincoln visited him after his withdraw from the Peninsula, the defeated but still arrogant General handed Lincoln a memorandum on what McClellan viewed as the “proper conduct of the war.” McClellan advised Lincoln that the war “should not be a war looking to the subjugation of any State in any event…but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, the territorial organization of States, or the forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [7]

Lincoln was not seeking advice from his recalcitrant commander and put the letter in his pocket and simply told McClellan, “All right.” Interestingly enough just a few months earlier Lincoln would have agreed with McClellan’s views on the conduct of the war. However, with the passage of time and the realization that the Confederacy was fully committed to its independence as well as the continuance and even the expansion of slavery had come to the view that fighting a limited war with limited aims was foolish. He told another Unionist Democrat a few days after McClellan offered his advice that the war could not be fought:

“with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water….This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy this government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.”[8]

From Slavery to Soldiering

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Gun Crew of 2nd Colored Light Artillery 

But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and his administration began to change. After a year and a half of war, Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [9] Slave labor was essential to the Confederate war effort, not only did slaves still work the plantations, they were impressed into service in war industries as well as in the Confederate Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle, a British observer who was with Lee’s army at Gettysburg noted, “in the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves.” [10] The fact is that the slaves who accompanied the army remained slaves, they were not the mythical thousands of black soldiers who rallied to the Confederate cause, nor were they employees. “Tens of thousands of slaves accompanied their owners to army camps as servants or were impressed into service to construct fortifications and do other work for the Confederate army.” [11] This fact attested to by Colonel William Allan, one of Stonewall Jackson’s staff members who wrote “there were no employees in the Confederate army.” [12] slaves served in a number of capacities to free up white soldiers for combat duties, “from driving wagons to unloading trains and other conveyances. In hospitals they could perform work as nurses and laborers to ease the burdens of patients.” [13] An English-born artilleryman in Lee’s army wrote in 1863 that “in our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants….” [14] When Lee marched to Gettysburg he did so with somewhere between ten and thirty-thousand slaves in support roles and during the advance into Virginia Confederate troops rounded up and re-enslaved as many blacks as they could, including Freedmen.

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Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation, was one of the first to grasp the importance of slave labor to the Confederate armies and how emancipation was of decided military necessity. Stanton, “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [15]

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [16] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy, not just in a military means, but politically, economically and diplomatically as Lincoln “also calculated that making slavery a target of the war would counteract the rising clamor in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy.”  [17]

Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.”[18] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union – as soldiers as well as laborers – was a natural corollary.” [19] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [20]

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Ulysses Grant concurred with Lincoln’s decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts, “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [21] William Tecumseh Sherman was supportive but also noted some facts that some radical abolitionists did not understand. He noted in his correspondence that, “The first step in the liberation of the Negro from bondage will be to get him and his family to a place of safety… then to afford him the means of providing for his family,… then gradually use a proportion – greater and greater each year – as sailors and soldiers.” [22] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [23] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as for the future of the U.S. Military services.

In conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation Secretary of War Stanton “authorized General Rufus Saxton to “arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States such number of volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000, and [you] may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them.”  [24] The initial regiments of African Americans were formed by Union commanders in liberated areas of Louisiana and South Carolina, and most were composed of newly freed slaves. Others like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments were raised from free black men in the north. Stanton’s authorization was followed by the Enrollment Act passed by Congress in March of 1863 which established the draft also allowed blacks to serve. By March Stanton was working with state governors to establish more black regiments. The units became known as United States Colored Troops, or U.S.C.T. and were commanded by white officers and organized into the infantry, cavalry and, artillery regiments organized on the model of white regiments. The U.S.C.T. “grew to include seven regiments of cavalry, more than a dozen of artillery, and well over one hundred of infantry.” [25]

Some Union soldiers and officers initially opposed enlisting blacks at all, and some “charged that making soldiers of blacks would be a threat to white supremacy, and hundreds of Billy Yanks wrote home that they would no serve alongside blacks.” [26]  But most common soldiers accepted emancipation, especially those who had served in the South and seen the misery that many slaves endured, one Illinois soldier, stationed who served in the Western Theater of war wrote, “the necessity of emancipation is forced upon us by the inevitable events of the war… and the only road out of this war is by blows aimed at the heart of the Rebellion…. If slavery should be left undisturbed the war would be protracted until the loss of life and national bankruptcy would make peace desirable on any terms.” [27]

Another soldier’s letters home show his conversion from being against emancipation to being fully for it. Corporal Chauncey B. Welton from Ohio wrote to his father after the Emancipation proclamation:

“Father I want you to write and tell me what you think of Lincoln’s proclamation of setting all the negroes free. I can tell you we don’t think much of it hear in the army for we did not enlist to fight for the negro and I can tell you that we never shall or many of us any how[.] no never.”

Following over two years of combat in which he served with Sherman’s army he became a vocal critic of the anti-abolitionist Copperheads in the North, especially former Ohio Governor Clement Vallandigham, as well as a strong proponent of abolition and opponent of slavery. By February 1865 his tone had changed “dear parents let us trust in Him that never forsakes the faithful, and never cease to pray… that soon we may look upon an undivided Country and that Country free free free yes free from that blighting curs[e] Slavery the cause of four years of Bloody warfare.” [28]

Even so racial prejudice in the Union ranks never went away and sometimes was accompanied by violence. It remained a part and parcel of life in and outside of the army, even though many Union soldiers would come to praise the soldierly accomplishments and bravery of African American Soldiers. An officer who had refused a commission to serve with a U.S.C.T. regiment watched as black troops attacked the defenses of Richmond in September 1864:

“The darkies rushed across the open space fronting the work, under a fire which caused them loss, into the abattis… down into the ditch with ladders, up and over the parapet with flying flags, and down among, and on top of, the astonished enemy, who left in utmost haste…. Then and there I decided that ‘the black man could fight’ for his freedom, and that I had made a mistake in not commanding them.” [29] Likewise, “Once the Lincoln administration broke the color barrier of the army, blacks stepped forward in large numbers. Service in the army offered to blacks the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for freedom….” [30]

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The Defense of Milliken’s Bend 

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), which were mustered directly into Federal service. In sheer numbers the U.S.C.T. formations soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments.  However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments, the heroic accounts of those units reported in Northern newspapers, as well as the unprovoked violence directed against Blacks in the 1863 New York draft riots that helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [31]

Despite the hurdles and prejudices that blacks faced even in the North, many African Americans urged others to enlist, self-help mattered more than self-preservation. Henry Gooding, an black sergeant from Massachusetts wrote the editor of the New Bedford Mercury urging fellow blacks to enlist despite the dangers, “As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust a fancied security, laying in your minds, that our condition will be bettered because slavery must die…[If we] allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it – language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps the violence that will be heaped upon us.” [32]

The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, including white Northern soldiers, and the very real threat of death that they faced if captured by Confederates. In response to the Emancipation Proclamation and to the formation of African American regiments the Confederate Congress passed measures that would make Union officers who commanded African American troops as war criminals and return any black soldier captured by Confederate forces return to slavery, if those blacks captured in battle were not summarily tortured by their captors or executed as happened at Fort Wagner, Petersburg, and at Fort Pillow.

In late 1862 Major General Nathaniel Banks was in desperate need of soldiers and received permission to form a number of regiments of free blacks. Known as the First, Second and Third Regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards they were primarily composed of former slaves who had escaped to Union lines, as well as some mulattos who were the children of prominent white citizens of the city. During an inspection, the white Colonel of the Guards told another officer:

“Sir, the best blood of Louisiana is in that regiment! Do you see that tall, slim fellow, third file from the right of the second company? One of the ex-governors of the state is his father. That orderly sergeant in the next company is the son of a man who has been six years in the United States Senate. Just beyond him is the grandson of Judge ______ …; and through all the ranks you will find the same state of facts…. Their fathers are disloyal; [but] these black Ishmaels will more than compensate for their treason by fighting in the field.” [33]

In May of 1863 Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [34] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [35] A white Wisconsin soldier commented that the black soldiers “fought like devils,”while a soldier of the 156th New York wrote, “They charged and re-charged and they didn’t know what retreat meant. They lost in their two regiments some four hundred men as near as I can learn. This settles the question about niggers not fighting well. They on the contrary make splendid soldiers and are as good fighting men as we have.” [36] Banks too was caught up in the moment and said of these troops in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [37]

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54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner 

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54thMassachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [38] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.”[39]

The 54th Massachusetts first saw action in early June 1863 and at Shaw’s urging were sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [40]Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [41] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [42] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [43]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionist newspapers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”  [44]

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55th Massachusetts being welcomed in Charleston SC 

In the African American 55th Massachusetts, which was recruited after the 54th, twenty-one year old Sergeant Isaiah Welch wrote a letter which was published in the Philadelphia Christian Recorder from Folly Island South Carolina:

“I will mention a little about the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. They seem to be in good health at the present and are desirous of making a bold dash upon the enemy. I pray God the time will soon come when we, as soldiers of God, and of our race and country, may face the enemy with boldness. For my part I feel willing to suffer all privations incidental to a Christian and a soldier…. In conclusion, let me say, if I fall in the battle anticipated, remember, I fall in defense of my race and country. Some of my friends thought it very wrong of me in setting aside the work of the Lord to take up arms against the enemy…. I am fully able to answer all questions pertaining to rebels. If taking lives will restore the country to what it once was, then God help me to slay them on every hand.” [45]

Like the 54th Massachusetts, the 55th would see much action. After one particularly sharp engagement in July 1864, in which numerous soldiers had demonstrated exceptional valor under fire the regiment’s commander, Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell “recommended that three of the black sergeants of the 55th be promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.” But Hartwell’s request was turned down, and a member of the regiment complained, “But the U.S. government has refused so far to must them because God did not make them White…. No other objection is, or can be offered.”[46]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [47]

Douglass urged African American men to enlist to secure their freedom, even while noting the inequities still prevalent in society and in the military, in which they did not receive the same pay as whites, nor could they become officers. Appealing to duty and reality Douglass noted in a speech in Philadelphia urging black men to volunteer. In it he carefully defined the real differences between the purposes of the Confederacy which was to “nothing more than to make the slavery of the African race universal and perpetual on this continent,” which was “based upon the idea that colored men are an inferior race, who may be enslaved and plundered forever.” [48]

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Sergeant William Carney 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the premier leader of the African Americans of his day, who had himself suffered as a slave, did not stop with that. Douglass understood that winning the war was more important that to what had been the attitude of the Federal government before the war and before emancipation, “Now, what is the attitude of the Washington government towards the colored race? What reasons have we to desire its triumph in the present contest? Mind, I do not ask what was its attitude towards us before the war…. I do not ask you about the dead past. I bring you to the living present.” He noted the advances that had been made in just a few months and appealed to his listeners. “Do not flatter yourselves, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government to you. You stand but as the plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty…” [49]

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54thMassachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg garrison attacked them. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.”[50]

The actions of the black units at Milliken’s bend attracted the attention and commendation of Ulysses Grant, who wrote in his cover letter to the after action report, “In this battle most of the troops engaged were Africans, who had little experience in the use of fire-arms. Their conduct is said, however, to have been most gallant, and I doubt not but with good officers that they will make good troops.” [51] They also garnered the attention of the press. Harper’s published an illustrated account of the battle with a “double-page woodcut of the action place a black color bearer in the foreground, flanked by comrades fighting hand-to-hand with Confederates. A brief article called it a “the sharp fight at Milliken’s bend where a small body of black troops with a few whites were attacked by a large force of rebels.” [52] In the South the result was chilling and shocked whites, one woman wrote “It is hard to believe that Southern soldiers – and Texans at that – have been whipped by a mongrel crew of white and black Yankees…. There must be some mistake.” While another woman in Louisiana confided in her diary, “It is terrible to think of such a battle as this, white men and freemen fighting with their slaves, and to be killed by such a hand, the very soul revolts from it, O, may this be the last.” [53]

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Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson 

By the end of the war over 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [54] Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [55]Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.”  [56]

The general of course, was wrong, for “Nothing eradicated the prejudices of white soldiers as effectively as black soldiers performing well under fire. And nothing inspired black soldiers to fight as desperately as the fear that capture meant certain death.” [57]  In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most of which was often attributable to the direction of their senior officers and the training that they had received. As with any other unit, well led and well trained regiments performed better than those whose leaders had failed their soldiers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations.

One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [58] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [59] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.”[60] In the battle Ferrero’s division lost 1,327 of the approximately 4,000 men who made the attack. [61]

Major General Benjamin Butler railed to his wife in a letter against those who questioned the courage of African American soldiers seeing the gallantry of black troops assaulting the defenses of Petersburg in September 1864: The man who says that the negro will not fight is a coward….His soul is blacker than then dead faces of these dead negroes, upturned to heaven in solemn protest against him and his prejudices.” [62]

In another engagement, the 1864 Battle of Saltville in western Virginia the troops of the 5th USCT Cavalry who had been insulted, taunted, and derided by their fellow white Union soldiers went into action against Confederate troops defending the salt works in that town. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Wade, order his troops to attack. Colonel James Brisbin detailed the attack:

“the Negroes rushed upon the works with a yell and after a desperate struggle carried the line killing and wounding a large number of the enemy and capturing some prisoners…. Out of the four hundred men engaged, one hundred and fourteen men and four officers fell killed or wounded. Of this fight I can only say that men could not have behaved more bravely. I have seen white troops in twenty-seven battles and I never saw any fight better…. On the return of the forces those who had scoffed at the Colored Troops on the march out were silent.” [63]

The response of the Confederate government to Emancipation and African Americans serving as soldiers was immediate and uncompromisingly harsh. “When in the autumn of 1862 General Beauregard referred the question of a captured black soldier to Davis’s latest Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, the later replied “…my decision is that the negro is to be executed as an example.” [64] Davis approved of the summary executions of black prisoners carried out in South Carolina in November 1862, and a month later “on Christmas Eve, Davis issued a general order requiring all former slaves and their officers captured in arms to be delivered up to state officials for trial.” [65] Davis warned that “the army would consider black soldiers as “slaves captured in arms,” and therefore subject to execution.” [66] While the Confederacy never formally carried out the edict, there were numerous occasions where Confederate commanders and soldiers massacred captured African American soldiers.

The Lincoln administration responded to the Confederate threats by sending a note to Davis that threatened reprisals against Confederate troops if black soldiers suffered harm. It “was largely the threat of Union reprisals that thereafter gave African-American soldiers a modicum of humane treatment.” [67] Even so, they and their white officers were often in much more danger than the officers and soldiers of all-white regiments if captured by Confederate forces.

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [68] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [69] After the assault of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner a Georgia soldier “reported with satisfaction that the prisoners were “literally shot down while on their knees begging for quarter and mercy.” [70]

fortpillowmassacred

Fort Pillow Massacre 

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even may have attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops, and “the best evidence indicates that the “massacre”…was a genuine massacre.” [71] Forrest’s soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ and slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but while Forrest did not order the massacre, he certainly was not displeased with the result. His subordinate, General James Chalmers told an officer from the gunboat Silver Cloud that he and Forrest had neither ordered the massacre and had tried to stop their soldiers but that “the men of General Forrest’s command had such a hatred toward the armed negro that they could not be restrained from killing the negroes,” and he added, “it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the negro.” [72] It was a portent of what some of the same men would do to defenseless blacks and whites sympathetic to them as members of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Liners, White League, and Red Shirts, during and after Reconstruction in places like Colfax Louisiana.

Ulysses Grant was infuriated and threatened reprisals against any Confederates conducting such activities, he a later wrote:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.”  [73]

The bulk of the fanatical hatred of Forrest’s troops was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58 – just over 20 percent – were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168 – just under sixty percent were taken.”  [74] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote:

We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [75]

A Confederate Sergeant who was at Fort Pillow wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [76] The captain of the Union gunboat Silver Cloud was allowed by the Confederate to bring his ship to the Fort to evacuate wounded, and to bury the dead was appalled at the sight, he wrote:

“All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers of the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered terrible death in the flames could be seen. All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy…. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen, Bodies with gaping wounds,… some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that little quarter was shown…. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and the hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter…. Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.” [77]

The rabidly pro-slavery members of the Confederate press lent their propaganda to cheer the massacre of the captured blacks. John R. Eakin of the Washington (Arkansas) Washington Telegraph, who later became a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court after Reconstruction, wrote,

“The Slave Soldiers. – Amongst there are stupendous wrongs against humanity, shocking to the moral sense of the world, like Herod’s massacre of the Innocents, or the eve of St. Bartholomew, the crime of Lincoln in seducing our slaves into the ranks of his army will occupy a prominent position….

How should we treat our slaves arrayed under the banners of the invader, and marching to desolate our homes and firesides….

Meanwhile, the problem has been met our soldiers in the heat of battle, where there has been no time for discussion. They have cut the Gordian knot with the sword. They did right….

It follows that we cannot treat negroes in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of the social system for which we contend. We must be firm, uncompromising and unfaltering. We must claim the full control of all negroes who may fall into our hands, to punish with death, or any other penalty, or remand them to their owners. If the enemy retaliate, we must do likewise; and if the black flag follows, the blood be upon their heads.” [78]

However, when African American Troops were victorious, and even after they had seen their brothers murdered by Confederate troops, that they often treated their Confederate with great kindness. Colonel Brisbin wrote that following Battle of Saltville that “Such of the Colored Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Enemy during the battle were murdered. The Negroes did not retaliate but treated the Rebel wounded with great kindness, carrying them water in their canteens and doing all they could to alleviate the sufferings of those whom the fortunes of war had placed in their hands.” [79]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.”  [80]

The importance of African Americans cannot be minimized, without them the war could have dragged on much longer or even ended in stalemate, which would have been a Confederate victory. Lincoln wrote about the importance of the African American contribution to the war effort in 1864:

“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or hundred and fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.” [81]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers faced discrimination, sometimes that of the white men that they served alongside, but more often from those who did not support the war effort. Lincoln wisely took note of this fact, and wrote that after the war:

“there will there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, the clenched teeth, the steady eye, the well poised bayonet, they have helped  mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” [82]

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Lt Stephen Swails, First African American Officer of 54th Massachusetts 

Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to “issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [83]

The families of the free blacks who volunteered also suffered, especially those who still had families enslaved in Confederate occupied areas or Union States which still allowed slavery. One women in Missouri wrote her husband begging him to come home “I have had nothing but trouble since you left….They abuse me because you went & say they will not take care of our children & do nothing but quarrel with me all the time and beat me scandalously the day before yesterday.”  [84]

However, the Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war, and even jaded White Union soldiers who had been against emancipation and who were deeply prejudiced against blacks began to change their outlook as the armies marched into the South and saw the horrors of slavery, Russell Weigley wrote that Union soldiers: “confronting the scarred bodies and crippled souls of African Americans as they marched into the South experienced a strong motivation to become anti-slavery men…Men do not need to play a role long, furthermore, until the role grows to seem natural and customary to them. That of liberators was sufficiently fulfilling to their pride that soldiers found themselves growing more accustomed to it all the more readily.” [85]

A sergeant of the 19th Michigan who had already lost a stepson in the war wrote to his wife from Georgia before being killed in action during the Atlanta campaign; “the more I learn of the cursed institution of Slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction…. After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better…. Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact will revolutionize everything…. Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.” [86]

But even more importantly for the cause of liberty, the sight of regiments of free African Americans, marching “through the slave states wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army and carrying rifles on their shoulders was perhaps the most revolutionary event of a war turned into revolution.” [87]

battle_of_nashville_kurz__allison

At peak one in eight Union troops were African American, and Black troops made an immense contribution to the Union victory. “Black troops fought on 41 major battlefields and in 449 minor engagements. Sixteen soldiers and seven sailors received Medals of Honor for valor. 37,000 blacks in army uniform gave their lives and untold sailors did, too.” [88] To fully appreciate the measure as to the importance and significance of the numbers of African American troops serving in the Union ranks has to compare that number with the number of active Confederate troops serving toward the end of the war. The approximately 180,000 African Americans serving in Union ranks at the end of the war outnumbered the “aggregate present” in Confederate ranks on January 1st 1865 by over 20,000 men. Of these troops “134,111 were recruited in states that had stars in the Confederate battle flag, and the latter figure in turn was several thousand greater than the total of 135,994 gray-clad soldiers “present for duty” that same day.” [89]

Of the African American soldiers who faced the Confederates in combat, “deep pride was their compensation. Two black patients in an army hospital began a conversation. One of them looked at the stump of an arm he had once had and remarked: “Oh I should like to have it, but I don’t begrudge it.” His ward mate, minus a leg, replied: “Well, ‘twas [lost] in a glorious cause, and if I’d lost my life I should have been satisfied. I knew what I was fighting for.” [90]

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Flags of the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops 

After the war many of the African American soldiers became leaders in the African American community and no less than 130 of these former soldiers held elected office including in the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures. The liberating aspect of “the black military experience radiated from black soldiers and their families into the larger black community, so it spread into white society as well.” [91]  Many abolitionists who had served as officers, and officers who were assigned to the USCT or volunteered to serve with state raised African American regiments became leaders continued to be voices for expanding civil rights in the years following the war.

Following war’s end, the demobilized African American troops became the target of racial discrimination and violence, but even so, “black veterans continued to play a central role in black communities, North and South. The skills and experience black men gained during the war not only propelled many of them into positions of leaders and sustained the prominence of others, but it also shaped the expectations and aspirations of all black people. The achievements and pride engendered by military service helped to make a new world of freedom.” [92]

Sadly, much of the nation has forgotten the efforts of the Free Black Soldiers and Sailors who fought for freedom, but even so their legacy remains in the “contribution of black soldiers to Union victory remained a point of pride in black communities. “They say,” an Alabama planter reported in 1867, “the Yankees never could have whipped the South without the aid of the Negroes.” Well into the twentieth century, black families throughout the United States would recall with pride that their fathers and grandfathers had fought for freedom.” [93]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.435

[3] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[4] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.369

[6] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.109

[7] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.531

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.503

[9] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.101

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[11] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.45

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.313

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.465

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.48

[18] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[19] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[20] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.381

[22] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.10

[23] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[25] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.11

[26] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[27] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011 p.103

[28] Welton, Chauncey B. A Union Soldier’s Changing Views on Emancipationin The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William Gienapp, W.W. Norton Company, New York and London 2001 pp.242 and 245

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[30] Glatthaar, Joseph T. Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[32] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[33] Jones, Terry L. The Free Men of Color Go to War in The new York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.403

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.398

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War p.44

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[39] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[40] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[43] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.697

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[45] Welch, Isaiah H. Letter in the Christian Recorder 24 October 1863 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.225-226

[46] Trudeau, Noah Andre, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York and London, 1998 p.262

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[48] Douglass, Frederick Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.220-221

[49] Ibid. Douglass Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 p.221

[50] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865p.58

[52] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.97

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.59

[54] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.92

[55] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89 p.

[56] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[57] Berlin, Ira, Riedy, Joseph P. and Rowland, Leslie S. editors, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York 1998 pp.133-134

[58] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[59] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[60] Ibid.Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac pp.384-385

[61] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.537

[62] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[63] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.135

[64] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[65] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.566

[66] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p. 280

[67] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.188

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[69] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[70] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.281

[71] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[72] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[73] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[74] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.111

[75] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 378

[76] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.112

[77] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[78] Eakin, John R. The Slave Soldiers, June 8, 1864  in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 pp.210 and 212

[79] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[80] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[81] Ibid. Glatthaar Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victoryp.138

[82] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 113

[83] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 376

[84] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[85] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.192

[86] Ibid. McPherson For Cause and Comrades p.130

[87] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.191

[88] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar editors The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.296

[89] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.756

[90] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.36

[91] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[92] Ibid. Berlin et al. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War pp.49-50

[93] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

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“I Knew What I Was Fighting For” The Social Revolution of the Civil War: Emancipation Part 1

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing my foray into African American History which for those that don’t know is really a key and often neglected part of American History. This is a several part series dealing with Emancipation, and the social revolution that it brought about in the United States Military. The process that began in 1862 has taken another century and a half to come to a much better state, and the men who pioneered the way deserve the credit for persevering in spite of prejudice, in spite of discrimination, and in spite of a country not appreciating them as they should have been. Their sacrifice not only pioneered the way for African Americans, but women, other minorities, and LGBTQ people. As a nation we are indebted to them.

Please enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Emancipation and the U.S. Military

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Men of the 4th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] The issue for Lincoln in 1861 and 1862 was the necessity of keeping the Border-Slave Sates of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, which had not seceded from the Union. Lincoln repudiated the orders of General John Fremont, in Missouri, and his friend General David Hunter, who commanded the Department of the South regarding emancipation, not because he was in complete disagreement, but because he felt that the officers had overstepped their authority.

Lincoln understood that this might hurt him with the abolitionist wing of the Republican Party. While Lincoln was certainly sympathetic to their cause, he insisted that such decisions were not within the prevue of local commanders, but that any such proclamations had to come from him, as Commander-in-Chief. He told Treasure Secretary Salmon Chase, who supported the measures of Hunter and Fremont, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” [2] Lincoln’s decision to reverse and repudiate the decisions of local commanders infuriated some in his cabinet and in the Congress. But Lincoln remained firm in that conviction due to the need to ensure the cooperation of the Border States the continued loyalty of which were absolutely vital to winning the war, without which no meaningful emancipation would be possible.

However, Lincoln did support the efforts of General Benjamin Butler. Butler commanded the Federal forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads. Butler had been a former pro-slavery Democrat who learned that the Confederates were using slaves to construct fortifications and to support their army on the Peninsula. In May 1862 twenty-three slaves escaped to his lines and their owner, a Confederate Colonel, “demanded the return of his property under the Fugitive Slave Law! With as deadpan expression as possible (given his cocked eye), Butler informed him that since Virginia claimed to have left the Union, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied.” [3] Butler then declared that since the escaped slaves had worked for the Confederate Army that they were “contraband of war – enemy property subject to seizure.” [4] It was a solid argument, since Southerners themselves referred to African American slaves as property was subject to seizure. Lincoln and Secretary of War Cameron approved of Butler’s action and “eventually, the Congress passed a confiscation law ending the rights of masters over fugitive slaves used to support Confederate troops.” [5]

Salmon Chase and other strong abolitionists opposed Lincoln vehemently for this, but it would not be long until Lincoln made the decision for full emancipation. This was first accomplished by the Emancipation Proclamation, a military order that only applied to the states that had seceded. However, Lincoln would follow this by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery.   The latter occurred when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January 1865. This amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

Lincoln had already decided upon emancipation in the spring of 1862, however, following the defeat of McClellan on the Peninsula he decided to postpone announcing it, Secretary of State Seward recommended against it until “until you can give it to the country supported by military success.” Otherwise the world might view it as an incitement for slave insurrections, “as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help…our last shriek, on the retreat.” [6] The wisdom of Seward’s advice was profound, and Lincoln put off the announcement until after the Battle of Antietam.

McClellan, true to form opposed any such policy. When Lincoln visited him after his withdraw from the Peninsula, the defeated but still arrogant General handed Lincoln a memorandum on what McClellan viewed as the “proper conduct of the war.” McClellan advised Lincoln that the war “should not be a war looking to the subjugation of any State in any event…but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, the territorial organization of States, or the forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment.” [7]

Lincoln was not seeking advice from his recalcitrant commander and put the letter in his pocket and simply told McClellan, “All right.” Interestingly enough just a few months earlier Lincoln would have agreed with McClellan’s views on the conduct of the war. However, with the passage of time and the realization that the Confederacy was fully committed to its independence as well as the continuance and even the expansion of slavery had come to the view that fighting a limited war with limited aims was foolish. He told another Unionist Democrat a few days after McClellan offered his advice that the war could not be fought:

“with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water….This government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy this government, and if they fail still come back into the Union unhurt.” [8]

From Slavery to Soldiering

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Gun Crew of 2nd Colored Light Artillery 

But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and his administration began to change. After a year and a half of war, Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [9] Slave labor was essential to the Confederate war effort, not only did slaves still work the plantations, they were impressed into service in war industries as well as in the Confederate Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Freemantle, a British observer who was with Lee’s army at Gettysburg noted, “in the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty negro slaves.” [10] The fact is that the slaves who accompanied the army remained slaves, they were not the mythical thousands of black soldiers who rallied to the Confederate cause, nor were they employees. “Tens of thousands of slaves accompanied their owners to army camps as servants or were impressed into service to construct fortifications and do other work for the Confederate army.” [11] This fact attested to by Colonel William Allan, one of Stonewall Jackson’s staff members who wrote “there were no employees in the Confederate army.” [12] slaves served in a number of capacities to free up white soldiers for combat duties, “from driving wagons to unloading trains and other conveyances. In hospitals they could perform work as nurses and laborers to ease the burdens of patients.” [13] An English-born artilleryman in Lee’s army wrote in 1863 that “in our whole army there must be at least thirty thousand colored servants….” [14] When Lee marched to Gettysburg he did so with somewhere between ten and thirty-thousand slaves in support roles and during the advance into Virginia Confederate troops rounded up and re-enslaved as many blacks as they could, including Freedmen.

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Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation, was one of the first to grasp the importance of slave labor to the Confederate armies and how emancipation was of decided military necessity. Stanton, “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [15]

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [16] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy, not just in a military means, but politically, economically and diplomatically as Lincoln “also calculated that making slavery a target of the war would counteract the rising clamor in Britain for recognition of the Confederacy.”  [17]

Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.” [18] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union – as soldiers as well as laborers – was a natural corollary.” [19] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [20]

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Ulysses Grant concurred with Lincoln’s decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts, “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [21] William Tecumseh Sherman was supportive but also noted some facts that some radical abolitionists did not understand. He noted in his correspondence that, “The first step in the liberation of the Negro from bondage will be to get him and his family to a place of safety… then to afford him the means of providing for his family,… then gradually use a proportion – greater and greater each year – as sailors and soldiers.” [22] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [23] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as for the future of the U.S. Military services.

In conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation Secretary of War Stanton “authorized General Rufus Saxton to “arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States such number of volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000, and [you] may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them.”  [24] The initial regiments of African Americans were formed by Union commanders in liberated areas of Louisiana and South Carolina, and most were composed of newly freed slaves. Others like the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiments were raised from free black men in the north. Stanton’s authorization was followed by the Enrollment Act passed by Congress in March of 1863 which established the draft also allowed blacks to serve. By March Stanton was working with state governors to establish more black regiments. The units became known as United States Colored Troops, or U.S.C.T. and were commanded by white officers and organized into the infantry, cavalry and, artillery regiments organized on the model of white regiments. The U.S.C.T. “grew to include seven regiments of cavalry, more than a dozen of artillery, and well over one hundred of infantry.” [25]

Some Union soldiers and officers initially opposed enlisting blacks at all, and some “charged that making soldiers of blacks would be a threat to white supremacy, and hundreds of Billy Yanks wrote home that they would no serve alongside blacks.” [26]  But most common soldiers accepted emancipation, especially those who had served in the South and seen the misery that many salves endured, one Illinois soldier, stationed who served in the Western Theater of war wrote, “the necessity of emancipation is forced upon us by the inevitable events of the war… and the only road out of this war is by blows aimed at the heart of the Rebellion…. If slavery should be left undisturbed the war would be protracted until the loss of life and national bankruptcy would make peace desirable on any terms.” [27]

Another soldier’s letters home show his conversion from being against emancipation to being fully for it. Corporal Chauncey B. Welton from Ohio wrote to his father after the Emancipation proclamation:

“Father I want you to write and tell me what you think of Lincoln’s proclamation of setting all the negroes free. I can tell you we don’t think much of it hear in the army for we did not enlist to fight for the negro and I can tell you that we never shall or many of us any how[.] no never.” Following over two years of service in which he served with Sherman’s army he became a critic of the anti-abolitionist Copperheads in the North, especially former Clement Vallandigham, and finally wrote in February 1865, “dear parents let us trust in Him that never forsakes the faithful, and never cease to pray… that soon we may look upon an undivided Country and that Country free free free yes free from that blighting curs[e] Slavery the cause of four years of Bloody warfare.” [28]

Even so racial prejudice in the Union ranks never went away and sometimes was accompanied by violence. It remained a part and parcel of life in and outside of the army, even though many Union soldiers would come to praise the soldierly accomplishments and bravery of African American Soldiers. An officer who had refused a commission to serve with a U.S.C.T. regiment watched as black troops attacked the defenses of Richmond in September 1864:

“The darkies rushed across the open space fronting the work, under a fire which caused them loss, into the abattis… down into the ditch with ladders, up and over the parapet with flying flags, and down among, and on top of, the astonished enemy, who left in utmost haste…. Then and there I decided that ‘the black man could fight’ for his freedom, and that I had made a mistake in not commanding them.” [29] Likewise, “Once the Lincoln administration broke the color barrier of the army, blacks stepped forward in large numbers. Service in the army offered to blacks the opportunity to strike a decisive blow for freedom….” [30]

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The Defense of Milliken’s Bend 

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), which were mustered directly into Federal service. In sheer numbers the U.S.C.T. formations soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments.  However, it was the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments, the heroic accounts of those units reported in Northern newspapers, as well as the unprovoked violence directed against Blacks in the 1863 New York draft riots that helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [31]

Despite the hurdles and prejudices that blacks faced even in the North, many African Americans urged others to enlist, self-help mattered more than self-preservation. Henry Gooding, an black sergeant from Massachusetts wrote the editor of the New Bedford Mercury urging fellow blacks to enlist despite the dangers, “As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust a fancied security, laying in your minds, that our condition will be bettered because slavery must die…[If we] allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it – language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps the violence that will be heaped upon us.” [32]

The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, including white Northern soldiers, and the very real threat of death that they faced if captured by Confederates. In response to the Emancipation Proclamation and to the formation of African American regiments the Confederate Congress passed measures that would make Union officers who commanded African American troops as war criminals and return any black soldier captured by Confederate forces return to slavery, if those blacks captured in battle were not summarily tortured by their captors or executed as happened at Fort Wagner, Petersburg, and at Fort Pillow.

In late 1862 Major General Nathaniel Banks was in desperate need of soldiers and received permission to form a number of regiments of free blacks. Known as the First, Second and Third Regiments of the Louisiana Native Guards they were primarily composed of former slaves who had escaped to Union lines, as well as some mulattos who were the children of prominent white citizens of the city. During an inspection, the white Colonel of the Guards told another officer:

“Sir, the best blood of Louisiana is in that regiment! Do you see that tall, slim fellow, third file from the right of the second company? One of the ex-governors of the state is his father. That orderly sergeant in the next company is the son of a man who has been six years in the United States Senate. Just beyond him is the grandson of Judge ______ …; and through all the ranks you will find the same state of facts…. Their fathers are disloyal; [but] these black Ishmaels will more than compensate for their treason by fighting in the field.” [33]

In May of 1863 Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [34] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [35] A white Wisconsin soldier commented that the black soldiers “fought like devils,” while a soldier of the 156th New York wrote, “They charged and re-charged and they didn’t know what retreat meant. They lost in their two regiments some four hundred men as near as I can learn. This settles the question about niggers not fighting well. They on the contrary make splendid soldiers and are as good fighting men as we have.” [36] Banks too was caught up in the moment and said of these troops in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [37]

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54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner 

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54th Massachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [38] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.” [39]

The 54th Massachusetts first saw action in early June 1863 and at Shaw’s urging were sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [40] Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [41] Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [42] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [43]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionist newspapers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted, “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.”  [44]

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55th Massachusetts being welcomed in Charleston SC 

In the African American 55th Massachusetts, which was recruited after the 54th, twenty-one year old Sergeant Isaiah Welch wrote a letter which was published in the Philadelphia Christian Recorder from Folly Island South Carolina:

“I will mention a little about the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. They seem to be in good health at the present and are desirous of making a bold dash upon the enemy. I pray God the time will soon come when we, as soldiers of God, and of our race and country, may face the enemy with boldness. For my part I feel willing to suffer all privations incidental to a Christian and a soldier…. In conclusion, let me say, if I fall in the battle anticipated, remember, I fall in defense of my race and country. Some of my friends thought it very wrong of me in setting aside the work of the Lord to take up arms against the enemy…. I am fully able to answer all questions pertaining to rebels. If taking lives will restore the country to what it once was, then God help me to slay them on every hand.” [45]

Like the 54th Massachusetts, the 55th would see much action. After one particularly sharp engagement in July 1864, in which numerous soldiers had demonstrated exceptional valor under fire the regiment’s commander, Colonel Alfred S. Hartwell “recommended that three of the black sergeants of the 55th be promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.” But Hartwell’s request was turned down, and a member of the regiment complained, “But the U.S. government has refused so far to must them because God did not make them White…. No other objection is, or can be offered.” [46]

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [47]

Douglass urged African American men to enlist to secure their freedom, even while noting the inequities still prevalent in society and in the military, in which they did not receive the same pay as whites, nor could they become officers. Appealing to duty and reality Douglass noted in a speech in Philadelphia urging black men to volunteer. In it he carefully defined the real differences between the purposes of the Confederacy which was to “nothing more than to make the slavery of the African race universal and perpetual on this continent,” which was “based upon the idea that colored men are an inferior race, who may be enslaved and plundered forever.” [48]

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Sergeant William Carney 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor

But the premier leader of the African Americans of his day, who had himself suffered as a slave, did not stop with that. Douglass understood that winning the war was more important that to what had been the attitude of the Federal government before the war and before emancipation, “Now, what is the attitude of the Washington government towards the colored race? What reasons have we to desire its triumph in the present contest? Mind, I do not ask what was its attitude towards us before the war…. I do not ask you about the dead past. I bring you to the living present.” He noted the advances that had been made in just a few months and appealed to his listeners. “Do not flatter yourselves, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government to you. You stand but as the plank to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect…. Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket – the United States musket with its bayonet of steel – is better than all the mere parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty…” [49]

Other African American units less famous than the illustrious 54th Massachusetts distinguished themselves in action against Confederate forces. Two regiments of newly recruited blacks were encamped at Milliken’s Bend Louisiana when a Confederate brigade attempting to relieve the Vicksburg garrison attacked them. The troops were untrained and ill-armed but held on against a determined enemy:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.” [50]

The actions of the black units at Milliken’s bend attracted the attention and commendation of Ulysses Grant, who wrote in his cover letter to the after action report, “In this battle most of the troops engaged were Africans, who had little experience in the use of fire-arms. Their conduct is said, however, to have been most gallant, and I doubt not but with good officers that they will make good troops.” [51] They also garnered the attention of the press. Harper’s published an illustrated account of the battle with a “double-page woodcut of the action place a black color bearer in the foreground, flanked by comrades fighting hand-to-hand with Confederates. A brief article called it a “the sharp fight at Milliken’s bend where a small body of black troops with a few whites were attacked by a large force of rebels.” [52] In the South the result was chilling and shocked whites, one woman wrote “It is hard to believe that Southern soldiers – and Texans at that – have been whipped by a mongrel crew of white and black Yankees…. There must be some mistake.” While another woman in Louisiana confided in her diary, “It is terrible to think of such a battle as this, white men and freemen fighting with their slaves, and to be killed by such a hand, the very soul revolts from it, O, may this be the last.” [53]

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Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson 

By the end of the war over 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. For a number of reasons most of these units were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation operations. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [54]  Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [55] Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.”  [56]

The general of course, was wrong, for “Nothing eradicated the prejudices of white soldiers as effectively as black soldiers performing well under fire. And nothing inspired black soldiers to fight as desperately as the fear that capture meant certain death.” [57]  In the engagements where USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most of which was often attributable to the direction of their senior officers and the training that they had received. As with any other unit, well led and well trained regiments performed better than those whose leaders had failed their soldiers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded. This was true as well when they were thrown into hopeless situations.

One such instance was when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [58] The troops advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [59] Pressed into the carnage of the crater where white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.” [60] In the battle Ferrero’s division lost 1,327 of the approximately 4,000 men who made the attack. [61]

Major General Benjamin Butler railed to his wife in a letter against those who questioned the courage of African American soldiers seeing the gallantry of black troops assaulting the defenses of Petersburg in September 1864: The man who says that the negro will not fight is a coward….His soul is blacker than then dead faces of these dead negroes, upturned to heaven in solemn protest against him and his prejudices.” [62]

In another engagement, the 1864 Battle of Saltville in western Virginia the troops of the 5th USCT Cavalry who had been insulted, taunted, and derided by their fellow white Union soldiers went into action against Confederate troops defending the salt works in that town. The regiment’s commander, Colonel Wade, order his troops to attack. Colonel James Brisbin detailed the attack:

“the Negroes rushed upon the works with a yell and after a desperate struggle carried the line killing and wounding a large number of the enemy and capturing some prisoners…. Out of the four hundred men engaged, one hundred and fourteen men and four officers fell killed or wounded. Of this fight I can only say that men could not have behaved more bravely. I have seen white troops in twenty-seven battles and I never saw any fight better…. On the return of the forces those who had scoffed at the Colored Troops on the march out were silent.” [63]

The response of the Confederate government to Emancipation and African Americans serving as soldiers was immediate and uncompromisingly harsh. “When in the autumn of 1862 General Beauregard referred the question of a captured black soldier to Davis’s latest Secretary of War, James A. Seddon, the later replied “…my decision is that the negro is to be executed as an example.” [64] Davis approved of the summary executions of black prisoners carried out in South Carolina in November 1862, and a month later “on Christmas Eve, Davis issued a general order requiring all former slaves and their officers captured in arms to be delivered up to state officials for trial.” [65] Davis warned that “the army would consider black soldiers as “slaves captured in arms,” and therefore subject to execution.” [66] While the Confederacy never formally carried out the edict, there were numerous occasions where Confederate commanders and soldiers massacred captured African American soldiers.

The Lincoln administration responded to the Confederate threats by sending a note to Davis that threatened reprisals against Confederate troops if black soldiers suffered harm. It “was largely the threat of Union reprisals that thereafter gave African-American soldiers a modicum of humane treatment.” [67] Even so, they and their white officers were often in much more danger than the officers and soldiers of all-white regiments if captured by Confederate forces.

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [68] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [69] After the assault of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner a Georgia soldier “reported with satisfaction that the prisoners were “literally shot down while on their knees begging for quarter and mercy.” [70]

fortpillowmassacred

Fort Pillow Massacre 

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even may have attempted to stop it, it was clear that he had lost control of his troops, and “the best evidence indicates that the “massacre”…was a genuine massacre.” [71] Forrest’s soldiers fought with the fury of men possessed by hatred of an enemy that they considered ‘a lesser race’ and slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but while Forrest did not order the massacre, he certainly was not displeased with the result. His subordinate, General James Chalmers told an officer from the gunboat Silver Cloud that he and Forrest had neither ordered the massacre and had tried to stop their soldiers but that “the men of General Forrest’s command had such a hatred toward the armed negro that they could not be restrained from killing the negroes,” and he added, “it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the negro.” [72] It was a portent of what some of the same men would do to defenseless blacks and whites sympathetic to them as members of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Liners, White League, and Red Shirts, during and after Reconstruction in places like Colfax Louisiana.

Ulysses Grant was infuriated and threatened reprisals against any Confederates conducting such activities, he a later wrote:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.”  [73]

The bulk of the killing was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58 – just over 20 percent – were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168 – just under sixty percent were taken.”  [74] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote:

We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to them and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [75]

A Confederate Sergeant who was at Fort Pillow wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [76] The captain of the Union gunboat Silver Cloud was allowed by the Confederate to bring his ship to the Fort to evacuate wounded, and to bury the dead was appalled at the sight,

“All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers of the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered terrible death in the flames could be seen. All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy…. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen, Bodies with gaping wounds,… some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that little quarter was shown…. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and the hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter…. Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.” [77]The rabidly pro-slavery members of the Confederate press lent their propaganda to cheer the massacre of the captured blacks. John R. Eakin of the Washington (Arkansas) Washington Telegraph, who later became a justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court after Reconstruction, wrote,

“The Slave Soldiers. – Amongst there are stupendous wrongs against humanity, shocking to the moral sense of the world, like Herod’s massacre of the Innocents, or the eve of St. Bartholomew, the crime of Lincoln in seducing our slaves into the ranks of his army will occupy a prominent position….

How should we treat our slaves arrayed under the banners of the invader, and marching to desolate our homes and firesides….

Meanwhile, the problem has been met our soldiers in the heat of battle, where there has been no time for discussion. They have cut the Gordian knot with the sword. They did right….

It follows that we cannot treat negroes in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of the social system for which we contend. We must be firm, uncompromising and unfaltering. We must claim the full control of all negroes who may fall into our hands, to punish with death, or any other penalty, or remand them to their owners. If the enemy retaliate, we must do likewise; and if the black flag follows, the blood be upon their heads.” [78]

However, when African American Troops were victorious, and even after they had seen their brothers murdered by Confederate troops, that they often treated their Confederate with great kindness. Colonel Brisbin wrote that following Battle of Saltville that “Such of the Colored Soldiers who fell into the hands of the Enemy during the battle were murdered. The Negroes did not retaliate but treated the Rebel wounded with great kindness, carrying them water in their canteens and doing all they could to alleviate the sufferings of those whom the fortunes of war had placed in their hands.” [79]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864, Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.”  [80]

The importance of African Americans cannot be minimized, without them the war could have dragged on much longer or even ended in stalemate, which would have been a Confederate victory. Lincoln wrote about the importance of the African American contribution to the war effort in 1864:

“Any different policy in regard to the colored man, deprives us of his help, and this is more than we can bear. We can not spare the hundred and forty or hundred and fifty thousand now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers. This is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force which may be measured and estimated as horse-power and Steam-power are measured and estimated. Keep it and you save the Union. Throw it away, and the Union goes with it.” [81]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers faced discrimination, sometimes that of the white men that they served alongside, but more often from those who did not support the war effort. Lincoln wisely took note of this fact, and wrote that after the war:

“there will there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, the clenched teeth, the steady eye, the well poised bayonet, they have helped  mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.” [82]

swails

Lt Stephen Swails, First African American Officer of 54th Massachusetts 

Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to “issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [83]

The families of the free blacks who volunteered also suffered, especially those who still had families enslaved in Confederate occupied areas or Union States which still allowed slavery. One women in Missouri wrote her husband begging him to come home “I have had nothing but trouble since you left….They abuse me because you went & say they will not take care of our children & do nothing but quarrel with me all the time and beat me scandalously the day before yesterday.”  [84]

However, the Emancipation Proclamation transformed the war, and even jaded White Union soldiers who had been against emancipation and who were deeply prejudiced against blacks began to change their outlook as the armies marched into the South and saw the horrors of slavery, Russell Weigley wrote that Union soldiers: “confronting the scarred bodies and crippled souls of African Americans as they marched into the South experienced a strong motivation to become anti-slavery men…Men do not need to play a role long, furthermore, until the role grows to seem natural and customary to them. That of liberators was sufficiently fulfilling to their pride that soldiers found themselves growing more accustomed to it all the more readily.” [85]

A sergeant of the 19th Michigan who had already lost a stepson in the war wrote to his wife from Georgia before being killed in action during the Atlanta campaign; “the more I learn of the cursed institution of Slavery, the more I feel willing to endure, for its final destruction…. After this war is over, this whole country will undergo a change for the better…. Abolishing slavery will dignify labor; that fact will revolutionize everything…. Let Christians use all their influence to have justice done to the black man.” [86]

But even more importantly for the cause of liberty, the sight of regiments of free African Americans, marching “through the slave states wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army and carrying rifles on their shoulders was perhaps the most revolutionary event of a war turned into revolution.” [87]

battle_of_nashville_kurz__allison

At peak one in eight Union troops were African American, and Black troops made an immense contribution to the Union victory. “Black troops fought on 41 major battlefields and in 449 minor engagements. Sixteen soldiers and seven sailors received Medals of Honor for valor. 37,000 blacks in army uniform gave their lives and untold sailors did, too.” [88] To fully appreciate the measure as to the importance and significance of the numbers of African American troops serving in the Union ranks has to compare that number with the number of active Confederate troops serving toward the end of the war. The approximately 180,000 African Americans serving in Union ranks at the end of the war outnumbered the “aggregate present” in Confederate ranks on January 1st 1865 by over 20,000 men. Of these troops “134,111 were recruited in states that had stars in the Confederate battle flag, and the latter figure in turn was several thousand greater than the total of 135,994 gray-clad soldiers “present for duty” that same day.” [89]

Of the African American soldiers who faced the Confederates in combat, “deep pride was their compensation. Two black patients in an army hospital began a conversation. One of them looked at the stump of an arm he had once had and remarked: “Oh I should like to have it, but I don’t begrudge it.” His ward mate, minus a leg, replied: “Well, ‘twas [lost] in a glorious cause, and if I’d lost my life I should have been satisfied. I knew what I was fighting for.” [90]

22nd-usct-flags

Flags of the 22nd U.S. Colored Troops 

After the war many of the African American soldiers became leaders in the African American community and no less than 130 of these former soldiers held elected office including in the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures. The liberating aspect of “the black military experience radiated from black soldiers and their families into the larger black community, so it spread into white society as well.” [91]  Many abolitionists who had served as officers, and officers who were assigned to the USCT or volunteered to serve with state raised African American regiments became leaders continued to be voices for expanding civil rights in the years following the war.

Following war’s end, the demobilized African American troops became the target of racial discrimination and violence, but even so, “black veterans continued to play a central role in black communities, North and South. The skills and experience black men gained during the war not only propelled many of them into positions of leaders and sustained the prominence of others, but it also shaped the expectations and aspirations of all black people. The achievements and pride engendered by military service helped to make a new world of freedom.” [92]

Sadly, much of the nation has forgotten the efforts of the Free Black Soldiers and Sailors who fought for freedom, but even so their legacy remains in the “contribution of black soldiers to Union victory remained a point of pride in black communities. “They say,” an Alabama planter reported in 1867, “the Yankees never could have whipped the South without the aid of the Negroes.” Well into the twentieth century, black families throughout the United States would recall with pride that their fathers and grandfathers had fought for freedom.” [93]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.435

[3] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[4] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.58

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.369

[6] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.109

[7] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.531

[8] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.503

[9] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War p.101

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[11] Foner, Eric Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.45

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[13] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.313

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.160

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.465

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.48

[18] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[19] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[20] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.381

[22] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.10

[23] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[24] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[25] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.11

[26] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.31

[27] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011 p.103

[28] Welton, Chauncey B. A Union Soldier’s Changing Views on Emancipation in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William Gienapp, W.W. Norton Company, New York and London 2001 pp.242 and 245

[29] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[30] Glatthaar, Joseph T. Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[32] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[33] Jones, Terry L. The Free Men of Color Go to War in The new York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.403

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.398

[36] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War p.44

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[38] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[39] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[40] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[41] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[43] Ibid. Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Two p.697

[44] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[45] Welch, Isaiah H. Letter in the Christian Recorder 24 October 1863 in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.225-226

[46] Trudeau, Noah Andre, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York and London, 1998 p.262

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[48] Douglass, Frederick Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 recorded in the Liberator in The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection edited by William E. Gienapp, W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2001 pp.220-221

[49] Ibid. Douglass Philadelphia Speech of July 6th 1863 p.221

[50] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[51] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.58

[52] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.97

[53] Ibid. Trudeau Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 p.59

[54] Ibid. Gallagher The Union War p.92

[55] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89 p.

[56] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[57] Berlin, Ira, Riedy, Joseph P. and Rowland, Leslie S. editors, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York 1998 pp.133-134

[58] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[59] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[60] Ibid.Wert The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac pp.384-385

[61] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.537

[62] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.34

[63] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.135

[64] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[65] Ibid. McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom p.566

[66] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p. 280

[67] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.188

[68] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[69] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[70] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.281

[71] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.189

[72] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[73] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[74] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.111

[75] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 378

[76] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative Volume Three p.112

[77] Ibid. Dobak Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 p.208

[78] Eakin, John R. The Slave Soldiers, June 8, 1864  in Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H. editors, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about “The Lost Cause” University of Mississippi Press, Jackson 2010 pp.210 and 212

[79] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[80] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[81] Ibid. Glatthaar Black Glory: The African American Role in Union Victory p.138

[82] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 113

[83] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p. 376

[84] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.282

[85] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.192

[86] Ibid. McPherson For Cause and Comrades p.130

[87] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.191

[88] Gallagher, Gary, Engle, Stephen, Krick, Robert K. and Glatthaar editors The American Civil War: The Mighty Scourge of War Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK 2003 p.296

[89] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox p.756

[90] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.36

[91] Ibid. Berlin et al, Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War  p.47

[92] Ibid. Berlin et al. Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War pp.49-50

[93] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.55

 

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Fort Sumter Pt 1: The First Flash of Gunpowder and Shell

fort-sumter-higher-res

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is another part one of another two-part installment of my Civil War text. The story follows the implosion of the Democratic Party, the election of Abraham Lincoln, and the secession crisis. It describes who the attack came about and the reactions of people in all parts of the country, as well as the Army to those fateful shots. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The remaining forts under Federal control in the South were a thorn in the side and a constant reminder to Jefferson Davis of the power of the federal government. As such he attempted to negotiate to obtain the forts, and when that offer was rejected out of hand by both Buchanan and Lincoln he began military preparations to seize them if negotiations failed. His task was complicated in Charleston where the Federal commander, Major Robert Anderson unexpectedly withdrew his entire garrison from the mainland to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. The move was prompted by President Buchanan’s dithering on the status of the fort and garrison. Anderson was a Southerner who had decided to remain loyal to the Union, his second in command was Captain Abner Doubleday, a strongly committed abolitionist.

Under the cover of darkness the Union officers withdrew their men from old and weak Fort Moultrie in Charleston to Fort Sumter gaining him instant adulation in the North and condemnation in the South. Buchanan wanted to abandon the fort but “when it appeared that Northern public opinion was solidly behind Anderson, Buchanan changed his mind and attempted to persuade the South Carolinians to accept Anderson’s occupation of Fort Sumter as a legitimate exercise of federal authority.” [1] Jefferson Davis, who had not yet resigned from the Senate awaiting Mississippi’s declaration of secession complained that he “pleaded with Buchanan to give up Sumter and avert impending calamity. Once again the old imbecile refused, after his fashion, which is to say that he muttered to himself, nodded and tilted his head as if in agreement, begged leave to say a prayer, and then did nothing at all. Plainly the reins of state were in feeble hands. Had this lame-duck President withdrawn the troops from Sumter, he might have turned away the threatening of civil war.” [2]But Davis was blind to the political realities in the North that secession and seizure of other Federal installations had brought about. A prominent Northern Democrat wrote that “Anderson’s course of action is universally approved and that if he is recalled or if Sumter is surrendered… Northern sentiment will be unanimous in favor of hanging Buchanan….I am not joking – Never have I known the entire people more unanimous on any question. We are ruined if Anderson is disgraced or Sumter given up.” [3] Congressman Dan Sickles who had been such a friend of the South for so many years, even backing peaceful secession, spoke out against the Southern seizure of federal installations, said that the secessionists had committed “a fatal error” and said “it will never do, sir, for them to protest against coercion, and, at the same moment seize all the arms and arsenals and forts and navy yards, and ships that may, through our forbearance, fall within their power. This is not peaceful secession. These acts, whensoever or whomsoever done, are overt acts of war.” [4]

major anderson

Buchanan made a belated attempt to reinforce and resupply the fort and on January 9th 1861, an unarmed civilian ship, the Star of the West entered Charleston harbor. But the operation was bungled, secrecy was broken and the South Carolinians knew the ship was coming, even as Anderson did not get the message about the relief expedition and permission to fire if the Star of the West was fired upon. As a result when Confederate gunners opened fire on the steamer, Anderson, who had instructions to defend himself and not for an instance such as this, did nothing to intervene. “If he opened fire, the United States and South Carolina would be at war…. Major Anderson hesitated, plainly uncertain, an immense weight of responsibility resting on him….” [5] As a result the Star of the West retreated, leaving the garrison unreinforced. But the secessionists “had overplayed their hand. The South Carolina gunners who fired on the Star of the West had, in effect, invited the Federal government to start the war then and there if it wanted a war….” [6] The firing on the Star of the West further inflamed Northerners. Dan Sickles thundered in the House chambers “the authorities of South Carolina, through their military forces, opened fire upon that defenseless ship, and compelled her to retire and abandon the peaceful and legitimate mission in which she was engaged. Now, sir, that was an act of war, unqualified war.” [7]

The debate continued as Buchanan eased out of office and the new Confederate government of Jefferson Davis took ownership of the situation in Charleston. Buchanan did not want to do anything overt to tip the balance in undecided slave states toward secession and Davis did not want South Carolina to act alone and risk a premature attack on the fort. But as both sides waited the balance of power in Charleston shifted, “as local troops day by day strengthened the ring of batteries confronting Sumter’s garrison.” [8] In incoming Lincoln administration debated what to do with some of the incoming cabinet members counseling withdraw and others resistance to Confederate demands. Lincoln gave serious thought to abandoning the fort but could not bring himself to authorize the action. He understood that if he ordered evacuation, “the credibility of his presidency and the Republican administration would be in pieces before either had scarcely begun.” [9]

Instead the new President sought more information and sent three men “down to Charleston to observe the situation and report on what they saw. The first two, both southern-born, were Illinois law associates, both reported reconciliation impossible…. The third, a high-ranking naval observer who secured and interview with Anderson at the fort, returned to declare a relief expedition was feasible.” [10] He also continued to meet with his cabinet members to decide on the appropriate policy to meet the challenge to federal authority in Charleston. “He met with Francis Blair, who, like his son, Monty, believed passionately that the surrender of Sumter “was virtually a surrender of the Union unless under irresistible force – that compounding with treason was treason to the Govt.” [11] On March 29th Lincoln again met with his cabinet and having weighed all of the options, decided to resupply the fort. His decision was to “not send guns or bullets to Sumter, only food and medicine. He would resupply, but not rearm, it. And he would announce the plan in advance so the South could not regard the effort as an act of hostility by an enemy.” [12] If the attempt succeeded “federal authority in South Carolina had been preserved, and Charleston could do little short of war to change it; if it failed, the failure would be due to Charleston’s decision to open fire, and the onus of beginning a civil war would lie on their hands.” [13]

Even as the Confederate moved even more troops and guns into position around the Sumter, more and more people of influence were growing impatient with the delays in gaining Fort Sumter and feared that if something was not done that in some places there might be a call to return to the Union. Jefferson Davis was under great pressure to act, a newspaper in Mobile Alabama editorialized that “If something is not done pretty soon…the whole country will be so disgusted with the sham of independence that the first chance the people get at a popular election the y will turn the whole movement topsy-turvy.” [14] Likewise, “Southern ardor was chafing at the bit anyway, and failure to meet the challenge threatened to undermine the government and weaken Southern resolve.” [15]

P.G.T._Beauregard

General P.T.G. Beauregard C.S.A.

Knowing from Southern sympathizers still in Washington that a relief expedition was coming, General P.T.G. Beauregard “had already cut off Major Anderson’s purchases in the Charleston market the day before Governor Pickens received Lincoln’s message about the intention to provision Sumter.” [16] Pickens forwarded the message to Davis in Montgomery and Davis was forced to either back down on their threats or fire the first shot of the war, and even worse from a messaging standpoint, “that first shot would be for the immediate purpose of keeping food from hungry men.” [17]

Davis was extremely angry when he went into conference with his cabinet on April 9th upon getting the news of the relief expedition. The debate in the cabinet “ran long and heated. Davis favored proceeding with the bombardment. Charleston’s batteries were ready, and the South Carolinians were more than anxious,” [18] and the majority of the cabinet, with the exception of Robert Toombs concurred. He wrote:

“I summoned the Cabinet and told them that negotiation was now at an end, and that it was time to bombard the fort. Yes, I said, we would now be firing the first shot, but that was not our fault. It was Lincoln who intended war. He and that lying Seward had drawn the sword, and we were responding to them. We were defending our honor.

Toombs, my Secretary of State disagreed. “Sir,” he said to me, “firing at the fort is suicide. It’s unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it’s fatal.”

“Sir,” I said, “you are wrong.”

On April tenth, I ordered General Beauregard to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter, and if refused, to reduce it with his guns.” [19]

Beauregard delivered the ultimatum to Anderson, who rejected it noting that “his sense of honor and obligations to his government prevented him his complying; but in conversation with Beauregard’s aides he remarked that in any event, the garrison would be starved out in a few days.” [20] But the fear of the Confederates that the relief force might actually arrive and succeed in its mission prompted them to open fire on the fort at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 12th. The relief force was scattered by a gale and could not resupply Anderson. The bombardment lasted thirty-three hours, and while Anderson’s troops resisted but could not man all of their guns and were short on ammunition and powder. With the fort heavily damaged by over 4,000 hits and interior of the fort on fire, a fire that was threatening the powder magazines, Anderson gave the order to surrender. Beauregard allowed the assembled U.S. Navy ships to evacuate the garrison and as a parting gesture the Confederate General allowed Anderson’s troops to fire a last salute to Old Glory. They hauled down the smoke stained and torn Star Spangled Banner and marched to the ship taking them off the island with their drums beating the tune “Yankee Doodle.” Lincoln realized the importance of what had happened all too well. He noted, “They attacked Sumter. It fell and thus did more service than it otherwise would.” [21]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.136

[2] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.367

[3] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.265-266

[4] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.211

[5] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.180-181

[6] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.184

[7] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel pp.211-212

[8] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.544

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[10] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.46

[11] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 335

[12] Holzer, Harold Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America Newmarket Press for itbooks an imprint of Harper Collins, New York 2012 p.80

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.137

[14] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.272

[15] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.278

[16] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 pp.20-21

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.47

[18] Ibid. Davis Jefferson Davis p.323

[19] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.416-417

[20] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.21

[21] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.202

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Lincoln and the Importance of Civilian Leadership

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am posting another section of the first chapter of my Gettysburg text tonight. It is about the importance of civilian leadership in regard to the military and the importance of not just relying on military power to win wars. The American Civil War gives us a good example of civilian leaders who grasped both of these elements of leadership and national power. Of course the article is just a part of a text that goes into a lot more depth on both subjects., but it is a part of the introductory chapter. 

I expect that I will be writing about the three latest attacks on the LGBT community by the governors of Texas, Michigan and the legislature of North Carolina which occurred today in the next couple of days. I am doing some more work on my Gettysburg test and the chapter dealing with religion, ideology and politics which dovetail nicely with these events, I just have to put everything together, and I would rather do it right than to do a half-assed job. 

Have a great evening,

Peace

Padre Steve+

lincoln-selfstanding

Abraham Lincoln

Over time the Union developed what we would now refer to as a “whole of government approach” to the war. This included not only the military instrument but the use of every imaginable means of national power, from the diplomatic, the economic and the informational aspects of the Union in the effort to subdue the Confederacy. The understanding and use of the “whole of government approach” to war and conflict is still a cornerstone of United States military policy in “unified action, to achieve leverage across different domains that will ensure conditions favorable to the U.S. and its allies will endure.” [1]

Over the United States Government and that of the Confederacy sat two men whose backgrounds were widely different, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Lincoln had no real military experience, training or background. Davis, seemed to be a man fully ready based on his background as a West Point graduate, Army officer and Secretary of War to be a wartime commander in chief. However, it was Lincoln who learned how to be an effective wartime leader, while Davis, despite his background floundered in that capacity. James McPherson notes that:

“In all five functions as commander in chief – policy, national strategy, military strategy, operations, and tactics – Lincoln’s conception and performance were dynamic rather than static. He oversaw the evolution of the war from one of limited ends with limited means to be a full-scale effort that destroyed the old Union and built a new and better one on its ashes.” [2]

Not only was Lincoln’s evolution in military affairs remarkable, but he had a far better grasp of people than his prickly Confederate counterpart. “Lincoln was more eloquent than Davis in expressing war aims, more successful in communicating with people, more skillful as a political leader in keeping factions together for the war effort, better able to work with his critics to achieve a common goal. Lincoln was flexible, pragmatic, with a sense of humor to smooth relationships and help him survive the stress of his job.” [3] On the other hand Davis was none of these. He had a hard time getting along with people, as was evidenced by the rate that he went through secretaries of war, five in four years and his bad relations with two of his premier generals, Joseph Johnston and P.T.G. Beauregard. Quarrelsome and disputatious, “Davis seemed to prefer winning an argument to winning the war; Lincoln was happy to lose an argument if it would help win the war.” [4] The example of Davis is ample evidence that just because someone has military experience does not mean that they are able to assume the duties of commander-in-chief.

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Edwin Stanton

One of the key aspects of a successful whole of government approach to war, crisis and national emergency is effective civilian leadership at the cabinet level, especially the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. In 1861 the later was split between Secretary of War, who headed the War Department and the Secretary of the Navy who headed the Department of the Navy. When he was elected Lincoln chose Simon Cameron as Secretary of War and Gideon Welles as Secretary of the Navy. Welles’s solid leadership of the Navy was never in question was both efficient and competent in managing the affairs of the rapidly expanding Navy.

However, Lincoln’s first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron was incompetent. Under Cameron the War Department lacked direction and within months was engulfed in controversy and charges of corruption and inefficiency. Though he was a skillful politician who “maintained his power base in Pennsylvania through the skillful use of patronage to reward loyalists and punish opponents” [5] Cameron was incompetent corrupt, and he was not equal to the task of managing the rapidly expanding war effort. Congress began to investigate and a number of Cameron’s political allies were found to have made great profits off of war contracts, which public funds had been wasted and the men who had volunteered to serve endangered. Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward “agreed that Cameron should be removed and that Edwin Stanton – the diligent lawyer who had served as Seward’s window into the late Buchannan administration – would be a good successor.” [6]

Stanton and Lincoln’s relationship went back to an incident where the former, a very powerful and successful lawyer had humiliated Lincoln in Cincinnati before the Reaper lawsuit of 1855 where after a change of venue Stanton got Lincoln kicked off the case. It was an incident that Lincoln found humiliating, and that he vowed never to again return to Cincinnati. That being said, Lincoln had a keen appreciation for Stanton’s abilities. During the final days of the Buchannan administration it was Stanton as attorney general provided the intelligence that “had helped root out traitors and keep Washington safe from capture.” [7] Lincoln removed Cameron and as consolation sent him off to serve as Ambassador to Russia in St. Petersburg rather than humiliating Cameron, who still had a loyal base in Pennsylvania. Cameron’s reputation remained intact until the “House Committee on Contracts published its 1,100-page report in February 1862, detailing the extensive corruption in the War department that led to the purchasing of malfunctioning weapons, diseased horses, and rotten food.” [8] The act humiliated Cameron, and Lincoln took the unusual step of writing a long public letter to Congress to somewhat protect Cameron’s reputation by declaring that he and the entire cabinet “were at least equally responsible with [Cameron] for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed.” [9] This was the first of many times where Lincoln chose to share the blame rather than further humiliate disgraced members of his administration, and it was a characteristic that

Cameron’s replacement as Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton was an entirely different type of man than Cameron. He was hard driving and ruthless in his pursuit of policies that would win the war. Stanton “drove himself as his staff of undersecretaries with maniacal fury and animation, auditing army contracts, reviewing and digesting military data for Lincoln’s use, intimidating army contractors, barking orders, and banging on his stand-up writing desk to make his point.” [10] Stanton’s brusque and brutally honest nature offended many people, but “he brought efficiency and integrity to the business of war contracts.” [11]

Likewise Stanton forced Union generals to adhere to administration policies, sacking those who were incompetent or recalcitrant and making a key change to the high command by replacing George McClellan as General-in-Chief with Major General Henry Wager Halleck. He also redefined the duties of the office making Halleck an advisor to the administration and liaison with the armies in the field. Halleck was perfectly suited to this position as “there was a need, in a civilian-run republic, fore a reliable and competent organizer who could serve as that kind of liaison  between the civilian leadership at the War Department and the military at the front.” [12] When Lincoln and Stanton brought in Ulysses Grant to serve as General-in Chief in March 1864, Halleck remained in Washington where he continued his staff and liaison work allowing Grant to command the armies in the field.

Stanton tolerated no inefficiency and immediately went to work to clear out corrupt officials and deny office seekers whose only claim to office was the patronage of elected officials or even their families. He denied one such man who came with the recommendation of Mary Todd Lincoln and then paid her a visit. Stanton “told her that “in the midst of a great war for national existence,” his “first duty is to the people,” and his next duty is to protect your husband’s honor, and your own. If he appointed unqualified men simply to return favors, it would “strike as the very root of all confidence.” [13] Mrs. Lincoln agreed and never asked Stanton for such favors again.

MeigsMontgomery

Major General Montgomery Meigs 

The working staff of the Stanton and Halleck’s War Department developed rapidly. Major General Montgomery Meigs served as Quartermaster General and effectively coordinated with railroads, weapons manufacturers and suppliers of clothing, food and other necessities to supply the army and navy so well that Union forces never lacked for what they needed to win the war. Like Stanton, Meigs was incorruptible and unlike Cameron, “a congressional audit could not find so much as one penny unaccounted for in any major contract authorized by Meigs.” [14]

Stanton and Meigs were “aided by the entrepreneurial talent of northern businessmen” which allowed that “the Union developed a superior managerial talent to mobilize and organize the North’s greater resources for victory in the modern industrialized conflict that the Civil War became.” [15] The other two major players in the War department were Commissary General Joseph P. Taylor and Chief of Ordnance James Wolfe Ripley. Neither man had the same talent as Meigs, but both turned into excellent administrators who ensured that Union forces always had ample supplies of provisions, weapons and ammunition.

The Confederacy never achieved anything like this, with the exception of his Chief of Ordnance, Josiah Gorgas the men in charge of ensuring that the Confederate armies had adequate supplies of food, clothing and equipment were inept, incompetent and utterly incapable of running a way.

The understanding of this eternal nature and ever changing character of war to leaders of nations as well as military commanders and planners has been very important throughout history. It can be seen in the ways that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln conducted the war. Lincoln, though he did not have the previous military experience of Davis, was the better learner and leader who came to understand the nature of modern war, including its logistic, political and diplomatic, and social-cultural contexts.

jeffdavis

Jefferson Davis

The contrast between Lincoln and Davis “directs attention to the difficulties of translating political judgment into effective warmaking.” [16] As such military leaders, understanding their relationship with the civil government should be the people to advise and instruct policy makers in aligning their policies to what is actually feasible based on the ends ways and means, as well as the strengths and limitations of the military to carry out policy decisions. History reminds us “that policymakers committed strongly to their political desires are not easily deflected by military advice of a kind that they do not want to hear.” [17] Too many times in history military leaders for many reasons have failed to raise their voice and to speak unpleasant truths regarding what is possible and what is not, often with catastrophic results for their nations. Likewise political leaders bent upon their own goals, even those goals that are at odds with their nation’s interests can ensure that their nation ends up on the ash heap up history.

Notes

[1] ________ JCWS Student Text 1 3rd Edition, 14 June 2013 p.2-4

[2] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008 p.267

[3] McPherson, James M. American Victory, American Defeat in Why the Confederacy Lost edited by Gabor S. Boritt Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1992 p.37

[4] Ibid. McPherson American Victory, American Defeat p.37

[5] Goodwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.403

[6] Stahr, Walter Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man Simon and Schuster, New York 2012 p.325

[7] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.410

[8] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.413

[9] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.413

[10] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.312

[11] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.69

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.315

[13] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p.414

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.315

[15] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[16] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[17] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

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Our Army Would Be Invincible If: Pt 3 Ewell’s Second Corps

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is the third part of my re-written chapter on the leadership of Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Today is a look at the leaders of Lieutenant General Richard S. “Dick” Ewell’s Second Corps. This like the following sections of this chapter of my Gettysburg text is interesting because it shows the complexities of the lives and personalities of the men leading these units. Professional soldiers, volunteers with little military experience, soldiers, lawyers, engineers and politicians they are an interesting collection of personalities; some surrounded in myth and others practically unknown. I think it is important for anyone studying a war, a campaign, or a battle to at least look at the lives of the men who planned and fought it. In doing so, even those that oppose what they did in rebelling against the United States can find in them some measure of humanity, and sometimes even gain a sense of empathy for some of them.   

That is why when we look at the lives of soldiers, we have to take the time to at least try to understand the nuance, the contradictions, their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, as well as a measure of their character.

In the coming week I will be doing A.P. Hill’s Third Corps, and Stuart’s Cavalry Division. I will then get to work on a similar chapter for the Army of the Potomac.

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

Richard-Ewell

Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell C.S.A.

Since Lee believed that the size of his two corps was too ponderous, especially for those that he was considering as successors to Jackson, Lee divided Jackson’s old Second Corps into tow elements. To command the three division that now comprised the Second Corps, Lee promoted Major General Richard Ewell to Lieutenant General.

Dick Ewell was a modest man and “had maintained a reputation for solid competence.” [1] Freeman wrote:

“In part, the appointment of Dick Ewell was made because of sentimental association with the name Jackson, and in part because of admiration for his unique, picturesque, and wholly lovable personality. Of his ability to lead a corps nothing was known. Ewell had never handled more than a division and he had served with Lee directly for less than a month.” [2]

Ewell was native of Virginia, his father, Thomas Ewell, was a physician and scientific writer whose works created controversy with both the Catholic and Episcopal Churches. Though a gifted writer and editor his finances declined even as the size of his family increased, plunging the family into poverty. The elder Ewell struggled with depression and alcoholism and died at the age of forty in in 1826 when Richard was nine years old. Ewell’s maternal grandfather was Benjamin Stoddert who served in the Revolutionary war and as the first Secretary of the Navy by John Adams. Stoddert helped create the Navy that rose to greatness. “In just three years he purchased land for six navy yards, acquired fifty ships, and recruited 6,000 sailors, including a corps of talented young officers that included David Porter, Isaac Hull, Oliver Perry, and Stephen Decatur.[3]

When his father died the family remained in poverty on the family farm, albeit poverty with a distinguished heritage which his mother ensured that her children understood. She also instilled a strict religious faith in her son. With one brother at West Point and another having died of a liver infection, possibly caused by typhoid, Richard took over the management of the family farm. His mother, who sought more than a rudimentary education for him worked to get him an appointment to West Point for several years and he was finally admitted to the academy in 1836. Ewell was an eccentric, in many ways like his father, mother and grandfather:

“In him one could see the practical, precise mind of his grandfather Benjamin Stoddert and, negatively, the cynicism and sharp tongue of his mother, Elizabeth. The similarities to his deceased father were more pronounced. Richard possessed Thomas Ewell’s violent temper, high intellect, nervous energy, and love of alcohol.” [4]

In 1836 Ewell entered West Point, from which he graduated in 1840 along with his classmates, William Tecumseh Sherman and George Thomas. Some of his seniors in his cadet company included Joseph Hooker, John Sedgwick, P.T.G. Beauregard, Henry Halleck, Jubal Early and Henry Hunt, all of whom served as General officers in either the Union or Confederate armies during the Civil War. Some of the underclassmen who served under him included both James Longstreet and Ulysses S. Grant. By the end of his time at West Point Ewell had “developed into not only an impressive student but an impressive soldier.[5] He graduated thirteenth in a class of forty-two and chose to be commissioned in the Dragoons.

Upon graduation and his brevet promotion to Second Lieutenant the young officer reported to the First Dragoons and served on the western territories and plains of the rapidly expanding nation. Ewell was picky as far as relationships went and seeing the often sad examples of men who married on the frontier he elected to wait, which caused him not to marry until after the Civil War began.

On the frontier his Christian faith began to wane. He still believed in God, but he was a skeptic, did not own a Bible and found little solace in region, even as his mother converted to Catholicism and entered a novitiate with a Catholic religious order. His antipathy was deepened as he observed the behavior of Christian missionaries working among the various Indian tribes. Of the missionaries he observed “wife beating, fornication, theft and adultery.” He was taken by surprise when his younger brother William decided to become a missionary. Ewell wrote: “I have seen so much injury done the Indians here by them that I am rather skeptic[c]al of their utility. Some of the greatest scamps we have are missionaries.[6] Despite this he never completely lost faith. Stonewall Jackson had a marked influence on his return to faith. One night before a battle he heard Jackson praying inside his tent and later remarked that “he had never before heard a prayer so devout and beautiful; he then for the first time, felt the desire to be a Christian.[7]

When war came with Mexico Ewell, now a First Lieutenant went with his company. He fought at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Puebla and Churubusco. While he suffered no physical harm in combat, he developed malaria and he lost his older brother Tom, who was serving with the Mounted Rifles and was mortally wounded at Cerro Gordo, and his cousin Levi Gannt, was killed at Chapultepec. Following Mexico he served in various duties became a noted Indian fighter on the western frontier. Those duties showed that “he had proved his mettle and established his credibility.” [8]

As secession drew near Ewell was very sick again with fever and was being returned to Virginia, some thought to die. However, that did not stop him from offering to fight a group of secessionists in Texas who were threatening to attack a Federal installation. He returned to health and on April 24th 1861 he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army, an act that he wrote “was like death to me.” [9] He was commissioned in the new Confederate Army as a Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry shortly after his resignation.

Completely bald, and speaking with a lisp, Ewell’s oddities “endeared him to his officers and men,” [10] and by January 1862 he was a division commander and Major General serving under Jackson in the Valley campaign. John Gordon noted that Ewell “had in many respects the most unique personality I have ever known. He was composed of anomalies, the oddest, most eccentric genius in the Confederate Army….” [11] During that campaign he distinguished himself. During the campaign “Next to Jackson himself, Ewell stood out. Every act of Ewell’s in the campaign had been the standard of a competent, alert, and courageous lieutenant.” [12]

William C. Oates wrote of Ewell:

“Ewell was a first-class lieutenant, but he did not have enough confidence in himself to make him successful with an independent command…He hesitated…Therein was Ewell’s deficiency as a general. He had a splendid tactical eye, capable of grand military conceptions, and once resolved quick as lightening to act, yet never quite confident of his own judgment and sought the approval of others before he would execute.” [13]

Ewell had been an effective and dependable division commander under Jackson but had been wounded at Groveton where he was severely wounded and lost a leg, which meant the “absence for long months of the most generous, best disciplined, and in many soldierly qualities, the ablest of Jackson’s subordinates.” [14] Longstreet “regarded him as a superior officer in every respect to Hill.” [15]However, Ewell, though serving long with Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley had served “only briefly under Lee” [16] before being wounded at Groveton. The result was that neither Lee nor Ewell fully knew or understood each other. Lee knew Ewell’s excellent reputation among the soldiers of Second Corps and “may have heard rumors that on his deathbed Jackson expressed a preference for Ewell as his successor” [17] but he had little familiarity with Ewell.

In sending the recommendation on to Richmond Lee termed Ewell “an honest, brave soldier, who has always done his duty well.” [18] It was not a resounding recommendation, but then Lee barely knew Ewell. Lee wrote after the war that he recommended Ewell “with full knowledge of “his faults as a military leader- his quick alternations from elation to despondency[,] his want of decision &c.” [19] Many questions hovered around the appointment of Ewell including how the loss of his leg, his recent marriage, newness to corps command, and unfamiliarity with Lee’s style of command would have on him.

The latter was even more problematic than any residual mental or physical effects of his wound and change in lifestyle. The fact was that Ewell was unfamiliar with Lee’s methods of command in large part because he “had served directly under Lee something less than a month, and then always subject to Jackson’s guidance. Lee never had an opportunity of the lack of self-confidence in Ewell.” [20] Had Lee known that the humble Ewell had reservations of his own about assuming command of a corps and going back to battle after the traumatic amputation of his leg, he had written “I don’t feel up to a separate command” and he had “no desire to see the carnage and shocking sights of another field of battle.” [21] Ewell admitted to his new bride Lizinka that he was “provoked excessively with myself at times at my depression of spirits & dismal way of looking at everything, present & future….” [22] Lee did speak privately about his concerns to Ewell, but no record exists of the conversation, regardless Lee was not concerned enough to remove Ewell from command or to assign his corps to important tasks.

Ewell’s reorganized Second Corps now consisted of his former division, commanded since Antietam by Major General Jubal Early, who in some measure acted as Ewell’s executive officer, on whom “Ewell came to rely on heavily – perhaps too heavily – on his judgment.” [23] The corps also contained the former division of Stonewall Jackson under the command of Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular with a solid record of service. The former division of D.H. Hill was now under the command of Robert Rodes, a VMI graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army and only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment to command. The brigade level commanders in the corps were another matter.

Early’s Division

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Major General Jubal Early C.S.A.

Early was an unusual character. Described similarly by many to Ewell in his gruffness and eccentrics, unlike Ewell, who was modest and charitable, Early was “ambitious, critical, and outspoken to the point of insubordination. Under certain circumstances he could be devious and malevolent.” [24] Longstreet’s aide Moxey Sorrel wrote of him: “Jubal Early….was one of the ablest soldiers in the army. Intellectually he was perhaps the peer of the best for strategic combinations, but he lacked the ability to handle troops effectively in the field….His irritable disposition and biting tongue made him anything but popular.” [25] Despite this, Early had proved himself as a brigade commander and acting division commander and Lee referred to him affectionately as “my bad old man.” [26]

Early was the son of a tobacco planter in Franklin County Virginia who had served in the Virginia legislature and was a Colonel of militia. Growing up he had an aptitude for science and mathematics accepted into West Point in 1833 at the age of seventeen. His fellow students included Joe Hooker, John Sedgwick, Braxton Bragg, and John Pemberton, later, the doomed defender of Vicksburg. Also in the class was Lewis Armistead, with whom the young Early, had an altercation that led to Armistead breaking a plate over his head in the mess hall. For the offense Armistead was dismissed from the academy. Early was a good student, but had poor marks for conduct and graduated eighteenth in a class of fifty.

He was commissioned into the artillery on graduation in 1837. However, after experiencing life in the active duty army, including service in the in the Seminole War, left the army and became a highly successful lawyer and active Whig politician. He served in the Mexican war as a Major with Virginia volunteers. Unlike some of his classmates, and later contemporaries in the Civil War, Early, and his men did not see combat, and instead served on occupation duty. In Mexico Zachary Taylor made Early the “military governor of Monterrey, a post that he relished and filled with distinction.” [27]

After his service in Mexico Early returned to Virginia where he returned to his legal practice, served as a prosecuting attorney and to politics where he served as a Whig in the Virginia legislature.

During his time in Mexico contracted rheumatic fever, which left him with painful rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of his life. Due to it he “stooped badly and seemed so much older than his years that his soldiers promptly dubbed him “Old Jube” or Old Jubilee.” [28]

Jubal Early was “notoriously a bachelor and at heart a lonely man.” Unlike many Confederate officers he had “no powerful family connections, and by a somewhat bitter tongue and rasping wit” isolated himself from his peers.[29]

Likewise, in an army dominated by those with deep religious convictions, Early was avowedly irreligious and profane, though he did understand the importance of “the value of religion in keeping his soldiers’ spirits up” and as commander of the Army of the Valley issued orders for a stricter keeping of the Sabbath. [30] Lee’s adjutant Walter Taylor wrote of him “I feared our friend Early wd not accomplish much because he is such a Godless man. He is a man who utterly sets at defiance all moral laws & such a one heaven cannot favor.” [31] That being said Porter Alexander praised Early and noted that his “greatest quality perhaps was the fearlessness with which he fought against all odds & discouragements.” [32]

Early was a Whig, and a stalwart Unionist who opposed Virginia’s secession voting against it because he found it “exceedingly difficult to surrender the attachment of a lifetime to that Union which…I have been accustomed to look upon (in the language of Washington) as the palladium of the political safety and prosperity of the country.” [33] Nonetheless, like so many others he volunteered for service after Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to crush the rebellion.

Lee “appreciated Early’s talents as a soldier and displayed personal fondness for his cantankerous and profane Lieutenant …who .Only Stonewall Jackson received more difficult assignments from Lee.” [34] He was the most influential of Ewell’s commanders, and his “record in battle prior to Gettysburg was unsurpassed.” [35]

Early’s brigade commanders included standouts such as Brigadier General John Gordon and Harry Hays, which was balanced out by the weakness of Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith and the inexperience of Colonel Isaac Avery, who commanded the brigade of Robert Hoke who had been wounded at Chancellorsville.

Gordon

Brigadier General John Gordon was one of the most outstanding Confederate commanders in the Civil War, eventually rose to command Second Corps. He is possessed of a naturally chivalrous character, which would be show on the Gettysburg battlefield where he came to the aid of the wounded Union General Francis Barlow. Though lacking in some highest command abilities due to his inexperience, he brings a certain freshness, boldness, freedom and originality to command. At Appomattox he was detailed to lead the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia as it formally surrendered, the officer receiving the surrender was Major General Joshua Chamberlain, who honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

Gordon was not a professional soldier, he raised a company from the northwest corner of Georgia called “the Raccoon Roughs” in the opening weeks of the war.” [36] Georgia had no room in its new military for the company and Gordon offered it to Alabama. After Manassas was elected colonel of the 6th Alabama which he commanded the regiment until he was wounded five times in the defense of the Bloody Lane at Antietam. Though he had no prior military experience he learned his trade well and possessed “an oratorical skill which inspires his troops to undertake anything. His men adore him….he makes them feel as if they can charge hell itself.” [37] He is promoted to Brigadier General Gordon took command of Lawton’s brigade of Georgians prior to Chancellorsville.

Hays

Brigadier General Harry Hays was a New Orleans lawyer who had served as “lieutenant and quartermaster of the 5th Louisiana in the Mexican War” and “When the South seceded Hays was made colonel of the 7th Louisiana.” [38] Harry Hays was a solid commander who was promoted to command a Louisiana brigade before the 1862 Maryland campaign. He would continue to serve with distinction until he was wounded at Spotsylvania.

“Extra Billy” Smith

Brigadier General William “Extra Billy” Smith was a sixty-five year old politician turned soldier who was a “valiant but unmilitary officer.” [39] He refused an appointment as a brigadier from Governor John Letcher of Virginia, because “he was wholly ignorant of drill and tactics,” [40] but he instead accepted an appointment as Colonel of the 49th Virginia, and attempted to learn the trade of being a soldier, though he never gave up his political office, serving in the Confederate Congress while at the same time serving as the Colonel of the 49th Virginia. Smith’s case was certainly an unusual, even in an unusual army.

Though never much of a tactician, he was brave in battle. He commanded that regiment and was acting commander of Early’s brigade at Antietam, where he was wounded three times, but directed his troops until the battle was over. Jeb Stuart observed him during the battle “dripping blood but fighting gallantly.” [41] Smith was “the only political general to survive Lee’s weeding out” [42] of officers after Chancellorsville, and in “commanding a brigade Extra Billy Smith was straining the limits of his martial abilities.” [43] He left the army in 1864, but only after he had been elected Governor of Virginia in 1863. At Gettysburg the caustic Jubal Early would “contend not only with an eccentric brigadier general but also the governor-elect of his state.” [44]

Avery

Colonel Isaac Avery commanded the 6th North Carolina and when Hoke was wounded at Chancellorsville took the brigade. Avery was described as having a “high moral worth,” “genial nature,” “stern inflexible fortitude,” and “chivalrous bearing.” [45] As a brigade commander he was an unknown quantity, and though “his peers had confidence in him, in Pennsylvania Avery would be going into battle for the first time at the head of a brigade of men who did not know him well.” [46]

Johnson’s Division

Edward_Johnson_(general)

Major General Edward Johnson C.S.A.

Edward “Old Allegheny” Johnson, an old regular, a graduate of the West Point class of 1838. He had a solid record of service in the old Army. Johnson served in the Seminole War and received brevet promotions to Captain and Major during the Mexican War. Like many officers that remained in the army after Mexico he served on the frontier on the Great Plains. He resigned his commission when Virginia seceded from the Union and was appointed Colonel of the 12th Virginia Infantry and soon was promoted to Brigadier General in December 1861. He commanded a brigade sized force with the grand name of “the Army of the Northwest” which fell under the command of Stonewall Jackson.[47] He was wounded in the ankle at the Battle of McDowell on May 8th 1862, but the wound took nearly a year to heal, imperfectly at that. He was a favorite of Jackson who insisted that he be promoted to Major General and be given a division.

He took command of Jackson’s old division when Ewell was promoted to command Second Corps after Jackson’s death after Chancellorsville. Despite his wealth of experience in the pre-war army and service with Jackson in the Valley, Johnson was an outsider to the division. Like so many others he had never commanded a division “with no real experience above the brigade level.” Likewise he was “unfamiliar with the qualities and limitations of his four new brigadiers.” [48] Despite this he becomes quite popular with some of his men, and because he walks with limp, and uses a long staff to help him walk “his boys sometimes call him “Old Club.” [49] Gettysburg is his first test as a division commander, but not one that he is given a real opportunity to excel.

As a division commander “Johnson developed a reputation that when he threw his troops into battle, the struck with the punch of a sledgehammer, exactly the way Lee wanted his commanders to fight.” [50] Johnson “does well in nearly all his fights, hits hard and wins the confidence of his men.” [51] He was considered for command of First Corps when Longstreet was seriously wounded during the Wilderness Campaign. [52] One of his subordinates agreed, writing “without hesitation that he was the best Division commander I have ever met with, a thorough soldier and capable officer. I have little doubt that as a corps commander he would have proved himself far superior to others that I knew….” [53]

In Johnson’s division the command situation was more unsettled. Like Johnson, all of his brigade commanders were new to their commands. Johnson’s division had four brigades commanded by Brigadier Generals George “Maryland Steuart, John Marshall Jones and James Walker, as well as Colonel Jesse Williams.

“Maryland” Steuart

Brigadier General George “Maryland” Steuart, was a tough regular army cavalry officer. Steuart was one of the few officers from Maryland who left the army for the Confederacy. He graduated from West Point in 1848 along with John Buford. He entered the army too late to serve in Mexico, but served with the 2nd Dragoons and the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment on the Great Plains. He resigned his commission and entered Confederate service. Initially commissioned as a Captain of Cavalry, he became Colonel of the 1st (Confederate) Maryland Regiment at Bull Run. The Marylander was promoted to Brigadier general in March of 1862 and commanded “brigades of cavalry and infantry in the Shenandoah Valley” under Jackson. [54]

His performance as a cavalry commander was “lackluster” and “he was reassigned to an infantry brigade, which he commanded at Cross Keys,” [55] where he was wounded by a canister ball in his chest, a wound that took a year to heal.

Some wonder why Steuart was not more severely handled by Jackson, who was a harsh disciplinarian and who preferred courts-martial charges on others, including Dick Garnett for similar performance issues. Douglas Southall Freeman believed that “As a Maryland soldier of stranding, Steuart was expected to have a large influence, especially on recruiting. If he we arrested as a failure, Marylanders of Southern sympathy would be disillusioned and resentful. Considerations of policy outweighed personalities.” [56] This is likely the case, the Confederacy was counting on bringing sizable numbers of Marylanders into the fold as late as 1863.

Returning to active service Steuart took command of a troubled brigade, whose commander, Brigadier General Raleigh Colston, “had just been relieved of duty by Lee after a disappointing performance as head of a division at Chancellorsville.” [57] Steuart was a strict disciplinarian, who “Lee hoped would bring harmony to a bickering brigade of Marylanders, Virginians, and North Carolinians.” [58] Though Steuart was somewhat eccentric, he trained hi men well and over time his men came to respect him. Fifty years later, one of the surviving Maryland Confederate Veterans said “No one in the war gave more completely and conscientiously every faculty, every energy that was in him to the southern cause.” [59]

J.M. Jones

Brigadier General John Marshall Jones also was a former regular who was an underclassman in Ewell’s company and a classmate of John Reynolds and Richard Garnett. He graduated thirty-ninth of fifty-two cadets in the class of 1841, and served in the infantry. He had a “routine career” and served on the frontier and was an instructor at West Point during the Mexican War, a position that he heled for seven years. [60]

He resigned his commission in 1861 and served as a staff officer. He had a had a well-known problem with alcohol which had earned him the nickname “Rum” at West Point [61] likely kept him out of command for the first part of the war. Unlike most of the former Regulars Jones had never held a field command, and instead “served in staff assignments at the division level, lastly as a lieutenant colonel” [62] under Early.

Though Ewell thought much of his abilities as a staff officer, Jones was an alcoholic, but by early 1863 he appeared “to have gotten himself sufficiently under control to warrant the opportunity to lead men in battle.” [63] Lee was not confident of the appointment and wrote to Jefferson Davis “Should [Jones] fail his duty, he will instantly resign.” If this meant that Jones’s enemy was strong drink, the new brigadier met and overcame that adversary.” [64] Like Johnson he was new to command at this level, he would continue to serve well until his death in the Wilderness in 1864.

Walker

Brigadier General James Walker commanded the “Stonewall” Brigade. Walker replaced the former brigade commander, Elisha Paxton, who had been killed at Chancellorsville. As a cadet at V.M.I. Walker had a confrontation with his instructor, Stonewall Jackson, where he challenged his professor to a duel. [65] The duel did not take place and Walker “was expelled from the school.” [66] After his expulsion worked in railway construction, then studied law and set up a practice in Pulaski Virginia.

After John Brown’s raid Walker formed a militia company which became part of the 4th Virginia, which a part of Jackson’s command. The past did not haunt him and he and Jackson had an “amicable” relationship during the war and “Jackson did what he could to advance Walker.” [67] Walker became Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Virginia and took command when A.P. Hill was promoted to Brigadier general. He continued to command the 13th Virginia in Ewell’s division, earning praise from Jubal Early who called him “a most gallant officer, who is always ready to perform a duty.” [68] The solid regimental commander then served as acting commander of different brigades during the Seven Days, Antietam, where he was wounded, and Fredericksburg. Walker had a solid record of success and was deserving of his promotion.

He had just been promoted to Brigadier General and was given the honor of command of the Stonewall Brigade, over the distinguished colonels of all five of its regiments. The appointment of an outsider like Walker was “a shock” [69] and brought an outcry from these officers who “in protest tendered their resignations.” Lee handled the incident with great care, and the “resignations were so declined so quietly and with so much tact that no trace of the incident appears in official records.” [70] Likewise Walker dealt with the situation well, in large part due to his personality:

“He was an extrovert who loved to fight, a two-fisted drinker and practical joker who enjoyed life too much to engage in petty bickering with his new subordinates. By the end of his first month, the Virginians affectionately called the tall and muscular fighter “Stonewall Jim.” [71]

He would lead the brigade until it was annihilated with the rest of the division at Spotsylvania, where he lost an arm. He briefly returned to service to lead a division at the end of the war. Following the war he returned to his law practice as well as politics, serving in the House of Delegates, as Lieutenant Governor, and as a Republican a two term member of Congress in the 1890s.

Williams

Colonel Jesse Williams had just taken acting command of the brigade of Brigadier General Francis Nichols who had been wounded at Chancellorsville. Williams had commanded the 2nd Louisiana Regiment prior to Gettysburg, and had little previous military experience. He remained in commanded due to the lack of a suitable brigadier, “it was an ominous admission that superior, developed material of high command had been exhausted temporarily.” [72] After less than stellar performances at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg Williams returned to his regiment when the brigade received a new commander. He was killed in battle at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12th 1864.

Rodes’ Division

rodes

Major General Robert Rodes C.S.A.

Robert Rodes was a Virginia Military Institute graduate and professor who had never served in the Regular Army, the only non-West Point Graduate at the Corps or Division levels in the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. Thirty-two years old “more than six feet in height, with a drooping sandy mustache and a fiery, imperious manner on the field of battle” [73] Rodes “as the visage of a Viking warrior” [74] and looks like he had “stepped off the pages of Beowulf.” [75] His physical appearance “seemed a dramatic contrast to his one-legged eccentric corps commander and to the stoop and irascible Early.” [76] One of his Alabama soldiers who served under him when he commanded a brigade wrote “We fear him; but at the same time we respect and love him.” [77]

His career had been remarkable. Rodes was “tough, disciplined and courageous; he was one of those unusual soldiers who quickly grew into each new assignment.” [78] In just two years he had “risen from captaining a company of “Warrior Guards” in Alabama in 1861 to earning the equivalent of a battlefield promotion to major general for the fight he made at Chancellorsville.” [79] As a brigadier he had shown remarkable leadership on the battlefield and off, taking care of the needs of his soldiers and worked to have “at least one company per regiment to drill on a field gun and to keep up that training from time to time, so that his men could service a cannon in a crisis.” [80]

While Rodes only had briefly commanded a division before his appointment, he was a solid officer who in time became an excellent division commander, but at Gettysburg he was still new and untried. In the summer of 1863 Rodes “was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s brightest stars…because of his effective, up-front style of combat leadership.” [81]

Rodes’ division was the largest in the army with five brigades present at Gettysburg. His brigade commanders were a mixed bag ranging from the excellent to the incompetent. Among the former he had George Doles, Stephen Ramseur and Junius Daniel. However, Rodes was saddled with two commanders of dubious quality, Brigadier General Alfred Iverson, who was hated by his men and Colonel Edward O’Neal, a leading secessionist politician “who had absolutely no military experience before the war” [82] and who had been ineffective as an acting brigade commander when he took over for Rodes at Chancellorsville, however, Lee was forced to leave at the head of his brigade for lack of other senior leaders over Rodes objections.

Doles

While Brigadier General George Doles of Georgia had no formal military training he was no stranger to military life. He ran away from home as a teenager to join the army in the Mexican War but was caught before he could join. He later served in the Georgia militia where he commanded a company, “the Baldwin Blues,” one of the oldest and best-trained military units in the state.” [83] As a Colonel he “had shown fiber and distinction” [84] as commander of the 4th Georgia. He was promoted to Brigadier General after Antietam, and commanded the brigade at Chancellorsville. By Gettysburg he had a reputation for “being among the Southern army’s most daring, hard fighting brigadiers.” [85]

Ramseur

Raided in a devout Presbyterian home in North Carolina, Brigadier General Stephen Ramseur attended Davidson College, a Presbyterian before being accepted into West Point. He graduated fourteenth of forty-one cadets in the West Point class of 1861, the last to graduate before the Civil War commenced. [86]

Ramseur was commissioned as an artillery officer, but resigned shortly after to join the new Confederate army in Alabama even before his native state of North Carolina had seceded. Within seven months he would be a Brigadier General. He was elected captain of the Ellis Light Artillery of Raleigh North Carolina, and became colonel of the 49th Alabama in 1862. He led that regiment at Malvern Hill where he was badly wounded. Ramseur was noted for “being a fighter and for his skill in handling troops in battle.” [87] Ramseur was promoted to Brigadier General in late 1862, becoming the youngest general in the army and led a North Carolina brigade with great daring at Chancellorsville where he was wounded in the shin by a shell fragment. Along with his division commander Robert Rodes, the still injured Ramseur was “one of the brightest lights in Lee’s army as it approached the field at Gettysburg.” [88]Jubal Early, who he succeeded as a division commander when Early took command of Second Corps in 1864 said that Ramseur “was a most gallant and energetic officer whom no disaster appalled, but his courage and energy seemed to gain new strength in the midst of confusion and disorder.” [89] The young General was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek on October 19th 1864 shortly after hearing about the birth of a child.

Daniel

Brigadier General Junius Daniel, a former regular and graduate of the West Point Class of 1851. He had resigned his commission as a lieutenant in 1858 to manage a family planation, but when war came volunteered for service where he served as commander of the 14th North Carolina. [90] He commanded a brigade on the Peninsula and was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1862.

Daniel had much brigade command time but little combat experience, as his brigade had been posted in North Carolina and the Virginia Tidewater and thus had not shared in the Army of Northern Virginia’s year of glory and slaughter. “Daniel’s brigade joined Rodes division in Virginia as a result of the army’s reorganization after Chancellorsville and in time for it to take part in the invasion of Pennsylvania.” [91] Despite the lack of combat experience Junius Daniel was well respected and “had the essential qualities of a true soldier and successful officer, brave, vigilant, honest…gifted as an organizer and disciplinarian, skilled in handling troops.” [92] At Gettysburg he “proved himself a valiant soldier and capable leader….” [93] This officer too would be killed in the fighting in the Wilderness.

O’Neal

Colonel Edward O’Neal was an Alabama Lawyer who occasionally dabbled in politics and after the war was elected Governor of Alabama. He won his rank due to his political connections as nothing he “had studied or experienced before 1861 had prepared him for military command at any level.” [94] In acting command at Chancellorsville he handled Rodes old brigade badly and bungled his assignment when Jackson “gave the go-ahead to commence his famous flank attack.” [95] O’Neal was “quarrelsome and unhappy under Rodes, still mired at the rank of colonel and convinced that Rodes was planning to replace him.” [96]

In fact Rodes had recommended other officers for the position, but was turned down by Lee. However, Lee did not have anyone suitable to take command of the brigade and left O’Neal in command, though he “blocked O’Neal’s promotion to brigadier general…Obviously if Lee distrusted O’Neal’s ability as a brigade commander, Rodes would have to give special attention to his old brigade in the fight ahead.” [97]

Iverson

Brigadier General Alfred Iverson had served in Mexico as a teen and gained a direct appointment to the Regular army “with the help of his congressman father” [98] and served as a Lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Cavalry until Georgia seceded. He was “a Richmond political pet whose promotion was deeply resented by his North Carolina brigade as a vote of no confidence in their political loyalties.” [99] His brigade had never been in combat and “the four regiments …needed judicious and competent leadership. Instead they had Alfred Iverson.” [100] Iverson was at constant loggerheads with his officers and once attempted to arrest all twenty six officers of his former regiment. [101]

The situation faced by Ewell, a new corps commander working with three new division commanders, each of whom had a mixture of subordinates that ranged from stellar to incompetent was unfortunate. Though he kept most of Stonewall Jackson’s experienced headquarters staff, he was new to them as a commander. Unlike Longstreet who’s First Corps maintained good continuity among its senior leadership and units, Ewell’s command was just beginning to coalesce as the campaign began.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Taylor, John Duty Faithfully Performed p.130

[2] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[3] Pfanz, Donald. Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1998 p.9

[4] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.11

[5] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.24

[6] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.33

[7] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.266

[8] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.99

[9] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.121

[10] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.172

[11] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.209

[12] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.220

[13] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.209

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.322

[15] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.214

[16] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.47

[17] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.47

[18] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.48

[19] Ibid. Gallagher Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p..49

[20] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee an abridgment by Richard Harwell, Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.305

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.23

[22] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.279

[23] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.268

[24] Ibid. Pfanz Richard S. Ewell p.268

[25] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.206

[26] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.155

[27] Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Early, CSA Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 1992

[28] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.83

[29] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.33

[30] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.385

[31] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.207

[32] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.397

[33] Ibid. Osborne Jubal p.50

[34] Gallagher, Gary W. Jubal A. Early, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History: A Persistent Legacy; Frank L Klement Lecture, Alternate Views of the Sectional Conflict Marquette University Press Marquette WI 2003 p.11

[35] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.256

[36] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.262

[37] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.41

[38] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.206

[39] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.534

[40] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.69

[41] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.380

[42] Ibid. Dowdy. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.123

[43] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.53

[44] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.70

[45] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.240

[46] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.268

[47] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.123

[48] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg pp.269-270

[49] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.47

[50] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.345

[51] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.47

[52] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.672

[53] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.227

[54] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.312

[55] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.312

[56] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.216

[57] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.273

[58] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.54

[59] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.313

[60] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.206

[61] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.276

[62] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.206

[63] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.276

[64] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[65] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.156

[66] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.154

[67] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[68] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 279

[69] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.156

[70] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[71] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 278

[72] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.530

[73] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.39

[74] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

[75] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.39

[76] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.147

[77] Ibid. Wert A Glorious Army p.178

[78] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.243

[79] Ibid. Sears, Gettysburg p.53

[80] Ibid. Glatthaar General Lee’s Army from Victory to Collapse p.244

[81] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p. 284

[82] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.299

[83] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.287

[84] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenants p.386

[85] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.288

[86] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.289

[87] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001

[88] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.290

[89] Ibid. Girardi. The Civil War Generals p.251

[90] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.179

[91] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.179

[92] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.292

[93] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.21

[94] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.120

[95] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.298

[96] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[97] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.162

[98] Ibid. Pfanz . Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.152

[99] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.170

[100] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

[101] Ibid. Krick Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.129

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