The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America/Chapter 3

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How the Negro fought in every American war for a cause that was not his and to gain for others a freedom which was not his own.

I. Colonial Wars

The day is past when historians glory in war. Rather, with all thoughtful men, they deplore the barbarism of mankind which has made war so large a part of human history. As long, however, as there are powerful men who are determined to have their way by brute force, and as long as these men can compel or persuade enough of their group, nation or race to support them even to the limit of destruction, rape, theft and murder, just so long these men will and must be opposed by force—moral force if possible, physical force in the extreme. The world has undoubtedly come to the place where it defends reluctantly such defensive war, but has no words of excuse for offensive war, for the initiation of the program of physical force.

There is, however, one further consideration: the man in the ranks has usually little chance to decide whether the war is defensive or offensive, righteous or wrong. He is called upon to put life and limb in jeopardy. He responds, sometimes willingly with uplifted soul and high resolve, persuaded that he is under Divine command; sometimes by compulsion and by the iron of discipline. In all cases he has by every nation been given credit; and certainly the man who voluntarily lays down his life for a cause which he has been led to believe is righteous deserves public esteem, although the world may weep at his ignorance and blindness.

From the beginning America was involved in war because it was born in a day of war. First, there were wars, mostly of aggression but partly of self-defense, against the Indians. Then there was a series of wars which were but colonial echoes of European brawls. Next the United States fought to make itself independent of the economic suzerainty of England. After that came the conquest of Mexico and the war for the Union which resolved itself in a war against slavery, and finally the Spanish War and the great World War.

In all these wars the Negro has taken part. He cannot be blamed for them so far as they were unrighteous wars (and some of them were un righteous), because he was not a leader: he was for the most part a common soldier in the ranks and did what he was told. Yet in the majority of cases he was not compelled to fight. He used his own judgment and he fought because he believed that by fighting for America he would gain the respect of the land and personal and spiritual freedom. His problem as a soldier was always peculiar: no matter for what America fought and no matter for what her enemies fought, the American Negro always fought for his own freedom and for the self-respect of his race. Whatever the cause of war, therefore, his cause was peculiarly just. He appears, therefore, in American wars always with double motive,—the desire to oppose the so-called enemy of his country along with his fellow white citizens, and before that, the motive of deserving well of those citizens and securing justice for his folk. In this way he appears in the earliest times fighting with the whites against the Indians as well as with the Indians against the whites, and throughout the history of the West Indies and Central America as well as the Southern United States we find here and there groups of Negroes fighting with the whites. For instance: in Louisiana early in the eighteenth century when Governor Perier took office, the colony was very much afraid of a com bination between the Choctaw Indians and the fierce Banbara Negroes who had begun to make common cause with them. To offset this, Perier armed a band of slaves in 1729 and sent them against the Indians. He says: “The Negroes executed their mission with as much promptitude as secrecy.” Later, in 1730, the Governor sent twenty white men and six Negroes to carry ammunition to the Illinois settlement up the Mississippi River. Perier says fifteen Negroes “in whose hands we had put weapons performed prodigies of valor. If the blacks did not cost so much and if their labor was not so necessary to the colony it would be better to turn them into soldiers and to dismiss those we have who are so bad and so cowardly that they seem to have been manufactured purposely for this colony.” But this policy of using the Negroes against the Indians led the Indians to retaliate and seek alliance with the blacks and in August 1730, the Natchez Indians and the Chickshaws conspired with the Negroes to revolt. The head of the revolt, Samba, with eight of his confederates was executed before the conspiracy came to a head. In 1733, when Governor Bienville returned to power, he had an army consisting of 544 white men and 45 Negroes, the latter with free black officers.[1] In the colonial wars which distracted America during the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth centuries the Negro took comparatively small part because the institution of slavery was becoming more settled and the masters were afraid to let their slaves fight. Notwithstanding this, there were black freedmen who voted and were enrolled in the militia and went to war, while some masters sent their slaves as laborers and servants. As early as 1652 a law of Massachusetts as to the militia required “Negro, Scotchmen and Indians” to enroll in the militia. Afterward the policy was changed and Negroes and Indians were excluded but Negroes often acted as sentinels at meeting-house doors. At other times slaves ran away and enlisted as soldiers or as sailors, thus often gaining their liberty. The New York Gazette in 1760 advertises for a slave who is suspected of having enlisted “in the provincial service.” In 1763 the Boston Evening Post was looking for a Negro who “was a soldier last summer.” One mulatto in 1746 is advertised for in the Pennsylvania Gazette. He had threatened to go to the French and Indians and fight for them. And in the Maryland Gazette, 1755, gentlemen are warned that their slaves may run away to the French and Indians.[2]

2. The Revolutionary War

The estimates of the Negro soldiers who fought on the American side of the Revolutionary War varv from four to six thousand, or one out of every 50 or 60 of the colonial troops.

On August 24, 1778, the following report was made of Negroes in the Revolutionary Army:[3]

Brigades Present Sick
North Carolina 42 10 6 58
Woodford 36 3 1 40
Muhlenburg 64 26 8 98
Smallwood 20 3 1 24
2nd Maryland 43 15 2 60
Wayne 2 .. .. 2
2nd Pennsylvania 33 1 1 35
Clinton 33 2 4 62
Parsons 117 12 19 148
Huntington 56 2 4 62
Nixon 26 .. 1 27
Patterson 64 13 12 89
Late Learned 34 4 8 46
Poor 16 7 4 27
Total 586 98 71 755

Alex. Scammell, Adj. Gen.

This report does not include Negro soldiers enlisted in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire and other States not mentioned nor does it include those who were in the army at both earlier and later dates. Other records prove that Negroes served in as many as 18 brigades.

It was a Negro who in a sense began the actual fighting. In 1750 William Brown of Framingham, Mass., advertised three times for “A Molatto Fellow about 27 Years of Age, named Crispas, 6 Feet 2 Inches high, short Curl’d Hair.” This runaway slave was the same Crispus Attucks who in 1779 led a mob on the 5th of March against the British soldiers in the celebrated “Boston Massacre.”

Much has been said about the importance and lack of importance of this so-called “Boston Massacre.” Whatever the verdict of history may be, there is no doubt that the incident loomed large in the eyes of the colonists. Distinguished men were orators on the 5th of March for years after, until that date was succeeded by the 4th of July. Daniel Webster in his great Bunker Hill oration said: “From that moment we may date the severance of the British Empire.”

Possibly these men exaggerated the actual importance of a street brawl between citizens and soldiers, led by a runaway slave; but there is no doubt that the colonists, who fought for independence from England, thought this occasion of tremendous importance and were nerved to great effort because of it.

Livermore says: “The presence of the British soldiers in King Street excited the patriotic indignation of the people. The whole community was stirred, and sage counsellors were deliberating and writing and talking about the public grievances. But it was not for the ‘wise and prudent’ to be first to act against the encroachments of arbitrary power. ‘A motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and mulattoes, Irish Teagues and outlandish Jack tars,’ (as John Adams described them in his plea in defense of the soldiers) could not restrain their emotion or stop to enquire if what they must do was according to the letter of the law. Led by Crispus Attucks, the mulatto slave, and shouting, ‘The way to get rid of these soldiers is to attack the main guard; strike at the root; this is the nest’; with more valor than discretion they rushed to King Street and were fired upon by Captain Preston’s company. Crispus Attucks was the first to fall; he and Samuel Gray and Jonas Caldwell were killed on the spot. Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr were mortally wounded. The excitement which followed was intense. The bells of the town were rung.

An impromptu town meeting was held and an immense assembly gathered. Three days after, on the 8th, a public funeral of the Martyrs took place. The shops in Boston were closed and all the bells of Boston and the neighboring towns were rung. It is said that a greater number of persons assembled on this occasion than ever before gathered on this continent for a similar purpose. The body of Crispus Attucks, the mulatto, had been placed in Faneuil Hall with that of Caldwell, both being strangers in the city. Maverick was buried from his mother’s house in Union Street, and Gray from his brother’s in Royal Exchange Lane.

The four hearses formed a junction in King Street and then the procession marched in columns six deep, with a long file of coaches belonging to the most distinguished citizens, to the Middle Burying Ground, where the four victims were deposited in one grave over which a stone was placed with the inscription:

‘Long as in Freedom’s cause the wise contend,
Dear to your country shall your fame extend;
While to the world the lettered stone shall tell
Where Caldwell, Attucks, Gray and Maverick fell.’

“The anniversary of this event was publicly commemorated in Boston by an oration and other exercises every year until our National Indepen dence was achieved, when the Fourth of July was substituted for the Fifth of March as the more proper day for a general celebration. Not only was the event commemorated but the martyrs who then gave up their lives were remembered and honored.”[4]

The relation of the Negro to the Revolutionary War was peculiar. If his services were used by the Colonists this would be an excuse for the English to use the Indians and to emancipate the slaves. If he were not used not only was this source of strength to the small loyal armies neglected but there still remained the danger that the English would bid for the services of Negroes. At first then the free Negro went quite naturally into the army as he had for the most part been recognized as liable to military service. Then Congress hesitated and ordered that no Negroes be enlisted. Immediately there appeared the determination of the Negroes, wrhether deliberately arrived at or by the more or less unconscious development of thought under the circumstances, to give their services to the side which promised them freedom and decent treatment. When therefore Governor Dunmore of Virginia and English generals like Cornwallis and Clinton made a bid for the services of Negroes, coupled with prom ises of freedom, they got considerable numbers and in the case of Dunmore one Negro unit fought a pitched battle against the Colonists.

The Continental Congress took up the question of Negroes in the Army in September, 1775. A committee consisting of Lynch, Lee and Adams reported a letter which they had drafted to Washington. Rutledge of South Carolina moved that Washington be instructed to discharge all Negroes whether slave or free from the army, but this was defeated. October 8th Washington and other generals in council of war, agreed unanimously that slaves should be rejected and a large majority declared that they refuse free Negroes. October 18th, the question came up again before the committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, General Washington, certain deputies, governors and others. This council agreed that Negroes should be rejected and Washington issued orders to this effect November 12th, 1775. Meantime, however, Dunmore’s proclamation came and his later success in raising a black regiment which greatly disturbed Washington. In July, 1776, the British had 200 Negro soldiers on Long Island and later two regiments of Negroes were raised by the British in North Carolina. The South lost thousands of Negroes through the British. In Georgia a corps of fugitives calling themselves the “King of England Soldiers” kept attacking on both sides of the Savannah River even after the Revolution and many feared a general insurrection of slaves.

The colonists soon began to change their attitude. Late in 1775, Washington reversed his decision and ordered his recruiting officers to accept free Negroes who had already served in the army and laid the matter before the Continental Congress. The Committee recommended that these Negroes be reenlisted but no others. Various leaders advised that it would be better to enlist the slaves, among them Samuel Hopkins, Alexander Hamilton, General Greene, James Madison. Even John Laurens of South Carolina tried to make the South accept the proposition.[5]

Thus Negroes again were received into the American army and from that time on they played important roles. They had already distinguished themselves in individual cases at Bunker Hill. For instance, fourteen white officers sent the following statement to the Massachusetts Legislature on December 5, 1775: “The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honorable House (which we do in justice to the character of so brave a man) that under our own observation we declare that a Negro man named Salem Poor, of Colonel Frye’s regiment, Captain Ames’ company, in the late battle at Charlestown, behaved like an experienced officer as well as an excellent soldier. To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious. We only beg leave to say, in the person of this said Negro, centers a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a character we submit to the Congress.”[6]

They afterward fought desperately in Long Island and at the battle of Monmouth. Foreign travellers continually note the presence of Negroes in the American army.

Less known however is the help which the black republic of Haiti offered to the struggling Colonists. In December 1778 Savannah was captured by the British, and Americans were in despair until the French fleet appeared on the coast of Georgia in September 1779. The fleet offered to help recapture Savannah. It had on board 1900 French troops of whom 800 were black Haitian volunteers. Among these volunteers were Christophe, afterward king of Haiti, Rigaud, Andre, Lambert and others. They were a significant and faithful band which began by helping freedom in America, then turned and through the French rev olution freed Haiti and finally helped in the emancipation of South America. The French troops landed below the city with the Americans at their right and together they made an attack. American and French flags were planted on the British outposts but their bearers were killed and a general retreat was finally ordered. Seven hundred and sixty Frenchmen and 312 Americans were killed and wounded. As the army began to retreat the British general attacked the rear, determined to annihilate the Americans. It was then that the black and mulatto freedmen from Haiti under the command of Viscount de Fontages made the charge on the English and saved the retreating Americans. They returned to Haiti to prepare eventually to make that country the second one in America which threw off the domination of Europe.[7]

Some idea of the number of Negro soldiers can be had by reference to documents mentioning the action of the States. Rhode Island raised a regiment of slaves, and Governor Cooke said that it was generally thought that at least 300 would enlist. Four companies were finally formed there at a cost of over £10,000. Most of the 629 slaves in New Hampshire enlisted and many of the 15,000 slaves in New York. Connecticut had Negroes in her regiments and also a regiment of colored soldiers. Maryland sought in 1781 to raise 750 Negro troops. Massachusetts had colored troops in her various units from 72 towns in that State. “In view of these numerous facts it is safe to conclude that there were at least 4,000 Negro soldiers scattered throughout the Continental Army.”[8]

In a debate in Congress in 1820 two men, one from the North and one from the South, gave the verdict of that time on the value of the Negro in the Revolutionary War. William Eustis of Massachusetts said: “The war over and peace restored, these men returned to their respective States, and who could have said to them on their return to civil life after having shed their blood in common with the whites in the defense of the liberties of the country, ‘You are not to participate in the rights secured by the struggle or in the liberty for which you have been fighting?’ Certainly no white man in Massachusetts.”

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina said: that the Negroes, “then were, as they still are, as valuable a part of our population to the Union as any other equal number of inhabitants. They were in numerous instances the pioneers and, in all, the laborers of your armies. To their hands were owing the erection of the greatest part of the fortifications raised for the protection of our country; some of which, particularly Fort Moultrie, gave at that early period of the inexperience and untried valor of our citizens, immortality to American arms: and, in the Northern States numerous bodies of them were enrolled into and fought by the sides of the whites, the battles of the Revolution.”[9]

In 1779 in the war between Spain and Great Britain, the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Galvez, had in his army which he led against the British, numbers of blacks and mulattoes who he said “behaved on all occasions with as much valor and generosity as the whites.”[10]

3. The War of 1812

In the War of 1812 the Negro appeared not only as soldier but particularly as sailor and in the dispute concerning the impressment of American sailors which was one of the causes of the war, Negro sailors repeatedly figured as seized by England and claimed as American citizens by America for whose rights the nation was apparently ready to go to war. For instance, on the Chesapeake were three Negro sailors whom the British claimed but whom the Americans declared were American citizens,—Ware, Martin and Strachen. As Bryant says: “The citizenship of Negroes was sought and defended by England and America at this time but a little later it was denied by the United States Supreme Court that Negroes could be citizens.” On demand two of these Negroes were returned to America by the British government; the other one died in England.

Negroes fought under Perry and Macdonough. On the high seas Negroes were fighting. Nathaniel Shaler, captain of a privateer, wrote to his agent in New York in 1813:

“Before I could get our light sails on and almost before I could turn around, I was under the guns, not of a transport but of a large frigate! And not more than a quarter of a mile from her. . . . . Her first broadside killed two men and wounded six others. . . . .My officers conducted themselves in a way that would have done honor to a more permanent service.The name of one of my poor fellows who was killed ought to be registered in the book of fame, and remembered with reverence as long as bravery is considered a virtue. He was a black man by the name of John Johnson. . . . .When America has such tars, she has little to fear from the tyrants of the ocean.”[11]

A few Negroes were in the northern armies. A Congressman said in 1828: “I myself saw a battalion of them—as fine martial looking men as I ever saw attached to the northern army in the last war (1812) on its march from Plattsburg to Sacketts Harbor where they did service for the country with credit to New York and honor to themselves.”[12]

But it was in the South that they furnished the most spectacular instance of participation in this war. Governor Claiborne appealed to General Jackson to use colored soldiers. “These men, Sir, for the most part, sustain good characters. Many of them have extensive connections and much property to defend, and all seem attached to arms. The mode of acting toward them at the present crisis, is an inquiry of importance. If we give them not our confidence, the enemy will be encouraged to intrigue and corrupt them.”[13]

September 21, 1814, Jackson issued a spirited appeal to the free Negroes of Louisiana: “Through a mistaken policy, you have heretofore been deprived of a participation in the glorious struggle for national rights in which our country is engaged. This no longer shall exist.

“As sons of freedom, you are now called upon to defend our most inestimable blessing. As Americans, your country looks with confidence to her adopted children for a valorous support as a faithful return for the advantages enjoyed under her mild and equitable government. As fathers, husbands and brothers, you are summoned to rally around the standard of the Eagle, to defend all which is dear in existence. . . . In the sincerity of a soldier and the language of truth I address you.”[14]

He promised them the same bounty as whites and they were to have colored non-commissioned officers. There was some attempt to have Jackson tone down this appeal and say less of “equality,” but he refused to change his first draft. The news of this proclamation created great surprise in the North but not much criticism. Indeed, things were going too badly for the Americans. The Capitol at Washington had been burned, the State of Maine was in British hands, enlistment had stopped and Northern States like New York were already arming Negroes. The Louisiana legislature, a month after Jackson’s proclamation, passed an act authorizing two regiments of “men of color” by voluntary enlistment. Slaves were allowed to enlist and were publicly manumitted for their services.

There were 3200 white and 430 colored soldiers in the battle of New Orleans. The first battalion of 280 Negroes was commanded by a white planter, La Coste; a second battalion of 150 was raised by Captain J. B. Savary, a colored man, from the San Dominican refugees, and commanded by Major Daquin who was probably a quadroon.

Besides these soldiers slaves were used in throwing up the famous cotton bale ramparts, which saved the city, and this was the idea of a black slave from Africa, who had seen the same thing done at home. Colored men were used to reconnoitre, and the slave trader Lafitte brought a mixed band of white and black fighters to help. Curiously enough there were also Negroes on the other side, Great Britain having imported a regiment from the West Indies which was at the head of the attacking column moving against Jackson’s right, together with an Irish regiment. Conceive this astounding anomaly!

The American Negro soldiers were stationed very near Jackson and his staff. Jackson himself in an address to the soldiers after the battle, complimenting the “embodied militia,” said:

“To the Men of Color.-—Soldiers! From the shores of Mobile I collected you to arms,—I invited you to share in the perils and to divide the glory of your white countrymen. I expected much from you; for I was not uninformed of those qualities which must render you so formidable to an invading foe.

I knew that you could endure hunger and thirst and all the hardships of war. I knew that you loved the land of your nativity and that, like ourselves, you had to defend all that is most dear to man. But you surpass my hopes. I have found in you, united to these qualities, that noble enthusiasm which impels to great deeds.”[15]

In the celebration of the victory which followed in the great public square, the Place d’Armes, now Jackson Square, the colored troops shared the glory and the wounded prisoners were met by colored nurses.[16]

4. The Civil War

There were a few Negroes in the Mexican War but they went mostly as body servants to white officers and there were probably no soldiers and certainly no distinct Negro organizations. The Negro, therefore, shares little of the blood guilt of that unhallowed raid for slave soil. At the time of the Civil War when the call came for volunteers free Negroes everywhere offered their services to the Northern States and everywhere their services were declined. Indeed, it was almost looked upon as insolence that they should offer to fight in this “white man’s war.”

Not only was the war to be fought by white men but desperate effort was made to cling to the technical fact that this was a war to save the Union and not a war against slavery. Federal officials and northern army officers made effort to reassure the South that they were not abolitionists and that they were not going to touch slavery.[17]

Meantime there began to crystallize the demand that the real object of the war be made the abolition of slavery and that the slaves and colored men in general be allowed to fight for freedom.

This met bitter opposition. The New York Herald voiced this August 5, 1862. “The efforts of those who love the Negro more than the Union to induce the President to swerve from his established policy are unavailing. He will neither be persuaded by promises nor intimidated by threats. Today he was called upon by two United States Senators and rather peremptorily requested to accept the services of two Negro regiments. They were flatly and unequivocally rejected. The President did not appreciate the necessity of employing the Negroes to fight the battles of the country and take the positions which the white men of the nation, the voters, and sons of patriotic sires, should be proud to occupy; there were employments in which the Negroes of rebel masters might well be engaged, but he was not willing to place them upon an equality with our volunteers who had left home and family and lucrative occupations to defend the Union and the Constitution while there were volunteers or militia enough in the loyal States to maintain the Government without resort to this expedient. If the loyal people were not satisfied with the policy he had adopted, he was willing to leave the administration to other hands. One of the Senators was impudent enough to tell the President he wished to God he would resign.”

In the spring of 1862 General Hunter was sent into South Carolina with less than 11,000 men and charged with the duty of holding the whole seacoast of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. He asked for re-enforcement but was told frankly from Washington, “Not a man from the North can be spared.” The only way to guard the position was to keep long lines of entrenchment thrown up against the enemy. General Hunter calmly announced his intention of forming a Negro regiment to help him. They were to be paid as laborers by the quartermaster but he expected eventually to have them recognized as soldiers by the government. At first he could find no officers. They were shocked at being asked to command “niggers.” Even non-commissioned officers were difficult to find. But eventually the regiment was formed and became an object of great curiosity when on parade. Reports of the first South Carolina infantry were sent to Washington but there was no reply. Then suddenly the matter came up in Congress and Hunter was ordered to explain whether he had enlisted fugitive slaves and upon what authority. Hunter immediately sent a sharp reply:

“To the first question, therefore, I reply: That no regiment of ‘fugitive slaves’ has been, or is being, organized in this department. There is, however, a fine regiment of loyal persons whose late masters are fugitive rebels—men who everywhere fly before the appearance of the National flag, leaving their loyal and unhappy servants behind them, to shift as best they can for themselves. So far, indeed, are the loyal persons composing the regiment from seeking to evade the presence of their late owners, that they are now one and all endeavoring with commendable zeal to acquire the drill and discipline requisite to place them in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their fugacious and traitorous proprietors.

“The experiment of arming the blacks, so far as I have made it, has been a complete and even marvellous success. They are sober, docile, attentive and enthusiastic, displaying great natural capacities in acquiring the duties of the soldier. They are now eager beyond all things to take the field and be led into action; and it is the unanimous opinion of the officers who have had charge of them, that in the peculiarities of this climate and country, they will prove invaluable auxiliaries, fully equal to the similar regiments so long and so successfully used by the British authorities in the West India Islands.

“In conclusion, I would say, it is my hope—there appearing no possibility of other reinforcements, owing to the exigencies of the campaign in the peninsula—to have organized by the end of next fall and to be able to present to the government from 48,000 to 50,000 of these hardy and devoted soldiers.[18]

The reply was read in Congress amid laughter despite the indignation of the Kentucky Congressman who instituted the inquiry.

Protests now came from the South but no answer was forthcoming and despite all the agita tion the regiment remained until at last Hunter was officially ordered to raise 50,000 black laborers of whom 5,000 might be armed and dressed as soldiers.

Horace Greeley stated the case clearly August 20, 1862 in his “Prayer of Twenty Million”:[19]

“On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested, determined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel that all attempts to put down the rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause are preposterous and futile—that the rebellion if crushed out tomorrow would be renewed within a year if slavery were left in full vigor—that army officers who remain to this day devoted to slavery can at best be but half-way loyal to the Union—and that every hour of deference to slavery is an hour of added and deepened peril to the Union. . . .

“I close as I began, with the statement that what an immense majority of the loyal millions of your countrymen require of you is a frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land, more especially of the Confiscation Act. That Act gives freedom to the slaves of rebels coming within our lines or whom those lines may at any time enclose,—we ask you to render it due obedience by publicly requiring all your subordinates to recognize and obey it. The rebels are everywhere using the late anti-Negro riots in the North—as they have long used your officers’ treatment of Negroes in the South—to convince the slaves that they have nothing to hope from a Union success—that we mean in that case to sell them into bitter bondage to defray the cost of the war. Let them impress this as a truth on the great mass of their ignorant and credulous bondsmen, and the Union will never be restored—never. We cannot conquer ten millions of people united in solid phalanx against us, powerfully aided by northern sympathizers and European allies. We must have scouts, guides, spies, cooks, teamsters, diggers and choppers from the blacks of the South—whether we allow them to fight for us or not—or we shall be baffled and repelled.”

A month later, September 22, Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. He had considered this step before and his final decision was caused, first, by a growing realization of the immense task that lay before the Union armies and, secondly, by the fear that Europe was going to recognize the Confederacy, since she saw as between North and South little difference in attitude toward slavery.

The effect of the step was undoubtedly decisive for ultimate victory, although at first it spread dismay. Six of the Northern States went Democratic in the fall elections and elsewhere the Republicans lost heavily. In the army some officers resigned and others threatened to because “The war for the Union was changed into a war for the Negro.’’

In the South men like Beauregard urged the raising of the “Black Flag’’ while Jefferson Davis in his third annual message wrote: “We may well leave it to the instincts of that common humanity which a beneficent Creator has implanted in the breasts of our fellowmen of all countries to pass judgment on a measure by which several millions of human beings of an inferior race, peaceful and contented laborers in their sphere, are doomed to extermination.’’[20]

With emancipation foreshadowed the full recognition of the Negro soldier was inevitable. In September 1862 came a black Infantry Regiment From Louisiana and later a regiment of heavy artillery and by the end of 1862 four Negro regiments had enlisted. Immediately after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation came the Kansas Colored volunteers and the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment. A Bureau was estab lished in Washington to handle the colored enlistments and before the end of the war 178,975 Negroes had enlisted.

“In the Department [of War] the actual number of Negroes enlisted was never known, from the fact that a practice prevailed of putting a live Negro in a dead one’s place. For instance, if a company on picket or scouting lost ten men, the officer would immediately put ten new men in their places and have them answer to the dead men’s names. I learn from very reliable sources that this was done in Virginia, also in Missouri and Tennessee. If the exact number of men could be ascertained, instead of 180,000 it would doubtless be in the neighborhood of 220,000 who entered the ranks of the army.”[21]

General orders covering the enlistment of Negro troops were sent out from the War Department October 13, 1863. The Union League in New York city raised 2,000 black soldiers in 45 days, although no bounty was offered them and no protection promised their families. The regiment had a triumphal march through the city and a daily paper stated: “In the month of July last the homes of these people were burned and pillaged by an infuriated political mob; they and their families were hunted down and murdered in the public streets of this city; and the force and majesty of the law were powerless to protect them. Seven brief months have passed and a thousand of these despised and persecuted men marched through the city in the garb of the United States soldiers, in vindication of their own manhood and with the approval of a countless multitude—in effect saving from inevitable and distasteful conscription the same number of those who hunted their persons and destroyed their homes during those days of humiliation and disgrace. This is noble vengeance—a vengeance taught by Him who commanded, ‘Love them that hate you; do good to them that persecute you.’ ”

The enlistment of Negroes caused difficulty and friction among the white troops. In South Carolina General Gilmore had to forbid the white troops using Negro troops for menial service in cleaning up the camps. Black soldiers in uniform often had their uniforms stripped off by white soldiers.

“I attempted to pass Jackson Square in New Orleans one day in my uniform when I was met by two white soldiers of the 24th Conn. They halted me and then ordered me to undress. I refused, when they seized me and began to tear my coat off. I resisted, but to no good purpose; a half dozen others came up and began to assist. I recognized a sergeant in the crowd, an old shipmate on board of a New Bedford, Mass., whaler; he came to my rescue, my clothing was restored and I was let go. It was nothing strange to see a black soldier à la Adam come into the barracks out of the streets.”[22] This conduct led to the killing of a portion of a boat’s crew of the U. S. Gunboat Jackson, at Ship Island, Miss., by members of a Negro regiment stationed there.

Then, too, there was contemptible discrimination in pay. While white soldiers received $13 a month and clothing, Negro soldiers, by act of Congress, were given $10 a month with $3 deducted for clothing, leaving only $7 a month as actual pay. This was only remedied when the 54th Massachusetts Infantry refused all pay for a year until it should be treated as other regiments. The State of Massachusetts made up the difference between the $7 and $13 to disabled soldiers until June 16, 1864, when the government finally made the Negroes’ pay equal to that of the whites.

On the Confederate side there was a movement to use Negro soldiers fostered by Judah Benjamin, General Lee and others. In 1861 a Negro company from Nashville offered its services to the Confederate states and free Negroes of Memphis were authorized by the Committee of Safety to organize a volunteer company. Companies of free Negroes were raised in New Orleans,—“Very well drilled and comfortably uniformed.” In Richmond colored troops were also raised in the last days. Few if any of these saw actual service. Plantation hands from Alabama built the redoubts at Charleston, and Negroes worked as teamsters and helpers throughout the South. In February, 1864, the Confederate congress provided for the impressment of 20,000 slaves for menial service, and President Davis suggested that the number be doubled and that they be emancipated at the end of their service. Before the war started local authorities had in many cases enrolled free Negroes as soldiers and some of these remained in the service of the Confederacy. The adjutant general of the Louisiana militia issued an order which said “the Governor and the Commander-in-Chief, relying implicitly upon the loyalty of the free colored population of the city and State, for the protection of their homes, their property and for southern rights, from the population of a ruthless invader, and believing that the military organization which existed prior to February 15, 1862, and elicited praise and respect for the patriotic motives which prompted it, should exist for and during the war, calls upon them to maintain their organization and hold themselves prepared for such orders as may be transmitted to them.” These native guards did not leave the city when the Confederates did and explained to General Butler that they dared not refuse to work with the Confederates and that they hoped by their service to gain greater equality with the whites and that they would be glad now to join the Union forces. Two weeks after the fall of Sumter colored volunteers passed through Georgia on their way to Virginia. There were 16 or more companies. In November, 1861, a regiment of 1,400 free colored men were in the line of march at New Orleans. The idea of calling the Negroes grew as the power of the Confederacy waned and the idea of emancipation as compensation spread. President Davis said “Should the alternative ever be presented of subjugation or of the employment of slaves as soldiers there seems no reason to doubt what should be our decision."

There was, of course, much difference of opinion. General Cobb said “If slaves make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong, while a Georgian replied “Some say that Negroes will not fight, I say they will fight. They fought at Ocean Pond, Honey Hill and other places. General Lee, in January ’64, gave as his opinion that they should employ them without delay. "I believe with proper regulations they may be made efficient soldiers." He continued, “Our chief aim should be to secure their fidelity. There have been formidable armies composed of men having no interest in the cause for which they fought beyond their pay or the hope of plunder. But it is certain that the surest foundation upon which the fidelity of an army can rest, especially in a service which imposes hardships and privations, is the personal interest of the soldier in the issue of the contest. Such an interest we can give our Negroes by giving immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully (whether they survive or not), together with the privilege of residing at the South. To this might be added a bounty for faithful service."

Finally, March 13, 1865, it was directed that slaves be enrolled in the Confederate army, each state to furnish its quota of 300,000. Recruiting officers were appointed, but before the plan could be carried out Lee and Johnson surrendered.[23]

The central fact which we forget in these days is that the real question in the minds of most white people in the United States in 1863 was whether or not the Negro really would fight. The generation then living had never heard of the Negro in the Revolution and in the War of 1812, much less of his struggles and insurrections before. From 1820 down to the time of the war a determined and far-reaching propaganda had led most men to believe in the natural inferiority, cowardice and degradation of the. Negro race. We have already seen Abraham Lincoln suggest that if arms were put into the hands of the Negro soldier it might be simply a method of arming the rebels. The New York Times discussed the matter soberly, defending the right to employ Negroes but suggesting four grounds which might make it inexpedient; that Negroes would not fight, that prejudice was so strong that whites would not fight with them, that no free Negroes would volunteer and that slaves could not be gotten hold of and that the use of Negroes would exasperate the South. “The very best thing that.can be done under existing circumstances, in our judgment, is to possess our souls in patience while the experiment is being tried. The problem will probably speedily solve itself—much more speedily than heated discussion or harsh criminations can solve it

This was in February 16, 1863. It was not long before the results of using Negro troops began to be reported and we find the Times saying editorially on the 31st of July: “Negro soldiers have now been in battle at Port Hudson and at Milliken’s Bend in Louisiana; at Helena in Arkansas, at Morris Island in South Carolina, and at or near Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory. In two of these instances they assaulted fortified positions and led the assault; in two they fought on the defensive, and in one they attacked rebel infantry. In all of them they acted in conjunction with white troops and under command of white officers. In some instances they acted with distinguished bravery, and in all they acted as well as could be expected of raw troops.”

On the 11th of February, 1863, the news columns of the Times were still more enthusiastic. “It will not need many such reports as this—and there have been several before it—to shake our inveterate Saxon prejudice against the capacity and courage of Negro troops. Everybody knows that they were used in the Revolution, and in the last war with Great Britain fought side by side with white troops, and won equal praises from Washington and Jackson. It is shown also that black sailors are on equal terms with their white comrades. If on the sea, why not on the land? No officer who has commanded black troops has yet reported against them. They are tried in the most unfavorable and difficult circumstances, but never fail. When shall we learn to use the full strength of the formidable ally who is only waiting for a summons to rally under the flag of the Union? Colonel Higginson says: ‘No officer in this regiment now doubts that the successful prosecution of this war lies in the unlimited employment of black troops.’ The remark is true in a military sense, and it has a still deeper political significance.

“When General Hunter has scattered 50,000 muskets among the Negroes of the Carolinas, and General Butler has organized the 100,000 or 200,000 blacks for whom he may perhaps shortly carry arms to New Orleans, the possibility of restoring the Union as it was, with slavery again its dormant power, will be seen to have finally passed away. The Negro is indeed the key to success.”

The Negroes began to fight and fight hard; but their own and peculiar characteristics stood out even in the blood of war. A Pennsylvania Major wrote home: “I find that these colored men learn everything that pertains to the duties of a soldier much faster than any white soldiers I have ever seen . . . They are willing, obedient, and cheerful; move with agility, and are full of music.”[24]

Certain battles, carnivals of blood, stand out and despite their horror must not be forgotten. One of the earliest encounters was the terrible massacre at Fort Pillow, April 18, 1863. The fort was held with a garrison of 557 men, of whom 262 were colored soldiers of the 6th United States Heavy Artillery. The Union commander refused to surrender.

“Upon receiving the refusal of Major Booth to capitulate, Forrest gave a signal and his troops made a frantic charge upon the fort. It was received gallantly and resisted stubbornly, but there was no use of fighting. In ten minutes the enemy, assaulting the fort in the centre, and striking it on the flanks, swept in. The Federal troops surrendered; but an indiscriminate massacre followed. Men were shot down in their tracks; pinioned to the ground with bayonet and sabre. Some were clubbed to death while dying of wounds; others were made to get down upon their knees, in which condition they were shot to death. Some were burned alive, having been fastened into the buildings, while still others were nailed against the houses, tortured and then burned to a crisp.”[25]

May 27, 1863, came the battle of Port Hudson. “Hearing the firing apparently more fierce and continuous to the right than anywhere else, I turned in that direction, past the sugar house of Colonel Chambers, where I had slept, and advanced to near the pontoon bridge across the Big Sandy Bayou, which the Negro regiments had erected, and where they were fighting most desperately. I had seen these brave and hitherto despised fellows the day before as I rode along the lines, and I had seen General Banks acknowledge their respectful salute as he would have done that of any white troops; but still the question was—with too many—‘Will they fight?’

“General Dwight, at least, must have had the idea, not only that they were men, but something more than men, from the terrific test to which he put their valor. Before any impression had been made upon the earthworks of the enemy, and in full face of the batteries belching forth their 62 pounders, these devoted people rushed forward to encounter grape, canister, shell, and musketry, with no artillery but two small howitzers—that seemed mere popguns to their adversaries—and no reserve whatever. “Their force consisted of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (with colored field officers) under Lieutenant-Colonel Bassett, and the 3d Louisiana Native Guards, Colonel Nelson (with white field officers), the whole under command of the latter officer.

“On going into action they were 1,080 strong, and formed into four lines, Lieutenant-Colonel Bassett, 1st Louisiana, forming the first line, and Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Finnegas the second. When ordered to charge up the works, they did so with the skill and nerve of old veterans (black people, be it remembered who had never been in action before). Oh, but the fire from the rebel guns was so terrible upon the unprotected masses, that the first few shots mowed them down like grass and so continued.

“Colonel Bassett being driven back, Colonel Finnegas took his place, and his men being similarly cut to pieces, Lieutenant-Colonel Bassett reformed and recommenced; and thus these brave people went in from morning until 3:30 P. M., under the most hideous carnage that men ever had to withstand, and that very few white ones would have had nerve to encounter, even if ordered to.

“During this time, they rallied, and were ordered to make six distinct charges, losing 37 killed, and 155 wounded, and 116 missing,—the majority, if not all, of these being, in all probability, now lying dead on the gory field, and without the rites of sepulture; for when, by flag of truce, our forces in other directions were permitted to reclaim their dead, the benefit, through some neglect, was not extended to these black regiments.

“The deeds of heroism performed by these colored men were such as the proudest white men might emulate. Their colors are torn to pieces by shot and literally bespattered by blood and brains. The color-sergeant of the 1st Louisiana, on being mortally wounded, hugged the colors to his breast, when a struggle ensued between the two color-corporals on each side of him, as to who should have the honor of bearing the sacred standard, and during this generous contention one was seriously wounded. One black lieutenant actually mounted the enemy’s works three or four times, and in one charge the assaulting party came within fifty paces of them. Indeed, if only ordinarily supported by artillery and reserve, no one can convince us that they would not have opened a passage through the enemy’s works.

“Captain Callioux of the 1st Louisiana, a man so black that he actually prided himself upon his blackness, died the death of a hero, leading on his men in the thickest of the fight.”[26]

In July 13, 1863, came the draft riot in New York when the daily papers told the people that they were called upon to fight the battles of “niggers and abolitionists,” when the governor did nothing but “request” the rioters to await the report of his demand that the President suspend the draft. Meantime the city was given over to rapine and murder, property destroyed, Negroes killed and the colored orphans’ asylum burned to the ground and property robbed and pillaged.

At that very time in South Carolina black soldiers were preparing to take Fort Wagner, their greatest battle. It will be noted that continually Negroes were called upon to rescue lost causes, many times as a sort of deliberate test of their courage. Fort Wagner was a case in point. The story may be told from two points of view, that of the white Unionist and that of the Confederate. The Union account says:

“The signal given, our forces advanced rapidly towards the fort, while our mortars in the rear tossed their bombs over their heads. The 54th Massachusetts (a Negro Regiment) led the attack, supported by the 6th Connecticut, 48th New York, 3rd New Hampshire, 76th Pennsylvania, and the 9th Maine Regiments…. The silent and shattered walls of Wagner all at once burst forth into a blinding sheet of vivid light, as though they had suddenly been transformed by some magic power into the living, seething crater of a volcano! Down came the whirlwind of destruction along the beach with the swiftness of lightning! How fearfully the hissing shot, the shrieking bombs, the whistling bars of iron, and the whispering bullet struck and crushed through the dense masses of our brave men! I never shall forget the terrible sound of that awful blast of death, which swept down, shattered or dead, a thousand of our men. Not a shot had missed its aim. Every bolt of steel, every globe of iron and lead, tasted of human blood. . .

"In a moment the column recovered itself, like a gallant ship at sea when buried for an instant under the immense wave.

"The ditch is reached; a thousand men leap into it, clamber up the shattered ramparts, and grapple with the foe, which yields and falls back to the rear of the fort. Our men swarm over the walls, bayoneting the desperate rebel cannoneers. Hurrah! the fort is ours!

“But now came another blinding blast from concealed guns in the rear the fort, and our men went down by scores. . . . The struggle is terrific. Our supports hurry up to the aid of their comrades, but as they reach the ramparts they fire a volley which strikes down many of our men. Fatal mistake! Our men rally once more; but, in spite of an heroic resistance, they are forced back again to the edge of the ditch. Here the brave Shaw, with scores of his black warriors, went down, fighting desperately.”

When asking for the body of Colonel Shaw, a confederate major said: “We have buried him with his niggers.”

The Confederate account is equally eloquent.

“The carnage was frightful. It is believed the Federals lost more men on that eventful night than twice the entire strength of the Confederate garrison. . . . According to the statement of Chaplain Dennison the assaulting columns, in two brigades, commanded by General Strong and Colonel Putnam (the division under General Seymour), consisted of the 54th Massachusetts, 3rd and 7th New Hampshire, 6th Connecticut and 100th New York, with a reserve brigade commanded by General Stephenson. One of the assaulting regiments was composed of Negroes (the 54th Massachusetts) and to it was assigned the honor of leading the white columns to the charge. It was a dearly purchased compliment. Their Colonel (Shaw) was killed upon the parapet and the regiment almost annihilated, although the Confederates in the darkness could not tell the color of their assailants."[27]

At last it was seen that Negro troops could do more than useless or helpless or impossible tasks, and in the siege of Petersburg they were put to important work. When the general attack was ordered on the 16th of June, 1864, a division of black troops was used. The Secretary of War, Stanton himself, saw them and said:

"The hardest fighting was done by the black troops. The forts they stormed were the worst of all. After the affair was over General Smith went to thank them, and tell them he was proud of their courage and dash. He says they cannot be exceeded as soldiers, and that hereafter he will send them in a difficult place as readily as the best white troops."[28]

It was planned to send the colored troops under Burnside against the enemy after the great mine was exploded. Inspecting officers reported to Burnside that the black division was fitted for this perilous work. The white division which was sent made a fiasco of it. Then, after all had been lost Burnside was ready to send in his black division and though they charged again and again they were repulsed and the Union lost over 4,000 men killed, wounded and captured.

All the officers of the colored troops in the Civil War were not white. From the first there were many colored non-commissioned officers, and the Louisiana regiments raised under Butler had 66 colored officers, including one Major and 27 Captains, besides the full quota of non-commissioned colored officers.

In the Massachusetts colored troops there were 10 commissioned Negro officers and 3 among the Kansas troop. Among these officers was a Lieutenant-Colonel Reed of North Carolina, who was killed in battle. In Kansas there was Captain H. F. Douglas, and in other United States’ volunteer regiments were Major M. H. Delaney and Captain O. S. B. Wall; Dr. A. T. Augusta, surgeon, was brevetted Lieutenant-Colonel. The losses of Negro troops in the Civil War, killed, wounded and missing has been placed at 68,178.

Such was the service of the Negro in the Civil War. Men say that the nation gave them freedom, but the verdict of history is written on the Shaw monument at the head of Boston Common:

The White Officers

Taking Life and Honor in their Hands—Cast their lot with Men of a Despised Race Unproved in War— and Risked Death as Inciters of a Servile Insurrection if Taken Prisoners, Besides Encountering all the Common Perils of Camp, March, and Battle.

The Black Rank and File

Volunteered when Disaster Clouded the Union Cause—Served without Pay for Eighteen Months till Given that of White Troops—Faced Threatened Enslavement if Captured—Were Brave in Action—Patient under Dangerous and Heavy Labors and Cheerful amid Hardships and Privations.


They Gave to the Nation Undying Proof that Americans of African Descent Possess the Pride, Courage, and Devotion of the Patriot Soldier—One Hundred and Eighty Thousand Such Americans Enlisted Under the Union Flag in MDCCCLXIII-MDCCCLXV.

5. The War in Cuba

In the Spanish-American War four Negro regiments were among the first to be ordered to the front. They were the regular army regiments, 24th and 25th Infantry, and the 9th and 10th Cavalry. President McKinley recommended that new regiments of regular army troops be formed among Negroes but Congress took no action. Colored troops with colored officers were formed as follows: The 3rd North Carolina, the 8th Illinois, the 9th Battalion, Ohio and the 23rd Kansas. Regiments known as the Immunes, being immune to Yellow fever, were formed with colored lieutenants and white captains and field officers, and called the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th United States Volunteers. In addition to those there were the 6th Virginia with colored lieutenants and the 3rd Alabama with white officers. Indiana had two companies attached to the 8th Immunes. None of the Negro volunteer companies reached the front in time to take part in battle. The 8th Illinois formed a part of the Army of Occupation and was noted for its policing and cleaning up of Santiago. Colonel John R. Marshall, commanding the 8th Illinois, and Major Charles Young, a regular army commander, both colored, were in charge of the battalion.

The colored regular army regiments took a brilliant part in the war. The first regiment ordered to the front was the 24th Infantry. Negro soldiers were in the battles around Santiago. The Tenth Cavalry made an effective attack at Las Quasimas and at El Caney on July 1 they saved Roosevelt's Rough Riders from annihilation. The 24th Infantry volunteered in the Yellow fever epidemic and cleaned the camp in one day. Review of Reviews says: “One of the most gratifying incidents of the Spanish War has been the enthusiassm that the colored regiments of the regular army have aroused throughout the whole country. Their fighting at Santiago was magnificent. The Negro soldiers showed excellent discipline, the highest qualities of personal bravery, very superior physical endurance, unfailing good temper, and the most generous disposition toward all comrades-in-arms, whether white or black. Roosevelt's Rough Riders have come back singing the praises of the colored troops. There is not a dissenting voice in the chorus of praise…. Men who can fight for their country as did these colored troops ought to have their full share of gratitude and honor.”

6. Carrizal

In 1916 the United States sent a punitive expedition under General Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of the Villa forces which had raided Columbus, New Mexico. Two Negro regiments, the 10th Cavalry and the 24th Infantry, were a part of his expedition. On June, 21, Troop C and K of the Ioth Cavalry were ambushed at Carrizal by some 700 Mexican soldiers. Although outnumbered almost ten to one, these black soldiers dismounted in the face of a withering machine-gun fire, deployed, charged the Mexicans and killed their commander.

This handful of men fought on until, of the three officers commanding them, two were killed and one was badly wounded. Seventeen of the men were killed and twenty-three were made prisoners. One of the many outstanding heroes of this memorable engagement was Peter Bigstaff, who fought to the last beside his commander, Lieutenant Adair. A Southern white man, with no love for blacks, wrote:

“The black trooper might have faltered and fled a dozen times, saving his own life and leaving Adair to fight alone. But it never seemed to occur to him. He was a comrade to the last blow. When Adair’s broken revolver fell from his hand the black trooper pressed another into it, and together, shouting in defiance, they thinned the swooping circle of overwhelming odds before them.

“The black man fought in the deadly shambles side by side with the white man, following always, fighting always as his lieutenant fought.

“And finally, when Adair, literally shot to pieces, fell in his tracks, his last command to his black trooper was to leave him and save his life. Even then the heroic Negro paused in the midst of that Hell of carnage for a final service to his officer. Bearing a charmed life, he had fought his way out. He saw that Adair had fallen with his head in the water. With superb loyalty the black trooper turned and went back to the maelstrom of death, lifted the head of his superior, leaned him against a tree and left him there dead with dignity when it was impossible to serve any more.

"There is not a finer piece of soldierly devotion and heroic comradeship in the history of modern warfare than that of Henry Adair and the black trooper who fought by him at Carrizal."[29]

7. The World War

Finally we come to the World War the history of which is not yet written. At first and until the United States entered the war the Negro figured as a laborer and a great exodus took place from the South as we have already noted. Some effort was made to keep the Negro from the draft but finally he was called and although constituting less than a tenth of the population he furnished 13% of the soldiers called to the colors. The registry for the draft had insulting color discriminations and determined effort was made to confine Negroes to stevedore and labor regiments under white officers. Most of the Negro draftees were thus sent to the Service of Supplies where they were largely under illiterate whites and suffered greatly. Finally a camp for training Negro officers was established and nearly 700 Negroes commissioned, none of them, however, above the rank of captain; Charles Young, the highest ranking Negro graduate of West Point and one of the best officers in the army was kept from the front, because being already a colonel with a distinguished record he would surely have become a general if sent to France.

Two Negro divisions were planned, the 92nd and the 93rd. The 93rd was to be composed of the Negro National Guard regiments all of whom had some and one all Negro officers. The latter division was never organized as a complete division but four of its regiments were sent to France and encountered bitter discrimination from the Americans on account of their Negro officers. They were eventually brigaded with the French and saw some of the hardest fighting of the war in the final drive toward Sedan. They were cited in General Orders as follows by General Goybet:[30]

"In transmitting to you with legitimate pride the thanks and congratulations of the General Garnier Duplessis, allow me, my dear friends of all ranks, Americans and French, to thank you from the bottom of my heart as a chief and a soldier for the expression of gratitude for the glory which you have lent our good 157th Division. I had full confidence in you but you have surpassed my hopes.

"During these nine days of hard fighting you have progressed nine kilometers through powerful organized defenses, taken nearly 600 prisoners, 15 guns of different calibers, 20 minnewerfers, and nearly 150 machine guns, secured an enormous amount of engineering material, an important supply of artillery ammunition, brought down by your fire three enemy aeroplanes.

"Your troops have been admirable in their attack. You must be proud of the courage of your officers and men; and I consider it an honor to have them under my command.

"The bravery and dash of your regiment won the admiration of the 2nd Moroccan Division who are them- selves versed in warfare. Thanks to you, during those hard days, the Division was at all times in advance of all other divisions of the Army Corps. I am sending you all my thanks and beg you to transmit them to your subordinates.

"I called on your wounded. Their morale is higher than any praise.


The 92nd Division encountered difficulties in organization and was never assembled as a Division until it arrived in France. There it was finally gotten in shape and took a small part in the Argonne offensive and in the fight just pre ceding the armistice. Their Commanding General said:[31]

“Five months ago today the 92nd Division landed in France.

"After seven weeks of training, it took over a sector in the front line, and since that time some portion of the Division has been practically continuously under fire.

"It participated in the last battle of the war with creditable success, continuously pressing the attack against highly organized defensive works. It advanced successfully on the first day of the battle, attaining its objectives and capturing prisoners. This in the face of determined opposition by an alert enemy, and against rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire. The issue of the second day's battle was rendered indecisive by the order to cease firing at eleven A. M.—when the armistice became effective."

With the small chance thus afforded Negro troops nevertheless made a splendid record and especially those under Negro officers. If they had had larger opportunity and less organized prejudice they would have done much more. Perhaps their greatest credit is from the fact that they withstood so bravely and uncomplainingly the barrage of hatred and offensive prejudice aimed against them. The young Negro officers especially made a splendid record as to thinking, guiding leaders of an oppressed group.

Thus has the black man defended America from the beginning to the World War. To him our independence from Europe and slavery is in no small degree due.

  1. Alice Dunbar Nelson, Journal of Negro History, Vol. I, pp. 369, 370, 371-
  2. Cf. Livermore, Opinion of the Founders of the Republic, etc., part 2; Journal of Negro History, Vol. i p. 198ff.
  3. G. H. Moore, Historical Notes, etc., N. Y., 1862.
  4. Livermore, pp. 115-16.
  5. Cf. Livermore and Moore as above; also Journal of Negro History, Vol. 1, pp. 114-20.
  6. Livermore, p. 122. See also the account of Peter Salem, do., pp. 118-21.
  7. T. G. Steward, in Publications American Negro Academy, No. 5, p. 12
  8. W. B. Hartgrove, Journal of Negro History, Vol. I, pp. 125-9.
  9. Wilson, Black Phalanx, p. 71.
  10. Journal of Negro History, Vol. I, pp. 373-4; Gayarre’s History of Louisiana, Vol. 3, p. 108.
  11. Niles’ Register, Feb. 26, 1814.
  12. Wilson, Black Phalanx, p. 88.
  13. Alice Dunbar-Nelson in Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, p. 58.
  14. Niles’ Register, Vol. 7, p. 205.
  15. Niles’ Register, Vol. 7, pp. 345-6.
  16. Dunbar-Nelson in Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, pp. 59-60.
  17. Williams, Negro Race In America, Vol. 2, pp. 244ff
  18. Williams, Negro Race in America Vol. 2, pp. 280-82.
  19. New York Tribune Aug. 19, 1862.
  20. Williams, Vol. 2, p. 271.
  21. Wilson, p. 123.
  22. Wilson, p. 132.
  23. Wesley, in Journal of Negro History, Vol. 4, PP. 239ff.
  24. New York Tribune, Nov. 14, 1863; Williams, Vol. 2, p. 347.
  25. Williams, Vol. 2, p. 360.
  26. New York Times, June 13, 1863.
  27. Wilson, pp. 250-54.
  28. Williams, Vol. 2, p. 338.
  29. John Temple Graves in Review of Reviews.
  30. MS. Copies of orders.
  31. MS. Copies of orders.