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History & Genealogy


A History of the

in the Wars of
1775-1812, 1861-'65,
Joseph T. Wilson
Late of the 2nd Reg't. La. Native Guard Vols. 54th Mass. Vols.
Aide-De-camp to the Commander-In-Chief G. A. R.
Author of
"Emancipation," "Voice of a New Race,"  "Twenty-Two Years of Freedom," etc., etc.
56 Illustrations
Hartford, Conn.:
American Publishing Company


pg. 93

     It seems proper, before attempting to record the achievements of the negro soldiers in the war of the Rebellion, that we should consider the state of public opinion regarding the negroes at the outbreak of the war; also, in connection therewith, to note the rapid change that took place during the early part of the struggle.
     For some cause, unexplained in a general sense, the white people in the Colonies and in the States, came to entertain against the colored races therein a prejudice, that showed itself in a hostility to the latter's enjoying equal civil and political rights with themselves.  Various reasons are alleged for it, but the difficulty of really solving the problem lies in the fact that the early settlers in this country came without prejudice against color.  The Negro, Egyptian, Arab, and other colored races known to them, lived in European countries, where no prejudice, on account of color existed.  How very strange then, that a feeling antagonistic to the negroes should become a prominent feature in the character of the European emigrants to these shores and their descendants.  It has been held by some writers that the American prejudice against the negroes was occasioned by their docility and unresenting spirit.  Surely no one acquainted with the Indian will agree that he is docile or wanting in spirit, yet occasion ally there is manifested a prejudice against him; the recruiting officers in Massachusetts refused to enlist Indians, as well as negroes, in regiments and companies made up of white citizens, though members of both races, could sometimes be found in white regiments.  During the

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rebellion of 1861-5, some Western regiments had one or two negroes and Indians in them, but there was no general enlistment of either race in white regiments.*  The objection was on account of color, or, as some writers claim, by the fact of the races—negro and Indian—having been enslaved.  Be the cause what it may, a prejudice, strong, unrelenting, barred the two races from enjoying with the white race equal civil and political rights in the United States.  So very strong had that prejudice grown since the Revolution, enhanced it may be by slavery and docility, that when the rebellion of 1861 burst forth, a feeling stronger than law, like a Chinese wall only more impregnable, encircled the negro, and formed a barrier betwixt him and the army.  Doubtless peace—a long peace—lent its aid materially to this state of affairs.  Wealth, chiefly, was the dream of the American from 1815 to 1860, nearly half a century; a period in which the negro was friendless, save in a few strong-minded, iron-hearted men like John Brown in Kansas. Wendell Philips in New England, Charles Sumner in the United States Senate, Horace Greeley in New York and a few others, who dared, in the face of strong public sentiment, to plead his cause, even from a humane platform.  In many places he could not ride in a street car that was not inscribed,  "Colored persons ride in this car."  The deck of a steamboat, the box cars of the railroad, the pit of the theatre and the gallery of the church, were the locations accorded him.  The church lent its influence to the rancor and bitterness of a prejudice as deadly as the sap of the Upas.
     To describe public opinion respecting the negro a half a century ago, is no easy task. It was just budding into

     *I arrived in New York in August, 1862. from Valparaiso, Chili. on the steamship "Bio-Bio," of Boston, and in company with two Spaniards, neither of whom could speak English, enlisted in a New York regiment.  We were sent to the rendezvous on one of the islands in the harbor.  The third day after we arrived at the barracks.  I was sent with one of my companions to carry water to the cook, an aged negro, who immediately recognized me, and in such a way as to attract the attention of the corporal, who reported the matter to the commanding officer, and before I could give the cook the hint, he was examined by the officer of the day.  At noon I was accompanied by a guard of honor to the launch, which landed me in New York.  I was a negro, that was all; how it was accounted for on the rolls I cannot say. I was honorably discharged, however, without receiving a certificate to that effect.

     The Indians referred to are many of those civilized and living as citizens  In the several .States of the Union.

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maturity when DeTocqueville visited the United States, and, as a result of that visit, he wrote, from observation, a pointed criticism upon the manners and customs, and the laws of the people of the United States.  For fear that I might be thought over-doing—heightening—giving too much coloring to the strength, and extent and power of the prejudice against the negro I quote from that distinguished writer, as he clearly expressed himself under the heading, "Present and Future condition of the three races inhabiting the United States."  He said of the negro:
     I see that in a certain portion of the United States at the present day, the legal barrier which separates the two races is tending to fall away, but not that which exists in the manners of the country.  Slavery recedes, but the prejudice to which it has given birth remains stationary.  Whosoever has inhabited the United States, must have perceived, that in those parts of the United States, in which the negroes are no longer slaves, they have in nowise drawn nearer the whites; on the contrary,
the prejudice of the race appears to be stronger in those States which have abolished slavery, than in those where it still exists.  And, nowhere is it so intolerant as in the states where servitude has never been known.  It is true, that in the North of the Union, marriages may be legally contracted between negroes and whites, but public opinion would stigmatize a man, who should content himself with a negress, as infamous.  If oppressed, they may bring an action at law, but they will find none but whites among their judges, and although they may legally serve as jurors, prejudice repulses them for that office.  In theatres gold cannot procure a seat for the servile race beside their former masters, in hospitals they lie apart.  They are allowed to invoke; the same divinity as the whites.  The gates of heaven are not closed against those unhappy beings; but their inferiority is continued to the very confines of the other world.  The negro is free, but he can share, neither the rights, nor the labor, nor the afflictions of him, whose equal he has been declared to be, and he cannot meet him upon fair terms in life or death."

     DeTocqueville, as is seen, wrote with much bitterness and sarcasm, and, it is but fair to state, makes no alluusion
to any exceptions to the various conditions of affairs that he mentions.  In all cases matters might not have been exactly as bad as he pictures them, but as far as the deep-seated prejudice against the negroes, and indifference to their rights and elevation are concerned, the facts will freely sustain the views so forcibly presented.
     The negro had no remembrance of the country of his

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ancestry, Africa, and he abjured their religion.  In the South he had no family; women were merely the temporary sharer of his pleasures; his master's cabins were the homes of his children during their childhood.  While the Indian perished in the struggle for the preservation of his home, his hunting grounds and his freedom, the negro entered into slavery as soon as he was born, in fact was often purchased in the womb, and was born to know, first, that he was a slave.  If one became free, he found freedom harder to bear than slavery; half civilized, deprived of nearly all rights, in contact with his superiors in wealth and knowledge, exposed to the rigor of a tyrannical prejudice moulded into laws, he contented himself to be allowed to live.
     The Negro race, however, it must be remembered, is the only race that has ever come in contact with the European race, and been able to withstand its atrocities and oppression; all others, like the Indian, whom they could not make subservient to their use, they have destroyed.  The Negro race, like the Israelites, multiplied so rapidly in bondage, that the oppressor became alarmed, and began discussing methods of safety to himself.  The only people able to cope with the Anglo-American or Saxon, with any show of success, must be of patient fortitude, progressive intelligence, brave in resentment and earnest in endeavor.
     In spite of his surroundings and state of public opinion the African lived, and gave birth, largely through amalgamation with the representatives of the different races that inhabited the United States, to a new race,—the American Negro.  Professor Sampson in his mixed races says:
     "The Negro is a now race, and is not the direct descent of any people that have ever flourished.  The glory of the negro race is yet to come."
     As evidence of its capacity to acquire glory, the record made in the late struggle furnishes abundant proof.  At the sound of the tocsin at the North, negro waiter, cook, barber, boot-black, groom, porter and laborer stood ready at the enlisting office; and though the recruiting officer refused to list his name, he waited like the "patient ox" for the partition-prejudice-to be removed.  He waited

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WILLIAM MORRISON, (sailor), A. GRADINE, (Engineer),
JOHN SMALLS, (sailor).
Four of the crew who. while the white officers were ashore in Charleston. S. C. ran off with the Confederate war steamer.  " Planter," passed Fort Sumter and delivered the vessel to the United States authorities.  On account of the during exploit a special act of Congress was passed ordering one-half the value of the captured vessel to be invested in V. S. bonds, and the interest thereof to be annually paid them or their heirs.  Robert Small- joined the Union army, and after the war became active and prominent in politics.

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two years before even the door of the partition was opened; then he did not hesitate, but walked in, and with what effect the world knows.
     The war cloud of 1860 still more aroused the bitter prejudice against the negro at both the North and South; but he was safer in South Carolina than in New York, in Richmond than in Boston.
     It is a natural consequence, when war is waged between two nations, for those on either side to forget local feuds and unite against the common enemy, as was done in the Revolutionary war.  How different was the situation now when the threatened war was not one between nations, but between states of the same nation.  The feeling of hostility toward the negro was not put aside and forgotten as other troublesome matters were, but the bitterness became intensified and more marked.
     The Confederate Government though organized for the perpetual enslavement of the negro, fostered the idea that the docility of the negroes would allow them to be used for any purpose, without their having the least idea of becoming freemen.  Some idea may be formed of public opinion at the South at the beginning of the war by what Mr. Pollard, in his history, gives as the feeling at the South at the close of the second year of the struggle:

     "Indeed, the war had shown the system of slavery in the South to the world in some new and striking aspects, and had removed much of that cloud of prejudice, defamation, falsehood, romance and perverse sentimentalism through which our peculiar institution had been formerly known to Europe.  It had given a better vindication of our system of
slavery than all the books that could be written in a generation.  It had shown that slavery was an element of strength to us; that it had assisted us in our struggle; that no servile insurrections had taken place in the South, in spite of the allurements of our enemy; that the slave had tilled the soil while his master had fought; that in large districts, unprotected by our troops, and with a white population, consisting almost exclusively of women and children, the slave had continued his work, quiet, faithful, and cheerful; and that, as a conservative element in our social system, the institution of slavery had withstood the shocks of war, and been a faithful ally of our army, although instigated to revolution by every art of the enemy, and prompted to the work of assassination and pillage by the most brutal examples of the Yankee soldiers."

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With this view, the whole slave population was brought to the assistance of the Confederate Government, and thereby caught the very first hope of freedom.  An innate reasoning taught the negro that slaves could not be relied upon to fight for their own enslavement.  To get to the breastworks was but to get a chance to run to the Yankees; and thousands of those whose elastic step kept time with the martial strains of the drum and fife, as they marched on through city and town, enroute to the front, were not elated with the hope of Southern success, but were buoyant with the prospects of reaching the North.   The confederates found it no easy task to watch the negroes and the Yankees too; their attention could be given to
but one at a time; as a slave expressed it, "when marsa watch the Yankee, nigger go; when marsa watch the nigger, Yankee come."  But the Yankees did not always receive him kindly during the first year of the war.
     In his first inaugural, Mr. Lincoln declared "that the property, peace and security of no section are to be in anywise endangered by the new incoming administration.."  The Union generals, except Fremont and Phelps and a few subordinates, accepted this as public opinion, and as their guide in dealing with the slavery question.  That opinion is better expressed in the doggerel, sung in after months by the negro troops as they marched along through Dixie:

     "McClellan went to Richmond with two hundred thousand braves,
     He said, 'keep buck the niggers and the Union he would save."
     Little Mac, he had his way, still the Union is in tears,
     And they call for the help of the colored volunteers."

     The first two lines expressed the sentiment at the time, not only of the Army of the Potomoc, but the army commanders everywhere, with the exceptions named.   The administration winked at the enforcement of the fugitive slave bill by the soldiers engaged in capturing and returning the negroes coming into the Union lines.*  Undoubted ly it was the idea of the Government to turn the course of the war from its rightful channel, or in other words,—in

     * See Appendix. "A."

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the restoration of the Union,—to eliminate the anti-slavery sentiment, which demanded the freedom of the slaves.
     Hon. Elisha R. Potter, of Rhode Island,—"who may," said Mr. Greeley, "be fairly styled the hereditary chief of the Democratic party of that State,"—made a speech on the war in the State Senate, on the 10th of August 1861, in which he remarked:

     I have said that the war may assume another aspect, and be a short and bloody one. And to such a war—an anti-slavery nap—it seems to me we are inevitably drifting.  It seems to me hardly in the power of human wisdom to prevent it.  We may commence the war without meaning to interfere with slavery; but let us have one or two battles, and get our blood excited, and we shall not only not restore any more slaves, but shall proclaim freedom wherever we go.  And it seems to me almost judicial blindness on the part of the South that they do not see that this must be the inevitable result, if the contest is prolonged."

     This sentiment became bolder daily as the thinking Union men viewed the army turning aside from its legitimate purposes, to catch runaway negroes, and return them.  Party lines were also giving away; men in the army began to realize the worth of the negroes as they sallied up to the rebel breastworks that were often impregnable.  They began to complain, finding the negro with his pick and spade, a greater hinderance to their progress than the cannon balls of the enemy ; and more than one said to the confederates, when the pickets of the two armies picnicked together in the battle's lull, as frequently they did: "We can whip you, if you keep your negroes out of your army."
     Quite a different course was pursued in the navy.  Negroes were readily accepted all along the coast on board the war vessels, it being no departure from the regular and established practice in the service.  The view with which the loyal friends of the Union began to look at the negro and the rebellion, was aptly illustrated in an article in the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser in 1801, which said:

     "The Slaves as a MILITARY ELEMENT IN THE SOUTH.—The total white population of the eleven States now comprising the Confederacy is 6,000,000, and, therefore, to fill up the ranks of the proposed army (600,000) about ten per cent of the entire white population will be

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required. In any other country than our own such a draft could not be met, but the Southern States can furnish that number of men, and still not leave the material interests of the country in a suffering condition.  Those who are incapacitated for bearing arms can oversee the plantations, and the negroes can go on undisturbed in their usual labors.  In the North the case is different; the men who join the army of subjugation are the laborers, the producers, and the factory operatives.  Nearly every man from that section, especially those from the rural districts, leaves some branch of industry to suffer during his absence.  The institution of slavery in the South alone enables her to place in the field a force much larger in proportion to her white population than the North, or indeed any country which is dependent entirely on free labor.  The institution is a tower of strength to the South, particularly at the present crisis, and our enemies will be likely to find that the 'moral cancer' about which their orators are so fond of prating, is really one of the most effective weapons employed against the Union by the South.  Whatever number of men may be needed for this war, we are confident our people stand ready to furnish.  We are all enlisted for the war, and there must be no holding back until. the independence of the South is fully acknowledged."

     The facts already noted became apparent to the nation very soon, and then came a, change of procedure, and the war began to be prosecuted upon quite a different policy.  Gen. McClellan, whose loyalty to the new policy was doubted, was removed from the command of the Army of
the Potomac, and slave catching ceased.  The XXXVII Congress convened in Dec. 1861, in its second session, and passed the following additional article of war:

     "All officers are prohibited from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor who may have escaped from any persons to whom such service or labor is claimed to be due. Any officer who shall be found guilty by courtrmartial of violating this article shall be dismissed from the service."

     This was the initatory measure of the new policy, which progressed to its fulfillment rapidly.  And then what Mr. Cameron, Secretary of War, had recommended in December. 1861, and to which the President objected, very soon developed, through a series of enactments, in the arming of the negro; in which the loyal people of the whole country acquiesced, save the border states people, who fiercely opposed it as is shown in the conduct of Mr.

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Wickliffe, of Kentucky; Salisbury, of Delaware, and others in Congress.
     Public opinion was now changed, Congress had prohibited the surrender of negroes to the rebels, the President issued his Emancipation Proclamation, and more than 150,000 negroes were fighting for the Union.  The Republican party met in convention at Chicago, and nominated Mr. Lincoln for the second term as President of the United States; the course of his first administration was now to be approved or rejected by the people.  In the resolutions adopted, the fifth one of them related to Emancipation and the negro soldiers.  It was endorsed by a very large majority of the voters.  A writer in one of the magazines, prior to the election, thus reviews the resolutions:

     "The fifth resolution commits us to the approval of two measures that have aroused the most various and strenuous opposition, the
Proclamation of Emancipation and the use of negro troops.  In reference to the first, it is to be remembered that it is a war measure.  The express  language of it is:  'By virtue of the power in me vested as commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and Government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.'  Considered thus, the Proclamation is not merely defensible, but it is more; it is a proper and efficient means of weakening the rebellion which every person desiring its speedy overthrow must zealously and perforce uphold.  Whether it is of any legal effect beyond the actual limits of our military lines, is a question that need not agitate us.  In due time the supreme tribunal of the nation will be called to determine that, and to its decision the country will yield with all respect and loyalty.  But in the mean time let the Proclamation go wherever the army goes, let it go wherever the navy secures a foothold on the outer border of the rebel territory, and let it summon to our aid the negroes who are truer to the Union than their disloyal masters; and when they have come to us and put their lives in our keeping, let us protect and defend them with the whole power of the nation.  Is there any thing unconstitutional in that?  Thank God, there is not.  And he who is willing to give back to slavery a single person who has heard the
summons and come within our lines to obtain his freedom, he who would give up a single man, woman, or child, once thus actually freed, is
not worthy the name of American.  He may call himself Confederate, if he will.
     "Let it be remembered, also that the Proclamation has had a very

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important bearing upon our foreign relations.  It evoked in behalf of 6ur country that sympathy on the part of the people in Europe, whose is the only sympathy we can ever expect in our struggle to perpetuate free institutions.  Possessing that sympathy, moreover, we have had an element in our favor which has kept the rulers of Europe in wholesome dread of interference.  The Proclamation relieved us from the false position before attributed to uh of fighting simply for national power.  It placed uh right in the eyes of the world, and transferred men's sympathies from a confederacy fighting for independence as a means of establishing slavery, to a nation whose institutions mean constitutional liberty, and, when fairly wrought out, must end in universal freedom."

     The change of policy and of public opinion was be strongly endorsed that it affected the rebels, who shortly passed a Congressional measure for arming 200.000 negroes themselves.  What a reversal of things; what a change of sentiment, in less than twenty-four months!*  Mr. Lincoln, in justifying the change, is reported to have said to Judge Mills, of Wisconsin:

    "The slightest knowledge of arithmetic will prove to any man that the rebel armies cannot be destroyed with Democratic strategy.  It would sacrifice all the white men of the North to do it.  There are now in the service of the United States near two hundred thousand able bodied colored men, most of them under arms, defending and acquiring Union territory.  The Democratic strategy demands that these forces be disbanded, and that the masters be conciliated by restoring them to slavery.  The black men who now assist Union prisoners to escape, they are to be converted into our enemies in the vain hope of gaining the good will of their masters.  We shall have to fight two nations instead of one.  You cannot conciliate the South if you guarantee to them ultimate success; and the experience of the present war proves their success is inevitable if you fling the compulsory labor of millions of black men into their side of the scale.  Will you give our enemies such military advantages as insure success, and then depend on coaxing, flattery, and concession to get them back into the Union?  Abandon all the posts now garrisoned by black men; take two hundred thousand men from
our side and put them in the battlefield or cornfield against us, and we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks.  We have to hold territory in inclement and sickly places; where are the Demo-

     * "Those who have declaimed loudest against the employment of negro troops have shown a lamentable amount of ignorance, and an equally lamentable lack of common sense.  They know as little of the military history and martial qualities of the African race as they do of their own duties as commanders.
     All distinguished generals of modern times who have had opportunity to use negro soldiers, have uniformly applauded their subordination, bravery, and powers of endurance.  Washington solicited the military services of negroes in the revolution, and rewarded them.  Jackson did the same in the war of 1812. Under both those great captains, the negro troops fought so well that they 'received unstinted praise."—Charles

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crats to do this?  It was a free fight, and the field was open to the war Democrats to put down this rebellion by fighting against both master' and slave, long before the present policy was inaugurated.  There have been men base enough to propose to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee, and thus win the respect of the masters they fought.  Should I do so, I should deserve to be dammed in time and eternity.  Come what will, I will keep my faith with friend and foe.  My enemies pretend I am now currying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition.  So long as I am President, it shall be carried on for the sole purpose of restoring the Union.  But no human power can subdue this rebellion without the use of the emancipation policy, and every other policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the rebellion.  Freedom has given us two hundred thousand men raised on southern soil.  It will give us more yet.  Just so much it has subtracted from the enemy; and instead of alienating the South, there are now evidences of a fraternal feeling growing up between our men and the rank and file of the rebel soldiers.  Let my enemies prove to the country that the destruction of slavery is not necessary to the restoration of the Union.  I will abide the issue."

     But the change of policy did not change the opinion of the Southerners, who, notwithstanding the use which the Confederate Government was making of the negro,still regarded him, in the United States uniform, as a vicious brute, to be shot at sight.  I prefer, in closing this chapter, to give the Southern opinion of the negro, in the words of a distinguished native of that section.  Mr. George W. Cable, in his "Silent South," thus gives it:

     "He was brought to our shores a naked, brutish, unclean, captive, pagan savage, to be and remain a kind of connecting link between man and the beasts of burden.  The great changes to result from his contact with a superb race of masters were not taken into account.  As a social factor he was intended to be as purely zero as the brute at the other end of his plow line.  The occasional mingling of his blood with that of the white man worked no change in the sentiment; one, two, four, eight, multiplied upon or divided in to zero, still gave zero for the result.  Generafions of American nativity made no difference; his children and childrens' children were born in sight of our door, yet the old notion held fast.  He increased to vast numbers, but it never wavered.  He accepted our dress, language, religion, all the fundamentals of our civilization, and became forever expatriated from his own land ; still he remained, to us, an alien.  Our sentiment went blind.  It did not see that gradually, here by force and there by choice, he was fulfilling a host of conditions that earned at least a solemn moral right to that naturalization which soonest first had dreamed of giving him.  Frequently be even bought

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back the freedom of which he had been robbed, became a tax-payer, and at times an educator of his children at his own expense; but the old idea
of alienism passed laws to banish him, his wife, and children by thousands from the State, and threw him into loathsome jails as a common felon for returning to his native land.  It will be wise to remember that these were the acts of un enlightened, God fearing people."









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