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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. 111

     The recruiting officer, in the first year of the enlistment of negroes, did not have a pleasant service to perform.  At New Orleans there was no trouble in recruiting the regiments organized under Butler's command, for, beside the free negroes, the slave population for miles around were eager to enlist, believing that with the United States army uniform on, they would be safe in their escape from "ole master and the rebs."  And then the action of the confederate authorities in arming the free
negroes lent a stimulent and gave an ambition to the whole slave population to be soldiers.  Could arms have been obtained, a half a dozen regiments could have been organized in sixty days just as rapidly as were three.  Quite early in 1862, while the negroes in New Orleans were being enrolled in the Confederate service, under Gov. Moore's proclamation, in separate and distinct organizations from the whites, the Indians and negroes were enlisting in the Union service, on the frontier, in the same company and regiments, with white officers to command them.  In the "Kansas Home Guard," comprising two regiments of Indians, were over 400 negroes, and these troops were under Custer, Blunt and Herron.  They held Fort Gibson twenty months against the assaults of the enemy.  Two thousand five hundred negroes served in the Federal army from the Indian Nations, and these, in all probability, are a part of 5,896 "not accounted for" on
the Adjutant General's rolls.
     Quite a different state of things existed in South Caro-

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liua; rumors were early afloat, when recruiting began, that the government officers were gathering up the negroes to ship away to Cuba, Africa and the West Indies.  These reports for a long time hindered the enlistment very much.  Then there was no large city for contrabands to congregate in; besides they had no way of traveling from island to island except on government vessels.  Before the Proclamation of freedom was issued, the city of Washing ton, with Virginia and Maryland as additional territory to recruit from, afforded an officer a better field to operate in than any other point except New Orleans.  The conduct of the Government in revoking Gen. Fremont's Proclamation, and of McClellan's with the Army of the Potomac, in catching and returning escaped slaves, also had a tendency for some time to keep back even the free negroes of Virginia and Maryland.  But this class of people never enlisted to any great numbers, either before or after 1863,
and there finally came to be a general want of spirit with them, while with the slave class there was a ready enthusiasm to enlist.  Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, was Chairman of the Committee of Military Affairs, and reported from that committee on the 8th of July 1862, a bill authorizing the arming of negroes as a part of the army.  The bill finally passed both houses and received the approval of the President on the 17th of July, 1862.  The battle for its success is as worthy of record as any fought by the Phalanx.  The debate was characterized by eloquence and deep feeling on both sides.  Says an account of the proceedings in Henry Wilson's "Anti-slavery Measures of Congress:

     "Mr. Sherman (Rep.) of Ohio said, "The question arises, whether the people of the United States, struggling for national existence, should not employ these blacks for the maintenance of the Government.  The policy heretofore pursued by the officers of the United States has been to repel this class of people from our lines, to refuse their services.  They would have made the best spies; and yet they have been driven from our lines."—"I tell the President," said Mr. Fessenden (Rep.) of Maine, " from my place here as a senator, I tell the generals of our army, they must reverse their practices and their course of proceeding on this subject. * * I advise it here from my place,—treat your enemies as

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enemies, as the worst of enemies, and avail yourselves like men of every power which God has placed in your hands to accomplish your purpose within the rules of civilized warfare."  Mr. Rice, (war Dem.) of Minnesota, declared that "not many days can pass before the people of the United States North must decide upon one of two questions: we have either to acknowledge the Southern Confederacy as a free and independent nation, and that speedily; or we have as speedily to resolve to use all the means given us by the Almighty to prosecute this war to a successful termination.  The necessity for action has arisen.  To hesitate is worse than criminal.  Mr. Wilson said,  "The senator from Delaware, as he is accustomed to do, speaks boldly and decidedly against the proposition.  He asks if American soldiers will fight if we organize colored men for military purposes.  Did not American soldiers fight at Bunker Hill with negroes in the ranks, one of whom shot down Major Pitcairn as he mounted the works?  Did not American soldiers fight at Red Bank with a black regiment from your own State, sir? (Mr. Anthony in the chair.)  Did they not fight on the battle-field of Rhode Island with that black
regiment, one of the best and bravest that ever trod the soil of this continent?  Did not American soldiers fight at Fort Griswold with black men?  Did they not fight with black men in almost every battle-field of the Revolution?  Did not the men of Kentucky and Tennessee, standing on the lines of New Orleans, under the eye of Andrew Jackson, fight with colored battalions whom he had summoned to the field, and whom he thanked publicly for their gallantry in hurling back a British foe?  It is all talk, idle talk, to say that the volunteers who are fighting the battles of this country are governed by any such narrow prejudice or bigotry.  These prejudices are the results of the. teachings of demagogues and politicians, who have for years undertaken to delude and deceive the American people, and to demean and degrade them."
     Mr. Grimes had expressed his views a few weeks before, and desired a vote separately on each of these sections.  Mr. Davis declared that he was utterly opposed, and should ever be opposed, to placing arms in the hands of negroes, and putting them into the army.  Mr. Rice wished "to know if Gen. Washington did not put arms into the hands of negroes, and if Gen. Jackson did not, and if the senator has ever condemned either of those patriots for doing so."  "I deny," replied Mr. Davis, "that, in the Revolutionary War, there ever was any considerable organization of negroes.  I deny,' that, in the war of 1812, there was ever any organization of negro slaves. * * * In my own State, I have no doubt that there are from eighty to a hundred thousand slaves that belong to disloyal men.  You propose to place arms in the hands of the men and boys, or such of them as are able to handle arms, and to manumit the whole mass, men, women, and children, and leave them among us.  Do you expect us to give our sanction and our approval to these things?  No, no!  We would regard their authors as our worst enemies; and there is no foreign despotism that could come to our rescue, that we would not joyously embrace, before we would submit to any

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such condition of things as that.  But, before we had invoked this foreign despotism, we would arm every man and boy that we have in the land, and we would meet you in a death-struggle, to overthrow together 6uch an oppression and our oppressors."  Mr. Rice remarked in reply to Mr. Davis, "The rebels hesitate at nothing.  There are no means that God or the Devil has given them that they do not use.  The honorable senator said that the negroes might be useful in loading and swabbing and firing cannon.  If that be the case, may not some of them be useful in loading, swabbing, and firing the musket?"
     On the 10th of February, 1864, Mr. Stevens (Republican) of Pennsylvania, in the House of Representatives, moved an amendment to the Enrollment Act.  Says the same authority before quoted:
     The Enrollment Bill was referred to a Conference Committee, consisting of Mr. Wilson of Massachusetts, Mr. Nesmet of Oregon, and Mr. Grimes of Iowa, on the part of the Senate; and Mr. Schenck of Ohio, Mr. Deming of Connecticut, and Mr. Kernan of New York, on the part of the House.  In the Conference Committee, Mr. Wilson stated that he never could assent to the amendment, unless the drafted slaves were made free on being mustered into the service of the United States. Mr. Grimes sustained that position; and the House committee assented to it.  The House amendment was then modified so as to read, "That all able bodied male colored persons between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, whether citizens or not, resident in the United States, shall be enrolled according to the provisions of this act, and of the act to which this is an amendment, and form part of the national forces; and, when a slave of a loyal master shall be drafted and mustered into the service of the United States, his master shall have a certificate thereof; and there upon such slave shall be free; and the bounty of a hundred dollars, now payable by law for each drafted man, shall be paid to the person to whom such drafted person was owing service or labor at the time of his muster into the service of the United States.  The Secretary of War shall appoint a commission in each of the slave States represented in Congress, charged to award, to each loyal person to whom a colored volunteer may owe service, a just compensation, not exceeding three hundred dollars, for each such colored volunteer, payable out of the fund derived from commutation; and every such colored volunteer, on being mustered into the service, shall be free."
     The report of the Conference Committee was agreed to; and it was enacted that every slave, whether a drafted man or a volunteer, shall be free on being mustered into the military service of the United States, not by the act Of the master, but by the authority of the Federal Government."
     When Gen. Banks took command of the Gulf Department, Dec. 1862, he very soon after found the negro

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Distributing clothing, captured from the Confederates, to the free negroes.

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troops an indispensable quantity to the success of his expeditions; consequently he laid aside his prejudice, and endeavored to out Herod Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant General of the Army,—who in March had been dispatched on a military inspection tour through the armies of the West and the Mississippi Valley, and also to organize a number of negro regiments*— by issuing in May the following order:


* GENERAL: - The exigencies of the service require that an inspection should be made of the Armies, military posts and military operations in the West; you will therefore make arrangements immediately to perform that service.  Without entering into any minute details, I beg you to direct your attention to the following subjects of investigation:
     First. On arriving at Cairo, you will make a careful examination of the military condition of that post, in the various branches of service, and report to this Department, the result of your investigation, suggesting whatever in your opinion, the service may require.  You will observe particularly the condition of that class of population known as contrabands; the manner in which they are received, provided for and treated by the military authorities, and give such directions to the Commissary and Quartermaster Departments, and to the officers commanding, as shall, in your judge -

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ment, be necessary to secure to them humane and proper treatment, in respect to food, clothing, compensation for their service, and whatever is necessary to enable them to support themselves, and to furnish useful service in any capacity to the Government.
     Second.  You will make similar observation at Columbus, Memphis and other posts in your progress to the headquarters of General Grant's Army.
     Third.  The President desires that you should confer freely with Major General Grant, and the officers with whom you may have communication, and explain to them the importance attached by the Government to the use of the colored population emancipated by the President's Proclamation, and particularly for the organization of their labor and military strength.  You will cause it to be understood that no officer in the United States service is regarded ,w in the discharge of his duties under the Acts of Congress, the President's Proclamation, and orders of this Department, who fails to employ to the utmost extent, the aid and co-operation of the loyal colored population in performing the labor incident to military operations, and also in performing the duties of soldiers under proper organization, and that any obstacle thrown in the way of these ends, is regarded by the President as a violation of the Acts of Congress, and the declared purposes of the Government in using every means to bring the war to an end.
     Fourth.  You will ascertain what military officers are willing to take command of colored troops; ascertain their  qualifications for that purpose, and if troops can be raised and organized, you will, so far as can be done without prejudice to the service, relieve officers and privates from the service in which they are engaged, to receive commissions such as they may be qualified to exercise in the organization of brigades, regiments and companies of colored troops.  You are authorized in this connection, to issue in the name of this department, letters of appointment for field and company officers, and to organize such troops for military service to the utmost extent to which they can be obtained in accordance with the rules and regulations of the service.  You will see, more over, and expressly enjoin upon the various staff departments of the service, that such troops are to be provided with supplies upon the requisition of the proper officers, and in the same manner as other troops in the service.

*                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

                                                                             Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant,
                                                                                           EDWARD M. STANTON, Sec. of War.
Brig. Gen. L. Thomas,                  
     Adjt.  Gen'l U. S. Army                                                 

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Compelling all able-bodied men to join the army.

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provost guard to fill up regiments, as the following order indicates:

                                                                          Commission of Enrollment.

GENERAL ORDERS                                           HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
        No. 64}                                                                 New Orleans, August, 29, 1863.

     I, Colonel JOHN S. CLARK, Major B. RUSH PLUMLY and Colonel GEORGE H. HANKS, are hereby appointed a Commission to regulate the Enrollment, Recruiting and Employment and Education of persons of color.  All questions concerning the enlistment of troops for the Corps d'Afrique, the regulation of labor, or the government and education of negroes, will be referred to the decision of  this commission, subject to the approval of the Commanding General of the Department.
     II.  No enlistments for the Corps d'Afrique will be authorized or permitted, except under regulations approved by this Commission.
     III. The Provost Marshal General will cause to be enrolled all able-odied men of color in accordance with the Law of Conscription, and such number as may be required for miltary defence of the Department, equally apportioned to the different parishes, will be enlisted for the military service under such regulations as the Commission may adopt.  Certificates of exemption will be furnished to those not enlisted, protecting them from arrest or other interference except the crime.
IV.  Soldiers of the Corps d'Afrique will not be allowed to leave their caps, or of kkkkkkkkk


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     At the North where negroes had been refused admission to the army, the President's Proclamation was hailed with delight. Gov. Andrew, of Massachusetts, at once began the organization of the 54th Regiment of his State, composed entirely of negroes, and on the 28th of May the regiment being ready to take the field, embarked for South Carolina.   Other Northern States followed.  Pennsylvania established Camp Wm. Penn, from which several regiments took their departure, while Connecticut and Rhode Island both sent a regiment.
     The taste with which the negro soldiers arranged their quarters often prompted officers of white regiments to

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borrow a detail to clean and beautify the quarters of their commands.  An occurrence of this kind came very near causing trouble on Morris Island, S. C.  The matter was brought to the commanding General's attention and he immediately issued this order:

Morris Island, S. C., Sept. 17th, 1863.      

     I.  It has come to the knowledge of the Brig. Gen.  Commanding that detachments of colored troops, detailed for fatigue duty, have been employed in one instance at least, to prepare camps and perform menial duty for white troops.  Such use of these details in unauthorized and improper, and is hereafter expressly prohibited.  Commanding Officers of colored regiments are directed to report promptly, to the Headquarters, any violations of this order which may come to their knowledge.
     OFFICIAL:                                                ED. W. SMITH, Asst. Adjt. Gen'l.
                        ISRAEL Z. SEALEY, Copt. 47th N. Y. Vols..
                                                                   Act. Asst. Adjt. General.  


     The Southern troops generally made no objection to cleaning the quarters of their white allies, but when a detail from the 54th Mass. Reg't., on its way to the front, was re-detailed for that purpose, they refused to obey.  The detail was placed under arrest.  When this information reached the regiment it was only by releasing the prisoners that a turbulent spirit was quieted.  There were about ten thousand negro troops in and about Morris Island at that time, and they quickly sneezed at the 54th 's snuff.  The negro barbers in this department had been refusing to shave and to cut the hair of negro soldiers
in common with the whites.  Corporal Kelley of the 54th Mass. Regiment, who had been refused a shave at a shop
located near one of the brigade headquarters, went there one evening accompanied by a. number of the members of
Company C.  The men gathered around the barber's place of business, which rested upon posts a little up from the ground; the negro barbers were seated in their chairs resting from their labors and listening to the concert, which it was customary for a band to give each evening.  As the last strains of music were being delivered, one side of the barber shop was lifted high and then suddenly dropped; it came down with a crash making a wreck of the building and its contents, except the barbers, who escaped unhurt, but who never made their appearance again.  The episode resulted in the issuing of an order
forbidding discrimination on account of color.

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     The Washington authorities established recruiting stations throughout the South.  Of the difficulties under which recruiting officers labored some idea may be formed by reading the following, written by the historian of the 7th Regiment:





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Enthusiasm of the Blacks at the prospect of their being allowed to enlist as U. S. Soldiers.

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Government, while the patriotic black men continued to pour out their blood and to give their lives for liberty and
the Union.
     The matter being one for Congress to adjust, Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, on the 8th of Jan. 1864, introduced in the Senate of the United States, a bill to promote enlistments in the army, and in this measure justice to the black soldiers was proposed.  After months of debate, it was finally passed; not only placing the Phalanx soldiers on a footing with all other troops, but made free, the mothers, wives and children of the noble black troops.
     The fight of the Phalanx for equal pay and allowance with the white troops, was a long one.  The friends of the black soldiers in Congress fought it, however, to the successful issue.  Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, took the lead in the matter in the Senate, as he did in the amend-

articles of clothing.  If one of the former class is made first sergeant, his pay is put up to twenty-one dollars per month; but if he escaped two days later, his pay is still estimated at seven dollars.
     "' It had not occurred to me that, anything could make the pay-rolls of these regiments more complicated than at present, or the men more rationally discontented.  I had not the ingenuity to imagine such an order.  Yet it is no doubt in accordance with the spirit, if not with the letter, of the final bill which was adopted by Congress under the lead of Mr. Thaddeus Stevens.
     "The ground taken by Mr. Stevens apparently was that the country might honor ably save a few dollars by docking the promised pay of those colored soldiers whom the war had made free.  But the Government should have thought of this before it made the contract with these men and received their services.  When the War Department instructed Brigadier-General Saxton, August 25, 1862, to raise five regiments of negroes in South Carolina, it was known very well that the men so enlisted had only recently gained their freedom.  But the instructions said: 'The persons so received into service, and their officers, to be entitled to and receive the same pay and rations as are allowed by law to volunteers in the service.'  Of this passage Mr. Solicitor Whiting wrote to me:  'I have no hesitation in saying that the faith of the Government was thereby pledged to every officer and soldier enlisted under that call.'  Where is that
faith of the Government now?
     "The men who enlisted under the pledge were volunteers, every one; they did not get their freedom by enlisting; they had It already. They enlisted to serve the Government, trusting In its honor. Now the nation turns upon them and says:  Your part of the contract is fulfilled; we have had your services.  If you can show that you had previously been free for a certain length of time, we will fulfil the other side of the contract.  If not, we repudiate it.  Help yourselves, if you can.
     "In other words, a freedman (since April 19. 1861) has no rights which a white man to bound to respect.  He is incapable of making a contract.  No man is bound by a contract made with him.  Any employer, following the example of the United States Government, may make with him a written agreement, receive his services, and then withhold the wages.  He has no motive to honest industry, or to honesty of any kind.  He is virtually a slave, and nothing else, to the end of time.
     "Under this order, the greater part of the Massachusetts colored regiments will get their pay at last, and be able to take their wives mid children out of the almshouses, to which, as Governor Andrew informs us, the gracious charity of the nation has consigned so many.  For so much I am grateful. Hut toward my regiment, which had been in service and under fire, months before a Northern colored soldier was recruited, the policy of repudiation has at last been officially adopted.   There is no alternative for the officers of South Carolina regiments but to wait for another session of Congress, and meanwhile, if necessary, net as executioners for these soldiers who, like Sergeant Walker, refuse to fulfil their share of a contract where the Government has openly repudiated the other share.  If a year's discussion, however, has at length secured the arrears of pay for the Northern colored regiments, possibly two years may secure it for the Southern.                            T. W. HIGGINSON,
     August 12, 1864.                                                   
 Col 1st S. C. Vols. (now 33d U. S.)

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ing of the enrolling acts, and the act calling out the militia, whereby negroes were enrolled.
     In the winter of '04 Gen. Butler began the organization of the Army of the James and the enlistment of negro troops.  A camp was established near Fortress Monroe, where a great many men enlisted.  The Secretary of War gave permission to the several Northern States to send agents South, and to enlist negroes to fill up their quotas of troops needed.  Large bounties were then being paid and many a negro received as much as $500 to enlist; while many who went as substitutes received even more than that.  The recruiting officers or rather agents from the different States established their headquarters largely within Gen. Butlers departments, where negro volunteers were frequently secured at a much less price than the regular bounty offered, the agent putting into his own pocket the difference, which often amounted to $200 or even $400 on a single recruit.  To correct this "wrong, Gen. Butler issued the following order:







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Phalanx soldiers taking the oath of allegiance to the United States.

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