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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. 145

     "Private Miles O'Reilly" was the nom de plume of a talented literary gentleman of the city of New York, who wrote much in humorous prose and verse. His real name was Charles G. Halpine.  After an honorable service in the war, rising to high rank, he was elected Register of New York, and died suddenly while in office, in 1808.  The following sketches from his pen, published during the war, give an account of matters connected with the recruiting and organizing of negro troops in South Carolina, and are quoted here as interesting historical facts connected with the subject:
     "Black troops are now an established success, and hereafter—while the race can furnish enough able-bodied males—the probability would seem that one-half the permanent naval and military forces of the United States will be drawn from this material, under the guidance and control of the white officers.  To-day there is much competition among the field and staff officers of our white volunteers—more especially in those regiments about being disbanded—to obtain commission of like or even lower grades in the colored regiments of Uncle Sam.  General Casey's board of examination cannot keep in session long enough, nor dismiss incompetent aspirants quick enough, to keep down the vast throngs of veterans, with and without shoulder-straps, who are now seeking various grades of command in the colored brigades of the Union.  Over this result all intelligent men will rejoice,—the privilege of being either killed or wounded in battle, or stricken down by the disease, toil and privations incident to the life of a marching soldier, not belonging to that class of prerogative for the exclusive enjoyment of which men of sense, and with higher careers open to them, will long contend.   Looking back, however, but a few years, to the organization of the first regiment of black troops in the departments of the South, what a change in public opinion are we compelled to recognize!  In sober verity, war is

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not only the sternest, but the quickest, of all teachers; and contrasting the Then and Now of our negro regiments, as we propose to do in this sketch, the contrast will forcibly recall Galileo's obdurate assertion that 'the world still moves.'
     " Be it known, then, that the first regiment of black troops raised in our recent war, was raised in the Spring of 1862 by the commanding general of the department of the South, of his own motion, and without any direct authority of law, order, or even sanction from the President, the Secretary of War, or our House of Congress. It was done by General Hunter as ' a military necessity ' under very peculiar circumstances, to be detailed hereafter; and although repudiated at first by the Government as were so many other measures originated in the same quarter, it was finally adopted as the settled policy of the country and of our military system; as have likewise since been adopted, all the other original measures for which these officers, at the time of their first announcement, was made to suffer both official rebuke and the violently vituperative denunciation of more than one-half the Northern press.
     "In the Spring of 1862, General Hunter, finding himself with lees than eleven thousand men under his command, and charged with the duty of holding the whole tortuous and broken seacoast of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, had applied often, and in vain, to the authorities at Washington for reinforcements.  All the troops that could be gathered in the North were less than sufficient for the continuous drain of General McClellan's great operations against the enemy's capital; and the reiterated answer of the War Department was:  'You must get along as best you can.  Not a man from the North can be spared.'
     "On the mainland of three States nominally forming the Department of the South, the flag of the Union had no permanent foothold, save at Fernandiua, St. Augustine, and some few unimportant points along the Florida coast. It was on the Sea-islands of Georgia and South Carolina that our troops were stationed, and continually engaged in fortifying — the enemy being everywhere visible, and in force, across the narrow creeks dividing us from the mainland; and in various raids they came across to our islands, and we drove them back to the mainland, and up their creeks, with a few gunboats to help us—being the order of the day; yea, and yet oftener, of the night.
     "No reinforcements to be had from the North; vast fatigue duties in throwing up earthworks imposed on our insufficient garrison; the enemy continually increasing both in insolence and numbers; our only success the capture of Fort Pulaski, sealing up of Savannah; and this victory offset, if not. fully counter-balanced, by many minor gains of the enemy; this was about the condition of affairs as seen from the headquarters fronting Port Royal bay, when General Hunter one fine morning, with twirling glasses, puckered lips, and dilated nostrils, (he had just received another ' don't-bother-us-for-reinforcements ' dispatch from Washington) announced his intention of ' forming a negro regiment, and compelling

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every able-bodied black man in the department to fight for the freedom which could not but be the issue of our war.'  This resolution being taken, was immediately acted upon with vigor, the General causing all the necessary orders to be issued, and taking upon himself, as his private burden, the responsibility for all the irregular issues of arms, clothing, equipments, and rations involved in collecting and organizing the first experimental negro regiment.  The men he intended to pay, at first, by placing them as laborers on the pay-roll of the Chief Quartermaster; but it was his hope that the obvious necessity and wisdom of the measure he had thus presumed to adopt without authority, would secure for it the immediate approval of the higher authorities, and the necessary orders to cover the required pay and supply-issue of the force he had in contemplation. If his course should be endorsed by the War Department, well and good; if it were not so indorsed, why he had enough property of his own to pay back to the Government all he was irregularly expending in this experiment.
     "But now, on the very threshhold of this novel enterprise, came the first—and it was not a trivial—difficulty. Where could experienced officers be found for such an organization ? ' What ! command niggers? ' was the reply—if possible more amazed than scornful—of nearly every competent young lieutenant or captain of volunteers to whom the suggestion of commanding this class of troops was made. ' Never mind,' said Hunter, when this trouble was brought to his notice; 'the fools or bigots who refuse are enough punished by their refusal. Before two years they will be competing eagerly for the commission they now reject.  'Straightly there was issued a circular to all commanding officers in the department, directing them to announce to the non-commissioned officers and men of their respective commands that commissions in the 'South Carolina Regiment of Colored Infantry,' would be given to all deserving and reputable sergeants, corporals; and men who would appear at department headquarters, and prove able to pass an examination in the manual and tactics before a Band of Examiners, which was organized in a general order of current date.  Capt. Arthur M. Kenzie, of Chicago, aid-de-camp,—now of Hancock's Veterans Reserve Corps—was detailed as Colonel of the regiment, giving place, subsequently, in consequence of injured health, to the present Brig.-Gen. James D. Fessenden, then a captain in the Berdan Sharpshooters, though detailed as acting aid-de-camp on Gen. Hunter's staff. Capt. Kenzie, we may add, was Gen. Hunter's nephew, and his appointment as Colonel was made partly to prove —so violent was then the prejudice against negro troops—that the Commanding General asks nothing of them which he was not willing that one of his own flesh and blood should be engaged in.
     "The work was now fairly in progress, but the barriers of prejudice were not to be lightly overthrown. Non-commissioned officers and men of the right stamp, and able to pass the examination requisite, were scarce articles. Ten had the hardihood or moral courage to face the

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from Hunter spoiled the prettiest speech I had ever thought of making.  I had been delighted with Wickliffe's motion, and thought the reply to it would furnish us first-rate Democrat's thunder for the next election. I made up my mind to sail in against Hunter's answer—no matter what it was—the moment it came; and to be even more humorously successful in its delivery and reception than I was in my speech against War Horse Gurley, of Ohio, which you have just been complimenting.  Well, you see, man proposes, but providence orders otherwise.  When the Clerk announced the receipt of the answer, and that he was about to read it, I caught the Speaker's eye and was booked for the first speech against your negro experiment.  The first sentence, being formal and official, was very well; but at the second the House began to grin, and at the third, not a man on the floor—except Father Wickliffe, of Kentucky, perhaps—who was not convulsed with laughter.  Even my own risibles I found to be affected; and before the document was concluded, I motioned the Speaker that he might give the floor to whom he pleased, as my desire to distinguish myself in that particular tilt was over.' "








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