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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. 286 -

     Important services were rendered by the Phalanx in the West.  The operations in Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, afforded an excellent opportunity to the commanders of the Union forces to raise negro troops in such portions of the territory as they held; but in consequence of the bitterness against such action by the semi-Unionists and Copperheads in the Department of the Ohio and Cumberland, it was not until the fall of 1863 that the organizing of such troops in these Departments fairly began.  The Mississippi was well-nigh guarded by Phalanx regiments enlisted along that river, numbering about fifty thousand men.  They garrisoned the fortifications, and occupied the captured towns. Later on, however, when the confederate General Bragg began preparations for the recovery of the Tennessee Valley, organization of the Phalanx
commenced in earnest, and proceeded with a rapidity that astounded even those who were favorable to the policy.  St. Louis became a depot and Benton Barracks a recruiting station, from whence, in the fall of 1863, went many a regiment of brave black men, whose chivalrous deeds will ever live in the annals of the nation.  It was not long after this time that the noble Army of the Cumberland began to receive a portion of the black troops, whose shouts rang through the mountain fastnesses.  The record made by the 60th Regiment is the boast of the State of Iowa, to which it was accredited: but of those which went to the assistance of General Thomas' army none won greater distinction and honor than the gallant brigade com-

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The Confederate Generals Edward Johnson and G. H. Stewart, as prisoners, under
guard of Phalanx Soldiers, May 12th, 1864

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manded by Colonel T. J. Morgan, afterwards raised to Brigadier-General.  The gallant 14th Infantry was one of
its regiments, the field officers of which were Colonel, Thomas J. Morgan, who had been promoted through various grades, from a 1st Lieutenancy in the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry; Lieutenant-Colonel, H. C. Corbin, who had risen from a 1st Lieutenancy of the 79th O. V. 1., and Major N. J. Vail, who had served as an enlisted man in the 19th Illinois Volunteers.  All the officers passed a rigid examination before the board of examiners appointed by the War Department for that purpose.
     General Moreran. by request furnishes the following highly interesting and historical statement of his services with the Phalanx Brigade:
     "The American Civil War of 1861-5 marks an epoch not only in the history of the United States, but in that of democracy, and of civilization.  Its issue has vitally affected the course of human progress. To the student of history it ranks along with the conquests of Alexander; the incursions of the Barbarians; the Crusades; the discovery of America and the American Revolution.  It settled the question of our National unity with all the consequences attaching thereto.  It exhibited in a very striking manner the power of a free people to preserve their form of government against its most dangerous foe, Civil War.  It not only enfranchised four millions of American slaves of African descent, but made slavery forever impossible in the great Republic, and gave a new impulse to the cause of human freedom.  Its influence upon American slaves was immediate and startlingly revolutionary, lifting them from the condition of despised chattels, bought and sold like sheep in the market, with no rights which the white man was bound to respect,—to the exalted plane of American citizenship ; made them free men, the peers in every civil and political right, of their late masters.  Within about a decade after the close of the war, negroes, lately slaves, were legislators, state officers, members of Congress, and for a brief time one presided over the Senate of the United States, where only a few years before, Toombs had boasted that he would yet call the roll of his slaves in the shade of Bunker Hill.
     "To-day slavery finds no advocate, and the colored race in America is making steady progress in all the elements of civilization.  The conduct of the American slave during, and since the war, has wrought an extraordinary change in public sentiment, regarding the capabilities of the race.
     "The manly qualities of the negro soldiers, evinced in camp, on the march and in battle, won for them golden opinions, made their freedom a necessity and their citizenship a certainty.
     "Those of us who assisted in organizing, disciplining and leading

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negro troops in battle, may, perhaps, be pardoned for feeling a good degree of pride in our share of the thrilling events of the great war.
     "When Sumter was fired upon, April, 1861, I was 21; a member of the Senior Class in Franklin College, Indiana.  I enlisted in the 7th Indiana Volunteer infantry and served as a private soldier for three months in West Virginia, under Gen. McClellan,—' the young Napoleon,' as he was even then known. I participated in the battle of Carricks Ford, where Gen. Garnett was killed and his army defeated. In August 1862, I re-enlisted as a First Lieutenant in the 70th Indiana, (Col. Benjamin Harrison) and saw service in Kentucky and Tennessee.
     "In January 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Emancipation, and incorporated in it the policy of arming the negro for special service in the Union army.  Thus the question was fairly up, and I entered into its discussion with the deepest interest, as I saw that upon, its settlement hung great issues.
     "On the one hand the opponents of the policy maintained that to make soldiers of the negroes would be to put them on the same level with white soldiers, and so be an insult to every man who wore the blue.  It was contended, too, that the negro was not fit for a soldier because he belonged to a degraded, inferior race, wanting in soldierly qualities; that
his long bondage had crushed out whatever of manliness he might naturally possess; that he was too grossly ignorant to perform, intelligently, the duties of the soldier; that his provocation had been so great as a slave, that when once armed, and conscious of his power as a soldier, he would abuse it by acts of revenge and wanton cruelty
     "It was urged, on the other hand, that in its fearful struggle for existence, the Republic needed the help of the able-bodied negroes; that with their natural instincts of self-preservation, desire for liberty, habit of obedience, power of imitation, love of pomp and parade, acquaintance with the southern country and adaptation to its climate, they had elements which peculiarly fitted them for soldiers.  It was further urged that the negro had more at stake than the white man, and that he should have a chance to strike a blow for himself.  It was particularly insisted upon that he needed just the opportunity which army service afforded to develop and exhibit whatever of manliness he possessed.  As the war progressed, and each great battle-field was piled with heaps of the killed and wounded of our best citizens, men looked at each other
seriously, and asked if a black man would not stop a bullet as well as a white man?  Miles O'Reilly at length voiced a popular sentiment when he said,

" 'The right, to be killed I'll divide with the nayger,
And give him the largest half.'

     "With the strong conviction that the negro was a man worthy of freedom, and possessed of all the essential qualities of a good soldier, I early advocated the organization of colored regiments,—not for fatigue or garrison duly, but for field service.
     "In October, 1863, having applied for a position as an officer in the

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colored service, I was ordered before the Board of Examiners at Nashville, Tennessee, where I spent five rather anxious hours.  When I entered the army I knew absolutely nothing of the details of army life; had never even drilled with a fire company.  During the first three months I gathered little except a somewhat rough miscellaneous experience.  As a
lieutenant and staff officer I learned something, but as I had never had at any time systematic instruction from any one, I appeared before the Board with little else than vigorous health, a college education, a little experience as a soldier, a good reputation as an officer, a fair amount of common sense and a good supply of zeal.  The Board averaged me, and
recommended me for a Major.
     "A few days after the examination, I received an order to report to Major George L. Stearns, who had charge of the organization of colored troops in that Department.  He assigned me to duty temporarily in a camp in Nashville.  Major Stearns was a merchant in Boston, who had been for years an ardent abolitionist, and who, among other good deeds,
had befriended John Brown.  He was a large-hearted, broad-minded genial gentleman.  When the policy of organizing colored troops was adopted, he offered his services to the Government, received an appointment as Assistant Adjutant General, and was ordered to Nashville to organize colored regiments.  He acted directly under the Secretary of War, and independently of the Department Commander.  To his zeal, good judgment and efficient labor, was due, very largely, the success of the work in the West.
     "November 1st, 1863, by order of Major Stearns, I went to Gallatin, Tennessee, to organize the 14th United States Colored Infantry.  General E. A. Paine was then in command of the post at Gallatin, having under him a small detachment of white troops.  There were at that time several hundred negro men in camp, in charge of, I think, a lieutenant.  They were a motley crowd,—old, young, middle aged.  Some wore the United States uniform, but most of them had on the clothes in which they had left the plantations, or had worn during periods of hard service as laborers in the army.  Gallatin at that time was threatened with an attack by the guerilla bands then prowling over that part of the State.  General Paine had issued a hundred old muskets and rifles to the negroes in camp.  They had not passed a medical examination, had no company
organization and had had no drill.  Almost immediately upon my arrival, as an attack was imminent, I was ordered to distribute another hundred muskets, and to 'prepare every available man for fight.'  I did the best I could under the circumstances, but am free to say that I regard it as a fortunate circumstance that we had no fighting to do at that time.  But the men raw, and, untutored as they were, did guard and picket duty, went foraging, guarded wagon trains, scouted after
guerillas, and so learned to soldier—by soldiering.
     " As soon and as fast as practicable, I set about organizing the regiment.  I was a complete novice in that kind of work, and all the young officers who reported to me for duty, had been promoted from the ranks

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and were without experience, except as soldiers.  The colored men knew nothing of the duties of a soldier, except a little they had picked up as camp-followers.
     " Fortunately there was one man, Mr. A. H. Dunlap, who had had some clerical experience with Col. Birney, in Baltimore, in organizing the 3rd U. S. Colored Infantry.  He was an intelligent, methodical gentle man, and rendered me invaluable service.  I had no Quartermaster; no Surgeon; no Adjutant.  We had no tents, and the men were sheltered in
an old filthy tobacco warehouse, where they fiddled, danced, sang, swore or prayed, according to their mood.
     "How to meet the daily demands made upon us for military duty, and at the same time to evoke order out of this chaos, was no easy problem.  The first thing to be done was to examine the men.  A room was prepared, and I and my clerk took our stations at a table.  One by one the recruits came before us a la Eden, sans the fig leaves, and were subjected to a careful medical examination, those who were in any way physically disqualified being rejected.  Many bore the wounds and bruises of the slave-driver's lash, and many were unfit for duty by reason of some form of disease to which human flesh is heir. In the course of a few weeks, however, we had a thousand able-bodied, stalwart men.
     "I was quite as solicitous about their mental condition as about their physical status, so I plied them with questions as to their history, their experience with the army, their motives for becoming soldiers, their ideas of army life, their hopes for the future, &c, &c.  I found that a considerable number of them had been teamsters, cooks, officers' servants, &c, and had thus seen a good deal of hard service in both armies, in camp, on the march and in battle, and so knew pretty well what
to expect. In this respect they had the advantage of most raw recruits from the North, who were wholly ' unusued to wars' alarms.'  Some of them had very noble ideas of manliness.  I remember picturing to one bright-eyed fellow some of the hardships of camp life and campaigning, and receiving from him the cheerful reply, 'I know all about that.'  I then said, 'you may be killed in battle.'  He instantly answered, 'many a better man than me has been killed in this war.'  When I told another one who wanted to 'fight for freedom,' that he might lose his life, he replied, ' but my people will be free."
     "The result of this careful examination convinced me that these men, though black in skin, had men's hearts, and only needed right handling to develope into magnificent soldiers. Among them were the same varieties of physique, temperament, mental and moral endowments and experiences, ns would be found among the same number of white men.  Some of them were finely formed and powerful; some were almost white; a large number had in their veins white blood of the F. F. V. quality; some were men of intelligence, and many of them deeply religious.
     "Acting upon my clerk's suggestion, I assigned them to companies according to their height, putting men of nearly the same height together.  When the regiment was full, the four center companies were all.

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nmn, followed by my own regiment.  The men were swinging along 'arms at will,' when they spied General Thomas and staff approaching.  Without orders they brought their arms to 'right shoulder shift,' took the step, and striking up their favorite tune of ' John Brown,' whistled it with admirable effect while passing the General, greatly to his amusement.
     "We had a very memorable march from Franklin to Murfreesboro, over miserable dirt roads.  About December 19th or 20th, we were on the march at an early hour, but the rain was there before us, and stuck by us closer than a brother.  We were drenched through and through, and few had a dry thread.  We waded streams of water nearly waist deep; we pulled through mud that seemed to have no bottom, and where many a soldier left his shoes seeking for it.  The open woods pasture where we went into camp that night, was surrounded with a high fence made of cedar rails.  That fence was left standing, and was not touched —until—well, I do believe that the owners bitterness at his loss was fully balanced by the comfort and good cheer which those magnificent rail fires afforded us that December night.  They did seem providentially
provided for us.
     "During the night the weather turned cold, and when we resumed our march the ground was frozen and the roads were simply dreadful, especially for those of our men who had lost their shoes the day before and were now compelled to walk barefoot, tracking their way with blood.  Such experiences take away something of the romance sometimes suggested to the inexperienced by the phase, 'soldiering in the Sunny South,' but then a touch of it is worth having for the light it throws over such historical scenes as those at Valley Forge.
     "We continued in the pursuit of Hood, as far as Huntsville, Ala., when he disappeared to return no more, and we were allowed to go back to Chattanooga, glad of an opportunity to rest. Distance travelled, 420 miles.
     "We had no more fighting. There were many interesting experiences, which, however, I will not take time to relate.  In August, 1805, being in command of the Post at Knoxville, Tenn., grateful to have escaped without imprisonment, wounds, or even a day of severe illness, I resigned my commission, after forty mouths of service, to resume my
     "I cannot close this paper without expressing the conviction that history has not yet done justice to the share borne by colored soldiers in the war for the Union.  Their conduct during that eventful period, has been a silent, but most potent factor in influencing public sentiment, shaping legislation, and fixing the status of colored people in America.  If the records of their achievements could be put into such shape that they could be accessible to the thousands of colored youth in the South, they would kindle in their young minds an enthusiastic devotion to manhood and liberty."








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