The 4th US Colored Infantry was recruited in Baltimore with enrollment agents scouring the city, though “many of the city’s residents . . . reluctant to enlist – perhaps [because] so many had been dragooned into service by [General Robert] Schenck.” The latter impressed local slaves and free blacks into service at will to defend the city from liberation.
Many of the black recruits were forcibly removed from area farms and plantations, and in late July 1863 authority was granted to remove the inmates of a slave prison in the city for use as soldiers.
Any “able-bodied black male of military age owned “by an avowed Confederate or Rebel sympathizer” was subject to impressment. Lincoln’s proconsul in Maryland was “Governor” Augustus W. Bradford, a slave owner and committed Unionist who was allowed to keep his slaves.
These black recruits received no bounty as white troops had, and only white officers were allowed to command black units. Lincoln added black men to his conscription net, and poor black men could not afford the $300 substitute fee to avoid service.
“[General Joseph E.] Johnston’s surrender immediately placed the Union forces in North Carolina on occupation duty. Now that hostilities were officially ended, it was feared the USCT might break free of wartime restraints to trespass, assault and loot. [Colonel Samuel] Duncan was enjoined to place a guard at virtually every house on his route [to Goldsboro . . . [indicating] the low opinion that their own commanders sometimes entertained of the discipline and deportment of the USCT.
By the end of 1865 – five months after the XXIV Corps had officially ceased to exist – only a handful of Caucasian regiments in the Army of the James remained in the field. These units would be mustered out the following January and February. Much of the army’s USCT strength, however, would be kept on active duty for almost another year.
The War Department knew that if it were to keep white volunteers in service well beyond their appointed term of “three years or the duration of the war,” it risked the wrath of voters and their political representatives.
Not surprisingly, the War Office preferred to alienate African American troops, few of whom could vote and even fewer who wielded political power. Moreover, many black soldiers – especially former slaves – had no homes to return to once they left the service. They would be unlikely to object to being kept on the army’s payroll indefinitely. The 4th USCI served out its two final months of garrison duty in relative tranquility [at Washington]. There the formal process of mustering out the regiment took place on the morning of May 4, 1866.”
(A Regiment of Slaves: The 4th United States Colored Infantry, 1863-1866, Edward G. Longacre, Stackpole Books, 2003, excerpts pp. 165; 170-171)