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Drugged, Kidnapped and Dragooned Army of the James

Northern villages, towns, cities, counties and State’s contributed generously to buy exemptions and substitutes for residents, with the promise of additional bounties upon mustering. State agents swarmed into the Northern-occupied South to capture and enlist black slaves, which were counted toward the State quota of troops thus relieving white citizens from military duty.  In Europe, immigrants were enticed by promises of free or cheap land, and found blue uniforms awaiting them on US soil.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Drugged, Kidnapped and Dragooned Army of the James

“The Army of the James was the quintessential Yankee command. Among all Union armies, it boasted the highest percentage of units recruited in New England [and] . . . More than any other Federal army, [it] was a bastion of Republican and Union Party sentiment. While Lincoln enjoyed the support of most troops in every command, he had a special confidence in voters in [General B.F.] Butler’s force.

When the 1864 presidential contest heated up, [Secretary of War] Stanton confided to one of Butler’s staff officers that although Lincoln was not so confident about [General George G.] Meade’s army, he had no doubt as to the loyalty of the Army of the James [in delivering the soldier vote to him].

Butler went out of his way to fill his ranks with prewar office holders, editors of partisan newspapers, and political hangers-on. Of course, politics dominated every Union fighting force; each had to answer continually to political influences. Many had to spend as much time vying for power as they did fighting the Confederacy.

Another factor that sapped the fighting strength of the XVIII Corps was an abundance of soldiers who would fight only under duress, if at all. Especially among its New England regiments, unit effectiveness was compromised by the many men dragooned into service by unscrupulous agents employed by States anxious to enlist enough volunteers that they would not have to submit to federal conscription.

Many of these unfortunates were recent immigrants, “mostly speaking foreign languages,” who had been “drugged and kidnapped….then heavily ironed [shackled], confined in boxcars, and shipped like cattle” to designated regiments. [General Isaac J.] Wistar, whose district contained hundreds of unwilling recruits, noted that in one New Hampshire regiment alone, eighty men deserted during their first night in Virginia.

Other XVIII Corps outfits were found to contain an even less desirable brand of recruits. In the course of a few weeks, a couple hundred “bounty jumpers” deserted and returned north to enlist in distant cities under assumed names and collect additional money.

If many of the white troops were unreliable, the army’s contingent of black troops, untested in battle, did not inspire widespread confidence. To many of their white comrades, the blacks were am amusing novelty, a social experiment gone too far, and a source of unease and concern. Many were liberated and runaway slaves, used to lives of docility and subserviency. Could they display the martial skill, the initiative, the fidelity of whites? In the spring of 1864 most whites thought not.

The cavalry and artillery units of the Army of the James were of uneven quality . . . [a colonel] complained of “this villainous Cavalry of [Gen. August V.] Kautz’s Division which has been so blowed about and exalted to the sky by reporters” but that appeared more effective at looting than fighting. Even Butler, who defended the cavalry against all critics, privately acknowledged its low quality.

(Army of Amateurs, General Benjamin F. Butler and the Army of the James, 1863-1865, Edward G. Longacre, Stackpole Books, 1997, pp. 45-49)

Lincoln's Scarce But Well-Compensated Patriots

Lincoln’s Scarce But Well-Compensated Patriots

Russian Minister to Washington Baron de Stoeckl supported his government’s intrigues with Lincoln’s regime but privately believed a negotiated settlement between North and South and Confederate independence was preferable to the bloodbath instigated by Lincoln and the Radicals.  It is said that he had easy access to Secretary of State William Seward’s office — the latter was obviously courting Russian favor and an alliance against England and France, both of which came close to recognizing the Southern Confederacy.

With his unique position to view internal American affairs, “Stoeckl persisted in his belief that the North could never subjugate the South. The Union, he felt, could not endure . . . he was sure it was divided forever. “It is difficult to witness events without being convinced that a return to the old system is impossible.” His communiques during the war are well-preserved and one excellent source is “Lincoln and the Russians” written by Albert A. Woldman in 1952.

When Washington was again in danger of attack in mid-1862, Stoeckl wrote that “General Halleck has been ordered to Washington to take charge of military operations.” He wrote that Lincoln was experiencing great difficulty in replenishing the depleted military ranks and “the government has been compelled to offer a premium of $25 a man.” Later he reported that premiums up to $50 have been offered, yet there are few volunteers. Two weeks later, Lincoln issued another call for volunteers, with premiums up to $300.

“Mr. Lincoln told me himself one day that in case of necessity he could count upon two or three million men. Experience has demonstrated that such estimates are inaccurate . . . at the outset the armed services absorbed the adventurous types, the poor, the unemployed laborers and the foreigners who filled the large cities. Not many of these classes remain. The new recruits must come from the farmers, businessmen and, in general, the prosperous classes who are opposed to the war.”

He added that “those who volunteered at the outset never dreamed of the dangers and privations which awaited them. It was generally believed that the mere presence of the Northern army would coerce the South into rejoining the Union. The ever-increasing number of mangled, sick, crippled or maimed soldiers who have returned to their homes has opened the eyes of the Northerners to the horrors of war.

Men no longer volunteer for military service. Bonuses of $250 to $300 are being offered to volunteers without spurring enlistments. As a result, the government was forced to resort to conscription . . . But it is doubtful if the government will succeed in recruiting the number Lincoln has fixed in his call.”

When the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the President to arm 150,000 Negroes, Stoeckl reported that “the Democratic Party regarded this measure as humiliating for the nation” since it was an admission that “an army of a million men cannot win without the help of some 100,000 Negroes.” Stoeckl continues, “Mr. [Thaddeus] Stevens, the author of this measure, said that the federal army . . . scarcely numbered 500,000 men under arms; that half these troops were scheduled to return home soon since their term of service expired next May; that volunteers are no longer enlisting; and that conscription was so unpopular that the government hesitated to invoke it again.”

“At the beginning of the war men came forward in large numbers. It is difficult to procure volunteers even by offering them bounties of $700 to $800. This state of affairs is not surprising. All the adventurous spirits that there were — all the unemployed in the great cities — immigrants brought here from Europe by poverty, have been absorbed by the army. Only force will be able to drag (the prosperous classes) away from their homes, and it is doubtful they will submit willingly to it.”

His perspective on Radical Republican leaders was revealing: Stoeckl wrote that “Peace, no matter what the terms, is the only means of resolving this situation. But the leaders in charge of affairs do not want it.  Thier slogan is all-out war.  Any compromise would endanger their political existence. They are politicians of low-caliber — men without conscience, ready to do anything for money . . . They constitute the swarm of speculators, suppliers of material, war profiteers through whose hands pass a large portion of the millions of dollars spent daily by the federal government.  Aside from these and some fanatics, practically everybody else desires the cessation of hostilities.”

Baron de Stoeckl held a low opinion of Lincoln’s commanding general, Ulysses Grant.  Grant earned the nickname “butcher” as a general who could count on limitless recruits to hurl against the enemy.  Stoeckl wrote Russian Prince Gortchakov in late May 1864 that “General Grant has so far given no proof of being a great strategist. It appears that he undertakes no maneuvers, and that he simply drives his masses of men against the fortified positions of Lee trying to crush him by sheer superiority of numbers.”

Case for an Educated Postwar Black Debated

Radical Republican political hegemony in the postwar South depended upon the freedmen casting votes, despite their illiteracy and lack of education and experience in a republican form of government. These Republicans formed Union and Loyal Leagues in the South that would teach the freedmen to hate their white neighbors, vote against their interests, and cause irreparable racial wounds which remain today.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Case for an Educated Postwar Black Electorate Debated:

“Chaplain Noble, who conducted literacy classes for the enlisted men of the 128th United States Colored Troops in Beaufort (an infantry of ex-slaves), related the outcome of a debate he arranged to “enliven” the class. The question was whether Negroes should be given immediate suffrage or whether they should learn to read first, with “the more intelligent” of the class clearly favoring the latter position “on the ground that you ought never to undertake a job unless you know how to do it.”

But those who learned less easily were in favor of immediate suffrage. One of the speakers — a black thick-lipped orator — commenced his speech as follows:

“de chaplain say we can learn to read in short time. Now dat may de with dem who are mo’ ready. God hasn’t made all of us alike. P’rhaps some will get an eddication in a little while. I knows de next generation will. We hasn’t had no chance at all. De most of us are slow and dull. Dere fo’ Mr. Chaplain, I tink we better not wait for eddication.”

Whether because of the potential logic of universal suffrage for the illiterate black majority, or because the difficulties of the chaplain’s lessons made suffrage based on literacy seem rather remote for some of the slow learners, the speaker’s sagacity brought decisive nods of approval from the majority of the audience.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pg. 34)

 

 

The North's Damnable Bounty System

The Northern enlistment bounty system was notorious for corruption and graft as State agents from the North swarmed into the occupied South regions to obtain Negroes captured from plantations to fill State troop quotas. Seizing slaves in the South accomplished two goals: one, depriving the South of agricultural laborers, and two, obtaining new recruits to fill State quotas and avoid Lincoln’s conscription threat which would draft white Northern men. Predictably, much of the enlistment bonus for the new recruit remained in the agent’s hands.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The North’s Damnable Bounty System

“Ulysses S. Grant, general in chief of the Union armies, “was down on the Massachusetts idea of buying out of the draft by filling their quota . . . from among the [Negro] contrabands in Sherman’s army.” When Forbes defended the law, Grant answered that “Sherman’s head is level on that question. He knows he can get all these Negroes that are worth having anyhow and he prefers to get them that way rather than fill up the quota of a distant State and thus diminish the fruits of the draft.

General Lorenzo Thomas, charged by the federal government with raising Negro troops in the Mississippi Valley, complained that [State] agents were inducing soldiers of several Negro regiments stationed at Vicksburg to desert and enlist with them. General Napoleon J.T. Dana, commander of the military district of Vicksburg, charged that the agents were taking “diseased men, entirely unfit for the service.”

John C. Gray, a young officer from the Bay State, expressed horror at the way in which agents from Massachusetts implemented the [quota] law and asserted that such a system of recruitment brought the State “contempt and sneers.” According to Gray, “this traffic of New England towns in the bodies of wretched Negroes, bidding against each other for these miserable beings, who are deluded, and if some of my affidavits that I have in my office are true, tortured into military service, forms too good a justification against the Yankees.”

Albert Gallatin Browne, a former aid of Governor Andrew who was a Treasury agent at Hilton Head, South Carolina, also questioned the benefit that his home State received from the [troop quota] law. According to Browne, “The whole system is damnable. I can conceive of nothing worse on the coast of Africa. These men have been hunted like wild beasts and ruthlessly dragged from their families.” He informed Andrew that the men enlisted by Massachusetts agents got only a fraction of the [bounty] money promised them, the agents pocketing the remainder.”

(Cotton and Capital, Richard H. Abbott, UMass Press, 1991, page 135)

 

Inciting Race War and Murder

To help suppress the American drive for independence in 1775, Lord Dunmore of Virginia incited a race war by encouraging African slaves the British had imported to massacre their plantation owners –men, women and children. The British repeated this strategy in 1814; wealthy New Englanders attempted it in 1859 through John Brown; Lincoln utilized it in 1863 to suppress another American drive for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Inciting Race War and Murder:

“With the majority of her young men away at war, Beaufort County’s greatest fear was for a British instigated slave uprising. At the beginning of the war, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia . . . had threatened: “By the living God, if any insult is offered to me, or to those who have obeyed my orders, I will declare freedom to the slaves and pay the town (of Williamsburg) in ashes.”

He issued such an order for the defense of Norfolk, freeing all indentured servants and slaves “of the rebels, that are able and willing to bear arms.” He added the proviso that they join the British troops. Some two or three hundred Negroes were freed, and joined in the defense of Norfolk as “Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopians.”

In Beaufort County and other eastern counties where there was a large Negro population, this threat of slave uprising was an ever-present cause for concern. In July of 1775, shortly after Dunmore had made his threat, a “Horrid, Tragic Plan” for such an uprising was discovered. A loyal Negro slave who belonged to Captain Thomas Respess revealed the plot [of a] Tory named Johnson, apparently of another county, [who] engineered the plan. A Bath Town slave named Merrick was the Negro leader through whom he worked.

On the night of 8 July 1775, the slaves on each plantation were to turn on their masters, and slay them and their families. They would then join with the slaves from other plantations. Armed with the weapons of their murdered masters, they were to go farm to farm of the neighboring non-slave holding farmers and surprise and murder them. Moving westward through the counties, they were to be met by an agent of the British government, who would supply them with more ammunition. As a reward, they would later be settled in a free government of their own.

Over one hundred mounted patrollers were promptly dispatched to warn all plantation owners and farmers, and were directed to apprehend all Negroes found off their plantations. Over forty Negroes suspected of being leaders in the plot were apprehended. One group of about two hundred and fifty Negroes was located. When surrounded by two companies of Light Horse, they fled into the swamps.

Many of the captured Negroes confessed to their part in the plot. Records do not specify the punishment . . . [although] the law prescribed death for such an offense. Johnson, the instigator of the plot, escaped. Though the threat hung over the eastern counties for the remained of the war, no other attempt at an uprising was recorded.”

(History of Beaufort County, C. Wingate Reed, Edwards & Broughton, 1962, pp. 120-121)

No Sacrifice Too Great for Independence

Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin was one of the most vocal advocates of arming the slaves to fight the North and offering freedom in return for defending their country. He said in February 1865, “Let us say to every Negro who wishes to go into the ranks on condition of being made free, “Go and fight – you are free.” Let us imitate [the Yankees] in this. I would imitate them in nothing else.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Sacrifice Too Great for Independence

“On 12 October [1864] a radical editorial appeared in the [Richmond] Sentinel. Probably influenced by [Judah P.] Benjamin, it wrote that the South “would sooner sacrifice slavery a thousand times than to be conquered by the Yankees and have it sacrificed by them. If it becomes necessary we can enlist the Negro element on our side. We can make all the offers that the Yankees can, and some they cannot.”

Other editorials in somewhat similar vein followed on 14 and 24 November – after Lincoln had been re-elected and Sherman was marching to the sea. In the latter editorial the Sentinel flatly advocated the arming of the slaves in case General Lee and the other military authorities felt it was necessary for Southern success.

The Negroes who fought in the ranks were to be given their freedom at the end of the war. For it was not a case, the Sentinel said, where the Confederate people could cling to pre-conceived notions and prejudices about slavery. If they did not arm the Negroes to fill their depleted ranks, they were likely to lose their independence, and no sacrifice was too great to keep them from getting under the Yankee yoke.

Simultaneously with the appearance of these editorials the Confederate Congress had assembled on 7 November, and Jefferson Davis, reputedly on Benjamin’s suggestion, recommended the employment of 40,000 slaves in the army but not to be used as soldiers except in the last extremity; after the war they were to be emancipated.

It was an opening wedge for the use of large numbers of Negro troops in the Confederate ranks . . . [and] General Lee, Governor Smith of Virginia, Senator Brown and Benjamin argued ably for the measure on the ground of military necessity. In a letter on 21 December to his old college-mate Frederick Porcher of Charleston, who had written him primarily to urge the arming of the slaves, Benjamin indicated that President Davis was only waiting for public opinion to ripen on the subject.

Early in February, 1865, the Confederate peace commissioners, Judge Campbell, Alexander H. Stephens, and R.M.T. Hunter, returned from their unsuccessful meeting with Lincoln and Seward at Fortress Monroe. A mass meeting was then held in the African Church at Richmond on 9 February to rally the people for a further desperate effort. The African Church, then the largest auditorium in Richmond, was frequently borrowed from its Negro members for such assemblies.

{Judah Benjamin spoke] “I want all the bacon, everything which can feed soldiers, and I want it as a free gift to the country. Talk of rights! What rights do the arrogant invaders leave you? Look to the trenches below Richmond. Is it not a shame that men who have sacrificed all in our defence should not be reinforced with all the means in our power? Is it any time now for antiquated patriotism to argue refusal to send them aid, be it white or black?

I wish to call your attention to some figures, which I wish you to seriously ponder. In 1860 the South had 1,664,000 arms-bearing men. How many men have the Yankees send against us? In 1861, 654,000; in 1862, 740,000; in 1863, 700,000; in 1864 they called out 1,500,000.

Here you have the figures that they brought out 3,000,000 men against 1,664,000 Confederates., who lived at the beginning of the war to draw sword in their country’s service. Our resources of white population have greatly diminished, but you had 680,000 black men of the same ages, and could Divine prophesy have told us of the fierceness of the enemy’s death grapple at our throats, could we have known what we now know, that Lincoln has confessed, that without 200,000 Negroes which he stole from us, he would be compelled to give up the contest, should we have entertained any doubts upon the subject?”

Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Statesman, Robert Douthat Meade, Oxford University Press, 1943, pp. 305-307)

 

Black Soldiers on Both Sides

The first black unit, including black line officers, in the War Between the States was the Louisiana Native Guards of New Orleans, accepted into State service by Governor Thomas D. Moore on May 2, 1861. The Daily Crescent assured its readers that “They will fight the Black Republicans with as much determination and gallantry as any body of white men in the service of the Confederate States.”  The author below illustrates that black men served on both sides.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Black Soldiers on Both Sides

“Chapter XX: In Which is Recalled the Fact Negroes Served on Both Sides In That War and Yankee Recruiters Fished a Long Way From Home and Hardly Got Their Bait Back.

The Civil War wasn’t entirely a white man’s fight. Negroes served in both the Federal and Confederate forces. Soon after Edmund Ruffin pulled the trigger at Charleston, Negroes tried to enlist in both the Northern and Southern armies but their services, as was the case in the Revolution, were at first declined.

This attitude changed rather quickly in the North. The Federal Congress, in July of 1862, passed a law permitting the enlistment of Negro troops. Their pay at first was fixed at $10 a month compared to $16.50 for white troops. Fred Douglas protested to Lincoln and Old Abe told him that if he were a Negro he’d be glad to fight for his freedom free of charge. Douglas and the other Negro leaders continued to protest and the pay differential was wiped out.

Negro troops were used in the main by the North for garrison duty and labor forces and, after Appomattox, for occupation duty in the South; but they saw action in 250 battles and skirmishes, including the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg in which Negro troops were scheduled to have led the charge after that mine was exploded. They missed the assignment due to a foul-up in orders.

Northern governors sent 1,405 agents into captured areas of the South in an attempt to recruit Negro slaves to help fill their State draft quotas but business was mighty poor. They worked for several months but got only 5,052 recruits. When the war ended there were 178,975 Negroes in the Yankee armies, comprising 116 regiments.

In the South, free Negroes came forward at first in large numbers to offer their services to the Confederacy. Richard Kennard of Petersburg gave $100. Jordan Chase, of Vicksburg, gave a horse and authorized the government to draw on him for $500. Down in New Orleans, Thomy Lafon gave $500. An Alabama Negro gave 100 bushels of sweet potatoes. At Charleston a little Negro girl gave twenty-five cents. Confederate war bonds found many Negro subscribers (The Negro in the Civil War, Quarles).

Negroes by the thousands were employed in Southern war factories. Free Negroes were paid the prevailing wage. Slaves impressed into service were given food, shelter and clothing and their owners paid $25 a month. If a slave ran away or died, the owner was paid $354.

Negroes in the South rendered their greatest service to the Confederacy by tilling the farms and taking care of the folks at home while the white men were at the front. The slaves could have ended the War overnight had they chosen to rise in rebellion. Southern armies would have headed back home en masse at even the rumor of such a development.

As the War dragged on, the need for men became finally so desperate the Confederate Congress, acting on the recommendation of General Lee and the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, passed a law in March of 1865 authorizing enlistment of Negroes, both slave and free.

They were to be paid the same as white troops; and slaves, if they remained loyal through the War, were to be set free. President Davis signed the law on March 13. It was less than a month before Lee’s surrender.”

(Then My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night!, W.E. Debnam, The Graphic Press, 1955, pp. 49-50)

Black Men in Blue Under Fire

Little used for combat, black soldiers in Northern armies were more often utilized for labor and servant duties rather than fighting for emancipation, though the primary attraction was enlistment bounty money. If used for offensive operations at all, black soldiers were usually assigned the task of encouraging slaves to abandon their plantations to deny labor and food to the Southern war effort.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Black Men in Blue Under Fire:

“About 43 percent of the 6th [US Colored Infantry] Regiment had volunteered for military service. Another 31 percent were drafted, and over one-quarter of the regiment were listed as “substitute.” A conscriptee could avoid military service if he furnished an able-bodied substitute to take his place. Most substitutes in this regiment were young, usually in their twenties. A youth might well agree to be a substitute; he might likely be drafted anyway; better to join and accept a substantial cash payment for taking someone’s place.

The soldiers hailed from twenty-three different State, both North and South, as well as the District of Columbia. The most common State of birth was Pennsylvania. Of those whose birthplace is listed, over 36 percent of the men of the 6th Regiment claimed Pennsylvania as their birth place. Delaware and Maryland claimed 16 and 15 percent respectively, and Virginia, another 12 percent. Canada, providing twenty-two soldiers, stood as the most frequent birthplace of any foreign nation. Like most black units, the 6th Regiment would be assigned to an unusually amount of physical labor particularly at building fortifications.

From the time blacks had first been recruited it generally had been understood that they were to serve as laborers, and they were used disproportionately often in that role. Their work at Dutch Gap [Virginia] would have been physically demanding under the best of circumstances, but this assignment included a complication that made it especially difficult and dangerous – they would have to do the [canal digging] work within range of Confederate artillery.

They burrowed into the steep walls of the canal to make caves for shelter [but the] mortar shells were deadly. They were fired high into the air “and then fell by their own weight, with no warning scream, and, dropping in the midst of busy groups, burst into raged fragments of iron, which maimed and killed.”

Union artillery was brought in to silence those mortars, but its task was nearly impossible . . . [as] they would try to direct their fire at [mortar positions] . . . Confederate sharpshooters stationed in hiding near the riverbank would open fire on the artillery crews and distract them from their task.”

(Strike the Blow for Freedom, The 6th US Colored Infantry in the Civil War, James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998, pp. 34-35, 61-64)

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