The North’s use of generous bounties for paid volunteers and resorting to the of black slaves as troops was an unmistakable admission that popular support for the war against the American South was nearly extinct by 1863. Once Lincoln allowed dislocated and captured slaves to be counted against States troop quotas, Northern State agents swarmed into the occupied South in search of (and arguing over) black recruits who would leave white Northern men safe from Lincoln’s threat of conscription.
It is ironic that a Pennsylvania training camp for black recruits was named “Camp William Penn,” a slaveholder who founded the colony which bears his name.
Black Recruits Unwelcome in Philadelphia
“In spite of announcements assuring blacks of pay equal to that of the white soldier, actual practice belied this promise. White enlisted men received thirteen dollars a month with a clothing allowance of an additional three dollars and fifty cents. Black soldiers, however, were paid only ten dollars per month, three dollars of which might be deducted for clothing.
Blacks were also generally denied bounties. Bounties were cash bonuses paid to volunteers by federal, State, or local authorities as an incentive to enlist. These bounties often totaled more than five hundred dollars or more, a generous amount exceeding the average annual wages for a Northern worker. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania eventually contributed a token bounty of ten dollars to each black recruit.
The War Department had also refused to commission black officers. A manyfold rationale stood behind this decision. First, the concept of black troops would be more acceptable [in the North] if white men exclusively were permitted to become officers in such units. Organizing “colored” regiments would create thousands of new positions for regimental officers. The awarding of these commissions to whites could create more support for the program and could reward those who had already shown support.
The [black recruits] of Camp William Penn constantly experienced another reminder of their inferior status through the discriminatory policy of the streetcars of Philadelphia. Of the nineteen streetcar and suburban railroad companies that operated in and around Philadelphia, eleven outright refused to permit blacks to ride. The other eight tolerated black riders but required them to stand on the front platform with the driver.”
The “Grand Review” and battalion drills had all been executed in the friendly confines of the training camp itself. Colonel Wagner and the other [white] commanders recognized the risks they would face when their units left their camp. Earlier in the year, on September 18, the 3rd Regiment of US Colored Infantry marched through Philadelphia on its way to war. At that time the mayor and concerned officials compelled them to march unarmed and in civilian clothes.
[An] underlying tension still simmered because of the many residents who harbored deep prejudices. This threatening situation had caused the mayor to delay an earlier planned parade of the 3rd US Colored Troops even after it had been publicly advertised. During the 6th’s [US Colored Regiment] parade the fear of violence prompted marching officers to carry loaded revolvers to be used in an emergency. The enlisted [black] men, carrying musket and bayonet, “were not trusted with any ammunition.”
(Strike the Blow for Freedom, The 6th US Colored Infantry in the Civil War, James M. Paradis, White Mane Books, 1998, pp. 17-29)