Monday, December 16, 2013

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 militia 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 Northern States used black troops to allow their white men to avoid service in the unpopular war.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission

"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"

"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

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)