The African American contribution to victories in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 was substantial. African American ground forces in the Revolutionary War numbered about five thousand, and they distinguished themselves with heroism in the face of the enemy. Similarly, black sailors contributed to American naval prowess in both wars. White officers commended African Americans for their bravery and willingness to stand and fight; yet their achievements were quickly dismissed and forgotten after the wars. African Americans in the Revolutionary War Crispus Attucks, who died...
The African American contribution to victories in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 was substantial. African American ground forces in the Revolutionary War numbered about five thousand, and they distinguished themselves with heroism in the face of the enemy. Similarly, black sailors contributed to American naval prowess in both wars. White officers commended African Americans for their bravery and willingness to stand and fight; yet their achievements were quickly dismissed and forgotten after the wars. African Americans in the Revolutionary War Crispus Attucks, who died in the Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770, was the first African American to fall for liberty's cause; those who followed him into the ranks of the fledgling American army distinguished themselves on the field of battle. Prince Estabrook, a slave, was part of the Lexington militia under the command of Captain John Parker that met British forces on the Lexington green on 19 April 1775. About seventy militiamen drawn up in two lines met a numerically superior British force and withstood two British volleys before retreating. The British column continued to Concord, occupied the undefended town, and then retreated under heavy militia pressure back to Lexington. En route the British employed flanking maneuvers, but they were insufficient to avoid heavy casualties from sniping and the spirited defense of North Bridge. African Americans defending North Bridge included Peter Salem of Framingham, Samuel Craft of Newton, Caesar and John Ferrit of Natick, Pompy of Braintree, Prince of Brookline, and Pomp Blackman. Lemuel Haynes of the Granville (Connecticut) militia fought at Concord, and Prince Estabrook, a veteran of Lexington, was wounded at Concord. African American militiamen who made independence possible were among those who truly heard “the shot heard 'round the world.” (1783), by John Singleton Copley. This famous work depicts the battle of Jersey, which was invaded by France in January 1781. The artist shows both the moment of Britain's victory and the death of Peirson (at center), the young commander of its garrison. The officers were said to be portraits, as was the image of Peirson's black servant, who is shown avenging his master. Tate Gallery, London/Art Resource, N.Y. The British retreat to Boston drew heavy fire. Brigadier General Hugh Percy reported that his “very strong flanking parties … were absolutely necessary, as there was not a stone wall, or house, though before in appearance evacuated, from whence the rebels did not fire upon us.” Joining the snipers were the black militiamen Cato Stedman and Cato Bordman of Cambridge, Cato Wood of Arlington, and Job Potoma and Isaiah Bayoman of Stoneham. The British suffered 286 casualties during the prolonged battle on the way back to Boston. The British general Thomas Gage waited for reinforcements after the disastrous retreat to Boston. Troops and three major generals, William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne, arrived on 26 May 1775. These new military minds developed a plan to occupy the Dorchester and Charlestown Neck heights to gain the ability to bombard Boston. Americans discovered their plans and moved to Breed's Hill to erect field fortifications. British planners moved slowly to deal with the American presence, opting for an amphibious landing and assault under the protection of naval gunfire on the American position. In what is known as the battle of Bunker Hill, the more prominent hill behind Breed's Hill, the British again encountered African American troops fighting for the liberty they coveted so dearly. The battle began on 17 June 1775. Fifteen hundred Americans held the breastworks and twenty-four hundred British regulars attacked from the Charlestown Neck and along the Mystic shore, supported by field artillery and a naval bombardment. Snipers in Charlestown harassed the advance until the British burned the town. Artillery pounded positions ahead of the advancing infantry and frigates, while floating batteries and a ship of the line hurled shot and shell into American positions. Howe's men advanced in open-field formation toward the breastworks without drawing fire. General Israel Putnam of Connecticut gave the famous order “Don't fire till you see the whites of their eyes.” British troops commanded by Marine Major John Pitcairn were in the lead, firing as they advanced. At fifty yards the American volley met the enemy and drove the troops back. A second assault formation was likewise repulsed, but a third led by British marines took the position when the Americans were almost out of ammunition. The American troops withdrew in good order. The British lost 226 troops, with another 828 wounded, and the Americans counted 140 dead, 301 wounded, and 30 captured. It was the bloodiest battle of the war. For the African Americans involved, it was a significant victory. Peter Salem, a veteran of Concord, killed Major Pitcairn when he was rallying his troops and became an instant American hero. Cuff Whitemore, another veteran of Concord, was wounded at Bunker Hill but stayed in the service of his country throughout the war; Jude Hall of Exeter and Pompy of Braintree were other veterans of the Bunker Hill fight. Sampson Talbot, Caesar Post, Seasor of York County, Job Potama and Isaiah Bayoman of Arlington, and Robin of Sandowne, New Hampshire, were stalwarts of the battle; Cato Tufts, Caesar Dickenson, Grant Cooper, Cuff Haynes, Titus Coburn, Seymour Burr, Cato Howe, Charlestown Eaads, Alexander Eames, Caesar Jahar, and Cuff Blanchard were also part of this great strategic victory. In addition to his combat contributions, Barzillai Lew, a black cooper in Captain John Ford's company of the Twenty-seventh Massachusetts Regiment and a veteran of the 1775 raid on Fort Ticonderoga under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, kept morale high with his fife version of “There's Nothing Makes the British Run like ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’” Barzillai and his wife, Dinah Bowman, a pianist, would have eight children, all musicians. Despite the heroism and service of African Americans in the cause of liberty, Congress and the military bowed to southern pressure and barred blacks from service; in July 1775 African Americans were told by their country that they were not wanted. British action in November 1775, however, caused a reconsideration of policy. On 7 November 1775 Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation offering able-bodied African American men, slave or indentured, freedom if they joined the British. The response was substantial: at least five hundred slaves fled from bondage; Dunmore formed the three-hundred-man Ethiopian Regiment from these volunteers. That unit came to a quick end in Norfolk, Virginia, due to disease, but the surge of volunteers and the formation of the unit caused change. Meanwhile, George Washington's recruitment efforts had fallen short of expectations, and he knew of the deep dissatisfaction of black veterans discarded despite their service. On 30 December 1775 Washington issued a general order authorizing the enlistment of African Americans. In January 1776 the Continental Congress declared that veterans could enlist “but no others”; African Americans had officially become a part of the Continental army. Salem Poor, one of the heroes of Bunker Hill, fought at White Plains in October 1776 and later endured Valley Forge during the winter of 1777–1778. African Americans continued to enlist and serve throughout the war. African Americans served in the ranks at the battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776: London Citizen was missing in action; Julius Cezar, Timothy Price, and Samuel Sutphin survived the disastrous battle. One hundred fifty blacks served in Colonel John Glover's regiment of Massachusetts fishermen who helped evacuate Washington's troops under cover of darkness on 26 August 1776. The evacuation saved the American army from certain destruction. Washington's army faced another challenge in the winter of 1776. With enlistment about to expire and Americans in need of a victory, Washington crossed the Delaware River with twenty-four hundred men and eighteen cannons and attacked the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. The two-pronged attack surprised the Hessians, resulting in 948 captures and 114 casualties; four Americans were also wounded. A week later Washington struck at Princeton with similar success. The victories lifted the spirits of the American people and resulted in the British withdrawal from New Jersey, except for New Brunswick and Amboy. Prince Whipple was one of the slaves who served, and Oliver Cromwell, a free farmer from New Jersey, crossed the Delaware with Washington's troops. Cromwell also fought at Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Yorktown, until his discharge in 1783 after six years of service. The first significant British defeat came at Saratoga, New York. A British campaign launched from Canada in June 1777 wound its way south across Lake Champlain, hampered most of the way by militia, until John Burgoyne's army clashed with Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold at Freeman's Farm. Defeated at this point, Burgoyne's army halted its drive on Albany and turned toward Saratoga. There, in the battle of Bemis Heights, Arnold's tactical aggressiveness put British troops to flight; they surrendered on 17 October. Among the African American victors at Saratoga were Peter Salem, Brister Freeman, and Ebenezer Hill. Washington wintered his army at Valley Forge. Suffering during the winter was severe due to shortages of food and clothing, epidemics of smallpox and typhus, and miserable housing. By March, however, supplies began to arrive—along with the training of Baron von Steuben. On 5 May 1778 Washington conducted a grand review of a newly professional Continental army ready to fight the best Britain had to offer. The army was a “mixed multitude” of black and white men. African Americans among them included Salem Poor, Timothy Prince, Prince Whipple, Oliver Cromwell, and Nero Hawley. Joining the most integrated American army until the Korean War was the first all-black regiment, the First Rhode Island. This regiment formed under a February 1778 call of the legislature that guaranteed that volunteers would receive the same wages and bounties as regular troops. The First Rhode Island fought in the only battle in its namesake state, holding its position against three assaults by Hessian troops. It later fought at Points Bridge and Yorktown. African Americans also served in the American navy. Blacks had a great deal of seafaring experience in the merchant marine and on whaling vessels; “black jacks” were very much a part of the Atlantic world. They were able seamen and buccaneers; there were slave pilots and captains, the elite of maritime slaves. Hundreds of blacks served in the Continental and state navies; integrated service had been a maritime tradition for decades. Joseph Ranger of Virginia served on the crews of two ships lost to the British. Caesar Tarrant fought “gallantly” at the wheel of the Patriot, a schooner captured by a larger British vessel. Aberdeen and Mark Starlins were pilots remembered by their commanding officers for their skill and bravery. African Americans in the War of 1812 The service of black seamen aboard U.S. warships continued in the War of 1812. African Americans served on U.S. Navy vessels during the American-French Quasi War (1798–1800) and during the wars with the Barbary pirates of Tripoli. Perow Newzer was wounded in action off Tripoli harbor in 1803 and had to petition his government for benefits in 1806. Despite the well-known service history of African American sailors, the official policy of the navy at the time was to exclude black and mulatto seamen; some officers disregarded this discriminatory policy, however, and blacks continued to serve. With the declaration of war in 1812, the policy was dropped entirely, and 15 to 20 percent of seamen were African American. The service of many of these men in the face of the enemy became legendary. In August 1812 the Constitution, under the command of Captain Isaac Hull, met the Guerriere, with Richard Darces commanding. Darces had disparaged the quality of American frigates, and it was the general understanding that somewhere a hat had been bet on the outcome of the first battle. Hull ran the Constitution “within biscuit shot,” or the distance one could throw a spinning ship's biscuit; Darces ordered the gunners to “fire as you bear”; thus, after the ship was sighted by the first gun port, the remaining cannons would fire in sequence. Hull ordered his gun crews to hold fire, and those crews took the brunt of the eighteen-pound cannonade; American blood was the first to be spilled. Hull then ordered his crew to fire, unleashing over one-third of a ton of shot at point-blank range. American riflemen cut down officers and sailors on deck. Grapeshot raked the top deck and the now-open gun deck. The mizzenmast, shattered by a twenty-four-pound ball, crashed to the deck. The Guerriere was defeated. Captain Hull wrote of his African American crew, “I never had any better fighters. … They stripped to the waist and fought like devils, sir, seeming to be utterly insensible to danger and to be possessed with a determination to outfight the white sailors.” Hull and his fighting African Americans were the first sailors to force a British ship to surrender to an American ship since John Paul Jones had done so in the American Revolution. In September 1813 African American seamen again distinguished themselves on Lake Erie with Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry's fleet, which comprised two twenty-gun brigs, the Lawrence and the Niagara, a four-gun schooner, and six boats with one or two guns, met a British squadron made up of two three-masted ships of nineteen and seventeen guns, a schooner with thirteen guns, a brig with ten, and two one-gun boats. Perry, on the Lawrence, attacked the whole British squadron, lost all his guns and took 80 percent casualties before transferring the Lawrence's flag to the Niagara. Perry pressed the attack home, and the British surrendered. After the battle Perry remarked that his black crew “seemed to be absolutely insensible to danger.” Jesse Williams, a veteran of the victory of the Constitution over HMS Java in December 1812, was wounded aboard the Lawrence. Newport Hazard, one of 150 volunteers from Newport to accompany Perry on the lake campaign, was also wounded. Anthony Williams served aboard the schooner Somers in the battle. Cyrus Tiffany was another seaman to serve at the Battle of Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie. In no small part had African Americans enabled Perry to declare, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” The result was similar at Plattsburg Bay on 11 September 1814, when British and American vessels met in the battle of Lake Champlain. Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough had arrayed a static defense centered on his flagship Saratoga; his fleet was at anchor with ten galley gunboats in supporting positions inside the larger vessels. In addition, Macdonough had set extra underwater cables to the bow and stern anchors. By heaving some cables and paying out others, Macdonough could turn a ship completely around. The British attack came upwind into the bay, toward the broadsides of Macdonough's anchored ships. The British flagship Confiance took one broadside and then another when Saratoga was pivoted on the spring line. Confiance surrendered quickly by hauling down its flag; the surrenders of the ships Linnet, Finch, and Chubb followed. It was one of the most decisive victories for American naval arms. Peter Joe was one of Macdonough's sailors; Cookie died manning his gun on the Saratoga. John Day served on the galley gunboat Viper. Charles Black, whose father fought at Bunker Hill, was one of Macdonough's seamen. Macdonough also had a Cato Williams of the Eleventh U.S. Infantry Regiment serving as a soldier on board. Once again, African American service in the face of the enemy contributed to an American victory. Black seamen sailed on every ship that fought the British during the war, though there were no all-black crews and no black officers aboard these vessels. Notably, David Dibias served aboard the Constitution; the British captured him as part of the Levant's prize crew in 1815. He later rejoined his messmates on the Constitution and served in the Mediterranean between 1821 and 1824, then becoming a merchant seaman. In 1838 Dibias was arrested in Mississippi as a suspected fugitive slave. His attorney secured a letter from the secretary of the navy attesting to his service and veteran's status, setting him free. African Americans served in some ground units during the war, but the climax of the war and black service came at the battle of New Orleans in 1815–1816. General Andrew Jackson called for black service on 21 September 1814, promising that “every noble-hearted, generous freeman of color, volunteering to serve … will be paid the same bounty in money and lands now received by the white soldiers.” These volunteers were to serve in segregated units; two battalions were quickly formed under the command of white officers, with two African Americans winning designation as majors: Vincent Populus and Joseph Savary. By 23 December 1815 over sixteen hundred British regulars had closed to within eight miles of New Orleans. Jackson decided upon a surprise attack at night, which opened with a half-hour bombardment by the gunboat Carolina followed by an infantry attack. The Forty-fourth U.S. Infantry Regiment advanced quickly but found itself outflanked by the British and in danger of being cut off. To the rescue came Major Jean Baptiste Plauche's battalion of Orleans volunteers, composed primarily of Creoles, and Major Jean Daquin's “freemen of color” battalion. Their heavy fire stopped the British cold. The preemptive night attack succeeded in delaying the British advance. Jackson's defense stopped other attacks, but on 8 January 1815 five thousand British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars under Sir Edward Michael Packenham advanced against Jackson's defenses. American artillery, “the noisiest kind of varment[,] began blaring away,” and a cannon capable of launching thirty-two-pound projectiles “filled up to the very muzzle with musket balls” fired at point-blank range, sweeping the British “into eternity.” Tennessee rifles, Kentucky muskets, and four lines of sharpshooters greeted the survivors, while the New Orleans band played “Yankee Doodle.” The British attacks faltered, failed, and collapsed in retreat, leaving Packenham and scores of officers and men dead on the field. The Americans owed their victory to their martial skill, discipline under fire, field leadership, and heroism. The British reported 2,037 casualties, including two of their four field generals and half of the Ninety-third Regiment of Highlanders, one of the best under the British flag. The Americans suffered 333 casualties. Jackson's army and its African American soldiers had achieved what Napoleon could not: a clear defeat of a British army. This great military victory was shared by the African Americans who stood and fought for liberty. The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 demonstrated the ability of African Americans to fight both on land and at sea. Officers and others acknowledged their bravery, but after the war most Americans forgot the black heroes. Mexican-American War Most of America quickly forgot the sacrifices and heroism of African American soldiers and sailors serving in conflicts from the Revolution through the Mexican-American War. Only the navy continued to recruit African Americans, but even in that service efforts to reduce the presence of blacks were powerful. Although about one thousand African Americans served in the naval blockade of Mexico during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), southern opposition to black service took its toll. The army, mostly a garrison force except in wartime, became a white man's institution, with blacks allowed only as personal servants to the officers. But when the shots at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, both North and South quickly found that the service of African Americans was a necessity. New Orleans recognized the contributions of the Battalion of Free Men of Color in the War of 1812. In 1851 ninety veterans of the battalion marched in the center of the city's annual parade commemorating the January 1815 Battle of New Orleans. The last commemorative parade took place on 8 January 1860 and included Jordan B. Noble, a veteran of the Battle of New Orleans, the Second Seminole War, and the Mexican-American War. Noble was one of the few African Americans who served in the Mexican conflict. Official army efforts to keep American troops white deterred black enlistment, but some blacks served in a volunteer regiment and four regular regiments. Most were company musicians or personal servants to officers. Likewise, the U.S. Navy did not forget the service of blacks, but with the antislavery movement and the southern apology for slavery setting American minds afire in the 1830s and 1840s, the pressure to exclude blacks from service grew. African Americans continued to volunteer their services to the fleet, but in 1839 the acting secretary of the navy, Isaac Chauncey, decreed a quota on recruitment to reduce the number of African Americans serving in the navy. Southern politicians were not satisfied. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina started a campaign against black service, introducing a bill to bar African Americans from all naval posts except cook or personal servant. The Senate approved, but the House of Representatives allowed the bill to die. Calhoun was more successful at home. Beginning in 1822 South Carolina jailed any black seaman of any nationality who went ashore in the state. Despite the southern attack on black service, about one thousand African Americans served in the U.S. Navy in the Mexican-American War. U.S. naval vessels blockaded Mexican ports, bombarded Vera Cruz, and visited coastal towns to secure surrenders. Under these circumstances, African Americans had little opportunity for combat. The USSPortsmouth made an appearance in the California campaign but spent most of its time in Mexican waters persuading cooperation. The appearance of the vessel was enough for the cities of San Jose del Cabo, San Lucas, and La Paz in Baja California to surrender. Recruitment of Black Troops in the Civil War The firing on Fort Sumter brought the abolitionist cause forward and put African Americans in uniform. The secretary of the navy, Gideon Welles, ordered the recruitment of African Americans for that branch of the armed services with a long tradition of black enlistment. By the war's end approximately thirty thousand African Americans had served aboard Union vessels. Abolitionists in uniform recruited slaves and freemen equally aggressively. In October 1862 James H. Lane formed the First Kansas Colored Volunteers (federalized in 1863 as the Seventy-ninth United States Colored Troops) and called on slaves in Missouri and Arkansas to fight for the Union and freedom. Lane's Kansas volunteers fought a rebel force near Butler, Missouri, in October 1862. Efforts to free slaves expressly to enlist them in the Union Army had mixed results. In August 1861 Major General John Charles Frémont issued a proclamation in Missouri that all slaves who took up arms for the Union would be free. Fearing that the proclamation would drive the border states to secede, President Abraham Lincoln voided the proclamation and relieved Frémont of his command. Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, in command of Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in May 1861 termed slaves as “contrabands of war” and eligible for full pay, rations, and clothing when working for the government. Later in command of Union forces in New Orleans, Butler again called for black volunteers. Butler's use of the concept of contraband found sanction in federal statue. In August 1861 Congress passed the First Confiscation Act, which dictated that slaveholders who permitted their slaves to labor in support of the Confederacy forfeited their titles to the slaves. Butler's concept found even greater support in the Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act of July 1862, which provided that fugitive and captured slaves were forever free and eligible for recruitment into the military. One of the first all-black units to respond was the First Louisiana Native Guards. Butler subsequently commissioned seventy-five African Americans as Union officers. Following in the footsteps of Frémont, Major General David Hunter issued a three-state emancipation proclamation in May 1862, calling slaves from South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to join the Union forces. As he did with Frémont, Lincoln nullified the proclamation, again fearing border-state rebellion. Yet with the Sea Islands in Union hands, the work of forming regiments of runaway slaves continued. The First South Carolina Volunteers was the first such unit to emerge, but the need for troops grew with the ferocity of the war. The abolitionist, black nationalist, and activist Martin Robison Delany became the first black field officer in the Union army. As early as 1863 Major Delany was heavily involved in recruiting African Americans into the Union army. The Union victory at the battle of Antietam and Lincoln's preliminary Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 changed the racial dimensions of the war. Recruitment efforts in the army, long supported by Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists, were now a priority. State regiments like the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry formed. War Department General Order 143 enabled African Americans to officially enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), and state regiments were absorbed into the USCT. About 180,000 African American soldiers would serve in the Civil War. Of these men, only 110 were commissioned officers, mostly in the First Louisiana Native Guards or working as chaplains or surgeons. Enlisted men served disproportionately in labor battalions, but by the end of the war more than one hundred infantry regiments, seven cavalry regiments, five engineering regiments, twelve heavy artillery regiments, and ten companies of light artillery were manned by African Americans. Early Civil War Experiences African American units were committed to combat early in the war. The First South Carolina Volunteers started raiding as early as November 1862. The First Louisiana Native Guards led the attack on Port Hudson, Louisiana, on 27 May 1863. Captain André Cailloux led six charges across open ground against massed artillery fire. On the last charge Cailloux, already wounded, raised his sword and charged in front of his men for a last time. He died, but the reputation of his men for bravery and discipline in the face of overwhelming force was clearly established. In June 1863, at the battle of Milliken's Bend, upriver from Vicksburg, Mississippi, blacks again demonstrated their tenacity and ability to fight. Brigadier General Henry E. McCulloch's Texas brigade advanced on the Twenty-third Iowa; the USCT First Mississippi; and the Louisiana Ninth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth regiments under the command of Colonel Herman Lieb. On the morning of 7 June, McCulloch had about fifteen hundred men and Lieb only six hundred. McCulloch shouted, “No quarter for the officers, kill the damn abolitionists, spare the niggers.” The first Union volley caused the charge to stumble, but its sheer mass carried the defenses. McCulloch noted after the battle that the “charge was resisted by the negro portion of the enemy's force with considerable obstinacy,” but the “white or true Yankee portion ran like whipped curs.” Lieb's extreme right held, and repeated attempts to drive the black troopers into the river failed. One officer in a USCT regiment declared that “those negro bayonets had got on to their nerves.” Forty-five percent of the Ninth Louisiana (also called the Fifth USCT Heavy Artillery) were killed or mortally wounded in action, the highest proportion lost of any regiment in the Civil War. Blacks had stood and fought under impossible odds, and reports of the battle changed military minds. The sentiment of the regular army was initially that slaves could not fight. Milliken's Bend forced a reality check and showed the value of black soldiers. Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment Perhaps the most impossible battle of the Civil War was fought by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at Fort Wagner, South Carolina. The Fifty-fourth was the creation of Governor John Albion Andrew and scores of abolitionists, including Douglass. The call for troops prompted some prominent African Americans, including two of Douglass's sons, to volunteer for service. Governor Andrew appointed Robert Gould Shaw as the regiment's colonel, and many talented and experienced white officers joined Shaw in leading the black troops. These officers and a strong corps of noncommissioned officers turned the black civilians into a fighting unit. From the time of the regiment's creation in January 1863 until it paraded through Boston on 28 May, the men of the Fifty-fourth knew they were special. Thousands turned out for the parade as the men marched down Boylston Street to Essex, Tremont, Somerset, and Beacon streets to the State House. The crowds cheered the blacks under arms, and abolitionists swelled with pride. The march took the Fifty-fourth to the docks and a trip to the Sea Islands of South Carolina. On reaching the island, the regiment reported to Major General David (“Black David”) Hunter at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Although the terrain was swept by sand, infested with snakes, and crawling with alligators, the nature of the place was not the most odious thing the Fifty-fourth faced. The men heard that the federal government had decreed that black troops would be paid ten dollars per month, with a three-dollar deduction for clothing, not the monthly salary of thirteen dollars they had been promised by the Union government. Colonel Shaw refused to accept any pay, rebuking the government with sharp words and demanding equality. Every man in the regiment joined Shaw in refusing to accept pay. The Massachusetts legislature voted to pay the men the difference, but Shaw and his troops refused the offer. It was not until 1864 that a bill made its way through Congress to grant equal pay and not until September 1864 that the surviving members of the Fifty-fourth received their pay. The regiment not only fought for liberation and union but also stood for equality for all men in uniform. The journey to Fort Wagner started with a raid on Darien, Georgia, and a maneuver on James Island, South Carolina. The former resulted in the burning of the town and the latter with the bloodying of three companies of the regiment. At James Island, a large Confederate force tested three companies of the Fifty-fourth on night picket duty. Despite the rebel onslaught, the Fifty-fourth held, allowing the Tenth Connecticut Infantry to retreat in good order and reinforcements to arrive to beat back the attack. The reports of “the bravery of the three companies” and African American heroism spread throughout the Union army, and white units cheered the Fifty-fourth as it passed, marching toward Fort Wagner. Fort Wagner was a formidable structure located in a defensive position supported by terrain. The fort was near the northern tip of Morris Island, and its guns protected Battery Gregg, overlooking Charleston Harbor. Battery Gregg protected Fort Sumter and enabled blockade runners to supply Charleston. Fort Wagner sat across the neck of the island, with a creek on its western side and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. The only approach by land was a seventy-five foot strip of terrain protected by field fortifications of palmetto logs and sand. Such field fortifications were generally impervious to artillery fire, with shot and shell quickly consumed by dirt. Further, the southeastern and southwestern extremities of the fort thrust out like two bayonet blades, allowing fort infantry and artillery to fire simultaneously at both flanks of any attack. Colonel Shaw had attached the Fifty-fourth to Brigadier General George C. Strong's command, and Strong's brigade was to lead the attack. The Fifty-fourth, in turn, was to be the lead element. The division commander, Major General Truman Seymour, told his operations commander that “we will let Strong lead and put those damned niggers from Massachusetts in the advance; we may as well get rid of them one time as another.” Seymour clearly evinced the deep-seated racism that permeated some northerners. The morning of 18 July 1863 opened with Union artillery bombardment from ship and shore. Only direct hits caused any damage as the sand, dirt, and logs absorbed explosive rounds. General Strong reviewed the Fifty-fourth, told the men to rely on their bayonets, and asked who would bear the colors of the regiment if the color-bearer fell. Colonel Shaw removed a cigar from his lips and uttered simply, “I will.” The Fifty-fourth advanced, and Confederate artillery greeted them, causing some disorder until Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hallowell restored order and discipline. The regiment advanced with five companies leading in a two-column attack formation. Unfortunately, as they marched at the double-quick, the terrain thwarted orderly formations. The high tide on the right pushed lead elements into the surf, and the swamp on the left compacted the companies. At that point Confederate infantry joined the artillery in deadly fire at the compacted formation. Huge gaps in the advance formation, slashed open by grapeshot and volley fire, quickly filled with courageous men advancing at a dead run. Shaw, in the lead with the regimental colors, reached Fort Wagner's rampart shouting, “Forward, Fifty-fourth,” when he was struck dead by a round to the chest. Yet the men of the Fifty-fourth surged forward and engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting until numerically superior Confederate infantry forces drove them back. The brigade experienced a similar defeat. The Fifty-fourth suffered more than 40 percent casualties, and five of the brigade's six regimental commanders were killed. Confederate and Union soldiers alike recognized the bravery of the men of the Fifty-fourth and their regimental commander. The Confederates usually buried white officers according to military tradition, but Shaw was dumped in an open pit with his men. The Union commander tried to retrieve his body for proper burial but was stopped. When, later in the war, Union troops held that ground, Shaw's father was asked whether he wanted his son reburied. The elder Shaw left his son buried where he had fallen with his men. One of the survivors of the Fort Wagner fight was Sergeant William H. Carney. Carney seized the American flag when its flag-bearer fell and planted it on the Confederate works. On that rampart Carney was wounded in both legs, the chest, and the right arm. Despite his wounds, Carney dragged himself and the flag back in retreat. Carney and the Fifty-fourth directly challenged the entrenched rebels as well as the American stereotypes of African Americans. Many thought black soldiers would not fight. They did. Many thought them to be cowards. They proved to be heroes. Some considered African Americans incapable of soldiering. Port Hudson, Milliken's Bend, and Fort Wagner had proved black soldiers to be equal to the task of war. Like Carney, Sergeant Anselmas Planciancois of the Seventy-third USCT carried the colors at Port Hudson. Sergeant Major Christian A. Fleetwood, another color-bearer, exhibited bravery in the face of the enemy. Both Carney and Fleetwood won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Captured Black Union Soldiers In Southern hands black soldiers did not fare well. On 12 April 1864 Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's men murdered and mutilated black soldiers who had surrendered at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. Federal troops had abandoned the position on the Mississippi River in January 1864 and marched east, in support of General Sherman's campaign in the South. However, in the spring Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut ordered the post reoccupied. Major Lionel F. Booth, in command of a battalion that included the Sixth USCT Heavy Artillery, was part of the garrison. Booth was the most experienced officer at the post, and he undertook the reconfiguration of the position. Booth abandoned the post's 1862 defensive perimeter in favor of a small fortification on a thirty-acre position near the river. He supervised the construction of rifle pits, gun platforms, and gun ports on the fort's parapet. Six cannons were sited inside the fortification and supported by rifle pits thirty to three hundred yards on both flanks. Booth's earthworks were six feet high and six feet thick at the base. A ditch six feet deep and twelve feet wide fronted the fortification. Despite all this construction, the fortification was fatally flawed owing to several terrain features. First, the river side of the fortification was not fortified. Second, ravines north and east allowed easy infiltration. South of the position, barracks afforded troops cover as they advanced toward the fortification. Finally, the fortification was not on high ground. Several terrain features within rifle range gave sharpshooters easy access to targets within the fortification. Forrest's units were on a campaign to wipe out small garrisons in the region. Advancing from Mississippi, they forced the surrender of the garrison at Union City, Tennessee, but white and black federal troops stopped Forrest's men when they assaulted the fortification at Paducah, Tennessee. Forrest's troops then turned on Fort Pillow and on 12 April struck the pickets of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry under Major William F. Bradford. The white pickets fell back, and Booth's black artillerymen and the munitions of the U.S. gunboat New Era slowed the advance. A civilian in the fort later reported that the black artillerymen loaded and fired despite the “blood running from their bodies.” The effective defense was halted in part by a sniper's bullet that killed Major Booth. Bradford was put in command, and Forrest arrived on the field of battle. As an able battlefield commander, Forrest immediately recognized that the terrain was advantageous for an assault. He ordered troops to seize the barracks to the south and to stop the advance of troops up the Cold Creek gully. Confederate troops soon held the outer rifle pits, marksmen zeroed in on the artillery positions, and a Confederate cannon on the bluff south of the fort forced federal gunboat repositioning. Forrest then issued a surrender-or-die ultimatum, which Bradford refused. Forrest ordered a charge, and his men became willing executioners. The Confederate assault was massive and at close range owing to the terrain features. Standing atop the earthworks, Confederates fired into the federal troops and, as they surrendered, continued the slaughter. Sergeant Wilbur H. Gaylord of the Sixth USCT Heavy Artillery reported seeing Confederates “shoot down three black men who were begging for their lives; and who had surrendered.” A Confederate soldier, Achilles V. Clark, recalled in a letter to his sisters that he and others tried to stop the slaughter, but “General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs.” When the slaughter stopped, more than one-half of the garrison was dead or fatally wounded. Among the African American troops the cry “Remember Fort Pillow” quickly spread. Fort Pillow was not the only such incident, and these examples of racist hatred and barbarism increased African Americans' resolve in the ranks. In the Battle of Poison Springs, Arkansas, on 18 April 1864, African Americans again fell victim to battlefield murder. Colonel James M. Williams of the First Kansas Colored Volunteers reported to Major General Frederick Steele on 24 April 1864, “Many wounded men belonging to the First Kansas Colored Volunteers fell into the hands of the enemy, and I have the most positive assurances from eye-witnesses that they were murdered on the spot.” One Confederate soldier, William Avera of the Fifth Arkansas Artillery, remembered that “many Negro soldiers … was killed and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Indians [from the First and Second Regiments of the Second Indian Brigade] could be kept from killing every negro prisoner and scalping all dead negroes, and in spite of all, they did kill and scalp some.” A. V. Eaton from Company H of the Eighteenth Iowa was on the battlefield the second day and noted that “the dead of the white soldiers had been buried; the colored dead lay where they fell. They took no colored prisoners.” Perhaps the greatest atrocity of the war occurred at Saltville, Virginia, in October 1864. Union troops under the command of General Stephen Gano Burbridge advanced on this strategic salt-producing town in three cooperating columns. Operating in one of the columns was the Fifth U.S. Colored Cavalry (USCC), a unit that had been poorly organized in September 1864, inadequately armed with Enfield infantry rifles, and mounted on untrained horses. The unit was part of General Nathaniel C. McLean's Kentucky Division. On 2 October 1864 Burbridge's troops engaged the Confederate defensive line at Saltville. Confederate defenses held high ground on Sanders Hill and the Chestnut Ridge as well as the ford of the Cedar Branch Creek running between the two hill positions. The federal advance up the Chestnut Ridge with dismounted cavalry included the Fifth USCC, the Twelfth Ohio Cavalry, and the Eleventh Michigan Cavalry. About four hundred African American troops of the Fifth USCC participated in the attack. The regiments in brigade advanced through overgrown terrain and engaged the Confederate skirmishers at point-blank range. As the bluecoats advanced, the Confederates realized that they were facing black soldiers. Some enraged officers, like Lieutenant John Web of the Eighth Tennessee Cavalry, jumped from behind breastworks and charged with pistols. A volley from the Fifth USCC's Enfields cut down Web and drove his men back to their works. The federal troops advanced and exploited a gap in the Confederate line. The brigade charged. The Spencer rifles of the Eleventh Michigan and Twelfth Ohio decimated Confederate defenders. The Spencer was a repeating rifle with a seven-shot magazine loaded through the butt of the weapon, providing the unit's fire superiority. It was an excellent cavalry weapon not provided to African American cavalrymen. The charge impressed Union officers. One Union officer from the Thirteenth Kentucky Cavalry noted that he “never saw troops fight as they did. The rebels were firing on them with grape and canister and were mowing them down by the scores but others kept straight on.” Colonel James Brisbin, the commander of the Fifth USCC, wrote, “I have seen white troops fight in twenty-seven battles and I never saw any fight better” than that displayed by his African American troops. Still, because of ammunition shortages, Burbridge decided to retreat. Colonel R. W. Ratliff's troops withdrew after dark, but Burbridge's retreat left wounded men on the field. The next morning, the Confederates found the positions vacated by Union troops, but on the fog-shrouded field, George Dallas Mosgrove of the Fourth Kentucky Cavalry (Confederate) heard shots fired. Riding up to determine whether a Union attack was imminent, Mosgrove discovered that “a squad of Tennesseans, mad and excited to the highest degree … were shooting every wounded negro they could find.” Firing from other parts of the field evidenced the same sort of murder. Mosgrove's superior officer, Captain Edward O. Guerrant, wrote in his diary, “Our men took no negro prisoners. Great numbers of them were killed yesterday and today.” Henry Shocker, a wounded prisoner of the Twelfth Ohio Cavalry, saw a greater atrocity when he witnessed Champ Ferguson, a Confederate guerrilla leader, executing the wounded on the field and hauling black soldiers two by two into a hollow and shooting them down. Mosgrove also witnessed slightly wounded African American soldiers lined up against a wall and shot in their backs. After the war Ferguson was tried and convicted of war crimes and executed by hanging on 20 October 1865. Despite Southern cover-ups and historical apologies, the facts of the atrocities committed on black soldiers at Saltville and Fort Pillow emerged clearly from the documents left by both sides of the war. Denying the atrocities constituted the big lie of post–Civil War America, but African Americans would not forget. “Remember Fort Pillow” was on the lips of African American troops as they marched to victory. Final Battles Black troops continued to distinguish themselves on the battlefield. In June 1864 at Brice's Crossroads two African American infantry regiments and a light artillery battery held Forrest's troops for three days, often engaging in hand-to-hand combat, until the white troops could retreat. Forrest had 4,800 men and eight guns against Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis's 8,300 men and twenty-two guns, but Forrest knew the Mississippi terrain. The muddy, narrow roads slowed Sturgis, and the heavily wooded ground concealed Confederate strength and positions. Early on 10 June a scouting party of 3,300 cavalry followed by a 5,000-man infantry unit headed toward Guntown. Later that morning Sturgis learned that Forrest had struck five miles ahead, pounding his cavalry with three charges, double-shot cannon fire, and swift infantry and cavalry attacks. Sturgis began a retreat that would have been disastrous had Colonel Edward Bouton's USCT infantry not waged a rear-guard defense with heavy casualties. While black heroism again saved a Union command, it did not save Sturgis's military career. He was never ordered back to the field, and command of African American units was passed to Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson. Praise for the performance of the black soldiers at Brice's Crossroads was extensive. Major Edgar M. Lowe wrote of Bouton's infantry that “every movement that was made was with the same precision as if on dress parade.” Moreover, commands were obeyed “as coolly as at ordinary guard mountings.” Maneuver and precision were important in the rear-guard action. A white soldier in the Seventy-second Ohio wrote after the battle, “The only compact organization I saw was the negro regiments, which were much reduced by casualties.” In the rear-guard action, “they did not straggle, but marched together, and I distinctly remember their solid ranks and the orders of their officers.” They were model soldiers, he continued, because “they were kept well together and were the embodiment of all that is praiseworthy of soldiers in retreat.” African American troops also showed initiative in the battlefield. Captain Henry C. Foster's Fifty-ninth USCT and elements of the Fifty-fifth USCT plundered abandoned wagons for ammunition to continue the fight. The Cleveland Leader reported that a corporal in the Fifty-ninth's Company C used his wits to strike a Confederate soldier with the butt of his rifle, and another responded to a surrender order by a rebel with “Yes, massa” and then jumped the man when he attempted to reload his rifle and dispatched him with his own weapon. Chaplin E. R. Pierce of the Fifty-fifth USCT wrote on 16 June 1864, “Our two colored regiments, God bless them! Doing most of the fighting.” He singled out Major Lowe for starting his troops forward with “Remember Fort Pillow, boys!” and said the men “fought with desperation—not as the hireling, who is not elated by success, or mortification at defeat, but true, free men, fighting for their liberties and families.” Pierce concluded, “Our two colored regiments fought the rebel force several hours alone, while the trains and white troops were getting to the rear. They are anxious to go again.” When the Civil War ended, African Americans had clearly established themselves as brave soldiers and sailors. By October 1864 federal forces comprised 140 black regiments, and by the war's end some 180,000 African American men had served in 449 engagements, 39 of which were major battles. Seventeen soldiers and four sailors won the Congressional Medal of Honor. The last man to die by a rebel bullet, Sergeant Bill Redman of the Sixty-second USCT, was one of 68,178 African Americans to die in the war, 2,751 of whom fell in combat. Battles in the West, Discrimination in the Ranks With the end of the Civil War the U.S. Army had three substantial tasks ahead of it: occupy the defeated South, patrol the border where Mexican forces waged war against the French army of occupation, and quell the American Indian threat in the West. The Civil War had drawn military forces east, leaving Colorado Territory and Texas wide open for Indian raids. Minnesota, Dakota Territory, Arizona Territory, and New Mexico Territory were open for raids, and miners in those areas were easy pickings for war parties. Congress looked to African Americans to successfully accomplish all three tasks. Senator Henry M. Wilson of Massachusetts introduced a bill in January 1866 to create a new, expanded army that would include African American regiments and former USCT officers. General Ulysses S. Grant thought that USCT regiments would fare well in the West, as did Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio. Both saw the USCT's record of low desertion rates during the war as a positive aspect of African American regiments. Representative James A. Garfield, also from Ohio and a Civil War general, argued successfully for the elimination of the designation “colored troops” and equality of status for black regiments in the U.S. Army. However, Wilson's call for thirteen regiments of African American troops amid postwar budget cutting did not survive. The Reconstruction Congress pared black military strength down to six regiments in 1866, four infantry and two cavalry. This number was whittled down in 1869 to four regiments: the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantries and the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries. Since 1864 the U.S. Army had been giving African American regiments equal pay, food, clothing, housing, cavalry horses, and weapons. Many African Americans volunteered to serve because they considered the army an impartial institution that offered an attractive combination of career advancement and service to country. Black regulars fought American Indians in the West from 1866 until 1890. The troops were popularly known as Buffalo Soldiers, but that was a name the men themselves did not use and most regarded as an insult, since army personnel used it as a derogatory term directed at African Americans. In the nearly thirty years of campaigning against some of the greatest irregular warfare experts in the world, these black regulars fought in 2,704 engagements and earned fourteen Congressional Medals of Honor. Sergeant George Jordan won one of those medals for his May 1880 defense of Tularosa, New Mexico, with twenty-four soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry against a band of Apaches. Sergeant Thomas Shaw also won the medal for bravery in the Carrizo Canyon fight in August 1881 against another Apache band. Although they were outnumbered two to one, Shaw and the Ninth Cavalry's Company K held out for ninety minutes, until the American Indian force retreated. From the Tenth Cavalry, Sergeant William McBryar's “coolness, bravery, and good marksmanship” in a fight with the Apaches in 1890 won him the medal. Sergeant Thomas Boyne earned the medal in 1879 while campaigning with the Ninth Cavalry. The Twenty-fourth Infantry's Sergeant Benjamin Brown and Corporal Isaiah Mays earned Congressional Medals of Honor in a May 1889 shootout with Arizona paymaster robbers. Another aspect of the battle for the right to fight was the demand for access to leadership. Clearly, the army discriminated against African American officers. Not one black noncommissioned officer rose to the officer rank in the period from 1866 to 1898. Between 1870 and 1889 only twenty-two blacks won appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Twelve passed the entrance examination, and only three endured the four years of discrimination and tribulation to achieve graduation. Admission to West Point was a critical element of African Americans' right-to-fight campaign. The first African American won admission to the academy in 1870. Henry O. Flipper was the first to graduate in 1877, followed by John H. Alexander in 1887 and Charles Young in 1889.Colin Powell discusses the military's of racial issues and the ways in which the military has changed its treatment of minorities. Flipper's career was cut short by an accusation of embezzlement and a court-martial that found him innocent of embezzlement but guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer. Despite the recommendations of the judge advocate general and the secretary of the army, President Chester A. Arthur upheld a dishonorable discharge. Flipper went on to a distinguished career in mining, journalism, and public service. It was not until 1976 that his name was cleared, and in 1999 President William Jefferson Clinton issued a presidential pardon. In the years leading to the Spanish American War, black officers and enlisted men would continue to fight and serve honorably in the U.S. military, though the struggle for the right to serve and for the civil rights guaranteed to all U.S. citizens would continue for years to come. See also Andrew, John Albion; American Revolution; Antislavery Movement; Black Abolitionists; Black Brigade; Black Loyalists; Black Militias; Black Nationalism; Black Seafarers; Buffalo Soldiers; Butler, Benjamin Franklin; Calhoun, John C.; Civil Rights; Civil War; Civil War, Participation and Recruitment of Black Troops in; Confederate Policy toward African Americans and Slaves; Cromwell, Oliver; Delany, Martin Robison; Discrimination; Douglass, Frederick; Emancipation Proclamation; Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment; Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment; Freedmen; Garfield, James A.; Grant, Ulysses S.; Haynes, Lemuel; Identity; Integration; Jackson, Andrew, and African Americans; Laws and Legislation; Lincoln, Abraham; Maritime Trades; Maroons; Mexican-American War; Murray, John (Lord Dunmore); Native Americans and African Americans; Poor, Salem; Racism; Reconstruction; Salem, Peter; Segregation; Stereotypes of African Americans; Union Army, African Americans in; War of 1812; Washington, George, and African Americans; and Violence against African Americans. BibliographyAltoff, Gerard T. Amongst My Best Men: African Americans and the War of 1812. Put-in-Bay, OH: Perry Group, 1996. An excellent treatment of African Americans who served on land and at sea.Berlin, Ira, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds. Freedom's Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. A detailed overview of African American participation in the Civil War, with excellent photographs and primary sources.Bolster, W. Jeffrey. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. A broad treatment of African Americans who sailed on commercial and military vessels.Buckley, Gail L. American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm. New York: Random House, 2001. Overview of African American service, with extensive references.Edgerton, Robert B. Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001. Focuses on the bravery of African American soldiers.Foner, Philip S. Blacks in the American Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975. A broad social history with some coverage of military service.Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. New York: Free Press, 1990. Close analysis of the relationships and attitudes of white officers and the African Americans they commanded in the Civil War.Howarth, Stephen. To Shining Sea: A History of the United States Navy, 1775–1998. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.Lanning, Michael L. The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell. New York: Citadel Press, 2004. A general overview of African American participation in the American military.McPherson, James M. The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted during the War for the Union. New York: Vintage, 2003. A topical approach to the African American experience during the American Civil War. This is the classic study that most American historians rely upon in starting research on the subject.Mays, Thomas D. The Saltville Massacre. Fort Worth, TX: Ryan Place, 1995. A short but detailed book on the atrocities committed by Confederate troops in 1864.Nalty, Bernard C. Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military. New York: Free Press, 1986. An overview of the African American experience in the U.S. military.Ramold, Steven J. Slaves, Sailors, Citizens: African Americans in the Union Navy. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002. A monograph demonstrating that the navy treated African Americans far more equitably than did the army during the Civil War.Remini, Robert V. The Battle of New Orleans. New York: Viking, 1999. A detailed history of the battle of New Orleans and its meaning, by a distinguished historian and D-Day veteran.Smith, John D., ed. Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. An anthology of articles by distinguished Civil War historians providing original perspectives on the black men in uniform.Trudeau, Noah A. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862–1865. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. A detailed account of all of the engagements involving African American troops in the Civil War, including primary sources highlighted in the text.Wilson, Joseph T. The Black Phalanx: African American Soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Civil War (1887). New York: Da Capo Press, 1994. A republication, filled with primary sources on the Civil War service of African Americans.
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