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by Jonathan William Horstman

Battle of Olustee, Florida
(Courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives)

Abstract of
The African-American's Civil War: A History of the
1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers

The American Civil War began as a "white man's" war for the Union army, but with increasing pressure upon President Lincoln and the War Department, the door opened in 1863 for black soldiers to participate in large numbers. The purpose of this study is to review the military activities of the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers (NCCV) and place it within the context of employing black troops at large. It will examine the process of recruiting the men and officers of the regiment and will also address two issues. The first concerns the ability of blacks in general to perform as soldiers and the second deals with the argument that ex-slaves were less capable than free blacks.

The idea of blacks fighting for the Union was anathema for most northern whites. Racial discrimination was as prevalent in the North as it was in the South. The draft riots in New York City during the summer of 1863 provide ample proof of the underlying racial sentiments among the working class. War aims had just shifted from bringing the South back into the Union to freeing the slaves. When the government initiated the draft in 1863, mobs of poor Irish working men and women roamed the streets ransacking the homes of prominent Republicans and venting their anger on the black community. Dozens of blacks were lynched during the four day outburst of uncontrollable rioting, and the Colored Orphan Asylum was burned to the ground.

When blacks donned the blue uniform, life was no easier. Some white units refused to fight once blacks were allowed to bear arms. The first black regiments to be mustered into service were given the task of turning the opinion of northern whites. Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the fifth black regiment to be organized, soon realized the importance of a clean slate. "A single mutiny . . . a single miniature Bull Run . . . and it would have been all over with us," he reported after receiving his commission.

As in subsequent wars, black soldiers found themselves up against two fronts. The Confederacy threatened to treat black prisoners of war as fugitive slaves and punish them accordingly. Also, white Federal commanders displayed racial discrimination in no uncertain terms. Black troops often found themselves serving white commands in slave-like fashion, performing menial tasks and taxing garrison duty. Even by their own white officers, according to one historian, blacks were viewed more as children with no self-control than as adults. Most officers had preconceived, stereotyped images of blacks that proved difficult to overcome when they were commissioned to serve in black regiments. The performance of the 1st NCCV in two battles, though the Federals lost both, helped to exonerate black troops in the eyes of white commanders and helped to open the door for widespread recruitment of blacks. It also proved that ex-slaves were as capable as free blacks in wielding a musket.

The War Department authorized Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild to raise four regiments of infantry in eastern North Carolina. Wild was given exclusive authority to select his officers and to designate rank. New Bern served as the central location for recruiting blacks. After the initial response, the number of recruits dwindled. The black brigade was not completed until 1864, and only three regiments of infantry were mustered into the Union army. The fourth regiment was designated as heavy artillery. The recruitment and experiences of the 1st NCCV offer a unique view of the circumstances and conditions surrounding black soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

Chapter 1

Prologue: Survey of Black Troops in the War of Rebellion

In Meet General Grant (1928), William E. Woodward wrote: "the American Negroes are the only people in the history of the World . . . that ever became free without any effort of their own. . . ." For nearly a century after the American Civil War, Americans ascribed the Union victory to the sole efforts of white men, completely overlooking the contribution made by blacks as soldiers, laborers, and helpers in the Union army. Woodward expressed a common Southern attitude toward African-Americans in saying that they ". . . sang melodious spirituals, and believed that some Yankee would soon come along and give each of them forty acres of land and a mule." 1

Recent publications have attempted to bridge the gap concerning African-American participation in the Civil War. These works are general in nature or they target well known black regiments such as the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, the first northern black regiment to be formed. The popular movie, Glory, a Tri-star production directed by Ed Zwick, captured the public's attention when it depicted the regiment's participation in the famed assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Documentaries and essays summarizing the feats of the 54th Massachusetts are abundant. Less well known are the achievements of the other 165 black regiments that served in the Union army.

The first several black regiments to be raised consisted largely of free blacks. Many of the regiments formed later in the war were comprised almost entirely of southern slaves. The subordinate position held by fugitive slaves during the war caused many to question their ability to perform as soldiers. The idea of arming ex-slaves brought even more criticism from those in opposition to arming blacks in general. The latter issue raised the question of the fundamental nature of African-Americans; whether or not they were biologically inferior or could adequately function as soldiers. The former issue, however, was concerned with the nature of slavery. Did the institution of slavery dehumanize blacks to the point that they were less fit for service? Those who believed that blacks were inherently inferior were racists. But those concerned about the effects of slavery included abolitionists and sympathetic northerners and probably even blacks themselves.

The 1st North Carolina Colored Regiment of Volunteers (1st NCCV) was one of the first regiments to be raised that consisted predominantly of ex-slaves. It formed part of the North Carolina black brigade organized and commanded by Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild. The move to recruit large numbers of ex-slaves hinged upon the success of the 1st NCCV and other similar regiments formed early in 1863. As we will see, the performance of the 1st NCCV resolved the issue of whether or not ex-slaves were fit for service.

The 1st NCCV did not participate in a highly publicized assault, nor did it win a major battle for the Union army. It did, however, serve with the 54th Massachusetts in two battles where both regiments sacrificed hundreds of men in preventing a Union rout. The recruitment and formation of the 1st NCCV involved a unique set of circumstances. Its military duties and experiences, however, were typical of black regiments during the war, especially concerning racism and discrimination from white troops and officers.

This regimental study will begin by summarizing selected historical works of scholarship concerning black soldiers in the Civil War and will provide a general background to employing blacks in the Union army. It will examine the recruiting process of the 1st NCCV and will also review the selection of its officers, a very important factor to the success of black regiments. Finally, it will survey the two major battles involving the regiment and address the question of southern blacks' willingness and ability to fight.


Bell Irvin Wiley was the first historian to clarify the role performed by southern blacks in the Civil War. Wiley's Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (1938) emphasizes how the Union army impacted the lives of southern blacks when it advanced into southern territory. Thousands of slaves fled to Union lines seeking freedom. Wiley's account is sympathetic to the use of blacks as laborers, workers, and spies in the Union army, but it is antagonistic towards employing blacks as soldiers. He argues that northern abolitionists unethically heralded the achievements of black troops and attempted to cover up common vices such as lying, stealing, "feigning sickness," and quarreling. Wiley concludes that the performance of black soldiers in battle was not convincing. "The conduct of the Negroes . . . did not prove them good or bad fighters," he reported. They were capable of "performing acts of reckless courage," but "their dependability in standing against sustained resistance was left for future determination." 2

Benjamin Quarles' The Negro in the Civil War goes to the other extreme insisting that black soldiers were blameless. Black troops took pride in their uniform, not wanting to disgrace themselves. "For dress parade, Negro soldiers reported with arms burnished, belts polished, shoes blacked and clothes brushed," Quarles affirms. He noted that the staff officers were pleased to find the soldiers' barracks in an orderly appearance and their campgrounds neat and clean. Black recruits pained themselves to do the militarily correct thing. 3 According to Quarles, this same attitude carried over to the battlefield. Quarles reviews several battles mentioned in Wiley's book, but his conclusion is quite different.

In surveying the Battle of Port Hudson, fought in May 1863, Quarles quotes a regimental surgeon who wrote that he had "seen all kinds of soldiers," yet none who "for courage and unflinching bravery surpass our colored." The black troops gave three successive charges against the Rebel fortification and each time were met with tremendous rounds of musketry. The Union operation was unsuccessful, but, according to Quarles, the "behavior of the black regiments was one bright spot." 4

Concerning the battle at Milliken's Bend, fought one month after Port Hudson, Quarles quotes the Assistant Secretary of War who reported that the conflict "completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of Negro troops." Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant's correspondent sent word that, "The capacity of the Negro to defend his liberty . . . have [sic] been put to such a test under our observation as to be beyond further doubt." One commander voiced a similar opinion: "It is impossible for men to show greater bravery than the Negro troops in that fight." The casualty list at Milliken's Bend reveal that 39 percent of the black soldiers were killed or wounded. This indicates the kind of action given by black regiments in the engagement, according to Quarles.

Quarles ends his review with President Lincoln's opinion of employing black soldiers. "Some commanders . . . who have given us our most important successes . . . believe that the emancipation policy and the use of colored troops constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion," wrote the President in August 1863. Quarles maintains that throughout their entire service, African-Americans displayed bravery and valor and demonstrated the ability to take the offensive against enemy troops. 5

Dudley Cornish was the first historian to devote an entire book to the account of black troops in the Civil War. In The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865, (1956), he makes a fresh examination of the record in order to rewrite the history of black soldiers. He criticizes earlier historians claiming that "Men living in a Jim Crow society tend to write Jim Crow history." Cornish wants Americans to be aware that the African-American has been more than a "cotton-chopin, banjo-strumming, irresponsible, shadowy figure on the outskirts of American life." 6

Cornish points out that previous conflicts involving black troops failed to eradicate the slave status of blacks. Had they given up efforts to fight in the Civil War, he maintains, blacks would have been excluded indefinitely from American citizenship. Their continual struggle helped win the freedom of nearly four million slaves and provided blacks a limited opportunity in the political sphere.

Cornish's monograph recounts the pre-Emancipation efforts of individual commanders to organize black regiments. It follows the establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops formed after the Emancipation Proclamation and summarizes the general military activities of black soldiers. The chapter titled "Proof of Pudding is in the Eating" depicts the success of black troops in major campaigns and describes the dangers they encountered at the hands of vengeful Rebels. Other chapters review the struggles for equal pay and equal treatment as soldiers in the United States Army.

According to Cornish, a new chapter had been written by African-Americans. "Colored soldiers . . . with white troops . . . had mingled together in the charge. . . . They had assisted each other from the field when wounded, and they lay side by side in death. . . . All who witnessed their conduct gave them equal praise," he quotes a regimental commander. 7 Cornish concludes by quoting Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler who indicated that the black soldier had "with the bayonet . . . unlocked the iron barred gates of prejudice, and opened new fields of freedom, liberty, and equality of right." 8

At the height of the Civil Rights movement, James M. McPherson, author of several works on African-American history, compiled a documentary collection depicting the roles of blacks in the war, largely from their own writings and literature. Many of these manuscript sources, originating from black leaders, editors, soldiers, nurses, schoolteachers, and ordinary workers, were in-troduced to the general reader for the first time.

These documents provide a sense of how African-Americans felt during the push for emancipation; how they responded to the need for more recruits in the North; and how they confronted issues such as colonization, mob violence, equal pay for black soldiers, and charges of racial inferiority. McPherson adequately reviews the employment of blacks as spies and laborers for the Union army and the long, arduous process of arming black soldiers. Observations by field commanders, statements by black troops, and newspaper articles are his means of surveying and appraising the activity of black soldiers. His documentary, entitled The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted during the War for the Union, is well suited for the casual inquirer or the investigative scholar.

A recent volume, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (1990), elucidates the relationship between white officers and their black commands. Joseph T. Glatthaar begins his 360-page analysis of black troops by recounting the aborted attempts at employing blacks as soldiers. It reveals the hardships and harsh realities that confronted black troops and their white officers once they were mustered into service. Glatthaar provides lengthy detail concerning the recruitment of officers, the training and discipline of men, and the trials they endured. Black troops confronted racism and prejudice and had to prove their valor on the battlefield.

According to Glatthaar, the commissioned officers "bore the marks of their era and background." They were forced to lay aside "powerful preconceptions" and "mental and emotional baggage." Many were successful in overcoming these feelings, forging deep relationships with their men. According to Glatthaar, these relationships allowed black regiments to achieve a high degree of success during the war. 9

Glatthaar's monograph, complete with appendices, notes, and twenty-one pages of bibliography, establishes him as the authority on Civil War black troops. His work and others not mentioned serve to broaden our vision of blacks' participation in the Civil War and to satisfy the need for a more complete African-American history of this era.

Glatthaar has provided a detailed summary of the African-American's Civil War. He indicates that the war began as a "white man's war." Most Americans, including the President, felt the purpose of the war was to uphold the Constitution by restoring the Union. Slavery was not a major issue at first. The War Department recognized the need for manpower as the once conceived "short war" had no end in sight. The need for more recruits and the broadening of the war aims to abolish slavery helped open the door for black service.

The Union army established a blockade to prevent supplies from going in or out of Confederate states. Federal troops occupied coastal areas in 1861, displacing southern plantation owners and leaving thousands of slaves unattended. These abandoned slaves hoped to find shelter and refuge behind Federal lines, but Union commanders were compelled to return slaves to their masters under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. As more and more slaves crossed over, however, commanding officers began to realize the potential for labor.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, commanding officer at Fortress Monroe, ignored the Fugitive Slave Act when three escapees sought refuge in his camp. Instead of allowing Confederate authorities to recapture the runaways, he employed them in the Union army and labeled them "contraband of war." Butler was first to apply the term "contraband" to freedmen employed by the Federal forces.

On August 6, 1861, Congress passed a confiscation act supporting the use of ex-slaves for Union labor. The act authorized the seizure of any property used in the "aid of rebellion," including slaves previously assigned to work on Confederate fortifications or naval vessels. 10 This act brought slavery to the forefront of legal and political thought. Abolitionists and black leaders pointed out that slaves served as a "tower of strength" for the Confederacy. They believed that the Union army could deliver a blow to the southern economy by confiscating slaves. Farmers could no longer leave their plantations, fight for the South, and still maintain their crops. Although the southern economy was not devastated, almost 200,000 escaped slaves had served as laborers, cooks, spies, nurses, carpenters, and teamsters for the Union army by the end of the war. 11

President Lincoln tried to avoid the issue of arming blacks. Frederick Douglass, the leading lobbyist for blacks, contended that black regiments would equal two white ones if allowed to fight. He believed that armed blacks carrying the banner of emancipation into the South would soon end the war. Douglass despised Lincoln's tenderness toward the "blood thirsty slaveholding traitors" and prophesied that the North would not succeed unless it made the destruction of slavery its priority. 12

Early in 1862, several commanders considered the idea of arming blacks. Maj. Gen. David Hunter, the new commander of the Department of the South, recognized the need for more troops and organized a black regiment on the Sea Islands of South Carolina. He went beyond the bounds of the confiscation act, declaring martial law in three states and proclaiming slaves to be free. Sensitive to the border states, Lincoln voided Hunter's proclamation. He feared that extreme action supported by the War Department might cause border states to secede and join the rebellion. Impatient for volunteers, Hunter resorted to conscription in order to fill up the ranks. Though a second confiscation act and the Militia Act of July 17 authorized Lincoln to raise black units, he refused to validate Hunter's efforts in the Sea Islands. Hunter was forced to disband his black troops, and his project was not continued until General Rufus Saxton was later sent to the Sea Islands.

In the West, Brig. Gen. James Lane of Kansas was unaware of Lincoln's refusal to arm blacks. Lane raised two regiments of black infantry by the authority of the Confiscation Act of July 17 to help fight Missouri and Kansas bushwhackers. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton informed Lane that Lincoln had not yet authorized the recruitment of black troops, but Lane was not deterred from filling the ranks of his regiments. Lane's troops, composed largely of free northern blacks, were officially mustered into service on January 13, 1863, as the 1st Regiment of Kansas Colored Volunteers. 13 Kansas became the first of the free states to enroll units of black soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler, commanding the Department of New Orleans in 1862, at first devalued the use of black troops. On August 22, however, he welcomed an ex-Confederate detail of black soldiers into his Union forces when threatened by a Confederate attack. In organizing a regiment, he issued an invitation only to freedmen who had previously enrolled in Confederate militia units, purposefully excluding refugee slaves. Butler was cautious about arming free blacks, much less fugitives who had known little else but the hardships of slavery. The regiment was mustered into service on September 27, 1862, and was named the 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guards. A second regiment was mustered in on October 12 and a third on November 24. 14

On August 25, 1862, General Saxton received authority to organize black regiments in South Carolina not to exceed five thousand soldiers. 15 Saxton was the first to receive official orders for recruiting black soldiers. Thus the War Department recognized African-Americans as official fighting members of the Union army.

Saxton found it difficult to follow Hunter's lead when he reached the Sea Islands. Hunter's conscription policies and his failure to discipline abusive white officers caused ex-slaves to become wary of the command at Port Royal. Lincoln's pre-Emancipation Proclamation address helped to boost blacks' confidence in the Union army. When Saxton had mustered enough recruits to form a regiment, he placed Thomas Wentworth Higginson of Massachusetts in charge and named the regiment the 1st South Carolina Colored Volunteers (SCCV). The 1st SCCV was the fifth black regiment to be officially recognized by the Union army. 16 Three other South Carolina regiments were eventually organized and mustered into service.

Certain events had persuaded the Lincoln administration to reconsider its original war aims. McClellan's Peninsula campaign was a failure, Pope was defeated at Second Bull Run, Lee was thrusting north of the Potomac, and elections were around the corner. Lincoln was also feeling pressure from black leaders and abolitionists who insisted that blacks had the right to fight against the southern institution of slavery.

Lincoln had announced on September 22, 1862, that his Proclamation would take effect the following January 1. He declared emancipation for all slaves in those states that had not given up arms against the United States government. He realized that blacks were needed to supplement for the dwindling number of white volunteers. In order to arm them, it was logical that they should be emancipated. He was still concerned with the border states, however, and appeasing their fears of the possibility of servile insurrections. In his Proclamation, Lincoln still maintained the notion that the answer to slavery was colonization, an idea that he propagated until his assassination.

When the Proclamation became effective, only a few officials received authority to raise black regiments. Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts was one such official. He wrote to Francis G. Shaw in February 1863, offering the colonecy of a regiment soon to be organized to his son Robert. Having Robert lead a regiment of blacks would be an extension of Francis Shaw's long struggle against southern slavery. 17 The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Colored Volunteers was to be an experiment to set precedents for future northern regiments. The success of this regiment would be vital in gaining northern support. The 54th proved itself with an aggressive assault against Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 17, 1863. There, Col. Robert Gould Shaw and over 40 percent of the 630 officers and men present were killed in action. 18 Because of the valor and bravery exhibited by these men, thousands of free blacks and southern ex-slaves joined the Union army.

Once Congress and the Lincoln administration opened the door for blacks to fight, the War Department recognized the need for an adequate plan to recruit black troops. To address this problem, the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops in May 1863, under Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas. The bureau was to establish effective methods of recruitment and provide for the selection of officers. The War Department gave Thomas authority to raise as many black regiments as possible throughout the Mississippi Valley region. He successfully recruited 76,000 black troops, 41 percent of the total number who served in the Union army.

By October 31, 1863, the Union army had authorized 58 black regiments and had recruited a total of 38,707 soldiers of African descent. 19 The Lincoln Administration and the people of the North were committed to employing blacks as soldiers. The establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops made the recruiting of African-Americans a "professional, organized, regularized activity" under the control of Washington. 20 With the exception of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, all black regiments were renamed "United States Colored Troops" early in 1864 and were assigned a number. Nearly 180,000 blacks had served in the Union army in 166 regiments by the time Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Seventeen black soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and at least one-hundred received commissions as officers.

Of the first thirty black regiments to be formed, four were raised in North Carolina. By 1863, thousands of fugitive slaves had concentrated in coastal Carolina towns. The persistence of a northern delegation of anti-slavery men prompted the War Department to turn its attention to North Carolina. On April 13, 1863, the War Department authorized Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild "to raise a brigade (of four regiments) of North Carolina volunteer infantry, to be recruited in that state, and to serve for three years or during the war." 21 Wild went to New Bern to begin his task.

Footnotes for Chapter 1
1. William E. Woodward, Meet General Grant (1928; reprint, New York: Liveright, 1965), 372 (page references are to original edition).
2. Bell Irvin Wiley, Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 (New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc., 1938), 315, 334, 340-41.
3. Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1953), 212.
4. Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 218, 219.
5. Ibid., 223-224.
6. Dudley Cornish, The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (1956; reprint, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966), Foreword (page references are to reprint edition).
7. Ibid., 289.
8. Ibid., 290.
9. Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc., 1990), 81-82.
10. Ibid., 28.
11. James M. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965; reprint, New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), 145 (page references are to reprint edition).
12. Cornish, The Sable Arm, 5.
13. Ibid., 77.
14. Ibid., 65-67.
15. Ibid., 80.
16. Ibid., 92.
17. Peter Burchard, One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965), 73-74.
18. Glatthaar, Forged In Battle, 138.
19. General Foster to Secretary of War Stanton, Report of the operations of the Bureau, October 31, 1863, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), ser.3, 3:1113 (Hereafter ORA).
20. Cornish, The Sable Arm, 130.
21. Thomas M. Vincent, Assistant Adjutant-General, to Colonel Edward A. Wild, April 13, 1863, ORA, ser.3, 3:122.

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Chapter 2 - Part 1

Formation of the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers

Several black regiments had been mustered into the Union army by April 1863, but the question about recruiting ex-slaves remained. Most of the regiments raised previously consisted largely of free blacks. Because the North Carolina black brigade would primarily be made up of southern fugitives, skeptics criticized efforts to fill its ranks.

North Carolina offered a peculiar set of circumstances for raising a black brigade. President Lincoln saw the potential to reunionize North Carolina and selected a governor for the state who could foster pro-Union sympathies. Efforts to bring North Carolina back into the Union, however, conflicted with the raising of black troops. In addition, few Union officials in North Carolina supported the efforts of Governor John Andrew and his northern friends. The success of raising the brigade depended heavily upon effective leadership. Brig. Gen. Edward Wild worked long hours to recruit the men and select the officers for the 1st NCCV in hopes that it would be a model for future black regiments.

"A Mecca of a Thousand Aspirations"

Eastern North Carolina entered the war in February of 1862, when Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside occupied North Carolina's coastal regions with his large Union force of eleven thousand troops and fourteen warships. 1 Burnside's mission was to fulfill the War Department's strategy of blockading the Confederacy. On March 14 the Federals seized New Bern after a brief battle with the Confederates. Slaves in the area greeted their northern emancipators with shouts of jubilee. 2 "They seemed to be wild with excitement and delight," wrote Burnside to the Secretary of War. 3 As Union forces secured control of towns and cities, word quickly spread among the slave community that the "northern liberators" had arrived. Thousands made their way to New Bern, Washington, Elizabeth City, and other key locations under Federal control. 4 Many of these refugees would later form part of the 1st NCCV.

Congressional confiscation acts and the President's declaration in June 1862 had established policy concerning refugee slaves. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler set precedents when he labelled escaped slaves as "contraband of war" and utilized them as laborers at Fortress Monroe. The question of whether or not to return ex-slaves no longer remained an issue.

A major issue did arise, however, when cities were overcrowded with refugee slaves and with southern whites displaced by the Federal expedition. The Union army was faced with a large, impoverished population. Burnside appointed Vincent Colyer as superintendent of the Department of North Carolina in order to deal with the problem. According to a census taken by Colyer, there were 7,500 black refugees in New Bern and surrounding areas, and 10,000 blacks, including women and children, within the whole Department. New Bern held the largest concentration of ex-slaves to the point of being called a "Mecca of a thousand aspirations" by one soldier. 5 Burnside ordered Colyer to employ up to five thousand contraband to build Federal fortifications at New Bern and other coastal locations and to pay them eight dollars a month, plus rations and clothing. Burnside also employed fugitives as spies for the Union army. As many as fifty at a time were sent out to observe Confederate positions. 6

Colyer established churches for the black refugees to meet their spiritual needs and organized two night schools for their education. Many soldiers from the Massachusetts regiments stationed in North Carolina served as volunteer teachers. Soon, as many as eight hundred blacks were enrolled in night classes. 7 The school was temporarily closed, however, when Colyer was confronted by Edward Stanly, the new military governor appointed by the President.

Stanly arrived six weeks after Colyer had opened his night schools for blacks and cautioned Colyer that North Carolina laws prohibited the education of slaves. If the state were to be reconciled, Stanly pointed out, the Union army must not encourage the violation of her laws. 8 Though Colyer suspended the classes, Stanly received the blame and was criticized for harboring pro-southern sympathies. The situation worsened when Stanly became involved in returning a runaway slave. Nicolas Bray, a local farmer near New Bern, insisted that Union soldiers had carried off his slave against her will. After Stanly persuaded Bray to take the oath of allegiance to the United States in accordance with Lincoln's reconstruction plan, he allowed Bray to take back his slave. Labelled the "Bray Affair," the incident excited fear among the fugitives in and around New Bern and substantiated northern suspicions of Stanly. After news of the incident appeared in several northern newspapers, abolitionists denounced Stanly as "a tool of the 'slaveocracy'" and demanded his resignation. 9

Many Union officials in North Carolina opposed raising black troops. The efforts of northern civilians and soldiers thus became crucial for the success of recruiting black soldiers. Governor Andrew was instrumental in drawing attention to North Carolina. The success of his two regiments, the 54th and the 55th Massachusetts Volunteers, led him to believe that the South offered potential for black enlistments. He wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton suggesting the idea of sending "some able, brave, tried, and believing man as a brigadier" to raise a brigade in North Carolina. He knew that within Maj. Gen. John G. Foster's department there were from 2,500 to 5,000 black men ready to be recruited. 10 Several prominent abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips, George Stearns, Edward Kinsley, and Francis Bird were among those who supported Andrew's efforts. 11

Realizing the difficulty of attracting blacks to join white troops, Andrew recommended sending the 54th Massachusetts Regiment to be the "nest egg of a brigade" of North Carolinians. If the government refused to sanction the North Carolina undertaking, Andrew was prepared to welcome North Carolina fugitives into his Massachusetts regiments and offer them the state bounty. He preferred, however, to see the work going on in the South, where more slaves were apt to volunteer. 12

Governor Andrew recommended Brig. Gen. Frank Barlow of New York to direct the recruiting process. If he were not deemed suitable, Andrew knew of several colonels with excellent qualifications who would accept a brigadiership for such a purpose. Andrew cautioned that the "soul for any movement-even to trundle a wheelbarrow," depended on the right man. 13

The War Department referred Governor Andrew's proposal to Foster in New Bern. Foster was not in favor of recruiting blacks. When a guerrilla force threatened to invade Elizabeth City he armed and equipped about eighty ex-slaves due to a shortage of manpower. Opportunity never came for the freedmen to engage the enemy, but they performed their duty well. Foster felt, however, that they could not be trusted in "any outward movement or raid, probably owing to their lack of discipline." 14

In another Confederate attack on Washington, N.C., many blacks in surrounding areas petitioned to be armed. With limited resources, Foster could only supply about 120 rifles. Again, these men did not directly engage the enemy, but performed their duty well and seemed willing to fight. Once the emergency had passed, they were not interested in enlisting. According to Foster, the men wanted to live with their families rather than serve in the Union army. Probably the general's attitude had much to do with their unwillingness to serve. 15

Foster asserted that his own experiences indicated that not more than one regiment of volunteers could be raised in his department. Forced enlistments, he reassured Stanton, would alienate blacks as they had done at Port Royal under Maj. Gen. David Hunter. On one occasion, having received a petition of ex-slaves wishing to join the Union army, Foster replied that if enough volunteered to form a regiment, he would consider the matter and take action. The only response was an unofficial count of about three hundred men who were willing to enlist. Foster made it clear, however, that the wishes of the government would be "carried out, not only with obedience . . . but with zeal." 16

Col. Robert G. Shaw prepared the 54th Massachusetts to be transferred to the Department of North Carolina. At a ceremony in Boston on May 18, 1863, however, Shaw received orders to report to Maj. Gen. Hunter, commanding Department of the South. Shaw was not disappointed because he felt that South Carolina offered more opportunity for his regiment to demonstrate its military capability than North Carolina. "The latter, as likely as not, would make us do all the digging of the department," he wrote. 17 As it turned out, both the 1st NCCV, soon to be organized, and the 54th Massachusetts were given excessive fatigue duty once they arrived in South Carolina.

When the War Department sanctioned the recruitment of blacks in North Carolina, Wild was put in charge of raising four regiments of African descent. Governor Stanly did not approve of Lincoln's measures to emancipate southern slaves, nor did he endorse Union officials' recruiting efforts. Soon after Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, Stanly submitted his resignation to the President. 18 There were far fewer Union sympathizers in North Carolina than President Lincoln or the Union army had realized. Even those who were pro-Union were offended by blacks wearing blue uniforms. Wild had his work cut out for him.

Selecting the Officers

Though Governor Andrew and Col. Shaw recommended Barlow, Wild proved to be the man for the job. Edward Augustus Wild of Brookline, Massachusetts, had served as colonel of the 35th Massachusetts Infantry at the Battle of Antietam, the Federal victory that prompted Lincoln to announce his Emancipation Proclamation. He was wounded and subsequently had his left arm amputated. Wild still managed to remain on active duty, helping to recruit for the 54th Massachusetts. Though Shaw doubted his ability to remain in active service, the War Department promoted Wild to brigadier general and sent him south to recruit more black troops. 19

To insure that quality officers were selected for the 1st NCCV, Wild chose experienced veterans who were committed abolitionists. Unlike recruiters of other black regiments, Wild was given sole authority to appoint officers. His selections were not required to appear before a board of examiners or wait for the Bureau of Colored Troops to designate rank. 20 Of the fifty-three selected, all but a handful were white anti-slavery men from Massachusetts. Seven came from Massachusetts regiments previously stationed in North Carolina-the 17th, 23d, and 25th Regiments of Volunteers. 21

Wild called on Lt. Col. James C. Beecher, half-brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, to command the 1st NCCV and help fill its ranks. Beecher's previous experiences helped in his relationships with the men. Reared by his stepmother, James knew his brothers and sisters only slightly. Beecher entered Dartmouth College, but a rebellious tendency caused him to be suspended in his junior year. 22 With the help of his influential family, James was allowed to return and was graduated. According to one historian, the estranged relationship between James and his siblings prompted his adolescent behavior. After graduating, Beecher entered Andover Theological Seminary, following the same path as his father and brothers into the ministry. Before he could finish at Andover, James accepted an offer that would send him to the Orient. Beecher spent five years as a missionary, first in Canton, and later in Hong Kong, where he pastored a seaman's chapel. These years of ministering in cities crowded with prostitutes, brothels, and ruffians, forged in James a heart of compassion that later served him well in his command of the North Carolina regiment. 23

Sadly enough, there was a high turnover rate among the sailors in Hong Kong, and James became discouraged at the poor attendance to his services. Adding to his grief, his wife Annie returned to the United States to receive medical care. Once it was discovered that she suffered from alcoholism, she did not return to Asia. This revelation was a blow to the Beechers, a family who publicly championed high moral standards. James returned to the United States at the outbreak of war in 1861 and immediately enlisted as chaplain in the 1st Long Island Regiment, called the "Brooklyn Phalanx." 24

Desiring advancement, James requested and received a transfer into the 141st New York Volunteers as a lieutenant colonel. His brother Tom was also a chaplain in the regiment. The pressures of army life coupled with the strain of Annie's problem weighed heavily upon Beecher. Tom wrote to his wife, Isabella, that James was being driven to madness and possibly faced court-martial. Probably adding to Beecher's anxiety was guilt he felt over his newly discovered attraction to Frances Johnson, a sturdy, pious woman. The Beechers used their influence to persuade Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to grant James an honorable discharge from the army. Thereafter James entered a sanitarium in order to receive professional help for his nervous condition. 25

James was offered a second chance after Annie died in April, 1863. That same month, the War Department had authorized the raising of the North Carolina brigade. Soon after, James received his commission as commander of the 1st NCCV.

Among the other officers, Wild appointed William N. Reed of New York City as lieutenant colonel of the regiment. Reed was graduated from the military school at Keil, Germany, and later served in an imperial army where he received the rank of major. Some records indicate that Reed was a mulatto; if so, he was the highest ranking African-American in the Civil War. 26 Archibald Bogle, from Melbrose, Massachusetts, was appointed major on April 28, 1863. After the Battle of Olustee, Bogle temporarily assumed command of the regiment when its colonel was wounded and its lieutenant colonel killed. He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel of U.S. Volunteers. William C. Manning from Portland, Maine, was appointed adjutant on April 28, and on June 11, 1864, Manning was detailed as Acting Secretary Adjutant to Brig. Gen. E. E. Potter by special order No. 238. He was appointed captain of Company "H" on August 10 and, later in the war, was promoted to major of the 103d United States Colored Troops (USCT). 27

One of the most controversial appointments in the 1st NCCV was Dr. John V. DeGrasse, regimental surgeon. DeGrasse, born in New York City, entered Bowdoin College in 1847 and, on May 19, 1849, received his M.D. with honors. After graduation he traveled abroad to Paris where he became an assistant to the renowned French surgeon, Alfred Velpeau. 28 When he returned to the States, he opened his own practice in New York. Soon he moved to Boston where he earned an excellent reputation. DeGrasse became the first African-American surgeon to be admitted to the Massachusetts Medical Society and was probably the first black to be admitted to any medical body. 29 When war broke out, DeGrasse volunteered his services to the United States Army, thus becoming one of only eight black surgeons to serve in the Union forces. For his brief service with the 1st NCCV, Governor Andrew awarded him a gold-hilted sword from the state of Massachusetts. 30

When the regiment was transferred to South Carolina, friction arose between DeGrasse and Dr. Daniel Mann, a white surgeon appointed by Wild. Mann claimed that Wild intended to make him head surgeon even though DeGrasse was appointed first. Mann accused DeGrasse of undermining his authority, and charged that he abused his access to the hospital liquor and funds. 31 Considering DeGrasse's reputation in Boston, Mann's allegations appeared to be racially motivated. Mann also accused Lt. Col. Reed of aiding his fellow African-American by issuing an order that annulled Mann's right as chief medical officer. Maj. Horace R. Wirtz, medical director, supported Mann's allegations and threatened to bring charges against DeGrasse. 32 When Wild learned of the incident, he rebuked Col. Beecher for not promoting temperance in the regiment.

Beecher swiftly came to DeGrasse's defense. Intending to Court Martial Mann, he hoped that the results of the trial would aquit himself of Wild's rebuke. Beecher insisted that by his orders, no liquor had been issued to the men, except in case of excessive exposure, and under no circumstances had it been given to officers. In not one instance, contended Beecher, had there been an intoxicated officer, and only in one case had charges been brought against one of the men, a statement "which can probably be said of no other regiment in the service, certainly not in this Dpt." 33

Lt. Col. Reed arrested Mann for his wild accusations. When no charges were brought against DeGrasse, Reed offered to drop his charges as well if Mann made an official apology to DeGrasse. Later in the war, DeGrasse was discharged from the service on grounds of insobriety by orders of the War Department, although some doubt remains about the validity of the charges. 34 The appointments of both DeGrasse and Reed reveal a progressive racial attitude prevalent at the raising of the brigade; however, with the replacement of both men with white officers in 1864, this attitude had apparently changed. 35

Another surgeon was assigned to the regiment on October 1, 1863, and reported for duty on November 24. Dr. Henry O. Marcy, a white physician from Boston, had previously served as assistant surgeon in the 43d Massachusetts Volunteers. While with the 1st NCCV, he performed double duty as an officer and as instructor of classes he had established for the men. His term with the regiment ended in 1864 when he was appointed medical director of Florida. He later served with Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in the Carolinas campaign. 36

Although the utmost care was taken in the selection of officers, occasionally one was discovered to be incompetent or unmanageable. First Lt. Levi G. Pratt of Newton, Massachusetts, commander of Company B, serves as an example. Pratt was called before the board for the examination of officers in June 1864 in South Carolina after having been reported "bad-more than two times." 37 He was discharged for disability on July 25, 1864.

Receiving a commission into a black regiment was not always an easy task. In one case, an officer accepted a position in the 1st NCCV when he could not receive a commission into the 54th Massachusetts. George Geurrier convinced his brother and a friend, both staunch Quaker abolitionists, to lobby for him after he was denied a position in the 54th. The friend wrote to General Byron Root Pierce describing Geurrier as having "the highest and purest motives to fight for liberty. . . ." Col. Shaw liked Geurrier but had no more room in his regiment. Governor Andrew was able to obtain a second lieutenancy for him in Beecher's regiment where Geurrier became commander of Company A. 38

Once the officers were selected, General Wild began to focus on filling the ranks of his brigade. He placed Beecher in charge of recruitment. Several prominent New England abolitionists volun-teered to assist Beecher. Edward Kinsley played a major role in speeding up the process of filling the ranks. In a meeting with influential African-Americans in New Bern, Kinsley reportedly made unauthorized offers to new recruits. Abraham H. Galloway, a North Carolina mulatto who moderated the meeting, probably recruited more men than did Kinsley. In praising Galloway for his service, Wild wrote how he was formerly a spy but now was "recruiting emissary." 39

Within thirty days of their arrival, the northern anti-slavery men with their southern delegation were able to enlist 980 men at New Bern. The 1st North Carolina Regiment of Colored Volunteers was officially mustered into service on June 30, 1863. 40 A shortage of volunteers enabled only two other regiments of infantry to be organized-a third, completed in 1864, was designated as heavy artillery.

Footnotes (1 - 40)
1. John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 97.
2. Joe A. Mobley, James City: A Black Community in North Carolina, 1863-1900 (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1981), 2.
3. Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, ser.1, vol. 1, The Destruction of Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 80-81.
4. Mobley, James City, 2.
5. James A. Emmerton, A Record of the Twenty-third Regiment Mass. Vol. Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. (Boston: William Ware and Company, 1886), 95, as quoted in Mobley, James City, 5.
6. Vincent Colyer, Brief Report of the Services Rendered by the Freed People to the United States Army in North Carolina in the Spring of 1862, after the Battle of New Bern (New York: Vincent Colyer, 1864), 9, as appears in Mobley, James City, 9.
7. Ibid., 10.
8. Norman D. Brown, Edward Stanly: Whiggery's Tarheel 'Conqueror,' Southern Historical Publication No. 18 (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1974), 207.
9. Ibid., 210.
10. Governor John A. Andrew to Secretary of War Stanton, April 1, 1863, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), ser.3, 3:109-10 (Hereafter ORA).
11. Richard Reid, "Raising the African Brigade: Early Black Recruitment in Civil War North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review, 70 (July 1993): 268.
12. Governor Andrew to Secretary of War Stanton, April 1, 1863, ORA, ser.3, 3:110.
13. Ibid.
14. Maj. Gen. J. G. Foster to Secretary of War Stanton, May 5, 1863, ORA, ser.3, 3:192.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. David Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1992), 332-33.
18. Brown, Edward Stanly, 248-49.
19. Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, 322-323.
20. Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 276.
21. Descriptive Books, 35th United States Colored Troops (USCT), Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 277.
22. Milton Rugoff, The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981), 451.
23. Ibid., 453.
24. Ibid., 455.
25. Ibid.
26. In a letter to Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, Maj. Horace R. Wirtz, Medical Director, asserted that Reed was a mulatto and that this influenced his decision to elevate a black surgeon over a white one. Maj. Wirtz to Maj. Gen. Gillmore, November 20, 1863, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Also see Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 277; Descriptive Books, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
27. Descriptive Books, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
28. Herbert M. Morais, The History of the Negro in Medicine (New York: Publishers Company, Inc., 1967), 38.
29. Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982), 169.
30. Morais, History of the Negro in Medicine, 38.
31. Daniel Mann to Maj. Wirtz, October 22, 1863, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
32. Maj. Wirtz to Maj. Gen. Gillmore, commanding, November 20, 1863, Ibid.
33. Col. James C. Beecher to Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild, December 4, 1863, Ibid.
34. Descriptive Books, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives; Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 278.
35. Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 278.
36. John H. Talbott, M.D., A Biographical History of Medicine: Excerpts and Essays of the Men and Their Work (New York: Grune & Stratton, 1970), 1008-09.
37. Maj. Archibald Bogle to Capt. S.L. McHenry, June 25, 1864, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
38. Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune, 317-319; Col. Beecher to Lt. Thomas Robinson, November 15, 1863, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
39. Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 282.
40. Col. Beecher to Lt. Robinson, November 15, 1863, Order Book, RG 94, National Archives.

Return: Chapter1

Chapter 2 - Part 2

Recruiting the Men

After the initial response from ex-slaves in eastern North Carolina, the number of recruits dwindled. Competition between departments in North Carolina to hire laborers was one reason for fewer recruits. Maj. Gen. John Peck, the new commander of the Army and District of North Carolina, complained about the high wages that the quartermasters, commissaries, engineers, and other departments offered black employees. Laborers and helpers received ten dollars or more a month while stevedores and teamsters were paid fifteen to twenty dollars per month. Experienced tradesmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, and mechanics earned from $1.50 to $3.00 a day. The pay for Wild's African Brigade at ten dollars a month, minus three dollars for clothing allowance, was not much of an incentive for fugitives whose lives might be at stake. 41 "While such prices are paid in N.C. it will be impossible to make much headway with recruiting," Peck asserted. A total of 1,524 blacks were employed in the various departments within North Carolina. 42

General Wild often raided North Carolina's interior, using newly organized black troops in hopes of soliciting more slaves. Lt. Col. George Lewis led one raid to destroy part of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad line at Warsaw. Capt. H. W. Wilson, an engineer, reported that twenty pioneers of the 1st NCCV successfully and efficiently rebuilt the bridge at Mill Creek along with several other small bridges for the raiding party to cross. On July 5, 1863, the Federals arrived in Warsaw and unloaded implements to destroy the railroad lines. 43 According to the Wilmington Journal nearly two hundred slaves left with the Federals. Subsequent raids also successfully drew hundreds of contraband into Union lines. 44

These expeditions fostered much concern among the citizens of eastern North Carolina. Rumors of wanton destruction committed by Union black soldiers spread rapidly throughout towns and cities. North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance charged that "such men as this Wild are a disgrace to the manhood of the age; not being able to capture soldiers, they war upon defenseless women. Great God! What an outrage. There is no reason why these men are entitled to be treated as prisoners of war." Vance ended by calling the Yankee soldiers barbarians. 45 Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler of Fortress Monroe assured Secretary of War Stanton that "the negro soldiers made no unauthorized interferences with property or persons, and conducted themselves with propriety." 46

Another method that Wild used to generate recruits was to travel to various places in the department. On several occasions he paid his own expenses. 47 During one excursion to Hatteras Island, Wild was successful in recruiting about 150 men, 60 of whom formed the majority of one company. 48

Before the regiment was completed, Wild set up camp on the south bank of the Neuse River, outside of New Bern. 49 Col. Beecher conducted drills and marches to train the men. Later, Beecher wrote of his regiment, "I do not know of a commanding officer whose relations with his men are more intimate and to whom his men go with more unrestrained freedom." 50 Unable at first to obtain a chaplain for the regiment, Beecher provided spiritual guidance for his men. During one Sunday dress parade, Beecher formed the regiment and began singing a hymn. To his surprise, six to seven hundred "good pleasant voices came in grandly." He wrote to Frances Perkins, his new fiance:

Beecher expressed that he was happier than he had been for years. He knew this was his duty, and he was serving to the best of his ability. Beecher felt a sense of pride in commanding the regiment. On June 15 he wrote to Frances from headquarters in New Bern:

Beecher and Wild carefully selected the men for the first regiment of the brigade in hopes that the 1st NCCV would become a model regiment. Because most of the enlistees were fugitive slaves with no opportunity for education, nearly all of the black recruits were illiterate. This proved to be difficult for Beecher when he needed an orderly sergeant or noncommissioned officer to help with paper work and requisitions. 53 James and Frances spent much of their time teaching the men to read and write. Frances, who later married Beecher while he was stationed in Florida, recalled how she received many grateful letters from the men thanking her for their education. 54

The majority of the men comprising the 1st NCCV lived in eastern North Carolina, and most enlisted for a three year term beginning in the summer of 1863. 55 Hundreds enlisted at recruiting posts in New Bern, Washington, Beaufort and other coastal towns. Most of the men reported to recruiting officers Capt. James N. Croft and Capt. C. White of the 1st NCCV. Others who maintained recruiting offices were: First Lt. Holland N. Batcheller, commander of Company H; Second Lt. William E. Shaw; Capt. William Emerson, commander of Company D; and Capt. Charles A. Jones, later killed in action at the Battle of Olustee. The men who enlisted were instructed that their pay would be set in accordance with the War Department policy-ten dollars a month minus three dollars clothing allowance. 56 There is no evidence that they participated in the pay strike initiated by the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

The highest percentage of soldiers came from Beaufort in Carteret County. This is interesting since New Bern was described as the "Mecca" of black fugitives by one soldier. Other principal places of origin were Washington and Elizabeth City, and Hyde, Martin, Pasquotank, and Pitt counties (See Figure 1). Two of the men came from Guilford and Richmond counties in the piedmont. Pvt. Nicholas Simmons from Richmond, located in Forsyth County, qualifies as the North Carolina soldier in the 1st NCCV originating farthest west of New Bern.

Several recruits came from places outside of North Carolina. One private came from Fluvanna County, Virginia, where the Fork Union Military Academy is presently located. Several were from Norfolk and Richmond, and a few came from Culpepper, Isle of Wright, Jefferson, Suffolk, and Vance Hill, all in Virginia. Late in the war, as many as one hundred fugitives from South Carolina signed up with the 1st NCCV. Seventy-eight were from Charleston and twelve came from Sumter County. Three soldiers were listed as coming from Maryland, and one each from New York, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Savannah, Georgia. Most of these men were recruited as replacement troops in 1865 for a one-year term.

Of the noncommissioned officers, three were from North Carolina, five were from New York (three of whom were transferred out of the 112th New York Regiment), and one was from Scotland. Furney Bryant, who was one of the North Carolina noncommissioned officers, came to New Bern as a refugee dressed in rags. Unable to read and write, he joined Superintendent Colyer's night classes. Bryant was rewarded for his diligence in school when he was selected to serve as one of General Burnside's spies. He later enlisted in the 1st NCCV and was promoted to first sergeant for his "display of intelligence and leadership." 57

The men of the 1st NCCV originated in over forty counties in North Carolina. This was an unusual statistic for a Civil War regiment but not for black troops. White regiments were commonly recruited in concentrated areas where family members and friends enlisted together, providing cohesion to the regiment. 58 This was not the case with the 1st NCCV because households had been torn apart by slavery and by the displacement of communities when Federal forces occupied southern territory. When blacks enlisted, usually they were unfamiliar with other recruits in their companies. The movie "Glory," directed by Ed Zwick, accurately depicted this case when soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment were stationed at Camp Reidville, Maryland. Four men who were assigned to the same tent were complete strangers. One was a freeman from Boston and the others were fugitives from Tennessee and South Carolina.

Most of the men who enlisted in the 1st NCCV were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. Only seventeen soldiers were seventeen years old, six were sixteen, and four were fifteen, making a combined total of 3 percent of the total number of men (See Figure 2). Those older than 25 made up only 28.7 percent of the total. Pvt. William Moultri of Company J, at age sixty-seven, was the oldest recruit. He was rejected, however, by the mustering officer on June 30, 1863. Pvt. John Gaskill of Company C ranked next at age fifty-four. Gaskill, originally from Beaufort, was recruited in Washington, North Carolina, on June 9, 1863, by Capt. Josiah C. White.

Regimental records made no distinction between former slaves and free blacks regarding the occupations of the men. Farmers and laborers made up almost 90 percent of the regiment. Few were trained as carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, and shoemakers. Several were listed as sailors, drivers, and teamsters, and a few were listed as butlers, cooks, butchers, distillers, painters, caulkers, and waiters. Three of the companies listed no occupations at all, and the clerks for Companies B and K simply listed all the enlistees as laborers. One interesting feature of the descriptive books is the category of skin tone. Of the men listed, 92 percent were "dark," "brown," or "black," while only about 7 percent were described as having a "light" complexion. Of the noncommissioned officers, 66 percent were listed as either light or fair-skinned which provokes speculation that they were chosen according to their complexion rather than merit. In one case, however, the ability to read and write was probably the determining factor. Pvt. John Monroe of Company A was literate when he was mustered into service in 1863. He was promoted to sergeant, replacing Second Lt. George Geurrier in the witnessing of the clothing issue. 59

After the regiment was complete, the black women of New Bern presented a flag of regimental colors to the 1st NCCV. Harriet Beecher Stowe assisted in the handiwork of the dark blue silk, gold fringed flag complete with a goddess of liberty trampling on a serpent on one side and a golden sun with the word LIBERTY on the other. On the staff appeared a silver flashing engraved, "From the Colored Women of New Bern to the 1st N.C.C. Vols." 60 The men of the 1st NCCV proudly bore their flag as they marched out of New Bern on July 30, 1863, on their way to Charleston, South Carolina.

The 1st NCCV became part of the Third Brigade in Maj. Gen. Israel Vodge's division. For the time being, it remained part of Wild's African Brigade. Stationed on Folly Island during its assignment in South Carolina, Beecher's regiment took part in operations against Fort Wagner but did not participate in the famous assault of the 54th Massachusetts. This frustrated Beecher, who had hoped that South Carolina would be the test for his soldiers. Because doubts remained about blacks' ability to fight, black troops were forced to prove themselves in battle. No amount of marching or fatigue duty would convince northerners of their value.

Beecher and his men encountered a few bright moments while stationed on Folly Island. In a letter to Frances, he recalled early morning maneuvers on the beach with his men:

Hardship and misfortune were the order of the day, however. Beecher's officers complained that they were not receiving proper issues or that their equipment was substandard. Maj. Archibald Bogle notified Lt. Thomas J. Robinson, Assistant Adjutant General, that "The Arms (Springfield, Enfield and Swivel Bore) being mostly second hand and many of them more or less imperfect are hardly suitable for Field Service-many of the equipments are very poor-principally second hand." 62 Beecher also protested that his men were not receiving proper food or transportation. He sent word to Lt. Robinson that a detachment of men at Fort Green were not receiving adequate meat or bread rations. 63

Men in Beecher's regiment were often overworked and many became ill. Beecher told Frances that all he wanted was to "get my boys out of this accursed man trap before they are all worked to death." He bragged that if he were left in the middle of North Carolina unsupported that he would "lose fewer men and engage the enemy more" with his regiment than the whole fleet and army combined at Charleston. 64

Some of Beecher's soldiers experienced blatant discrimination while stationed at Folly Island. Beecher discovered that detachments of his men were being used to set up camp for a white regiment. This kind of abuse was common among black soldiers. Most commanders of white regiments assumed that blacks were only suited for menial, degrading tasks. Beecher bitterly protested such practices to General Wild:

Wild forwarded the letter to General Vodge who in turn sent it to General Gillmore. Gillmore quickly took action and ordered that officers were not to employ black soldiers to "perform menial duties for white troops." A month later, however, he found the same thing occurring and reiterated his order to the white officers in command. 66

Beecher expressed his own afflictions in his letters to Frances. "I sleep clothed and half wakeful to work," he wrote. "I work by day and watch by night. Hardest of all is [sic] give up hope of usefulness to the government and the country." 67 Beecher's cynicism towards the commanding officers in the Department of the South was almost comical. He told Frances how the Siege of Charleston was a farce:

Beecher believed that the "taking of Charleston" could only happen if the government sent troops to make an assault west of the city by land. He later told Frances, "Really, among such stupid strategists I shall soon begin to think I know something. Didn't I write you sometime ago that while Gen. Gillmore and others were glorifying our imaginary triumph, the enemy were quietly replacing damages in Sumpter and mounting guns?" 69

The army broke up the North Carolina African Brigade in December 1863, when the 2d and 3d North Carolina Colored Regiments were transferred to Fortress Monroe under Maj. Gen. Butler. White brigades were seldom separated on either side in the war because commanders acknowledged a common bond among white soldiers. In the case of black troops, however, officials saw a natural entity only in that the soldiers were black. General Wild himself said that he would fill the ranks "by picking up recruits by the wayside" during expeditions and raids. 70 This could explain why black regiments were renamed in 1864 and issued a number and why white regiments retained their state designations throughout the war.

Colonel Beecher heard rumors that his regiment might be sent south into Florida where it could see action, but he was not optimistic. "It is reported that we are soon to have marching orders for Florida, on the gulf coast," wrote Beecher, "but I fear there is no such good fortune in store for us. . . . I wish I may prove a false prophet, but I am right so often that when I see a hole in a grindstone, I'm becoming quite sure there really is one." 71

Beecher was mistaken, however. The siege of Charleston was coming to an end and most of the regiments were being transferred. On February 7, 1864, Beecher received orders to report to Maj. Gen. Truman Seymour at Hilton Head as soon as transports were available. 72 Many in the 1st NCCV who were sick with smallpox and exposed to "contagion" were retained at Hilton Head with two officers, one of whom was a surgeon. The remainder of the regiment was ordered to participate in Seymour's expedition in Florida. The 1st NCCV left Vodge's Division on Folly Island, District of Hilton Head, on February 14. 73 The regiment boarded the transports complete with gear and equipment. The men of the 1st NCCV were moving closer to battle, but the question still remained as to their ability and willingness to fight.

Footnotes (41 - 73)
41. Col. Beecher to Maj. William S. Stryker, Paymaster, U.S. Army, November 16, 1863, Ibid.
42. Berlin et al., Freedom . . . Black Military Experience, ser.2, 133-34, Maj. Gen. John Peck included a pay scale of the men who worked in various departments for the U.S. Army.
43. Report of Cpt. H.W. Wilson, ORA, ser. 1, 27, pt.2:863.
44. As appears in Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 288.
45. This letter was in reference to Wild's threat to hang two southern women if two black prisoners of war were hanged by the Rebels. Zebulon B. Vance to Judge Ould, State of North Carolina, Executive Department, Raleigh, December 29, 1863, ORA, ser. 2, 6:776-77.
46. Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Head Quarters, 18th Army Corps, Department of Virginia & North Carolina, Fortress Monroe, December 31, 1863, ORA, ser. 1, 29, pt.2:596.
. Maj. George L. Stearns to Secretary of War Stanton, August 17, 1863, ORA, ser. 3, 3:684.
48. Alfred S. Roe, The Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in Its Three Tours of Duty, 1861, 1862-63, 1864 (Boston: Fifth Regiment Veteran Association, 1911), 244, as quoted in Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 281.
49. Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 285.
50. Rugoff, The Beechers, 458.
51. Col. Beecher to Frances Johnson, June 15, 1863, Beecher Family Papers, The Stowe-Day Foundation, Hartford, Connecticut.
52. Ibid.
53. Col. Beecher to Lt. Robinson, November 5, 1863, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
54. Frances Beecher Perkins, "Two Years With A Colored Regiment," New England Magazine, 17 (January, 1898): 543.
55. Descriptive Books, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives. Subsequent information concerning the soldiers is also found in the Descriptive Books.
56. General Orders of the War Department, No. 163, sect. VI: "persons of African descent who enlist under the act approved July 17, 1862 (General Orders, 91, Adjutant-General's Office, 1862, p.25), are entitled to 'ten dollars per month and one ration; three dollars of which monthly pay may be in clothing.'" ORA, ser.3, 3:252. Col. Beecher to Maj. Stryker, Paymaster U.S.A., November 16, 1863, Order Book, 35th, RG 94, National Archives.
57. Mobley, James City, 20.
58. Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 283.
59. Ibid., 285.
60. Rugoff, The Beechers, 535; Col. Beecher to Frances Johnson, July-August, 1863, The Stowe-Day Foundation.
61. Col. Beecher to Frances Johnson, October 3, 1863, The Stowe-Day Foundation.
62. Maj. Bogle to Lt. Robinson, December 30, 1863, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
63. Col. Beecher to Lt. Robinson, November 30, 1863, Ibid.
64. Col. Beecher to Frances Johnson, October 6, 1863, The Stowe-Day Foundation.
65. Col. Beecher to Brig. Gen. Wild, September 13, 1863, Letters Received, 35th USCT, Regimental Books & Papers USCT, RG 94 {G-182} also printed in Berlin et al., The Black Military Experience, ser.2, 493.
66. Berlin et al., The Black Military Experience, ser.2, 494.
67. Col. Beecher to Frances Johnson, October 3, 1863, The Stowe-Day Foundation.
68. Ibid.
69. Ibid.
70. Berlin et al., The Black Military Experience, ser.2, 494.
71. Col. Beecher to Frances Johnson, October 3, 1863, The Stowe-Day Foundation.
72. Adrian Terry, Assistant Adjutant General to Brig. Gen. Alex Schimmelfennig, February 7, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:469.
73. General Alfred H. Terry to Col. E. W. Smith, February 14, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:481.

Return: Chapter 2, 1

Chapter 3

The Road to Olustee

Though several regiments of black troops had already proven that they would fight, Union officers doubted the ability of southern fugitives, recently freed from slavery. Louisiana black soldiers fared well in the Battles of Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend in May and June 1863, respectively. In July the 54th Massachusetts made a heroic assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, and the 1st Kansas Colored Regiment of Volunteers received recognition for its valiant efforts in the Battle of Honey Springs. The majority of black soldiers who fought in these battles were recruited from the free black populations in the respective states.

Southern troops consisting predominantly of slaves and contraband had not yet engaged the enemy in a major conflict. 1 The 1st South Carolina Colored Regiment of Volunteers, a regiment similar in nature to the 1st NCCV, successfully completed excursions up the St. Mary's River and along the coasts of Florida and Georgia, but it only met small numbers of the enemy. What would be the outcome when ex-slaves confronted hardened Confederate veterans in the heat of battle? Needless to say, most wagered that southern blacks would not fare well under the pressures of warfare. The first test for the men of the 1st NCCV came in Olustee, Florida.

Florida lay isolated from the affairs of the war when Union troops were recalled from Jacksonville in March 1863. Later that year several factors brought the southern state once again onto center stage. The Lincoln administration and other officials hoped to establish a loyal state government somewhere in the South. According to reports, Florida had potential for such a purpose. Florida also had become a major food source for the Confederate army, and in, order to expedite shipping, the Confederates had planned to upgrade Florida's rail system.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones recalled how the coming election year of 1864 redirected Union strategy. Jones wrote that if a southern state could be brought under the control of the Union army in order to form a "quasi State Government" that would recognize the authority of the United States, the state could be represented in the approaching nominating convention and take part in upcoming elections. Jones regarded Florida as an ideal state for such a purpose. Not only had the Confederate Army stripped Florida of its forces, but its long, extended coast line made it impractical to defend against Union invasions, and its deep, broad rivers made it easy to traverse the interior. Another factor with even greater appeal, Jones noted, was the Confederacy's access to Florida's food supplies by railroad. 2

By the end of 1863, much of the Confederacy's commissary supplies came from Florida. If Union troops could land near Jacksonville, penetrate to a point in the interior, and destroy the railroads and bridges near the Suwanee River, the Confederacy would not only be "deprived of a large quantity of the food drawn from east and southern Florida, but a point d'appui would be established" for inhabitants desiring to organize a loyal state to join the Union. 3

Federal Brig. Gen. D. P. Woodbury, commander of the District of Key West and Tortugas, noted the Confederacy's dependence on Florida to feed its soldiers. "Two thousand head of cattle are reported to be driven out of Florida every week for the use of the rebel armies," he wrote. "Probably half of these cattle are driven from Middle and Lower Florida." Woodbury inserted an extract from a Florida newspaper that included instructions to commissary agents, warning them of the impending crisis of the Confederacy's food supply. Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, commander of the Department of the Gulf, endorsed the letter: "If the supply of beef in Florida be of importance to our army, a force should be sent there sufficiently large to scour the country." 4

In November 1863, Maj. P. W. White, Florida's chief commissary officer, issued a confidential circular letter appealing to Floridians to contribute foodstuffs desperately needed by the Confederacy. He pointed out that to inform the people of Florida of the "present perilous condition of our army" in the public press would expose the Rebels' "source of danger" to their enemies. He included letters received from other commissary officers, two from Maj. J. F. Cummings under General Braxton Bragg. On October 5, 1863, Cummings had written, "I cannot too strongly urge upon you the necessity . . . of sending forward cattle promptly. It appears that all other resources are exhausted and that we are now dependent upon your state for beef for the very large army of General Bragg." Another letter from Maj. M. B. Millen from Savannah stated, "Starvation stares the army in the face; the handwriting is on the wall." Later Millen wrote, "I have exhausted the beef-cattle, and am now obliged to kill stock-cattle." 5 Unauthorized copies of the circular were posted on trees throughout Florida, making the letter publicly known. Though none of the Federal officers mentioned the circular, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, blamed it for the Federal expedition into Florida. 6

Florida's rail system in itself posed little threat to the Union army. However, the Confederate Army wished to reassemble unused portions of railroads in order to connect the Georgia and Florida systems, speeding the shipment of beef to the rest of the army. A private owner who effectively diverted efforts to tear up his railroad delayed the link up until 1865. Nevertheless, the seizure of Florida's rail system was a legitimate Union objective. Destruction of the railway bridge on the connector line headed toward the Georgia line would perpetuate the existing gap between the Georgia and Florida rail systems. Also, the destruction of the rail bridge near the Suwanee River west of Lake City would disrupt lines of communication between east and middle Florida. 7

Several towns along Florida's rail system served as collection sites for Confederate commissary agents. The rail-junction town of Baldwin ten miles west of Jacksonville was one collection point that would best serve as a base for the Federals. Gunboats and steamers traveling up the St. John's River could land a short marching distance from the town. For these reasons, a large Federal force, including the 1st NCCV, would be sent on an expedition into Florida. Reinforcements for the few, scattered rebel forces would take time because of the poor transportation system. 8

President Lincoln authorized Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, commander of the Department of the South, to establish a loyal state government in Florida. 9 Gillmore requested that newly formed black regiments be sent to the Department of the South in order to occupy Florida. He proposed to land troops on the west bank of the St. John's River, conduct raids into the interior with seasoned troops, and establish posts garrisoned by black units. Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, questioned the military importance of Gillmore's operation. If successful, he contended, it would merely use up valuable troops in garrison duty. The whole expedition would have little effect, militarily, on the progress of the war. 10

General Gillmore clearly outlined four objectives for the expedition: first, to procure an outlet for cotton and naval stores and various products gathered by Union loyalists and troops; second, to cut off the enemy's sources of commissary supplies; third, to obtain recruits for the black regiments; and fourth, to restore Florida's allegiance to the Union in accordance to Lincoln's instructions. 11

Gillmore began organizing the men in his department for their departure. An unusual factor in Gillmore's expedition was the fact that his brigade commanders were colonels, normally regimental commanders, and not experienced generals. Also, Gillmore had planned to use only veteran troops for raiding purposes and spare green troops to garrison the newly established posts. Several regiments of inexperienced troops, including the 1st NCCV, soon found themselves on the road to Olustee. Furthermore, a shortage of horses left Gillmore with fewer mounted troops than he desired. These became significant factors when the Federal expedition confronted a large Confederate force at Olustee. 12

Gillmore placed Maj. Gen. Truman Seymour in command of the expedition that sailed up the St. John's River on February 7, 1864. Col. Guy V. Henry commanded the cavalry that pushed westward from Jacksonville along the railroad, capturing large amounts of stores and eight pieces of field artillery at Camp Finegan. He reached Baldwin on the 9th where he encountered the enemy and seized more rebel property and supplies. Gillmore accompanied General Seymour's troops when they joined Col. Henry's cavalry at Baldwin. Scattered fragments of Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan's force posed the only threat to the Federals in east Florida. 13

Gillmore sent a portion of the Union forces to Sanderson, west of Baldwin, before returning to Jacksonville and ordered Seymour not to "risk a repulse in advancing on Lake City, but to hold Sanderson unless there were reasons for falling back which [he] did not know. .."14 Seymour protested, suggesting that the entire force be withdrawn from the interior and that only Jacksonville and a few other posts be held. He pointed out that any movement to the interior was not sound strategy. Not only would more men be necessary to support the operation, but Florida could not become a loyal state in its present condition. He felt that raiding the interior was only "frittering away the infantry." 15

Seymour apparently reversed his position on raiding the interior, however. On the 17th he wrote, "not enough supplies could be accumulated to permit me to execute my intentions of moving to Suwannee River. But now I propose to go without supplies. . . ." 16 Gillmore immediately dispatched his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. John Wesley Turner, to stop the movement. Bad weather delayed Turner for two days. Thus when he reached Jacksonville, Seymour had already engaged the enemy.

Seymour planned to move his troops to Barber's Plantation and from there push through the Rebels at Lake City. He would then send his mounted force on to destroy the railway bridge over the Suwanee River thirty miles beyond. 17 Col. Joseph R. Hawley, commander of a brigade during the battle, recalled a council of war held in Baldwin the day before the battle. According to Hawley, the officers concurred that it was infeasible to form a permanent line extending into the interior. The only source of communication would be a rickety one-engine railroad that could easily be disrupted by Rebel forces. Col. Hawley quoted one officer as saying, "The Confederates could have ruined us by letting us march one more day without interruption and then sitting down on the railroad between us and home." The officers unanimously voted for maintaining a position on the St. John's River near Jacksonville, but General Seymour continued with his plan.

On February 20 at 6 a.m., the Union force left Barber's Plantation on the South Fork of the St. Mary's. The Federals marched eighteen miles from Barber's to Olustee. Open pine forests provided good visibility for the Federal troops. The ground was low and flat, with few streams or undergrowth. Lakes and ponds offered the only natural defenses for an army, both of which were used at Olustee. The 1st NCCV had received its transfer orders and was now part of Seymour's force. 18 The entire Union army consisted of 5,500 men and officers and sixteen guns. Col. Henry's cavalry led the advance along with the 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, two squadrons of the Independent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry, commanded by Maj. Stevens, the 1st U. S. artillery with four guns, and Samuel Elder's Horse Battery B.

Col. Hawley followed the cavalry with his brigade: the 7th Connecticut, the 7th New Hampshire, and the 8th USCT, commanded by Capt. B. F. Skinner, Col. J. C. Abbott, and Col. Charles W. Fribley, respectively. Col. W. B. Barton led the second brigade, including the 47th New York Volunteers, the 48th and 115th New York commanded by Col. Henry Moore, Maj. W. B. Coan, and Col. Simeon Sammon, respectively. Col. James Montgomery brought up the rear leading the 54th Massachusetts, commanded by Col. E. N. Hallowell, the 55th Massachusetts (not engaged), commanded by Col. N. P. Hallowell, and the 1st NCCV, commanded by Col. W. N. Reed. Reed filled in for Col. Beecher who had previously gone north with dispatches.

Col. Hawley's brigade marched in three columns, the 7th New Hampshire and the 7th Connecticut on the right flank and the 8th USCT on the left. Barton's and Montgomery's brigade followed in like fashion. Tailing the infantry were Capt. John Hamilton's Light Battery "E", 3d U. S. Artillery; Capt. L. L. Langdon's Battery "M", 1st U. S. Artillery; and Lt. Henry H. Metcalf with one section of Battery "C", 3d Rhode Island Artillery. 19

Meanwhile, Confederate forces began converging upon Lake City. Four days after the Federals landed at Jacksonville, the Rebels had only six hundred infantry and cavalry and two guns in Florida. By the 19th, there were 5,200 Confederate infantry and cavalry and 3 batteries with 12 guns. Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt brought four infantry regiments from Savannah to join Finegan's force. His timely arrival was the major reason for the Confederate success at Olustee. 20 The Rebels began their defensive works at Olustee Station on February 13 but never finished them. Their position was strong only if the enemy presented a frontal attack. It could easily be turned by a cautious commander. 21

General Finegan's force consisted of two brigades of infantry and one brigade of cavalry. Colquitt commanded the 6th, 19th, 23d, 27th, and 28th Georgia Regiments, the 6th Florida Regiment, and the Chatham Battery of Georgia Artillery. Col. George P. Harrison, Jr. commanded a brigade of the 32d and 64th Georgia Volunteers, the 1st Regiment Georgia Regulars, the 1st Florida Battalion, Bonaud's Battalion of Infantry, and Guerard's Light Battery. Col. Caraway Smith commanded the Confederate cavalry and the Florida Light Artillery remained unattached. 22

The Union force marched with a lack of security. General Seymour failed to deploy flankers and the only advance guard to give warning was the cavalry. 23 The correspondent for the New York Times reported that, "It would certainly be called a military failing to move a column of troops without the proper flankers through any portion of the enemy's country, even if positive information had been obtained that the enemy himself was a long distance off." 24

General Finegan changed his original plan of drawing the Union force into his defensive works at Olustee. Instead, he moved the bulk of his force forward about three miles to meet the enemy. This move took the Federals completely by surprise.

At 3 p.m. on the 20th, after marching fifteen miles, Col. Henry's cavalry met the enemy's pickets a few miles east of Olustee. Two companies of the 7th Connecticut moved forward to drive them back. Seymour ordered Hawley to send the rest of the 7th Connecticut out in front with Henry's cavalry and the 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry. The advance continued, driving in the enemy's pickets. Three miles west of Olustee the advance guard met and drove back the enemy's cavalry. At this point, Seymour's force suddenly came upon the full extent of the Rebel line, ready to fire upon the Federals.

The 7th Connecticut fell back to consolidate the Union line, and the battle began. Hawley sent up the 7th New Hampshire on the right and the 8th USCT on the left. Hamilton and Langdon brought up their batteries in the center, abreast of Elder's horse battery. Minutes after the 7th New Hampshire deployed and engaged the enemy, Col. Abbott apparently misunderstood an order from Col. Hawley, and the whole regiment broke. The 7th New Hampshire reformed and performed well on the right flank, but the blunder was irreversible. The 7th Connecticut and the 8th USCT were temporarily left in front by themselves. 25

Under intense fire, the 8th USCT stood its ground, but soon broke and fell back, but not before delivering an "exceedingly effective fire" against the enemy. 26 Out of 550 men, 300 dead or wounded were left on the field. Col. Hawley learned after the battle that most of the men had not had a day's practice loading and firing their muskets. "Old troops, finding themselves so greatly over-matched, would have run a little and re-formed-with or without orders. The black men stood to be killed or wounded," he wrote after the war. Hawley insisted, contrary to some reports, that the black regiment reorganized once it fell back. 27

With both flanking regiments gone, the artillery stood bare before the enemy. The artillery was within one hundred yards of the enemy line, making an easy target for the enemy's rifles. Before Hamilton could even unlimber his pieces, he was hit by "a galling fire of musketry." 28 Seymour ordered up Barton's brigade to take the 7th New Hampshire's place and the 54th Massachusetts to fill in the left. It was too late, however, for the artillery to recover. Some of the horses in the confusion became unmanageable and locked the carriages against the trees. Hamilton was forced to leave five guns on the field in the hands of the Confederates.

Both Barton's brigade and the 54th Massachusetts received a galling round of musketry fire from the enemy. The left began to fall back when Seymour ordered up the 1st NCCV to take position left of Barton's brigade. Lt. Col. Reed, sword in hand, led the 1st NCCV in the "most brilliant manner" and charged upon the Rebels with all tenacity. By this time, however, the enemy had its entire force engaged and was in full momentum. 29 The 1st NCCV and the 54th Massachusetts fought desperately to hold their ground, but the Confederates were too strong. Both regiments were overpowered by numbers, but "fell back in good order, and poured in a destructive fire. . . . The two colored regiments had stood in the gap, and saved the army!" 30

The New York Times correspondent wrote, "They took a bold position at the front and maintained their ground with commendable pertinacity. . . . Never before did the blacks in this department have such an opportunity for displaying their valor, and on no previous occasion have they exhibited such a degree of bravery." 31 Another account of the 1st NCCV said, "It passes between the 47th and 48th on the double-quick, and is cheered by those retiring regiments as it goes into battle." The fresh troops and the manner of their approach momentarily staggered the enemy. The same account said that the 54th Massachusetts and the 1st NCCV even began to push back the enemy. It stated:

According to Col. Beecher, not present during the battle, his regiment received "high encomium from the Genl. Comdg. and from all conversant with the matter." 33

The 1st NCCV lost many of its officers and men. Lt. Col. Reed fell mortally wounded soon after the charge began. Adjutant William C. Manning was shot in the foot but insisted upon staying with the regiment. After receiving a second wound, an officer came to embrace him, imploring him to leave the field, but Manning refused. Maj. Archibald Bogle, wounded and taken captive, was mistakenly reported as killed in action by the correspondent for the New York Tribune, who also misspelled his name, "Major Boyle." 34 Three captains and five lieutenants were wounded, and one captain was killed. According to the official report given by Seymour, a total of 230 enlisted men and 10 officers were killed, wounded, or listed as missing. 35

At 5:30 p.m. the heavy firing ceased. The Federals held their ground until 7 o'clock, when General Seymour issued the order to retire. As the troops formed a new line, the regiments gave three successive cheers and fell back. The 7th Connecticut and Col. Henry's mounted force served as a rear-guard. The entire retreat was conducted at a leisurely pace and in good order, without confusion or panic. 36 At 3 p.m., the Federals arrived at Barber's Plantation. There, they rested until 9 a.m. on Sunday, and then retreated to Baldwin where they stopped at 3 p.m. On Monday morning, they arrived within six miles of Jacksonville and camped.

The Rebels lost all opportunities of delivering a deadly blow to the Union troops when only two companies of cavalry halfheartedly followed the retreat. Colquitt repeatedly ordered Col. Caraway Smith, commanding the Confederate Cavalry Brigade, to pursue the enemy. Brig. Gen. Beauregard blamed Smith for an insignificant Rebel victory.

According to Col. Hawley, it was "a fair, square, stand-up fight in pine woods, just there not very thick, and having little undergrowth, save about an occasional swampy hole." 37 The Confederates outnumbered the Federals by only three to five hundred men and formed a defensive line when the Federals rushed in. The defensive position of the Rebels, armed with "modern" weapons, gave them the edge. 38

Some argue that in his efforts to compensate for his disaster at Fort Wagner, Seymour made an even worse blunder in Florida. 39 Apparently he once again failed to bring up supporting regiments in time to form concentrated fire against the enemy. 40 Seymour reported that the enemy's superior numbers were responsible for the Union defeat. "But the disparity in numbers was too great, and the defense too obstinate to permit of decisive results," Seymour wrote, or else the battle "might fairly have been a [Union] victory." 41 General Gillmore soon discovered that the opposing forces were even in numbers. In his endorsement of Seymour's report, he wrote, "Indeed, our forces appear to have been surprised into fighting, or attempting to fight, an offensive battle, in which the component parts of the command were beaten in detail. The enemy did not fight behind entrenchments or any kind of defenses." 42 Whatever the reasons, the Battle of Olustee proved to be one of the worst losses experienced by the Federals. It was the third bloodiest battle of the entire war for the Union army. Out of 5,115 men, 1,355 were killed or wounded, bringing the percentage lost to 26.5. The loss was exceeded only by the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Battle, where the Union lost 29.6 percent of its men, and the Battle of Port Hudson, where 26.7 percent were lost. 43 The Federals ceased all major operations in Florida, realizing that little chance remained of it becoming a loyal state. 44

Evidence suggests that wounded black soldiers were ill-treated by the Rebels. Brig. Gen. John P. Hatch, commanding the Coast Division, received reports that wounded black troops were murdered on the field. He accredited the aggression to the Georgia regulars and volunteers in Colquitt's brigade. The Florida troops, according to all of his accounts, did not participate in the offense. 45 Twenty years after the war, Sgt. Henry Long of the 48th New York recalled how he had been wounded and left on the field overnight. Long remembered hearing Confederate soldiers cursing as they were ill-treating wounded black troops. 46 No other documents were found that supported these allegations.

According to historian William Nulty, Seymour met a number of Gillmore's objectives in the Florida expedition. The Union troops forced the Rebels to divert 17,000 men from defending Charleston and Savannah and delayed critical reinforcements to the Confederate troops of Tennessee who were preventing a Union invasion of northwest Georgia. Though the Federals failed to destroy the important rail bridges, they did gain possession of key points in the Confederate rail system, briefly disrupting the supply line to two southern armies. Raiding parties effectively destroyed bridges and disrupted more Confederate supply lines after the battle. No figures are available to indicate the number of black enlistments who joined the Federal forces in Florida. However, the presence of black regiments signified to southern slaves the potential for freedom. Considering long range effects, and the characteristics of modern warfare, argues Nulty, the expedition met with some success. 47

Historians who have been misinformed blame the black troops at Olustee for the Union defeat, accusing them of falling back at a critical juncture. In light of the available documentation, this allegation remains unsubstantiated. General Seymour commended the efforts of his black soldiers:

In accounting for the white regiment's failure, Seymour pointed out that it was filled with "conscripts and substitutes, of a very inferior class." 49 The correspondent for the New York Tribune reported that,

If it had not been for the black troops, the casualty list would have been much greater. 51

The black compatriots performed their duty as soldiers with fortitude and gallantry. Regardless of threats from the enemy or inequitable treatment by their own government, they fought with bravery and resoluteness. An unforgettable defeat for the Federals, the Battle of Olustee should be remembered as an example of the African-American's willingness and determination in fighting for his freedom.

The 1st NCCV performed admirably in its first encounter with the Confederates. The men provided further evidence that southern blacks would not bolt in the heat of action. They passed their first test, but the second trial for the regiment was yet to come. The next opportunity would take place later in 1864 outside a small town in South Carolina.

Footnotes for Chapter 3
1. Ratings for engagements were taken from Frederick Henry Dyer's A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, 3 vols. (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959).
2. Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buell, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Being for the Most Part Contributions by Union and Confederate Officers, based upon The Century War Series, 4 vols. (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, Inc., 1956), 4:76.
3. Ibid.
4. Brig. Gen. D. P. Woodbury to Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone, Department Head Quarters, December 23, 1863, ORA, ser.1, 26, pt.1:873-74.
5. Circular Letter, Maj. P. W. White, Commissary Officer, November 1863, ORA, ser.1, 28, pt. 2:472-73.
6. General P.G.T. Beauregard to General S. Cooper, March 31, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt. 2:392; William H. Nulty, Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1990), 68.
7. Nulty, Confederate Florida, 58-61.
8. Ibid., 75.
9. President Lincoln to Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, January 13, 1864, ORA, ser. 1, 35, pt.1:278.
10. General H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, to Maj. Gen. Gillmore, January 22, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:279.
11. Maj. Gen. Gillmore to General Halleck, January 31, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:279.
12. Nulty, Confederate Florida, 78.
13. Maj. Gen. Gillmore's report to General Halleck, March 7, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:276.
14. Ibid., 276-77.
15. Maj. Gen. Truman Seymour to Maj. Gen. Gillmore, February 11, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:281-82.
16. Maj. Gen. Seymour to Maj. Gen. Gillmore, February 17, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:284.
17. Ibid., 286-87.
18. Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry to Lt. Col. E. W. Smith, Assistant Adjutant-General, February 14, 1864, ORA, ser. 1, 35, pt. 1:480-81.
19. Maj. Gen. Gillmore to Maj. Gen. Seymour, Appendix F, February 4, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt. 1:280.
20. Nulty, Confederate Florida, 119, 121.
21. Johnson and Buell, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4:76.
22. Ibid., 4:77.
23. Nulty, Confederate Florida, 125.
24. New York Times, March 1, 1864, p. 1.
25. Johnson and Buell, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4:80.
26. Ibid., 78.
27. Ibid., 80; Col. Hawley disputed an account given by General Samuel Jones, also found in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, that says the Eighth USCT fled and did not appear again during the rest of the battle.
28. New York Times, March 1, 1864, p. 1.
29. Maj. Gen. Seymour's report to Brig. Gen. John Wesley Turner, Chief of Staff, March 25, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:289.
30. Frank E. Moore , ed., The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc.: With an Introductory Address by Edward Everett, 11 vols. (New York: Putnam's Sons, 1861-68), 8:411.
31. New York Times, March 1, 1864, p. 1.
32. Moore, The Rebellion Record, 8:410.
33. Col. James C. Beecher to Maj. F. W. Taggard, July 22, 1864, Order Book, 35th Regiment United States Colored Troops (USCT), Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
34. New York Tribune, March 1, 1864, p. 1.
35. Return of casualties in the engagement near Olustee, Fla., February 20, 1864, Maj. Gen. Seymour, commanding, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt. 1:298.
36. New York Times, March 1, 1864, p.1.
37. Johnson and Buell, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4:80.
38. Ibid.
39. Nulty, Confederate Florida, 118, 119.
40. Louis F. Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865 (Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corp, 1968), 172 (page references are to reprint edition).
41. Maj. Gen. Seymour's report to Brig. Gen. Turner, March 25, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:289-90.
42. Ibid., 291.
43. Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson, Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1982), 10-11.
44. Hondon B. Hargrove, Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1988), 167.
45. General John P. Hatch to General E. A. Hitchcock, September 25, 1864, ORA, ser. 2, 7:876.
46. Nulty, Confederate Florida, 161.
47. Ibid., 219.
48. Maj. Gen. Seymour's report to Brig. Gen. Turner, March 25, 1864, ORA, ser. 1, 35, pt.1:290.
49. Ibid.
50. New York Tribune, March 1, 1864, p.1.
51. Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 162-63.

Return:Chapter 2, 2

Chapter 4

The Last Test
After Olustee

After the Battle of Olustee, the 1st NCCV, renamed the 35th USCT in February, spent much of its time in Florida marching from one post to the next. Col. Beecher drew attention to the shortage of clothing and supplies in his regiment because of constant duty and losses at the Battle of Olustee. He noted, "since the first organization of my command at Newbern, S.C. [sic] June 1863, it has without rest or intermission been engaged, either in heavy fatigue as at Charleston, S. C. from July 1863 to Feby.1864, or in constant harassing marches as in Florida from Feby.1864 to this date [July 22, 1864]." 1

Though black troops continually demonstrated their worth on the battlefield, they commonly received excessive fatigue duty. White officers saw each battle that incorporated blacks as a test of their ability no matter how often they had proven themselves. Though the 35th USCT performed admirably in the Battle of Olustee, the Union army used it only to garrison posts until it was transferred to South Carolina, nine months after the battle. Amidst the harassing marches in Florida, however, the 35th occasionally participated in raids and excursions.

One Federal excursion resulted in the capture of the Union steamship, Columbine, along with several soldiers from the 35th USCT. On May 21, 1864, Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon departed Jacksonville with two hundred men on the steamer Charles Houghton, accompanied by two gun boats, the Ottawa and the steam-tug Columbine, in response to a distress call. The Federal force steamed up the St. John's River to Picolata where Gordon added six companies of the 35th USCT and all available troops of the 157th New York Regiment to his force, providing a total of about seven hundred men. Gordon ordered a guard of two officers and several men from Col. Beecher's regiment on board the Columbine. The distress call came from Col. William H. Noble, commander of forces east of the St. John's river. Rebel forces had pushed Noble's small detail across the Haw Creek to Volusia.

Gordon sent the Columbine directly to Volusia to assist Noble. Gordon considered it too much of a threat for his troops to sail farther up the St. John's, thus he disembarked his men opposite Palatka. He planned to move his force toward the road from St. Augustine to the Haw Creek crossing and then on to Volusia, a march of considerable distance.

When Gordon arrived at Volusia on May 23rd, he found Noble's force safely garrisoned. He learned that the Rebels no longer remained on the east side of the river, thus he sent the Columbine and the 157th New York back to Jacksonville. Instead of pursuing the enemy reported to be near Haw Creek, Gordon also made his way back to Jacksonville. Three days later he received a report that the Columbine had been captured. Capt. J. J. Dickison of the 2d Florida Cavalry engaged the Federal gun boat on its way back from Volusia at Horse Landing, above Welaka, with a section of Milton Artillery and twenty riflemen from his cavalry. The Rebel artillery disabled the boat with the second barrage. Within forty-five minutes, the Columbine raised a white flag and Dickison's men boarded her. A total of seven commissioned officers, nine seamen, and forty-seven black soldiers were captured, and twenty-five soldiers were killed or drowned. Dickison ordered his men to burn the boat to prevent its recapture by the enemy. 2

Two officers and thirty-nine men from company E of the 35th USCT were either killed, wounded, or listed as missing during the rescue attempt. Col. Beecher requested authority to fill the decimated company. 3 Beecher also inquired about a flag of truce concerning the captured men, but the Columbine prisoners were not returned until June 25, 1865. 4

As 1864 came to a close, the Union army withdrew Federal troops from Florida. Late in November, the 35th USCT received transfer orders to Hilton Head, South Carolina. The regiment was to participate in Federal operations in support of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's march to the sea. In South Carolina, the 35th engaged in its second fiery battle, the final test of its ability to withstand exposure to enemy muskets.

Battle of Honey Hill

Maj. Gen. John G. Foster, who replaced Maj. Gen. Gillmore as head of the Department of the South, prepared his troops, including the 35th USCT, for a raid on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad above Savannah. If successful, this raid would destroy the railroad somewhere between Grahamville and Coosawhatchie and would prevent Rebel reinforcements from reaching Savannah. This would allow General Sherman to cross the Savannah River below Augusta and establish communication lines with Port Royal, the main Federal depot on the coast. 5 Foster placed General John P. Hatch in charge of the operation.

Lt. Gen. W. J. Hardee, commanding the Rebel forces in the Southern Department, requested help from Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, commander of the First Division, Georgia Militia, to prevent the Federals from disrupting the railroad lines. Hardee asked Smith to move his Georgia militia into South Carolina and hold the enemy in check until relief troops could arrive. 6 Smith arrived in Grahamville at 8 a.m. on November 30 with his Georgia troops. There he joined Col. Charles J. Colcock of the 3d South Carolina Cavalry, also commander of the military district in South Carolina.

The two commanders arranged for Smith to take up position behind a parapet and rifle pits previously constructed on the hillside above a small creek bordered by heavy brush. Called Honey Hill, the rise extended one-hundred yards above the creek. A dense forest bordering the Rebel line made a natural barrier on the right, and open woods with large pines and deep marshes anchored the left. A grassy region overlaying the hillside directly in front of the earthworks provided an unobstructed view of the oncoming Federals. Heavy forests skirting both sides of the road would funnel the Union troops directly to the Rebel fortifications. Colcock planned to advance from Honey Hill with a portion of the cavalry and one gun to support his pickets in drawing the enemy into the Rebel line. 7

Hatch left Hilton Head late in the evening on November 28 with two brigades of infantry, cavalry and artillery, and five hundred sailors and marines bound for Boyd's Neck on the Broad River. General E. E. Potter commanded the first brigade of infantry consisting of the 56th, 127th, 144th, and 157th New York Regiments, the 25th Ohio, and the 32d, 34th, and 35th USCT. The second brigade, commanded by Col. Alfred S. Hartwell, included the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments (black), and the 26th and 102d USCT. Lt. Col. William Ames led the artillery, Batteries B and F, 3d New York, and Battery A, 3d Rhode Island. Capt. George P. Hurlbut commanded a detachment of the 40th Massachusetts Cavalry and Commander George H. Preble, U.S. Navy, commanded the marine brigade. The Union force numbered a total of about 5,500 men. 8

A thick fog and incompetent pilots caused some of the Union vessels to sail up the Chechesee River instead of the Broad River, while others became grounded. The bulk of the Federal troops did not reach the landing until late on the 29th. Hatch arrived around 11 a.m., but the steamer Canonicus, carrying the engineer troops and materials, did not show up until 2 p.m. Thus it was impossible to build the necessary landing for the troops and artillery to disembark until late in the afternoon. Still, had they marched directly to Grahamville, they would have met with little resistance. All available Rebel troops were engaged with Sherman's advance to the sea.

Once the Federal detail made its landing, faulty maps and overconfident guides misled the Union troops. They did not reach the road to Grahamville until 2 a.m. the next morning. The men had marched fifteen miles the night of the 29th, twice the distance to Grahamville. The confusion allowed Colcock and Smith adequate time to prepare their defenses. 9

Before daybreak, Hatch's command marched on the direct road to Grahamville. Potter's brigade led the troops with the 127th New York in front as skirmishers, supported by the 25th Ohio and the 144th and 157th New York Volunteers. Col. Hartwell's brigade followed. The 26th and 102d USCT had not arrived at this point.

Thick undergrowth prevented widening the formation to the left and a grass fire set by the enemy acted as a barrier on the right. Potter's men met the enemy's pickets, pushed them back, and silenced their artillery. The advance appeared to be going well, when suddenly around a bend in the road the Union army found itself before an entrenched enemy.

The parapet on the crest of Honey Hill served as the center of the enemy's line and protected four Rebel guns. Seven more guns protected the rifle pits extending on both sides of the redoubt. The 127th New York, supported by two companies of the 54th and all of the 55th Massachusetts, assaulted the left flank of the Rebel line as Mesereau's artillery shelled the redoubt. Twice, they came within two hundred yards of the fortifications, but were repelled with significant losses.

The 157th New York, the 25th Ohio, the 32d USCT, and the marines formed a new line on the right flank and the 157th New York filled in on the left. Battery F, 3d New York Artillery, opened a rapid fire from the center of the line and Potter ordered his right flank to assault the enemy. Heavy forests and deep swamps prevented access to the enemy line.

The 35th USCT entered the battle. Col. Beecher bravely led his men around the right of the Union artillery. The heavy and relentless fire of the enemy, added to the difficult terrain, made Beecher's advance hopeless. Beecher repeatedly charged the enemy, however. In the midst of galling musketry fire, his horse was shot from under him, and Beecher was hit with two musket balls, one seriously injuring his thigh. In spite of his wounds, he remained on the field until the close of the day. 10

Meanwhile, Col. Hartwell rallied the 55th Massachusetts and advanced toward the left flank of the Rebel line with the marine battalion. The 55th met with no more success than did Beecher's men. Hartwell charged the Rebel line twice, resulting in the loss of over one hundred dead in five minutes. At that point, the Confederates charged Potter's left flank, nearly dividing his men. The 56th and 157th New York regiments quickly came to Potter's aid and together they held off the Rebel advance. Perceiving it fruitless to continue, General Hatch ordered a retreat.

Beecher's regiment saw only brief action during the Battle of Honey Hill, but it received its share of casualties. 11 The Union troops lost an aggregate of 746 killed, wounded, and missing. 12 General Potter praised Beecher for his gallant stand on the field after being wounded twice. 13 Lt. Col. Reed's father wrote to Beecher's brother:

As in the Battle of Olustee, by the time Beecher's men entered the fight, momentum favored the Confederates.

General Foster claimed in his report that the Rebel force of over four thousand infantry nearly matched General Hatch's strength. General Smith, however, reported that the Federal army "largely exceeded" the Confederates when all troops were engaged. The actual number, taken from Confederate reports, puts the Rebels at fourteen hundred effective muskets. 15 Their losses were only eight dead and forty-two wounded. The smaller Rebel army achieved success largely because of its strong defensive position and its ability to catch the Federals off guard. Thick forests and marshes prevented flanking maneuvers for the Union troops who were forced into a frontal attack on the Rebel fortifications. The Georgia volunteers held off the Union forces long enough for the South Carolina and North Carolina troops to arrive and take up defensive positions.

Mustering Out

The Battle of Honey Hill was the last opportunity the men of the 35th USCT would have to prove themselves as able, brave fighters. No doubt remained as to the capability of the 35th. The following February, Col. Beecher reported to General Hatch at Hilton Head, South Carolina, after recovering from his wounds. He rejoined his regiment at Combahee Ferry, where his men received him with cheers of joy. Beecher and his men were transferred to Charleston in March, and there Beecher was promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier general. He was placed in command of the northern half of the city and his regiment received orders to occupy the citadel on the central square. 16

The 35th USCT participated in the affairs of Reconstruction in the military district of Charleston until June of 1866, when the three year enlistments ended. The regiment assembled in Charleston and each soldier was quietly discharged from the United States Army. Several of the men wrote Frances expressing their love for Col. Beecher and thanking him for his devotion. They also requested and received a life-size portrait of their Colonel from Frances and placed it in their Charleston headquarters. 17 The portrait and the noble flag presented by the black women of New Bern would serve as memorials for the men of the 35th USCT.

Lincoln's attempts to organize a loyal government in eastern North Carolina made the state peculiar in terms of recruiting blacks. Brig. Gen. Edward Wild confronted hostile whites and unsympathetic Union officials in his efforts to recruit the North Carolina black brigade. Nevertheless, he and his staff raised 5,035 black troops for the Union army, and a total of 1,098 enlisted men and 62 commissioned and noncommissioned officers comprised the 35th USCT. 18 Though conditions for recruiting the 35th USCT were unique, the regiment encountered prejudicial attitudes from white officers and soldiers that were typical of all black regiments that served, free blacks and ex-slaves alike.

The majority of northern whites wanted a "white man's war" and were opposed to arming African-Americans. The racism displayed in South Carolina, while the 35th USCT was stationed on Folly Island, simply reflected northern opinion of blacks. Similar treatment of black soldiers continued long after the Civil War. 19 Society was slow in changing its racial attitudes.

The 35th USCT bolstered northern confidence in ex-slaves. The recruitment and performance of the North Carolina regiment indicated that the quality and quantity of freedmen equalled that of free blacks. It also permitted southern slaves to see that the fruits of Emancipation were genuine and that the Union army would allow them to fight. This is confirmed by the dramatic increase of black soldiers in the Union army and the number of major battles in which they participated. In October 1863, a total of 37,482 black troops served in 58 regiments. By October 20, 1864, the number of black troops had tripled, and the number of black regiments had increased to 140. In one year there was an increase of 62,243 troops and 82 regiments. 20 The fact that the Union army recruited large numbers of African-Americans in 1864 and 1865 indicates that northern opinion of black soldiers was progressing.

According to the Official Army Register published in 1865, black troops participated in only one engagement in 1862, and in twenty-eight engagements in 1863. Although these figures are inaccurate, they show that prior to 1864, the Union army generally retained black troops for noncombat roles. The black regiments in the Florida Expedition, for example, were sent on the mission only to man newly established posts. Their participation in the Battle of Olustee was unanticipated. As the fourth year of the war progressed, commanders employed black troops more as soldiers than mere laborers. According to the Army Register, 170 engagements involved black troops in 1864 and 52 in 1865. 21

By the end of the war, 178,985 black troops had served in the Union army, composing nearly 10 percent of the total number of Union soldiers. According to Dyer's Compendium, black troops fought in a total of 449 engagements, 39 of which he rated as major battles. Over 37,000 black soldiers lost their lives in the conflict. 22 Without the aid of the "sable arm," the Civil War and slavery might have endured indefinitely.

Footnotes for Chapter 4
1. Col. James C. Beecher to Maj. F.W. Taggard, July 22, 1864, Order Book, 35th USCT, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2. Report of Brig. Gen. George H. Gordon, U.S. Army, May 27, 1864 and Report of Capt. J.J. Dickison, 2d Florida Cavalry, May 24, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 35, pt.1:393-395, 397.
3. Col. Beecher to Col. M. L. Littlefield, June 9, 1864, Order Book, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
4. Col. Beecher to Capt. P. T. Young, June 8, 1864, Ibid.
5. Col. Charles C. Jones, Jr., The Battle of Honey Hill: An Address Delivered Before the Confederate Survivor's Association, in Augusta, Georgia, at its Seventh Annual Meeting, on Memorial Day, April 27, 1885 (Augusta, Ga: Chronicle Printing Establishment, 1885), 11; Edwin S. Redkey, ed., A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Cambridge: University Press, 1992), 32.
6. Report of Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, December 6, 1864, ORA, ser. 1, 44:415.
7. Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buell, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Being for the Most Part Contributions by Union and Confederate Officers, based upon The Century War Series, 4 vols. (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, Inc., 1956), 4:668.
8. Report of Brig. Gen. John P. Hatch, U.S. Army, commanding Coast Division, December, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 44:421-424.
9. Louis F. Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865 (Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968), 238-39 (page references are to reprint edition).
10. In several accounts, the number of charges and number of Beecher's wounds differs. See Report of Brig. Gen. Hatch, December, 1864, and Report of Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter, U.S. Army, commanding First Brigade, December 11, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 44:424, 427; Descriptive Books, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives; Frances Beecher Perkins, "Two Years with a Colored Regiment: A Woman's Experience," New England Magazine 17 (January 1898): 537; Milton Rugoff, The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981), 459.
11. According to the descriptive books, the number of casualties was only thirteen; however, the record is probably incomplete. Only thirty-nine casualties were listed for the Battle of Olustee.
12. Recapitulation of the killed, wounded, and missing in the Coast Division, Department of the South, during the action at Honey Hill, S.C., November, 30, 1864, General John P. Hatch, ORA, ser.1, 44:425.
13. Report of Brig. Gen. Potter, December 11, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 44:427.
14. Perkins, "Two Years with a Colored Regiment," 537.
15. Report of Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith, C.S. Army, commanding First Division, Georgia Militia, December 6, 1864, ORA, ser.1, 44:416.
16. Perkins, "Two Years With a Colored Regiment," 539.
17. Ibid.
18. George Washington Williams, A History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens Together with a Preliminary Consideration of the Unity of the Human Family, an Historical Sketch of Africa, and an Account of the Negro Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia, 2 vols. (New York: G. P. Putman's Sons, 1883; reprint, New York: Bergman Publishers, 1968), 2:300 (page references are to reprint edition); Descriptive Books, 35th USCT, RG 94, National Archives.
19. The government supported racial inequality in the United States Army until President Truman ordered the integration of the armed forces in 1945. This was a bold step because most generals and admirals, as well as Truman's own military advisors, were opposed to the move. Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman (New York: Berkley Publishing Corporation, 1973), 79-80.
20. Dudley Cornish, The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (1956; reprint, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966), 247, 257, (page references are to reprint edition).
21. The records used for the Official Army Register were incomplete. Dyer's Compendium was based on the Official Records of the Rebellion published later when all the records had been assembled. Cornish, The Sable Arm, 265.
22. Frederick Henry Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (Des Moines, 1908; reprint, New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959), 1720 (page numbers are to original publication); James M. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965; reprint, New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), 241 (page references are to reprint addition).

Return: Chapter 3


I. Primary Sources

A. Manuscripts

National Archives. Record Group 94. Regimental Descriptive Books

Radcliffe College. James C. Beecher Papers.

Stowe-Day Library. Beecher Family Papers: James C. Beecher.

B. Published Primary Sources

Abercrombie, Capt. John J. Battle of Honey Hill, S. C. Chicago: Samuel Harris & Co., 1911. U. S. Army Military History Institute.

Berlin, Ira, Barbara Fields, Thavolia Glymph, Joseph Reidy, Leslie Rowland, eds. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867. 4 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Brown, William Wells. The Negro in the American Rebellion: His Heroism and His Fidelity. Boston: Lee & Shephard, 1867; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968.

Duncan, David. Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Emilio, Louis F. A Brave Black Regiment: History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book Company, 1894; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint Corp, 1968.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Army Life in a Black Regiment. 1862; reprint, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1984.

Johnson, Robert Underwood and Clarence Clough Buell, of the editorial staff of The Century Magazine. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Being for the Most Part Contributions by Union and Confederate Officers. Based upon The Century War Series. Vol. 4, New York: Thomas Yoseloff, Inc., 1956.

Jones, Col. Charles C., Jr. The Battle of Honey Hill: An Address Delivered Before the Confederate Survivor's Association, in Augusta, Georgia, at its Seventh Annual Meeting, on Memorial Day, April 27, 1885. Augusta, Ga: Chronicle Printing Establishment, 1885.

MacGregor, Morris J. and Bernard C. Nalty. Blacks in the United States Armed Forces: Basic Documents. vol. 2, Civil War and Emancipation. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1977.

Moore, Frank E., ed. The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc.: With an Introductory Address by Edward Everett. 11 vols. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1861-68.

Perkins, Frances Beecher. "Two Years With A Colored Regiment". New England Magazine, XVII. January, 1898.

Redkey, Edwin S, ed. A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865. Cambridge: University Press, 1992.

Taylor, Susie King. Reminiscences of My Life in Camp With the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers. Boston: Published by the Author, 1902; ed. edition by Patricia W. Romero and Willie Lee Rose. A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs. New York: Markus Wiener Publishing, 1988.

Williams, George Washington. A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Preceded by a Review of the Military Services of Negroes in Ancient and Modern Times. New York: Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1888; reprint, New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1969.

C. Government Publications

Official Records of the Union & Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 30 vols. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1894-1927.

The Official Atlas of the Civil War : Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union & Confederate Armies. Compiled by Capt. Calvin D. Lowles. Washington: Government Printing Press, 1891-1895; reprint, New York: Thomas Yoseloff, Inc., 1958.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 vols. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

D. Newspapers

New York Times, March 1, 1864.

New York Tribune, March 1, 1864.

Return to Top

II. Secondary Sources

A. Books

Barrett, John G. The Civil War in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963.

Brown, Norman D. Edward Stanly: Whiggery's Tarheel "Conqueror." Southern Historical Publication No. 18. Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1974.

Burchard, Peter. One Gallant Rush; Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965.

Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm; Negro Troops in the Union Army 1861-1865. Kansas: Kansas State College of Pittsburg, 1956; reprint, New York: W. W. Norton, 1966.

Durden, Robert F. The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.

Foner, Jack D. Blacks and the Military in American History: A New Perspective. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1974.

Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1988.

Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle: the Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. New York: The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc., 1990.

Hargrove, Hondon B. Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1988.

McPherson, James M. The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965; reprint, New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

________. Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War & Reconstruction. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1982.

McWhiney, Grady, and Perry D. Jamieson. Attack and Die: Civil War Military Tactics and the Southern Heritage. University: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

Mobley, Joe A. James City: A Black Community in North Carolina, 1863-1900. Research Reports from the Division of Archives and History. Raleigh, North Carolina: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives of History, 1981.

Morais, Herbert M. The History of the Negro in Medicine. New York: Publishers Company, Inc., 1967.

Nulty, William H. Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1990.

Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the Civil War. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953.

Rugoff, Milton. The Beechers: An American Family in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981.

Schwartz, Gerald, ed. A Woman Doctor's Civil War: Esther Hill Hawks' Diary. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1984.

Talbott, John H., M.D., A Biographical History of Medicine: Excerpts and Essays of the Men and Their Work. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1970.

Weigley, Russell F. History of the United States Army. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1984.

Westwood, Howard C. Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen During the Civil War. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Wiley, Bell Irvin. Southern Negroes, 1861-1865. New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc., 1938.

Williams, George Washington. A History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens Together with a Preliminary Consideration of the Unity of the Human Family, an Historical Sketch of Africa, and an Account of the Negro Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia. 2 vols. New York: G. P. Putman's Sons, 1883; reprint, New York: Bergman Publishers, 1968.

Woodward, William E. Meet General Grant. 1928; reprint, New York: Liveright, 1965.

Yearns, Buck and John G. Barrett, ed. North Carolina Civil War Documentary. Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

B. Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Articles

Dyer, Frederick Henry. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. 3 vols. Des Moines: 1908; reprint, New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959.

Dictionary of American Biography. vol. VI. Larned-Millington, Ed. Dumas Malone. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933.

Logan, Rayford W. and Michael R. Winston, ed. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982.

Powell, William S. The North Carolina Gazetteer: A Dictionary of Tar Heel Places. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1968.

Reid, Richard. "Raising the African Brigade: Early Black Recruitment in Civil War North Carolina." The North Carolina Historical Review, 70 (July 1993): 266-301.

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Being the History of the United States. New York: James T. White & Company, 1898-1978.

Young, Brigadier Peter. A Dictionary of Battles, 1816-1976. New York: Mayflowers Books, 1977.


I am indebted to several people for their help in completing this project. I would like to thank the personnel in the Reference Department, Circulation Department, and Maps Department of Hunter Library for their kind assistance. W. T. Jordon of the Archives and History in Raleigh provided helpful insight as to the location of available sources. Also I would like to give special thanks to Dr. Joyce Faison, professor at the College of Aeronautics in New York, for her assistance in locating valuable sources and for her generosity in sending some of her findings.

I would like to thank my thesis committee members, Dr. Max Williams, Dr. John Bell, and Dr. Gael Graham, for their guidance, helpful recommendations, and patience. I am indebted to Joe Ginn for his encouragement and assistance. I would like to acknowledge Jacqueline B. Painter and George Frizzell for their helpful suggestions, and Sheila MacFarlane and Mary Jane Ellsworth for their editing skills. A very special thanks goes to my parents, Arden & Sally Horstman, whose support made graduate school possible. Above all I would like to thank my wife, Marcia, for her much needed encouragement and for her ability to maintain our family over the past two years.  /s/ Jonathan William Horstman

Copyright 1998 -2009 by John McGowan/Kay Sheppard

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