JUST LEARNING TO BE
A HISTORY OF THE 35TH
UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS,
by Shana Renee Hutchins © 1999
A thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of North Carolina State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in History Raleigh; 1999 (Under the direction of William C. Harris.)
The purpose of the research was to describe the organization, recruitment, and experiences of the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers, later designated the 35th United States Colored Troops. Lincoln's decision to arm blacks and Congressional groundwork laid through the Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act is detailed, as well as the stories of certain Union leaders who enlisted black men without Lincoln's approval. Published primary sources and secondary accounts provided information for the background. The Descriptive Books of the 35th furnish social and demographic information about the enlisted men and officers of the unit. At the National Archives, Order Books, Morning Reports, Correspondence, and Service Records were examined.
The experience of the 35th USCT during the Civil War was similar to most black regiments. Both white officers and black soldiers faced a multitude of obstacles such as insufficient training, clothing, equipment, and other supplies. Racism from other white units effected the 35th directly, enraging their colonel. Every USCT regiment did not have officers who strongly supported the idea of black soldiers. However, the 35th did. Colonel James C. Beecher and many of his officers championed the rights of their men and worked to improve their situation throughout their service.
Every soldier of the 35th experienced a different Civil War. Some soldiers gained confidence in new abilities and skills obtained. Others left service bitter and angry. Most took home a desire for greater equality and the determination to fight for it.
The Civil War is the most extensively studied period of American history, but the experiences of black soldiers has, until recently, remained a neglected segment of Civil War History. Despite the thousands of books written about the Civil War, very few have addressed the role of black men in the war. While the movie Glory brought fame and attention to the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers and their celebrated colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, historians have not given proper attention to the other United States Colored Troops units. In particular, the units organized by Brigadier General Edward A. Wild in eastern North Carolina have not been the focus of a major study.
However, the USCT has attracted the attention of some scholars. In 1956, Dudley Taylor Cornish wrote The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865. Cornish's work thoroughly outlines the move towards arming blacks during 1861-1862 as well as the swift recruitment efforts of the spring and summer of 1863. The historian also traces the difficulties faced by black soldiers, including racism from white units, insufficient pay, poor equipment, and lack of training. According to Cornish, "Had [the black soldiers] not fought his way into the Union Army, had he remained a passive observer instead of active participant, the history of the American people in general and of the American Negro in particular must have been far different from what it has been." The Sable Arm continues to be a standard for the study of black soldiers during the Civil War. 1
Historian Joseph T. Glatthaar completed a major study of black soldiers and the white soldiers who led them in Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. Published in 1990, this book carefully examines the interaction between races in United States Colored Troops. In detail, Glatthaar describes the attitudes, behavior, and experiences of both black soldiers and white officers. He delves into the recruitment process, finding it a distasteful task for white officers, and provides insight into the harshness of prejudice that black soldiers faced throughout their service. As The Sable Arm is the authority for understanding the move towards arming blacks, Glatthaar's work goes a little further into the everyday experiences of black soldiers and white officers of the USCT. Glatthaar attempts to "examine the interaction of the two racial groups to understand better not only these black commands and their contributions to Union victory but also the aspirations, prejudices, and behavior of their officers and men and the society from which they came." 2
Similarly, A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865, (1992) edited by Edwin S. Redkey, contributes even more towards the understanding of war experiences for USCT soldiers. A Grand Army of Black Men is a collection of letters written by black soldiers during the war years. These letters, written to both family members and to black and abolitionist newspapers, describe in detail the experiences of black soldiers. They write about their encounters with the enemy, their frustrations, and their hopes for true freedom after the war. One soldier, writing to the Weekly Anglo-African in October, 1864, described his hopes: "Brethren, let us join hands. Let us by a common cause now made holy by our blood, raise ourselves from the mire. Let us be men. May heaven smile on your doings." Redkey's collection reminds us that the 180,000 soldiers of the USCT were individuals, with different experiences. 3
Drawing on A Grand Army of Black Men, historian Noah Andre Trudeau edited letters written by soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers in his Voices of the 55th (1996). Trudeau's work contains letters from very early in the recruitment and organization process through the end of the war. Many of these letters proved valuable to this study, as the 55th was frequently stationed near the 35th. Soldiers of the 55th shared similar experiences to those of the 35th. The two regiments were in camp in New Bern briefly before being sent to Folly Island, South Carolina, in August, 1863. 4
The letters of George E. Stevens of the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers were used by Donald Yacovone in A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens (1997). A fiery northern abolitionist, Stephens documented the early war years and served as a recruiter for the 54th. His letters to the Weekly Anglo-African described slavery as he witnessed it while traveling south with the Union Army and also detailed the recruitment process for the 54th. Stephens depicted the war life of his regiment, frequently commenting on political affairs and debates that flourished in the black and abolitionist newspapers. A powerful spokesperson for black soldiers, Stephens' letters offer many different topics to explore further. 5
Noah Andre Trudeau, in Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (1998), delves into the military experiences of the United States Colored Troops soldiers in depth. Trudeau attempted to tell the fuller story of the black soldiers rather than merely what was recorded by white officers, and asserts, "The actions of black troops in the Civil War require no validation from me, nor are they well served by broadly generalized statements based on biased material. It is my hope that by providing an honest and carefully researched account of their combat experiences, I may in some way help these soldiers tell their own story." Carefully researched and documented, this work provides a concise military history of USCT regiments. 6
Though historians have recently devoted more attention to the black soldiers of the Civil War, there remains much to be written. There has not yet been a major study of the emancipation experience in North Carolina. The move to enlist black men in eastern North Carolina, though not ignored, has not received a great deal of study. In the September 1995 issue of Carolina Comments, historian John David Smith wrote "Emancipation in North Carolina: Research Pitfalls and Opportunities." This essay drew attention to the dearth of scholarship concerning emancipation in North Carolina, and inspired this thesis. Indeed, "Just Learning to Be Men: A History of the 35th United States Colored Troops, 1863-1866" is intended to provide a history of one of the three regiments recruited in North Carolina. There is more research to be done, for both emancipation and black soldiers. 7
Footnotes for Preface:
1 Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (New York: Longman's Green and Co., 1956), xiii. The 1987 edition, published by the University Press of Kansas, is cited in this work.
2 Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: The Free Press, 1990), x.
3 Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 216.
4 Noah Andre Trudeau, Voices of the 55th (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside House, Inc., 1996), 15.
5 Donald Yacovone, A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 127, 157, 181.
6 Noah Andre Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), xxii.
7 John David Smith, "Emancipation in North Carolina: Research Pitfalls and Opportunities," Carolina Comments 43 (September, 1995):135-142.
"These Men Will Be Good Soldiers"
From the first shots fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers, many free blacks wanted to join the fight. However, the vast majority of white Americans did not agree. Black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and white antislavery leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison spoke out in favor of the arming of blacks, but it would not be until spring, 1863, two years after the conflict began, that blacks would officially don the Union blue and go to war. Tensions between those supporting black enlistment and those against it rose steadily throughout late 1861 and 1862, as the struggle grew ever more desperate. In late spring and summer, 1862, certain Union military commanders tested Lincoln's policy on black soldiers, finding themselves in situations demanding the use of blacks, either by necessity or simply by design. The struggle culminated with the official release of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and the acknowledged intent of the Lincoln administration to arm black men.
Douglass publicly broached the subject of black troops in a May 1861 editorial in his own Douglass' Monthly. Douglass believed that involving blacks in the fight would bring the war to a more rapid close. Again on December 3, 1861, in a speech in Boston, Douglass returned to the idea. "We are fighting the Rebels with only one hand when we ought to be fighting them with both," he declared. "We are striking with our white hand, while our black one is chained behind us." The prominent abolitionist strongly believed that blacks could aid the Union in a military capacity, but white Americans, especially those in the Lincoln administration and War Department, did not concur. Douglass pointed out that blacks possessed a strong desire to participate in the conflict, because of their zeal to end slavery and free all blacks still held in bondage. He said, "I have been often asked since the war began why I am not at the South fighting for freedom. My answer is with the Government. It wants men, but it does not yet rank me or my race with men." The problem, according to Douglass, rested not with the willingness of blacks to fight, but with the unwillingness of whites to accept them into the ranks. 1
Just over a month later, on January 14, 1862, in Philadelphia, Douglass again called for the arming of blacks. Emphasizing again his analogy of the two hands, Douglass declared, "We are striking the guilty rebels with our soft, white hand, when we should be striking with the iron hand of the black man. . . ." Douglass accentuated what blacks could give to the Union in the war against the South. He further indicated that for the government not to recognize the abilities of black men in the conflict was a blow to the race itself. "I owe it to my race, in view of the cruel aspersions cast upon it," Douglass said, "to affirm that, in denying them the privilege to fight for their country they have been most deeply and grievously wronged." Not only did blacks deserve the chance to fight, Douglass believed, but they had also proved their abilities in earlier conflicts. During this speech and another almost a month later in Boston on February 5, 1862, Douglass gave examples of prior military experience of black men and commented on the downward change in attitudes toward their participation.
Mark here our nation's degeneracy. Colored men were good enough
to fight under Washington. They are not good enough to fight under
McClellan. They were good enough to fight under Andrew Jackson.
They are not good enough to fight under Gen. Halleck. They were
good enough to help win American independence but they are not
good enough to help preserve that independence against treason and
rebellion. They were good enough to defend New Orleans but they are
not good enough to defend our poor beleaguered Capital. 2
Months before Douglass' call for arming blacks, a series of letters appeared in a popular black newspaper, the Weekly Anglo-African. In response to an editorial suggesting that black men wait to enlist until the war actually became a war to end slavery, Alfred M. Green, a black leader from Philadelphia indicated why he disagreed. In October 1861, Green wrote to the Weekly Anglo-African:
No nation ever has or ever will be emancipated from slavery, and the
result of such a prejudice as we are undergoing in this country, but by
the sword, wielded too by their own strong arms. It is a foolish idea for
us to still be nursing our own past grievances to our own detriment, when
we should as one man grasp the sword-grasp this most favorable
opportunity of becoming inured to that service that must burst the fetters
of the enslaved and enfranchised the nominally free of the North. 3
Green believed that the time had come for all blacks to unite around the goal of ending slavery, not to stand divided about how or when to do so. He wrote that some blacks wasted "thought and time" by supporting the idea of emigration to Africa, others wasted time fighting against emigration, and still others wasted time by waiting for God to tell them what to do. To Green, what to do seemed obvious: blacks must fight to free themselves. He wrote, "If ever colored men plead for rights or fight for liberty, now of all others is the time." If the government and white northerners did not yet agree, Green saw no reason why blacks could not proceed with military training in order to better prepare themselves for the "combat we have long halfheartedly invited by our much groanings and pleadings at a throne of grace." 4
The desire to pick up arms united blacks throughout the country. Though far from the battles in actual distance, black poet and activist James Madison Bell made appeals for the services of blacks to be accepted by President Abraham Lincoln. Bell published a poem titled, "What Shall We Do with the Contrabands?" in the San Francisco Pacific Appeal in May 1862. Referring to the former slaves who fled to Union lines in the occupied South, Bell spoke of the present dilemma. Originally, Union leaders returned the blacks to their owners, but as the war continued, many wanted to utilize the contrabands for the Union. The first stanza Bell's poem eloquently assessed the present controversy surrounding blacks and the war:
Shall we arm them? Yes, arm them! give to each man
A rifle, a musket, a cutlass or sword;
Then on to the charge! let them war in the van,
Where each may confront with his merciless lord,
And purge from their race, in the eyes of the brave,
The stigma and scorn now attending the slave. 5
Though Bell strongly supported arming blacks, he also wanted to see President Lincoln change his war aims war from preserving the Union also to ending slavery. Some blacks did not want to fight until Lincoln made the latter goal clear. The editorial published in the Weekly Anglo-African in September 1861, emphasized that blacks should refuse to put themselves in a position to be killed in a war not intended to destroy the institution of slavery. The writer, who used only the initials R. H. V. as identification, asserted, "Let your own heart answer this question, and no regiments of black troops will leave their bodies to rot upon the battlefield beneath a Southern sun-to conquer a peace based upon the perpetuity of human bondage. . . ." Certainly blacks wanted the destruction of slavery to be the war aim of the Union. Even before Lincoln made that policy apparent in the Emancipation Proclamation, however, many still wanted to join the fight. Weighing the consequences, some blacks believed it would best serve their race to take up arms against the Confederates. Certain blacks believed that success on the battlefield would bring about a semblance of equality for their future. 6
Blacks unquestionably had reason to suspect Lincoln's stance on ending slavery. From the first rounds of gunfire, the president made it clear that he intended to uphold the Union, not necessarily to end slavery. On August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote the New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in response to an editorial questioning Lincoln's position on slavery. He declared, " As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing' as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt." By winning the war, Lincoln intended to keep the United States of America intact. As to slavery, he did not hold a firm conviction that it should be either preserved or eliminated. He would do whatever necessary in order to hold the Union together. Lincoln continued, "I would save the Union. . . . My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. . . . If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would to it. . . ." These statements did nothing to assure blacks that Lincoln wanted slavery to end. The timing of this letter to Greeley is significant. Just a month later, on September 22, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which announced his intention to free slaves in rebellious states on January 1, 1863. Certainly Lincoln considered his emancipation decision for some time before issuing it in September, yet in late August, as he had said earlier, he wrote that his war aim might not involve slavery. Lincoln did come to a decision regarding slavery some time before, though he kept his plans to free the slaves known to a select group of advisors while he carefully prepared the official document. Part of his plan depended upon the timing and secrecy of the decision. Therefore Lincoln appeared disinterested in slavery in the months before announcing the Emancipation Proclamation. Also, Lincoln worried about the reaction of the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware to any decision regarding slavery. Slaveowners there would quickly side with the Confederacy if their slaves were threatened, Lincoln feared. Accordingly, the president neither hurried his decision of emancipation nor did he rush to announce it. 7
As Lincoln prepared the Emancipation Proclamation during the summer of 1862, Congress approved the Confiscation and Militia Acts, which cautiously provided a foundation for the prospective recruitment of blacks. Though most white Americans did not yet demonstrate any desire to see blacks in uniform, radical members of Congress fought resolutely to give them the chance. The move began in January, when radicals in Congress presented numerous petitions calling for the cessation of slavery and the utilization of blacks in the military. Radical politicians firmly believed in the concept of freeing slaves to fight against their former masters, and they recognized the potential benefits to the United States Army in the efforts to suppress the rebellion. Even many Northerners who had not supported the idea of freeing and arming blacks saw an opportunity. Blacks, they believed, possessed an inherent toleration of warm, humid climates, which made the race less susceptible to disease in the military campaigns in the coastal and swampy South. If black troops could replace white regiments in the unhealthy climates, fewer white young men would perish from disease. Such racist beliefs nonetheless played a role in changing the minds of many white Americans about the possibility of blacks in uniform. 8
Though the concept of using blacks in the military received much discussion in the first months of 1862, Congress made the transition slowly. As early as January 15, a bill concerning the confiscation of rebel property reached the Senate floor. The controversial bill produced a great deal of debate among members of the Senate. Radical senators hoped to give the president authority to seize the property of any and all Confederates, including their slaves. Once seized, former slaves could quickly become a force for the military, radicals hoped. Many senators did not agree; they pushed for a clause specifying from whom property could be captured. This angered Republican Senator Jacob Collamer of Vermont who argued against any restrictions. "When you undertake to confiscate enemy's property as such, you never make laws that the property of enemies who shall hereafter fight you shall be prize," said Collamer. "You simply declare enemy's property prize, and confiscate it." Collamer's beliefs alarmed Democratic Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware, a border state in which slavery still existed. Saulsbury perceived the idea of confiscation and other bills calling for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia as direct threats to the slaveholders in his home state. Believing confiscation to be the first step toward emancipation, Saulsbury sensed a changing tide in the ideology of the war itself and argued vehemently against making the war aim one to end slavery. Saulsbury demonstrated his indignation on May 8, 1862, when he said, "What care I, gentlemen, whether you pass this bill or not? I do not care a fig!" 9
Despite his statement, Senator Saulsbury did care about confiscation and slavery itself, and he continued to argue against the bill. Saulsbury felt a strong obligation to defend slavery, which, however, many others blamed for the war. Republican Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts condemned the institution of slavery, and firmly adhered to the meaning of the confiscation bill. "Now sir," Wilson asserted, "it seems clear to me we have the power to free the slaves of rebels, and having the power to do it, I believe it be our duty to do it." The confiscation issue continued to occupy a great deal of time in Congress. When a few senators complained at the time spent, Republican Senator Ira Harris of New York responded: "It is a great subject; it is a new subject; it is a subject on which we should act cautiously and carefully; and this discussion has brought out a great variety of views and propositions and projects." Harris went on to call for a special committee to examine the issue. 10
Formed in early 1862, the special committee reported on Senate Bill Number 310 on Friday, May 16. Senate Bill Number 310, referred to as the Confiscation bill, also dealt with a number of related topics. Among those, the bill allowed for slaves of those owners who commit treason or participate in rebellion to be set free. In addition, the bill empowered the president to "seize and sequester" the property of any person involved in rebellion against the government of the United States. Finally, the bill authorized the president to "employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion." 11
After the reading of the bill, senators expressed their objections to various sections. A debate quickly ensued over precisely what constituted treason. Senators sympathetic to slaveholders questioned what actions would place their property in jeopardy. Representing a border state with slaves, Unionist Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky did not support the strict interpretation of treason. Davis denied that the government possessed the power to capture property of citizens, even those who supported the rebellion. Radical Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio believed aiding rebels in any way should be considered treason against the government, and the property of those so acting should be seized. After Davis charged that aiding and assisting rebels did not constitute treason, Wade asked, "Is it a punishable offense under our law?" Davis replied, "I am not prepared to say whether it is or not." 12
Not only troubled by definitions of treason, some senators also objected to the idea of confiscating slaves. Again, Senator Davis led the arguments. Davis declared, "The Congress of the United States have no power to liberate a slave in a state, or authorize it to be done." The possibility of the government authorizing the removal of slaves alarmed the senator, who felt the need to protect the rights of his slaveholding constituents in Kentucky. Not only did Davis object to actual confiscation, he disapproved of what the bill suggested be done with the slaves. Senator Daniel Clark of New Hampshire responded to Davis, "Then as I understand it, the objection is not that we take the negro from the master by way of punishment, but that we do not give him to somebody else, or put him into the public Treasury." Davis replied, "Yes sir, that is the objection; that you do not sell the negro, do not appropriate the negro as you would other property." Davis brought up an intriguing point. Should human property be disposed of as would any other property of value? Davis wanted to see confiscated slaves sold just as other valuables would be. This concept did not draw support from many senators, especially from those wishing to free all slaves. Conservative senators proposed an amendment striking out the provision referring to the liberation of slaves, but the amendment failed to pass. 13
Debate flourished in the Senate as the session drew to a close. Various amendments reached the floor, but failed to pass. Senators continued to question the legal basis for confiscation. Many believed such an act unconstitutional and thought the bill gave too much power to the president, as well as the Union Army. Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois saw the act as a threat to citizens everywhere. "I understand that property may be seized anywhere, but the Army may seize it also . . . . The bill as I understand it, makes it the duty of the President to seize the property anywhere." Trumbell believed that once given the power, nothing could prevent the property of loyal, law-abiding citizens from being seized. Other senators shared Trumbull's fear and argued against giving the power of confiscation for any reason. 14
Finally, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, quiet for much of the confiscation debate, spoke. Sumner reminded his peers that the United States of America faced significant danger every day that the war continued. Sumner believed that the country should adopt whatever policy necessary to bring about a rapid end to the war. According to Sumner, "if soldiers are sent forth to battle, if fields are occupied as camps, and houses occupied as hospitals, without permission of the owners it is by virtue of the war powers of Congress." These powers also enabled Congress to confiscate the property of the enemy, Sumner believed. Sumner refused to accept the legality argument against confiscation. He believed that the Constitution gave rights to citizens, but not necessarily to former citizens in a state of rebellion. "When you refuse to take the property of an enemy in open war . . . you voluntarily weaken your armies and diminish your power," Sumner argued. "In misapplying the text of the Constitution you sacrifice the Constitution itself." In addition, Sumner affirmed the two points of the Confiscation Bill he believed most significant: "the blacks are to be employed, and the slaves are to be freed." This act, he believed, would give new life to the war effort, bringing not only hope but a new force to the army. "From this day forward the war will be waged with new hopes and new promises," Sumner said. "A new power will be enlisted incalculable in influence, strengthening our armies, weakening the enemy, awakening the sympathies of mankind, and securing the favor of a benevolent God." With this inspirational speech, the Senate again voted on the joint resolution. It passed on July 16, 1862. Lincoln now possessed the legal capacity to confiscate the slaves of rebels and to use freed bondsmen in the military as needed. Still contemplating what became the Emancipation Proclamation, the president did not utilize his new powers immediately. 15
While Lincoln pondered whether he would free the slaves during the spring and summer of 1862, some Union local leaders and recruiters came to their own conclusions. In Kansas, Senator James H. Lane made no secret of his intent to include blacks in his recruitment of cavalry units. The state, a hotbed for antislavery men since the passage of the Kansas- Nebraska Act in 1854, attracted many escaped bondsmen from Missouri and other slave states. Senator Lane wanted to put these men to good use in the fight for their freedom. In early 1862, he sponsored a resolution that allowed all men in Kansas to be eligible for recruitment. The radical senator continued with his work throughout the spring of 1862, and he attracted similarly minded abolitionists to his camp. 16
By late summer, Lane prepared to begin enlistments. He wrote the War Department, informing the government of his actions and asked for a response. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton did not inform Lane until weeks later of the president's wish not to enlist blacks. Even upon receiving the reply from the government, Lane continued recruiting and training black soldiers. Faced with opposition from the government and from some white Kansans, Lane resolutely proceeded with his quest. The manner in which Lane enlisted blacks resulted in problems for the men. Until officially acknowledged by the War Department as the 79th United States Colored Infantry on January 13, 1863, the soldiers received no pay or recognition. Once paid, black soldiers still received less than whites. White soldiers earned thirteen dollars per month, while black soldiers only received ten. Unequal pay spurred some soldiers to desert. These first black soldiers suffered because of their unofficial beginnings, but Lane firmly believed in the necessity and moral rightness of his actions. Though his soldiers endured injustices because of their irregular beginnings, Lane had paved the way for others to receive official sanction to arm blacks. 17
Lane's actions in Kansas took place almost simultaneously with the attempts of a strong-willed antislavery general along the Atlantic coast. Major General David Hunter received command of the coastal region of South Carolina in March, 1862, and laid plans to emancipate slaves in the area under his own authority. Hunter intended to win the Confederate strongholds at Charleston and Savannah, and wanted to use black troops. He gradually set his plan in motion, including writing to Secretary Stanton on several occasions about his intentions. In his letters Hunter mentioned reinforcements and asked for arms and red pantaloons for the new troops. On May 9, 1862, Hunter proclaimed all slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida free. Lincoln, who only learned of Hunter's actions through newspaper accounts, quickly declared the proclamation invalid on May 19, 1862. Lincoln made it clear that only the president had the power to make such decisions. 18
Undaunted, Hunter moved forward with his plan. Hunter intended to arm the newly freed slaves, but few readily volunteered. When this method failed, Hunter ordered eligible black men brought into camp by force. Being held at gunpoint and informed that their services were needed in the United States Army intimidated men just released from bondage. According to historian Dudley Taylor Cornish, in The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865, "no effort whatsoever was made to soften the blow of wholesale impressment." Many blacks saw no difference in the treatment of their recruiters and that of their former masters, and they feared permanent separation of their families if forced to join Hunter's forces. Many blacks feared that recruitment covered a more sinister plan, one to sell them back into slavery in Cuba, as Confederates charged. The harsh recruitment alienated many blacks and made recruitment difficult in some areas later in the war. Not only did Hunter intimidate the very men he wanted to recruit, he angered the War Department by failing to report his intentions. Lincoln, with the passing of the Militia Act of July 17, 1862, had the authority to organize blacks militarily. However, he chose not to recognize Hunter's actions, in part because of Hunter's radical disrespect for authority. Mainly, however, Lincoln feared the reaction in the border slave states and in the North. Still, he wavered for much of the summer of 1862, as Hunter and Lane made known their intentions to use former slaves as much needed man power. Hunter, by freeing the slaves under his command, did what Lincoln planned to do for all states in rebellion at a later time. The time had not come, according to the president, and the War Department did not support Hunter's actions. Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton did, in fact, authorize Brigadier General Rufus Saxton to organize black men into a regiment in South Carolina under the leadership of Thomas Wentworth Higginson on August 25, 1862, just over two weeks after denying Hunter authority to continue raising his black regiment. Stanton and Lincoln simply did not believe Hunter was the right man to carry out such a project. 19
In Louisiana, Union General Benjamin F. Butler faced a dilemma. With Union troops occupying slave territory, slaves fled to their lines assuming freedom awaited. Early during the conflict, Butler and other Union commanders returned these "contrabands" to their Confederate owners. This policy began to change, however, when commanders recognized that former slaves could be used to benefit the Union Army. In a July 3, 1862, letter to Butler, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton directed that the contrabands should no longer be returned to their masters, but cared for properly and their labor utilized. The Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act, passed on July 17, 1862, further declared that contrabands not be taken back into slavery. Former slaves could now be used in "any military or naval service for which they may be found competent," though that service consisted initially of labor. 20
Following the directions of these acts and Stanton's instructions, Butler provided food and shelter to contrabands who came into his camps, and many labored for the Union. The presence of blacks working for the Union caused some military leaders to wonder if they could be used to aid the war effort in additional ways. One of Butler's officers, General J. W. Phelps, wished to see the contrabands used in a military capacity. Writing to Captain R. S. Davis, Assistant Adjutant General of Camp Parapet, Louisiana, on July 30, 1862, Phelps asked for supplies to outfit several regiments of blacks. He wrote, "I enclose herewith requisitions for arms, accoutrements, clothing, camp and garrison equipage, etc., for three Regiments of Africans which I propose to raise for the defense of this point." In his reasoning, Phelps explained that his men could not stand the "swampy and unhealthy" climate that resulted in two to three deaths per day. Phelps needed men and saw the recruitment of blacks as a logical solution to the shortage. 21
Furthermore, Phelps held strong antislavery convictions and firmly believed that black men would make good soldiers in the war against their former owners. The general maintained that former slaves were "willing and ready to be put to the test," and "willing to submit to anything rather than slavery." Phelps suggested that bright noncommissioned officers and privates be selected to lead the black regiments. "Prompt and energetic efforts in this direction," wrote Phelps, "would probably accomplish more toward a speedy termination of the War, and an early restoration of peace and amity, than any other course which could be adopted." 22
Despite General Phelps' conviction that blacks could be used effectively in a military manner, many others in the United States Army did not yet agree. Butler, upon learning of Phelps' request, replied on July 31, 1862, in a negative way. He wrote, "The Commanding General wishes you to employ the Contraband in and around your camps in cutting all the trees, etc., between your lines and the Lake, and in forming abatis according to the plan agreed upon. . . ." Butler made it clear that contrabands were to be used for labor, not to bear arms against the Rebels. Also, Butler believed arming blacks might inspire an uprising of slaves throughout the area, which could lead to violent disorders and damage the Union cause. 23
However, General Phelps did not give up easily. Just days later, Butler wrote to Stanton that Phelps, without orders, raised five companies of blacks. Butler ordered Phelps to stop recruiting blacks for military purposes in an August 2, 1862, letter. Butler wrote, "By the act of Congress, as I understand it, the President of the United States alone has the authority to employ Africans in arms as part of the Military forces of the United States. Every law up to this time, raising volunteer or Militia forces, has been opposed to their employment. The President has not as yet indicated his purpose to employ the Africans in arms." Because Phelps doggedly believed blacks should be put to use on the battlefield, he offered to resign when ordered by Butler to cease recruiting. In a July 31, 1862, letter to Acting Assistant Adjutant General Captain R.S. Davis Phelps wrote, "while I am willing to prepare African Regiments for the defense of the Government against its assailants, I am not willing to become the mere slave driver which you propose, having no qualifications that way." The inability to pursue his goal of arming blacks made Phelps's situation unbearable. In the same letter to Davis, Phelps tendered his resignation. Butler, upon receiving the resignation, refused to accept it and forwarded the matter to the president.24
Butler resolutely disagreed with Phelps's intention to raise a black regiment. In a August 2, 1862, letter to his wife, Butler wrote, "Phelps has gone crazy." Yet Butler soon wavered in his decision regarding black troops. On August 12, 1862, Butler wrote to Secretary of War Stanton describing his growing need for reinforcements. Butler explained: "we are threatened with an attack on the City of New Orleans. I am not specially disturbed at that. If it becomes at all imminent, I shall call on Africa to intervene, and I do not think I shall call in vain." The increasing shortage of troops intensified as the Confederates bolstered fortifications near New Orleans and rumors of an impending attack reached Butler's headquarters. Despite his recent objections to Phelps' recruitment of blacks, Butler now recognized that blacks could be used to benefit the army in ways other than labor. Though recruitment of blacks had not yet been authorized by Lincoln, Butler determined he could recruit free blacks in the area. 25
To Butler's advantage, an ideal group of recruits already existed. In April 1861, a group of free black men in Louisiana organized themselves into military units known as the "Native Guards." The Native Guards initially offered their services to the Confederacy, and even participated in a parade with other Louisiana troops in front of Confederate Governor Thomas O. Moore on November 23, 1861. According to Benjamin Quarles, in The Negro in the Civil War, blacks had many reasons to fight for the Confederacy, including loyalty to their locale, desire for good wages, and the hope that white hostility towards blacks would decline after their good service. In addition to these reasons, the Native Guards possessed a strong sense of allegiance to the city of New Orleans. Many of the original members of the unit controlled businesses or large estates, some owned slaves and belonged to a class of educated free blacks that had the respect of white residents of the city. Though whites appreciated this class of free blacks in the society of New Orleans, they did not take kindly to the sight of armed blacks, and the Native Guards never saw active service with the Confederacy. Undaunted, the Native Guards, joined by free blacks and recent bondsmen, less than a year later offered to fight for the Union. Butler, on August 22, 1862, issued General Orders No. 63, in which he addressed the Native Guards. He wrote:
Now, therefore, the Commanding General, believing that a large portion
of this militia force of the State of Louisiana are willing to take service in
the Volunteer forces of the United States. . . .
Appreciating their motives, relying upon their "well-known loyalty and
patriotism," and with "praise and respect" for these brave men, it is
ordered that all the members of the "Native Guards" aforesaid, and all
other free colored citizens recognized by the first and late Governor
and Authorities of the State of Louisiana as a portion of the Militia of
the State, who shall enlist in the Volunteer Service of the United States,
shall be duly organized by the appointment of proper officers, and
accepted, paid, equipped, armed, and rationed as are other Volunteer
Troops of the United States, subject to the approval of the President
of the United States. 26
Butler recognized that with additional training, the Native Guards could be a tremendous benefit to his forces. Not only did Butler welcome the Native Guards into his command, he kept in place the black officers of the unit. The officers tended to belong to the upper echelon of New Orleans free black society. That Butler chose to uphold black officers is significant. Once the Union adopted the policy of recruiting blacks in the late spring of 1863, many questioned whether blacks should serve as officers. Butler, who so recently disapproved of the concept of blacks in uniform, supported black officers. The General had support in the utilization of this group of free blacks. George S. Dennison, the acting surveyor of customs at New Orleans wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase on August 26, 1862, and expressed support for arming blacks. Dennison reported, "A free Colored Regt., formerly in Rebel service, is being organized. Probably this Regiment will be increased to a Brigade." Believing that black men possessed strong character, Dennison thought the United States could certainly use their services. "They are intelligent, energetic, and industrious," Dennison declared. "These men will be good soldiers." 27
Chase also advocated the idea of arming blacks and expressed his opinion to Butler nearly a month before in a July 31, 1862, letter. Chase gently reprimanded Butler for allowing his officers to continue returning contrabands to their former masters and wrote, "it would hardly be too much to ask you to call, like Jackson, colored soldiers to the defense of the Union; but you must judge of this." Butler agreed, though not as quickly as Chase or Phelps wanted, and began preparations for the regiments. The soldiers, recruited in Louisiana, underwent training, and in November 1862, Butler expressed to Chase his pleasure at the progress of his new troops. He explained: "My experiment of arming the free negroes is succeeding admirably. Two regiments are already doing service in the field in guarding the Opelousas Railroad, and are doing it as well as any soldiers can. That they will fight I do not doubt." Perhaps Butler believed the black soldiers would have the opportunity to fight because his army faced a growing need for reinforcements. The general probably recognized that the new regiments, already available, could strengthen his forces more rapidly than he could bring in fresh soldiers from the North. By referring to black troops as "my experiment," Butler took a measure of credit for what he had opposed vehemently just a few months earlier. Throughout all of General Phelps's attempts to raise black units, Butler stood firm that blacks must be used in noncombat capacities. Once Butler changed his position and supported black units, he readily asserted his own important role in the matter. Butler's own contemporaries acknowledged his interest in receiving the glory for initiating the arming of blacks, but failed to mention the prodding he received from antislavery men. Writing to Salmon Chase in early September 1862, George Dennison indicated that Butler prevented Phelps's attempts to form black units in order to take credit himself for the experiment. According to Ira Berlin, et al., eds., in Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War, Butler compelled Phelps to resign and within weeks began his own enlistment of blacks. 28
A significant difference in the beliefs of Butler and Phelps existed. Butler did eventually agree to enlist blacks, but not because of humanitarian beliefs or any great desire to change the Union war aim. Rather, Butler's army needed men. Despite his previous objections to arming blacks, Butler inevitably supported the military capabilities of black troops and recognized that these soldiers could quickly fill missing places in the lines. According to Berlin, the War Department "neither proposed large-scale black enlistment nor connected black enlistment to the emerging national emancipation policy." General Phelps and others, such as David Hunter, believed in black troops for a different reason. Phelps wanted to make the Union Army an army of liberation, with the ultimate goal of ending slavery and freeing all blacks. Giving blacks the opportunity to fight for their own freedom made perfect sense to Phelps and other strong antislavery men. 29
Though Butler initially opposed the arming of blacks, he strongly supported the policy after its adoption and defended it whenever necessary. In November 1862, Butler corresponded with Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, Commanding the District of the Teche, about black regiments. Butler instructed Weitzel to put two of the regiments to use guarding a road in the district. Weitzel did not want black soldiers under his command, which angered Butler. "That you should have declined the Command is the occasion of regret," Butler wrote, "arising most of all from the reasons given for so doing." Weitzel did not want the black units because he did not have confidence in their abilities and because he believed the presence of black troops would instigate a revolt from the surrounding slave population. Butler persuasively argued against Weitzel's line of reasoning, reminding him that black soldiers fought in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson and caused no trouble after the war. Pointing out that Weitzel failed to express any complaints about the abilities of black recruits in his reports, Butler questioned the legitimacy of his position. "You have failed to show, by the conduct of these free men so far, anything to sustain that opinion," Butler wrote. He emphatically stated at the close of the letter, "in the meantime, these colored regiments . . . must be commanded by the Officers of the Army of the United States, like any other Regiment." 30
Just weeks later on December 5, 1862, Butler issued General Orders No. 46, which addressed black troops. "The recruitment of colored troops has become the settled purpose of the government," Butler wrote. "It is therefore the duty of every officer and soldier to aid in carrying out that purpose, by every proper means, irrespective of personal predilections." Butler's extensive order detailed the recruitment, outfitting, and payment of black soldiers. He wanted every black man capable of fighting to enlist. Butler ordered that black soldiers should receive ten dollars per month, and provided for the care of their families. In addition, Butler directed, "Every enlisted colored man shall have the same uniform, clothing, arms, equipments, camp equipage, rations, medical and hospital treatment as are furnished to the United States soldiers of the service, unless upon request, some modification thereof shall be granted from these Head Quarters." In camp and field, Butler declared that black soldiers should be treated on the same level as whites. He wrote, "The colored man fills an equal space in ranks while he lives and an equal grave when he falls." 31
Wanting his new black regiment to be treated "like any other Regiment," Butler perhaps expected too much. Several times he complained of being unable to arm the willing blacks, because the regiments had not received official recognition from the government. In a letter to Stanton, he stated that, "while they [the Native Guards] are doing good service, still I find trouble because they are not formally recognized by the Department." The problem of insufficient supplies plagued all units of the United States Colored Troops from the moment of their inception until the end of the war. One of the first of many frustrated commanders of black troops, Butler realized that his men could accomplish little without proper recognition, arms, equipment, and supplies. Until Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and made clear his intention to arm blacks, those black troops already in existence did not receive such recognition. 32
Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation was by far the greatest step in the battle to allow blacks to fight. With the groundwork for the Emancipation Proclamation laid through the Second Confiscation Act and the work of military leaders such as Lane, Hunter, Phelps, and Butler, the government made the recruitment of blacks an official military objective. The proclamation reinforced Lincoln's policy of preserving the Union at all costs through the enlistment and utilization of black soldiers. Though some commanders organized blacks before Lincoln officially agreed with the idea, those who worked for the formation of black regiments did so with a new fervor in the months following the release of the Emancipation Proclamation; and they were joined by others. 33
Also on January 1, 1863, in Boston Frederick Douglass gave a speech titled "Emancipation and The Dawn of Light." Douglass spoke of the beginning of the destruction of slavery and of finally seeing hope that the evil, dark days of slavery were coming to an end. In addition, Douglass addressed the issue of black men joining the war effort. He expressed certainty that black men possessed the ability to bear arms. On January 2, William Lloyd Garrison's antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, hailed the Emancipation Proclamation as a significant achievement towards to goal of freeing all blacks. Garrison believed that more had to be done, but at last the president had acknowledged his intention to free slaves. 34
Just over a month later, in a February 6, 1863 speech given in New York City, Douglass addressed at length the topic of a "Negro Army." Full of hope and inspiration, Douglass believed that by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln set not just slaves, but all Americans free. "We are all liberated by this Proclamation," he asserted. Allowing black men to fight against their former oppressors gave Douglass further hope that his race would receive something similar to equality. "Color is no longer a crime or a badge of bondage," Douglass stated. "At last the out-spread wings of the American Eagle afford shelter and protection to men of all colors, all countries, and all climes, and the long oppressed black man may honorably fall or gloriously flourish under the star-spangled banner." In the same speech, Douglass called for the Emancipation Proclamation to be truly put into practice. "That the paper proclamation must now be made iron, lead and fire, by the prompt employment of the negro's arm in this contest," Douglass explained. "I hold that the Proclamation, good as it is, will be worthless-a miserable mockery-unless the nation shall so far conquer its prejudice as to welcome into the army full-grown black men to help fight the battles of the republic." Willing and able, Douglass and thousands of black men only needed the invitation to fight. At the close of his speech, Douglass said, "I want to assure you, and the Government, and everybody, that we are ready, and we only ask to be called into service." Events in North Carolina during the final two years of the war provided support for this commitment. 35
Footnotes for Chapter One:
1 Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (New York: Longman's Green and Company, 1956), 4. The 1987 edition, published in Lawrence, Kansas, by the University Press of Kansas, is cited in this work.; John W. Blassingame, ed., The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Volume Three: 1855-1863 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985), 466-467.
2 Blassingame, ed., Douglass Papers, 484, 493; Cornish, The Sable Arm, 4-6; Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 5.
3 C. Peter Ripley, ed., The Black Abolitionist Papers, Volume V: The United States, 1859-1965 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 118.
4 Ibid., 121-124.
5 Ibid., 138.
6 Ibid., 118.
7 Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume V (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 388; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953), 159-160; James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 557, 498; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (London: Random House, 1995), 363-364; Cornish, The Sable Arm, 10-11.
8 Cornish, The Sable Arm, 30-31.
9 McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 495; Congressional Globe, 37 Congress, 2 Session, 1921, 1923, 1955.
10 Ibid., 1957.
11 Ibid., 2165.
12 Ibid., 2165-2166.
13 Ibid., 2168-2169.
14 Ibid., 3381-3383.
15 Ibid., 3381-3383.
16 Cornish, The Sable Arm, 70-72.
17 Ibid., 72-74, 189; Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 66, 113-114; Ira Berlin, et al., eds., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series 2: The Black Military Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 44-45; Noah Andre Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), 13-14.
18 Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: The Free Press, 1990), 6-7, 10; Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 75-76; Edward A. Miller, Lincoln's Abolitionist General (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997), 97-99.
19 Miller, Lincoln's Abolitionist General, 102, 111; Cornish, The Sable Arm, 35, 37-38, 53-54; Trudeau, Like Men of War, 14-15; Berlin, et al., eds., Freedom, Series 2, 38-39; William A. Gladstone, Men of Color (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1993), 15.
20 Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler: During the Period of the Civil War, Volume II (Norwood, Massachusetts: The Plimpton Press, 1917), 41; Ira Berlin, et al., eds., Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 193; Donald, Lincoln, 363.
21 Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F Butler, 41.
22 Ibid., 125-126; Cornish, The Sable Arm, 60; Berlin, et al., eds., Freedom, Series 2, 42.
23 Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 126-127.
24 Ibid.,142, 126-127, 143; Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie: Ben Butler in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997), 207-208.
25 Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 148.
26 Ibid., 192, 209, 211; Trudeau, Like Men of War, 26-27; Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie, 208-209; James G. Hollandsworth, Jr. The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), 6, 14-15, 18; Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 37-40.
27 Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 228-229; Hollandsworth, The Louisiana Native Guards, 26-28.
28 Ibid., 134, 328, 425; Hollandsworth, The Louisiana Native Guards, 26-28; Cornish, The Sable Arm 66.
29 Berlin, et al., eds., Slaves No More, 196-197.
30 Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men, 6; Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 439.
31 Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 455-458; Hollandsworth, The Louisiana Native Guards, 38; Ira Berlin, et al., eds., Freedom, Series 2, 135-138.
32 Ibid., 328, 428, 474.
33 Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 162.
34 Blassingame, ed., Douglass Papers, 546-547; Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998), 547.
35 Blassingame, ed., Douglass Papers, 550-551, 564, 569; Berlin, et al, eds., Slaves No More, 196-197.
"They Have Been Slaves"
After President Abraham Lincoln authorized the organization of black troops in 1863, some individuals quickly initiated recruitment efforts. Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew sponsored the first black regiments, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts. These units finished recruiting by April 1863. Not content to stop with the organization of these regiments, Andrew saw an opportunity to raise more black units in eastern North Carolina. On April 1, 1863, he wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton detailing his plans for a brigade of former slaves to be formed in North Carolina.
Andrew believed that sending part of a northern black regiment went to North Carolina would aid in the recruitment process. He thought blacks would hesitate to join white regiments or enlist with white recruiters. Once recruits saw a black unit for themselves, he predicted, their willingness to enlist would increase. Therefore, Andrew requested that Stanton send black troops to eastern North Carolina. "If you could send some colored troops down there the result would shortly be a general attraction of the blacks to our Army," Andrew wrote. "And if you are prepared to have it done I believe the work is already ripe." The Massachusetts governor had immense faith in such a policy, believing that northerners would agree as well. "Meanwhile, I am desirous of doing what I can to bring it before the public mind by doing the thing which men are discussing," Andrew wrote. "There is little chance of opposition after a thing is accomplished and seems to be good." As the governor of Massachusetts, he felt responsible for taking the lead in organizing black units. Andrew stated in the letter to Stanton, "The truth is that unless we do it, in Mass., it cannot be expected elsewhere. While, if we do it, others will ultimately, and indeed soon, follow." 1
In the same letter to Stanton, Andrew addressed the question of who would lead the brigade. It had to be a careful selection. Andrew wrote, "if the President would permit me to name an officer, I could find a Colonel by selecting one of several whom I know . . . having regard to the proper combination of intellectual and moral qualities with military experience." Andrew believed that an officer chosen to lead black soldiers should support the idea of arming blacks or, in the best case, have abolitionist sentiments. In addition to these moral attributes, Andrew sought a colonel who had seen action in the war and proved his abilities. By late April he settled upon Colonel Edward A. Wild of the 35th Massachusetts. 2
Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1825, Wild grew up in a well-known local family and chose to study medicine, just as his father had. He returned to Brookline to begin his medical practice after studying at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and finishing his education in Europe. While in Europe, Wild became extremely interested in political affairs, particularly the crisis in Italy between the dictatorship and the radical "redshirts." Wild continued to follow political events in Europe after returning to Brookline. When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, he used his medical training to serve as a surgeon in the Turkish Army. After the attack on Fort Sumter, Wild quickly volunteered to fight with the Union. He served as a captain of the 35th Massachussetts until losing his left arm at South Mountain in the Antietam campaign in 1862. 3
Wild may have lost his arm, but he did not lose his zeal to save the Union and defeat the South. He fitted Andrew's criteria for colonel of a black unit: he had military experience in the Crimean War and had served in six engagements in the Civil War. Moreover, Wild strongly supported arming blacks in the war against their former masters. Others involved with black troops approved of Wild's appointment. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts admired Wild's commitment. Writing to his mother on April 14, 1863, Shaw described the colonel selected to raise a brigade in North Carolina. "He is an excellent man," detailed Shaw, "He lost his arm at Antietam and, I am afraid, may not be able to remain in active service, though he is determined to try it." 4
As Governor Andrew had carefully selected Wild to lead the brigade, Wild attempted to do the same in selecting officers to accompany him to North Carolina. Choosing largely from officers of Massachusetts regiments, Wild assembled a group whom he believed were capable of meeting the demands of leading black troops. As colonel for the first regiment, Wild selected James Chaplin Beecher of Hartford, Connecticut. Son of the well-known minister Lyman Beecher and half-brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, both prominent abolitionists, Beecher possessed Wild's requirements for the position. Beecher had previous military experience, having served as lieutenant colonel of the 141st New York Infantry, and he also came from an abolitionist background. The Beecher family worked against slavery in the years prior to the Civil War, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin, is often credited with intensifying antislavery sentiment in the United States. Published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin depicted the horrors of slavery and the cruelties of some white masters. Lyman Beecher also worked to bring about an end to slavery. All of these attributes made James Beecher an excellent choice to lead a regiment of black soldiers. Though Wild could not have known at the time, by selecting Beecher he chose a man who staunchly would defend his men and, upon occasion, all people of color against unfair treatment by whites. 5
Wild and Beecher attempted to select officers who supported the idea of arming blacks, and in most cases succeeded. Despite the efforts of Wild and Beecher, they simply could not guarantee that each officer chosen for Wild's "African Brigade" (another name for the units recruited in North Carolina) would treat blacks as soldiers and as free men. Every regiment of black soldiers faced this problem. Many white officers strongly supported their black troops, but others held prejudices against blacks or were overt racists. Some whites sought commissions in black regiments merely because of the higher likelihood of receiving promotions. It would be naïve to assume that all whites involved with black troops supported emancipation and equality for blacks, especially at the beginning. These men still bore the marks of a society imbedded with strong racism at one extreme, and paternalism at the other. Even the most "enlightened" Northern whites retained a degree of paternalism toward blacks. Men who exhibited no overt racism often believed blacks to be inferior and felt the need to guide and protect them. This sentiment certainly caused some white officers to want to direct the black troops in their new efforts. Much like the "good" slave masters, paternalistic white officers believed they could lead the inferior, childlike blacks and feel righteous for their work.
Regardless of white officers' reasons for joining the U. S. Colored Troops, many accepted commissions. As early as May 4, 1863, Union Major General David Hunter, commander of black troops in South Carolina, wrote to Governor Andrew indicating that he noticed less racism among his white officers toward black soldiers than previously observed. "I am happy to announce to you that the prejudices of certain of our white soldiers and officers against these indisputable allies, are rapidly softening or fading out." Hunter assured Andrew of his pleasure with the performance of black troops under his command. "These regiments are hardy, generous, temperate, patient, strictly obedient, possessing great natural aptitude for arms, and deeply imbred with that religious sentiment . . . which made the soldiers of Cromwell invincible." Hunter also expressed his wish that Wild's Brigade would be sent to Hunter's command upon completion of recruitment and training. This signified his faith in the military abilities of black troops. 6
Before the destination of the brigade could be determined, Wild had to complete recruitment. After selecting Beecher as colonel for the first regiment, other officers had to be chosen, trained, and commissioned. Of the regimental officers recruited by Beecher for the 35th, one in particular invited controversy at several points in his career. Lieutenant Colonel William N. Reed, rumored to be a mulatto, had a short but eventful career with the 35th. In a November 17, 1863, letter to Major General Quincy Gillmore, Medical Director H. M. Mintz described a situation that involved Reed. According to Mintz,
It appears that the 1st Regiment N.C.C. Vols. has two medical
officers assistant surgeon D. Mann (a white man) and assistant
surgeon DeGrasse (a Negro). As might be expected from this
unfortunate combination difficulties have arisen of a much serious
nature that it becomes my duty to represent the case-It also
appears that the Lt. Colonel of the Regt. [Reed] (which is commanded
by Colonel Beecher) is a mulatto and while he has been temporarily
in command of the Regt. he has used every endeavor in his power
to elevate the Negro Doctor over the white one . . . . 7
Mintz accused Reed of favoring Doctor John V. DeGrasse, the black assistant surgeon, over Doctor Daniel Mann. The Medical Director believed that Reed gave DeGrasse special treatment because of Reed's race. The Descriptive Books of the 35th fail to indicate Reed's racial classification. But throughout his career Reed openly championed the rights of blacks. Reed's strong beliefs in the rights of blacks could have caused others to question his racial background, a usual tactic of those hostile to black advancement.
Reed figured prominently in the leadership of the 35th, even commanding the regiment at one point. He seemed to invite controversy. On October 29, 1863, Beecher ordered Reed arrested for recalling a private from the quartermaster's department without going through the proper channels. Two days later, Beecher released Reed from arrest after he learned the lieutenant colonel's rationale for recalling the soldier. While working for the quartermaster's department, Private Lafayette Spencer faced mistreatment at the hands of white soldiers who forced Spencer to labor for them. Reed, angry at the maltreatment of Private Spencer, simply recalled the soldier from duty rather than allowing the abuse to continue. Upon learning the facts of the case, Beecher agreed with Reed's reason, but not his method. Reed and Beecher shared an intense belief in abolition and the rights of blacks, and both officers fought to prevent their men from mistreatment by other white soldiers. Unfortunately for the 35th, Reed did not have many opportunities to uphold the rights of his enlisted men. Reed died of wounds received at the Battle of Olustee, Florida, on February 23, 1864, less than a year after the organization of the regiment. 8
Reed played an important, albeit brief, role in the 35th by championing the rights of black enlisted men. However, Reed and Beecher were not the only important white officers in the regiment. General Wild selected another key figure when he recruited Major Archibald Bogle. Twenty-two years of age when he joined the 35th on May 21, 1863, Bogle's war record included serving as first lieutenant in the 17th Massachusetts Volunteers. According to Bogle's service record, he briefly commanded the 35th in December 1863. At the Battle of Olustee, Bogle received severe wounds and was presumed dead and left on the field. Confederate troops captured Bogle and imprisoned him at Andersonville, Georgia. There Bogle faced terrible conditions and mistreatment at the hands of his captors, particularly because of his position in a black regiment. By April 1865, Bogle returned to his unit, though still suffering from wounds received over a year before at Olustee. Bogle did not obtain proper medical care during his imprisonment, which resulted in severe medical problems for some time after his release. In a detailed letter to Union Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas in May 1865, Bogle addressed the lack of care he received while at Andersonville.
After being left several days without even having his wounds dressed, Bogle finally received attention from a low ranking medical officer. However, a Confederate doctor ordered the lesser officer to "turn him out with his God damned Niggers." The doctor removed Bogle from the hospital without caring for his wounds and, as a result, infection set in. By June 16, 1864, four months after the battle, Bogle finally gained admittance to the prison hospital. Bogle weighed only 70-80 pounds upon admission, down from 170 pounds at the time of his capture. Bogle suffered greatly at Andersonville, largely because his captors knew of his rank in a black regiment. He survived the difficult experience and went on to be promoted to colonel after the war ended on June 22, 1867, for "gallant and meritorious services." 9
An interesting figure in the 35th, though never noted for "gallant and meritorious services," was Assistant Surgeon John V. DeGrasse, a black soldier. Appointed on April 28, 1863, DeGrasse had a remarkable career prior to his service in the 35th. During an era when few black men received an education, DeGrasse had the benefit of medical school. The first black member of a medical association, DeGrasse joined the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1854. DeGrasse established himself as a competent physician in the years before the Civil War and a likely candidate for the assistant surgeon position in a black regiment. However, numerous individuals did not support blacks serving as any officer. Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, however, believed that select black men should be given the opportunity to lead their brethren. In the early days of black recruitment, Andrew urged Secretary of War Stanton to allow blacks to serve as officers in junior positions. On February 3, 1863, Andrew sent a telegram to Stanton explaining his wish. He wrote:
Congressional Bill passed. House Rep does not prohibit Colored Officers
in Colored Reg. Will you withdraw prohibition so far as concerns line
officers, asst. surgeons, and chaplain of my proposed Colored Reg. It will
avoid difficulty. Power would not be used except possibly for few cases
of plainly competent persons, recommended by the field officers, who shall
be gentlemen and soldiers of the highest men and influence. 10
Andrew pressured Stanton to allow blacks to serve as noncommissioned officers, assistant surgeons, and chaplains; Wild and Beecher concurred. DeGrasse joined the regiment relatively early, which spoke well of the intentions of Wild and Beecher to support the rights of blacks. Despite the hopes of the two leaders and DeGrasse's record, DeGrasse eventually proved unfit for the position. He was neither a "gentlemen and soldier of the highest men and influence," nor was he even plainly competent. DeGrasse simply could not perform his duties because of drunkenness. The surgeon drank so frequently and thoroughly that it interfered with his ability to carry out the details of his position. The problem with alcohol grew until his superior officers noticed and took action. DeGrasse faced a court martial in Jacksonville, Florida, on November 1, 1864. Charged with both "drunkenness on duty" and "conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman," DeGrasse pleaded "not guilty." For the charge of "drunkenness on duty," DeGrasse faced three specifications.
The first charged him with failing to obey his duties of caring for wounded soldiers and instead going to bed drunk on February 20, 1864. On that date the 35th participated in the Battle of Olustee, Florida, and sustained heavy casualties. The second specification accused DeGrasse of leaving the regiment and going to Jacksonville, getting drunk, and going to bed before the regiment arrived there in June 1864. The third specification read:
that the said Asst. Surgeon John V. DeGrasse, 35th U.S.C.T., when
sought for to attend to a wounded man was found in a condition
entirely incapacitated to perform duty, caused by excessive drinking
of alcoholic stimulus. This at bivouac of 35th U.S.C.T., near Darby's
Station, Fla., on or about the 25th day of July, 1864, while in the face
of the enemy and the only Medical Officer on duty with his regiment. 11
DeGrasse, found guilty on both charges, was discharged. One of few black officers in the earliest days of black troops thus saw his military career come to an end because of his drinking habit. Perhaps the brutalities of war drove DeGrasse to the bottle. If so, he was not the first soldier to turn to drinking. Soldiers found various ways to cope with the horrors of war. Unlike card playing or storytelling, drinking often interfered with performing duty. In The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (1952), historian Bell Irvin Wiley noted that many surgeons turned to alcohol with regularity. Because of the harshness of their duty and their unrestricted access to alcohol, surgeons such as DeGrasse could lose themselves in the bottle with greater ease than could the average soldier. According to Wiley, many surgeons faced court martials and dismissals for being too drunk to carry out their duties. Whatever the reason, or reasons, DeGrasse drank to excess until it ended his career with the 35th, a career that could have been all the more remarkable had it been capable of continuing. 12
With the 35th regimental staff in place, DeGrasse still among them, Wild and Beecher left the North to begin recruiting soldiers in eastern North Carolina. They faced an entirely different process of recruitment in the South than did black regiments recruited in the North. In the South, recruiters entered enemy territory. Even in areas of the South occupied by Union troops, such as eastern North Carolina, the local citizens certainly did not like the idea of their former slaves bearing arms against them. A slaveholder in Kenansville, North Carolina, not far from Union lines, feared what might happen. Writing to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on November 25, 1863, Jere Pearsall urged Davis not to draft a local guard unit into Confederate forces. The home guard, according to Pearsall, protected slaveholders and their families, as well as preventing slaves from escaping to join Union forces. Pearsall's fears were not unfounded. Slaveholders in eastern North Carolina lost many bondsmen to the Union, where they joined the United States Colored Troops. 13
Even whites further away from the dangers felt threatened by the recruitment of blacks. Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston, a prominent white woman near the occupied area, excitedly wrote in her journal on several occasions about the arming of former slaves. As early as February 10, 1863, Edmondston confided to her journal, "Think of it, armed negroes! Think of what it means!" She correctly recognized the implications of arming former slaves against their masters. If anyone had a reason to fight, men who faced bondage did. By May 1863, Edmondston's diary mentioned the recruitment of black troops in the eastern part of the state. Through members of her family who lived in the northeastern counties of North Carolina, Edmondston heard different stories about the recruitment of blacks. On May 26, 1863, she wrote about the formation of black regiments:
Negro Regiments are being mustered into the service of the U.S.
throughout the country. A glorious cause that requires Cuffey's arm.
Cuffey's valour, to sustain it! I never mentioned half that Patty (my
new niece) told me of the Yankee villainy and oppression in the North
Eastern Counties-paper would fail me. They lie, steal, and murder
Edmondston went on to describe the Federal theft of slaves from the homes of friends in the area, for the purpose of recruiting them. She found this a deplorable crime, but the murders and atrocities reportedly committed against their former masters troubled her more, and correctly so, because Edmondston's family owned slaves. Edmondston believed that the entrance of Union soldiers into North Carolina and their intention to arm blacks threatened economic and social order. Indeed, Edmondston thought that the combination of blacks and Union soldiers meant disaster to area whites.
Prominent whites in northeastern North Carolina shared Edmondston's fears. On July 25, 1863, John Pool of Bertie County, a former Whig candidate for governor, wrote to Governor Zebulon B. Vance about the formation of Negro regiments. Pool, writing on behalf of a group of citizens, expressed concern over the presence of Union soldiers and their purposes. These North Carolinians believed that the troops proposed to raise units of former slaves with the idea of inciting a rebellion of all blacks against their former masters. Pool gave the governor examples of Union soldiers appearing on or about plantations, conversing with slaves. According to reports, they intended to lure slaves away from their masters by August 2, 1863. Pool insisted, "I really think, the matter ought to claim your prompt attention." Slaveholders strongly feared what might befall them if former slaves were given weapons and trained by the Union Army. Wild, Beecher, and their officers, however, showed little concern over disrupting the way of life for southern whites. 15
As recruitment unfolded, Wild chose a site for the military base just outside of New Bern on the banks of the Neuse River. New Bern was the headquarters of the Federal forces and had attracted 5,000 black refugees to the area. By the first week of June 1863, seven companies were complete and in camp. Just a few weeks later, Wild determined that the first regiment had finished recruiting, and he began recruiting the second one. These first soldiers participated in a difficult training schedule in camp. On June 17, 1863, Colonel Beecher issued Regimental General Order Number 1, which outlined a typical day in camp:
5:00 a.m. Reveille-Roll call-Shake out blankets-Clean tents and men wash in squads in river. 5:45 a.m. Breakfast 6:45 a.m. Surgeon's Call 6:50 a.m. Sergeant's Call-Morning Reports 7:00 a.m. Fatigue Call and Drill 8:00 a.m. 1st Call for Guard Mount 8:15 a.m. Guard Mount 10:00 a.m. Recall 12:00 p.m. Dinner 3:00 p.m. Fatigue and Drill 6:00 p.m. Recall 6:20 p.m. 1st Call Dress Parade 6:30 p.m. Adjutant's Call 7:00 p.m. Supper 8:30 p.m. Tattoo 9:00 p.m. Taps 16
The long hours spent in drill were meant to prepare the 35th for skirmishes and battle. In July 1863, the regiment participated in minor skirmishes on a raid into Duplin County. In a letter to the Christian Recorder, the organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Joseph E. Williams of the 35th described the raid. According to Williams, the soldiers accomplished their goal of recruiting other black men to join the United States Colored Troops. "I am happy to state that I, with the invading expedition in the enemy's country, safely returned to New Bern," Williams reported. "We expected to have to fight our way through, but the rebels flew away from our advancing forces as the darkness flies from advancing light." Williams described the raid, including rescuing prisoners from the courthouse in Kenansville, as well as ruining railroad ties in Warsaw. Two of the prisoners joined the raiders and followed them back to New Bern. More significantly, the group put the torch to an important war-materials factory in Kenansville before marching the eight miles to Warsaw. Williams described, "With more vigorous determination, we burnt the sabre factory and dashed on to Warsaw." Throughout the raid, Williams reported that slaves flocked to their lines seeking protection. Williams's letter reported that part of the 35th successfully completed one of their first raids and expressed his confidence in the soldiers' abilities to take on the enemy, as well as their desire to do so. 17
Whether they would be allowed to face the enemy in battle remained a question. From the earliest debate over arming blacks, the War Department and Congress questioned the role that former slaves could serve. Would they participate as regular soldiers or would they be restricted in their activity? Those in the government who held racist beliefs and did not think blacks capable of regular military duty hoped for the latter. When sponsoring the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, as well as Wild's Brigade, Governor Andrew pressed the government repeatedly for regular military service for black regiments. He made it clear that his regiments were not intended to labor for white soldiers. In an April 1, 1863 letter to Secretary Stanton, Andrew mentioned sending the 54th to eastern North Carolina to help raise what became Wild's Brigade. Concerned that the 54th would be used as a laboring force, Andrew wrote:
Our 54th is being raised and officered for active not for fatigue
duty; and unless active operations of a brilliant sort are contemplated
in No. Carolina, in which they, as a portion of the troops in that command
could be allowed to engage, then I pray you to send the 54th to So.
Carolina, where, under Genl. Hunter, negro troops will be appreciated
and allowed a place in onward and honorable movements of active war. 18
Unfortunately, other leaders and sponsors of black units did not support their regiments as vehemently or as frequently as Andrew did. Once organized, many black regiments faced endless fatigue duty with little opportunity for active duty. Fatigue duty consisted of hard military labor that reminded many former slaves of the all too familiar burdens of slavery. USCT regiments frequently performed construction, dug ditches, prepared breastworks, and endured all sorts of other military labors. Especially in the first months of existence, black soldiers faced an inordinate amount of such duty. Andrew, however, let Stanton and others in the War Department know that his troops should be used for active duty, rather than for fatigue duty or as laborers. Despite his intentions, the government actually did little to give the 35th or other black regiments an understanding of their function in the war. This lack of a clear mission left black soldiers and their officers unsure of their roles. 19
The absence of an explicit mission affected the 35th in several ways. The conviction of Wild and Beecher aided the regiment, but they could not control their orders from Washington. Soon after the 35th completed recruitment, Beecher received orders to pull out of camp at New Bern and embark for Charleston, South Carolina. The orders came unexpectedly and required that the regiment leave immediately. The 35th did just that, but in their haste they left behind the regimental records and most of their baggage. For months afterwards, the 35th faced difficulties because of their missing books. Six months later, in January 1864, problems continued to arise. The War Department sent a circular calling for the monthly returns for the regiment for July 1863, the month of the move from New Bern to Charleston. Unable to provide the returns due to the missing books, Major Archibald Bogle responded to the circular:
the morning of the first detachment disembarked it was placed
at once on fatigue-and every available officer and man continued
on duty throughout August and September and the larger. . . . until
early in December there being during this time an average of less than
two officers to companies of from 50 to 90 men-it has been very
difficult to furnish the required reports from the date the company and
Regiment books arrived and necessarily impossible to make accruable
returns for July and August. 20
The missing reports and books plagued the 35th for some time. Issues frequently arose over the lost records. In November 1863, Beecher wrote to Lieutenant Thomas J. Robinson, the Assistant Adjutant General, concerning the absent books. According to Beecher the amount of duty imposed on company commanders made it "about impossible to give proper attention to company books." Not only did the officers have trouble keeping up with official work while the books were missing, but once they arrived, the officers found it difficult to devote adequate time to paperwork. Beecher noted that the 35th lacked officers capable of performing paperwork, which worsened the problem. "There is not an orderly sergeant as non-commissioned officers in the command who can write sufficiently well who of any service and hence the whole duty has been thrown upon the one or two commissioned officers in the command," Beecher explained. The situation intensified because of a scarcity of officers to handle the reports, records, and correspondence. 21
Troubled not just by its missing regimental books and records, the 35th faced other problems in South Carolina as well. Because of its ambiguous status, the 35th often confronted difficulties in obtaining proper equipment and receiving adequate training, a problem common among regiments of the U. S. Colored Troops. On December 29, 1863, six months after the regiment began recruiting, Major Bogle issued "Regimental and Special Order Number 97," which directed:
Immediately after the inspection by Captain Burt this
morning, Company Commanders will inspect their companies and
be sure that each man has canteen and haversack, two pairs shoes,
two suits underclothing-ammunition plenty and in good order-and
that the men are in every way prepared for "the field." 22
Bogle sought to ensure that the men had adequate equipment and clothing in case they saw combat action. After the inspection performed on December 29, Bogle reported to Lieutenant Thomas J. Robinson, the assistant adjutant general to Major General John G. Foster, Department of the South, concerning the weapon supply. "The arms (Springfield, Enfield, Swivel Bore) being mostly second hand and many of them more or less imperfect are hardly suitable for field service," Bogle complained. The inspection also determined that the men had adequate outer clothing, but it revealed that the regiment was "deficient in underclothing especially drawers for which Requisition has repeatedly been made." The results of the inspection demonstrated that the regiment lacked necessary equipment and clothing. The arms the 35th possessed had been repeatedly used, and, according to Bogle, were not suitable for battle use. Obviously, whomever issued those arms did not concern themselves with whether the regiment could protect its men in the field, or they simply did not care. Bogle noted that requisitions had been made more than once, but the men had not yet been supplied. 23
Four months later, the issue of insufficient and deficient arms still had not been solved. Colonel Beecher wrote to Major C. W. Foster of the Bureau of Colored Troops, on April 8, 1864, concerning a prior requisition for arms. Beecher originally requested Springfield rifles and muskets from the chief of ordinance, Department of the South, on March 21, 1864. On March 31, he resubmitted the request, and received a positive reply from the War Department on April 8. Beecher wrote, "I am grateful to the Hon. Secretary of War for promptly ordering a decent armament for my new regiment yet am confident that no arms will be obtained except through direct action of the War Department in sending the rifles to Hilton Head and ordering their issue to my regiment." 24
Having no great faith in the prospect of receiving arms through proper channels, Beecher went directly to Secretary of War Stanton. Certainly Beecher knew that his regiment would not likely receive any shipment of armaments unless specific orders from the War Department accompanied the shipment. Many USCT regiments faced similar problems with weapons. Black regiments frequently received weapons of lesser quality that would never be issued to white regiments. Similarly, USCT regiments often possessed several types of firearms, each of which required different ammunition. In battle, such differences caused difficulties soldiers could ill afford. By the time of Beecher's letter to Stanton, the 35th had already participated in the Battle of Olustee and also in skirmishes, obviously without proper arms for the regiment. The need had become imperative, and Beecher had grown frustrated with waiting. At the close of the letter, Beecher asked for "prompt action in a case of pressing urgency." 25
The persistent colonel ultimately achieved his goal and the 35th received a shipment of new Springfield rifles during the summer of 1864. Nonetheless, inspecting officers from the Assistant Inspector General's Office, Department of the South, questioned the supply of arms in their inspection report dated September 9, 1864. The report noted that "deficiencies in arms were numerous." However, Beecher disagreed with this finding. On September 22, 1864, he responded, "Every enlisted man has a new Springfield Rifle and 26 Rifles are in hands of the Colonel Commanding as surplus. The deficiency is therefore [not apparent]." Despite the fact that Beecher's requisition for arms finally had arrived, official inspectors still saw a need for more, or superior, rifles. 26
Black regiments and their officers confronted numerous shortages in addition to weapons. Like most USCT regiments, the 35th did not possess adequate clothing and equipment. On the same day Beecher requested weapons, he also wrote Lieutenant Colonel Fuller, the chief quartermaster of the Department of the South, about another pressing need. The soldiers of the 35th did not have an adequate supply of shoes. Writing from Jacksonville, Florida, Beecher reported, "I can obtain no shoes here of proper size and have respectfully to inquire if there are any shoes sizes from 9 to 14 which can be obtained." Beecher requested 200 pairs of shoes, if available, to be sent to the quartermasters department in Jacksonville for distribution to his men. After almost one year of service, the men of the 35th still needed proper arms, shoes, underclothing, and other equipment. Beecher worked to supply his men, but he could not do it alone. The War Department usually chose to supply white regiments over black ones. 27
Just as it did not properly equip black troops, the War Department also failed to establish a specific role for the 35th and other black regiments. Because the regiment did not have a clear mission, it became simple to reduce the men to constant fatigue duty rather than active service in fortifications or in field operations. Part of the problem for the 35th arose from insufficient training and drill in camp prior to leaving New Bern in July 1863. After embarking for Charleston and eventually making camp at North Folly Island, South Carolina, the regiment's orders gave little time for drill and training. The men of the 35th found themselves in situations of near constant fatigue duty and, in some cases, duty for white soldiers. On September 13, 1863, an enraged Beecher wrote to General Wild, complaining about the treatment of some of the 35th. The colonel of the 35th had received reports informing him that a detachment of the regiment was being used improperly while on fatigue duty at Morris Island. The detachment of sixty soldiers had been ordered to report to a white regiment on the island, where the group was ordered to prepare camp for the white regiment. Furious about the treatment of his soldiers, Beecher sarcastically wrote that he believed white regiments normally "pitch their own tents and lay out their own camps." 28
Noting that, "it being (unless I am greatly in error) the custom of New York and other regiments to pitch their own tents and lay out their own camps a privilege, by the way, which my men have had little time to enjoy by reason of constant detail on fatigue," Beecher believed that his men should not be used as laborers for white soldiers. The incessant fatigue duty performed by the 35th had raised the sick list of the regiment from less than ten to almost 200 in a little more than a month. For a regiment already burdened with fatigue duty, Beecher protested against adding the duties of other regiments onto the shoulders of his men. Not only did the increased duties risk the health of the soldiers, but Beecher recognized the "injurious influence" that laboring for white soldiers would have upon black men not long out of slavery. "They have been slaves and are just learning to be men," Beecher declared. The colonel firmly believed that forcing blacks to perform the duty of white soldiers would bring back both the mental and physical aspects of slavery for black soldiers and thwart their progress as soldiers. 29
Beecher hoped to prevent similar events from happening to his troops and requested that Wild forward his protest to the commanding general of the department. "If these men do their duty in the trenches, and in the field," wrote Beecher, "I do not believe that he [the commanding officer] will make them hewers of wood and drawers of water for those who do no more." 30
Angry at what he considered to be misuse of his men, Beecher did not hesitate to show his indignation. The colonel of the 35th believed that his men had not been recruited and trained to do menial labor for white troops. He strongly supported his troops and thought that reducing them to serving white soldiers took away some of the freedom they were fighting to win. Possessing no respect for whites who treated black soldiers in such a manner, Beecher hoped Wild would remedy the situation. Wild responded to Beecher's letter, "I have given instruction that the officers of fatigue details from my command shall disregard such orders hereafter. But I forward the complaint trusting that all such abuses will in future be authoritatively corrected from Hd. Qrs." Wild forwarded Beecher's complaint to commanding officer Brigadier General Israel Vodges who took note of the incident. Vodges responded to Beecher two days later, first commenting that Beecher's letter lacked proper respect. Despite this, Vodges recognized the "important military principle which it asserts" and expressed his concern over the alleged misuse of Beecher's men. Not only did Vodges recognize of the impact of the mistreatment of black soldiers, but he also observed that it "can not but exercise an unfavorable influence with the minds of both of the white and black troops." Allowing white soldiers to treat black troops in this manner could only worsen the racism that already existed. 31
General Vodges believed that the misuse of Beecher's men arose from insufficient training. Because the men had not been adequately trained as soldiers, their bodies were seen by veterans as workhorses. Vodges did not support the maltreatment of black troops by whites, but found the solution in further training for black soldiers. He instructed, "If possible I deem it desirable that opportunities be given to drill and instruct the colored troops in their duties as soldiers. I am aware that hitherto the amount of fatigue imposed upon this command has prevented this being done. I hope however that in the future a fair opportunity may be given for instruction." Also stationed at Folly Island, the 55th Colored Massachusetts troops likewise encountered extreme fatigue duty that allowed limited time for further training. At times, black soldiers faced fire from enemy sharpshooters while performing fatigue duty. A soldier of the 55th described the hazards of such duty in a January 12, 1864 letter to the Weekly Anglo-African. He detailed:
I do not hesitate to assert, sir, that it requires a higher standard of
courage to perform fatigue duty under fire, than to go into battle.
When men are exposed to a galling fire of artillery and sharpshooters,
with no means of returning it and bear themselves in a cool and soldierly
manner, doing their duty without a complaint, and when that duty is
forced upon them, both day and night, for weeks without intermission,
they may justly lay claim to some credit. And this was the manner in
which the 55th Mass. and 1st N.C. Colored Volunteers, were initiated
into the duties of soldiers in active service in the field, by being
subjected to hard labor under a heavy cross fire of solid shot and
shell, without any other means of showing to their unseen foes their
determination, than what would be, and ultimately was, shown, by
the result of their patient and faithful labor-the fall of Wagner and Gregg. 32
Beecher recognized the heavy strain placed on the men by continuous fatigue duty such as the soldier of the 55th described, but believed a more significant problem existed. The real issue, according to Beecher, concerned the discriminatory attitude of white soldiers towards blacks. Beecher noted that the men mistreating black soldiers considered themselves "gentlemen." He obviously did not think "gentlemen" the proper title for these men, and did what he could to make his point heard by others in the United States Army. Beecher's complaint to Wild vividly described his frustration, and according to Vodges, was "somewhat wanting in proper respect due his superior." Beecher firmly believed in the men of the 35th and defended his troops whenever necessary. Unfortunately, he could not single-handedly fight the prejudices and misconceptions held by others in the army against black soldiers. 33
Despite all the problems that the 35th faced in the first year of existence, the regiment managed to survive and even participate in a major battle and a few skirmishes with the enemy. Though not properly outfitted, dressed, or trained, the men of the 35th tasted real battle-the battle of Olustee in Florida-and knew they could handle it. The 35th suffered heavy casualties in the battle, a situation worsened because the only doctor on duty for the regiment was too drunk to perform his duties. The men of the 35th may not have been suitably trained in the early months of existence, but practical experience taught them nearly everything necessary in order to make it as soldiers. All they needed was the opportunity. Many continued to question the abilities of black soldiers. Fortunately for the 35th, their regimental officers supported them and were willing, especially Colonel Beecher, to fight for their equal status in the army. 34
Footnotes for Chapter Two:
1. John A Andrew to Edwin M. Stanton, April 1, 1863, in the Negro in the Military Service of the United States, 1639-1889, 5 reels, National Archives Microfilm Publication (hereafter cited as NIMS, reel:frame) 3:1158; Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 136.
2. Andrew to Stanton, April 1, 1863, NIMS 3:1158: Richard Reid, "Raising the African Brigade: Early Black Recruitment in Civil War North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 70 (July, 1993): 275.
3. Ibid.; Edward Longacre, "Brave Radical Wild: The Contentious Career of Brigadier Edward A. Wild," Civil War Times Illustrated, 19 (June, 1980): 9-10.
4. Longacre, "Brave Radical Wild," 10; Russell Duncan, ed., Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1992), 321, 323.
5. James C. Beecher, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94 (hereafter abbreviated as RG), National Archives, Washington D.C.; Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment United States Colored Troops (USCT), RG 94.
6. Major General David Hunter to John A. Andrew, May 4, 1863, in NIMS, 3:1219, 1220.
7. H. M. Mintz to Major General Quincy Gilmore, November 17, 1863, Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
8. William N. Reed, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Cornish, The Sable Arm, 112; Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 195.
9. Archibald Bogle, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's -1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
10. John A. Andrew to Edwin M. Stanton, February 3, 1863 in NIMS, 3:1082.
11. John V. DeGrasse, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
12. Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union (Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill, 1952 ), 130-131.
13. Joe A. Mobley, ed., The Papers of Zebulon Baird Vance, Volume 2, 1863 (Raleigh, North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, 1995), 222-223.
14. Beth Gilbert Crabtree and James W. Patton, eds., "Journal of a Secesh Lady:" The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston (Raleigh, North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, 1979), 357, 397; Ira Berlin, Barbara Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds. Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992),142-143.
15. Crabtree and Patton, "Journal of a Secesh Lady", 397.
16. Order Books, Companies A to E, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
17. Edwin S. Redkey, ed., A Grand Army of Black Men (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 92.
18. John A. Andrew to Edwin M. Stanton, April 1, 1863, in NIMS 3:1158.
19. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, 182-184.
20. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
22. Order Books, Companies A to E, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
23. Descriptive Book, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
25. Ibid.; Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, 185-187; Cornish, The Sable Arm, 195.
26. Inspection Report, Assistant Inspector General's Office, Department of the South, Hilton Head, South Carolina, September 9, 1864; Box 29, United States Colored Troops Regimental Papers, 35th and 36th United States Colored Infantry; RG 94.
27. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
28. Ira Berlin, Joseph Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Series 2: The Black Military Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 493.
31. Ibid., 494.
32. Ibid., 494; Noah Andre Trudeau, Voices of the 55th: Letters from the 55th Massachusetts Volunteers, 1861-1865 (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside House, Inc., 1996), 56-57.
33. Berlin, et. al., eds., Freedom, Series 2, 494.
34. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
"The Men of My Command"
The men of the 35th brought with them various backgrounds and situations, and left service in the USCT with diverse memories and experiences. The Descriptive Books of the regiment list 1,098 men who enlisted from the time of conception until the late stages of the war. In these books, officers recorded valuable information about the individual soldiers who joined the 35th. Included are the age, height, complexion, eye and hair color, town or county born, state, occupation, date of enlistment, site of enlistment, by whom enlisted, length of service, and additional remarks detailing desertion, death, wounds received, and promotions. The data available in the Descriptive Books provides glimpses into the individual lives of the men who formed the 35th USCT.
Former slaves and free blacks of all ages joined the 35th. Eager young men enlisted as young as fifteen, while others age forty and older joined to participate in the war. The average age of the regiment was 23.8 years of age, with the vast majority of soldiers in their late teens and twenties at the time of enlistment. However, men much older than the average decided to enlist. William Matthis, the oldest soldier of the regiment, was sixty-seven when he joined Company I. That a man of his age felt the desire to participate is remarkable. Fifty-two years separated Matthis from the youngest soldiers of the 35th. The vast age differences reflected the success of recruitment in Eastern North Carolina. Many of these men formerly served as laborers and assistants to Union troops, and felt the need to participate in another capacity. Therefore, Wild, Beecher, and their recruiters faced little difficulty inspiring black men of all ages to join the fight. 1
In most cases, recruiting officers identified the color complexion of the new soldiers. Though overwhelmingly recorded as "black" or "dark," some soldiers received the notation "light." Officers identified only seventy-six of the 1,098 men of the 35th as having "light" complexions. These men made up only 6.9 percent of the entire regiment. Company F contained the largest number of "light" soldiers, with seventeen of ninety-four men fitting that description. Out of 110 men, Company C only listed one soldier of "light" complexion. According to the comments in the Descriptive Books, the experiences of "light" soldiers differ little from those with dark skin except in one significant area. Soldiers noted as having "light" complexions more often received promotions than did other black soldiers. 2
A separate roster in the Descriptive Books lists the noncommissioned officers for the regiment. Of the nine noncommissioned officers in this list, four received the notation of "light." Two were listed as "black," one as "dark," and the remaining two were white. Blacks of lighter complexion historically received more favorable treatment than those with darker skin. On a plantation in the slave society, slaves with light skin often worked in positions other than in the fields, sometimes as servants in the main house or in skilled trades on the plantation. Because light-skinned slaves occasionally had superior training and skills, some could have advanced in the ranks more rapidly than those who had little or no training in anything other than field work. For example, John Monroe of Company A worked as a servant before the war, and received and early promotion to Quarter Master Sergeant. Perhaps the skills he learned as a house worker helped him earn the promotion. Reflecting the views of the race-conscious society, white officers might have treated lighter-skinned blacks better and given them greater chances for promotions. 3
Though some of the men who received promotions did indicate that they worked at jobs other than field hands, the majority of the men did not. Judging by the occupations listed in the descriptive books, most of the men of the 35th had been slaves before enlisting in the unit. Most soldiers reported their occupations as farmer or laborer, occupations that imply slavery. In Company A, of 115 men, eighty-six listed the occupation of farmer. Only six men worked as laborers, but another eleven held the occupations of blacksmith, carpenter, teamster, driver, or mason. These jobs could have been on a plantation in the service of a master. A number of recruits could have been free; in1860 30,463 free blacks lived in North Carolina. Free blacks also tended to perform unskilled agricultural labor, though some held skilled positions. Most of the other companies in the regiment reflected the pattern of Company A. The greatest majority of soldiers worked as farmers or laborers before the war, and a few listed skilled occupations such as carpenter, blacksmith, mason, or driver. Still fewer recruits reported domestic occupations, such as servant, waiter, or cook. Many soldiers recruited on the Outer Banks of North Carolina worked as sailors; they might have been slaves or freed men. 4
In a study of various descriptive books in regiments of United States Colored Troops, Historian Robert A. Margo reached several intriguing conclusions. Margo noted that prewar occupations of recruits were closely related to the age, height, and complexion of the soldier. Younger, taller, darker-skinned former bondsmen more often than not worked as field laborers. Slaveholders recognized that youth and height in workers could result in greater production in the field. Older recruits commonly worked in skilled positions, and those with lighter complexions frequently listed domestic posts. Margo also observed that former slaves recruited in the eastern and southeastern states of the Confederacy reported a slightly higher number of skilled, semi-skilled, or domestic occupations than those from Union states or western states within the Confederacy. This difference, according to Margo, implies that different recruiting policies may have existed in the regions. Many of the soldiers of the 35th follow the same patterns noted by Margo. John Monroe of Company A, mentioned previously, reported his occupation as servant before the war. Monroe also had a "light" complexion, which corresponds with Margo's findings that soldiers with "light" complexions more often than not worked in non-field positions. Also in Company A, Crosby McCade, twenty-eight, Frank Roberts, twenty-one, and Thomas Wilson, twenty-seven, all with "light" complexions, listed the skilled occupation of carpenter. Margo noted that older recruits often reported occupations other than field work, regardless of complexion. Thirty-six year old Henry Pelham of Company D, though dark-skinned, listed his occupation as servant. Peter Brady, thirty-seven, of Company I, reported the occupation of carpenter. Also dark-skinned, Brady received skilled training before the war. The characteristics of these men support Margo's conclusion. 5
However, the men of the 35th do not necessarily uphold Margo's findings that height and age determined which slaves worked in the fields. Margo concluded that young, tall men produced superior results in field work, therefore such men frequently composed the nucleus of the laboring force. At first glance, the records of the 35th do not entirely support this conclusion. If height is simply taken into account, men of all statures served as laborers, from the diminutive Silas Furly of Company E, 5ft. 1in., age nineteen, to Jacob Green of Company F, also nineteen, 6ft. 2in. Several factors must be considered. First, all slaves did not serve on large plantations where overseers could choose the best men for each job. On smaller estates, men who did not fit the top physical description for laborers may have performed the job out of necessity. Second, a strong, healthy man of lesser height simply could have outworked a taller, but less able man. Owners or overseers certainly would have chosen workers based on ability, not merely height. Finally, the enlisting officers did not record occupations for every man, or even every company. "Laborer" is recorded with extreme regularity. The roster of Company B lists all but one of the recruits as laborers, the exception being John Wallace, a hostler. Wallace and five other men joined the regiment in South Carolina, after the 35th left New Bern. Captain C.A. Jones recruited the first 88 men of Company B, but Captain Hutchins signed the last six soldiers. It is possible that many enlisting officers misused the term "laborer," applying it indiscriminately. Perhaps Jones listed every soldier as "laborer" rather than record the specific labor performed by the individual. Officers may not have believed this information to be valuable or even necessary, and therefore did not concern themselves with recording occupations accurately. Consequently, it is not known which men might have held skilled or semi-skilled positions. 6
The Descriptive Books of the 35th regiment provide demographic information as well as physical descriptions and occupations of the soldiers. In most cases, the soldier's home town or county is recorded, as well as the site of enlistment. This information offers insights into the scope of recruiting efforts by General Wild and his officers. Men from various localities joined. Some soldiers more than likely came to New Bern on their own either as refugees or when word of the organization of the regiment spread across eastern North Carolina. Others must have signed up because of the recruiting attempts of Wild. In Company A, men primarily came from Craven County and the surrounding counties. Forty men enlisted from Jones, Craven, Beaufort, and Carteret Counties. Those travelling the greatest distances came principally from northeastern counties such as Chowan, Tyrrell, Halifax, and Pasquotank. Several men from Elizabeth City joined the 35th. These soldiers faced a tremendous journey. If travelling over land, the recruits had to cross four rivers, and if by water, probably the quickest route, the trip still would have not been easy. 7
Despite this, the men did come. Company B drew heavily from the areas around New Bern and the northeastern counties, areas occupied by the Federal army, though one soldier from Confederate-held Raleigh joined. Similarly, a single recruit from Guilford County stood out among the other soldiers from northeastern North Carolina in Company C. Men from Jones, Duplin, Sampson, and other eastern North Carolina counties filled the ranks of Company D. Company E consisted of soldiers from Bertie, Pasquotank, Edgecombe, Perquimans, and surrounding counties. In Company F, the largest number of soldiers orginated in Camden, Pasquotank, Beaufort, Currituck, and Craven Counties. Several recruits in Company F listed Roanoke Island as their home. Company G drew from Martin, Bertie, Halifax, and neighboring counties. The majority of soldiers of Company H came from Hatteras Island. Company I recruited soldiers from Pasquotank, Hyde, Martin, Beaufort, and Gates Counties. The last company of the 35th, Company K, grouped recruits from Lenior, New Hanover, Carteret, Pitt, Craven and other eastern counties. 8
The men who gathered in the late spring and early summer of 1863 to form the 35th USCT overwhelmingly originated from the eastern counties of North Carolina. Many had great distances to travel under hazardous conditions in order to reach New Bern. Slaveholders certainly did not want their property to run away to join the enemy's force, but in Union-occupied areas they could not prevent it. In Confederate areas, guard units patrolled to prevent slaves from escaping. Runaway slaves faced punishment or worse if caught. Nevertheless, these determined men found their way to New Bern. A few traveled from Virginia, and several from South Carolina joined the companies after the regiment made its headquarters at Folly Island, South Carolina, in July 1863. 9
All of the social, economic, and demographic information contained in the Descriptive Books provides an image of the regiment. The vast majority of the men who formed the 35th were slaves prior to enlistment and lived in eastern North Carolina. From the occupations listed, most soldiers labored as field workers on plantations or smaller farms. However, soldiers listed a wide variety of skilled and semi-skilled positions as well. These recruits ranged in age from fifteen to sixty-seven years of age. Though possessing markedly similar backgrounds, the military experience of the soldiers of the 35th proved to be unique to each man.
For example, Crosby McCade of Company A enlisted in New Bern on June 30, 1863, at the age of twenty-eight. Born in Washington, North Carolina, the light-skinned McCade worked as a carpenter before enlisting. McCade participated in the battle at Olustee on February 20, 1864, and at the engagement at Honey Hill on November 30, 1864. His service record describes the equipment charged to him during the war; three canteens, three haversacks, and one tent, in addition to noting an injury to McCade's right foot. When mustered out, the War Department owed McCade $38 and $100 of enlistment bounty. He never seemed to be wounded or on sick call. 10
Caswell Streeter of Company E did not share the same experiences of McCade. Streeter enlisted on June 6, 1863, at the age of forty-four. The company muster rolls for January and February, 1864, noted Streeter "absent-in infected camp on Folly Island." Rolls for March and April indicate Streeter's continuing illness, "absent-sick at Jacksonville, Florida." In September, Streeter finally received a discharge because of illness. His certificate of disability read:
He has perfomed no duty for eight months and has been on the sick
list all the time. Is troubled with chronic rheumatism to partial
blindness . . . . consider him permanently disqualified to perform
the duties of a soldier. 11
Like white recruits, illness certainly shortened the careers of many soldiers. Streeter, already forty-four at the time of enlistment, had the misfortune of suffering from repeated sickness and, according to surgeon Henry O'Marcy, "old age." These afflictions made him incapable of carrying out his duties as a soldier and caused Streeter to return to civilian life early. 12
Though twice wounded in battle, Martin Lawson of Company I managed to fulfill his commitment with the 35th. The twenty-two-year-old farmer from Duplin County enlisted in May, 1863. Wounded in the leg at Olustee on February 20, 1864, Lawson suffered for several months. The Field and Staff Muster Roll for March and April reported Lawson "sick in General Hospital No. 10 Beaufort, S.C., since February 20, 1864 from wounds received in action." Lawson recovered from his wound and returned to the regiment after several months. However, his health soon suffered again. In November, 1864, Lawson became ill and rested in camp. Though sick in camp days before, Lawson regained enough strength to join the regiment for an engagement with the enemy at Honey Hill, South Carolina, on November 30, 1864. Perhaps Lawson should have remained in camp, for he received a severe wound in his left arm that necessitated his return to the General Hospital in Beaufort. Lawson, much younger than Caswell Streeter, recovered from both wounds and won the battle with ill health that ended the career of many soldiers. 13
Although wounded once, Alexander Mitchell of Company K also completed his service to the 35th. Mitchell, only twenty when he enlisted on June 2, 1863, worked as a laborer in Craven County prior to joining the regiment. Mitchell's service record notes very little, except pay deductions for canteens, haversacks, and other items. However, the record proves Mitchell's service to the 35th by listing the engagements in which he participated:
Was in engagement at Olustee, Florida, February 20, 1864;
Skirmish at Ten Mile Station, Florida, June 2, 1864;
Was in skirmish at Darby Station, Florida, August 12, 1864;
Slightly wounded at Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina,
November 30, 1864; At Skirmish at Deveaux Neck, South
Carolina, December 7, 1864. 14
Mitchell survived skirmishes and battles, recovered from injury, and endured any illness he experienced. He mustered out of the regiment in June, 1866, owed $13.93 for his service to the country. 15
Mark Bufford of Company F began his military career with an illness that prevented him from mustering in with the rest of his company. The twenty-eight year old laborer from Currituck County became sick shortly after joining the unit. The Company Muster Roll for July and August, 1863, notes "Absent-sick at New Bern, N.C. from July 30, 1863, not yet mustered." This created difficulties for Bufford and the regiment, because the 35th left New Bern in early August for Charleston. The Muster Roll for September and October list Bufford as still absent due to sickness, but in October Bufford went on detached service in Virginia, most likely with the 36th United States Colored Troops. A detachment of the 35th joined General Wild and the 36th, 1st, 5th USCT, along with a detachment of the 55th Massachusetts. Wild led his troops on a raid in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina in early December 1863. On December 28, Bufford finally joined the 35th on Folly Island, South Carolina. He remained with the regiment without incident until November, when he again became sick. The Muster Rolls for November and December 1864 and January and February 1865, note "sick at Jacksonville, Florida, since November 25, 1864." Bufford recovered by early spring, and the Muster Roll for March and April 1865 simply records deductions from Bufford's pay for supplies, such as a cartridge belt plate, cone wrench, haversack and canteen. Just a month after the war ended, Bufford received a promotion to corporal for "good soldierly conduct." Bufford's war experience involved two serious illness, detached service far away from his regiment, and, finally, advancement from private to corporal. 16
John Monroe of Company A began his career differently from that of many of his fellow soldiers. Monroe, only eighteen when he joined the 35th on May 23, 1863, received a promotion to sergeant two weeks later on June 5, 1863. The light-skinned Monroe worked as a servant prior to enlistment. As a servant, Monroe certainly possessed skills other than those of an average field worker, perhaps even the ability to read and write. His abilities as well as his lighter complexion probably influenced recruiting officers when determining his rank. Monroe served the regiment with proficiency and without incident. He went on to be named Commissary Sergeant on May 1, 1865. Because of his skills, Monroe's war experience differed from many other black soldiers. 17
After surviving the war, Benjamin Gramby, Company I, met his fate with smallpox in May 1866. Twenty-three at the time of enlistment, Gramby participated in several battles and skirmishes with the 35th, including Olustee, Honey Hill, and Deveax's Neck, South Carolina. Gramby endured the battles only to have his life end while still a member of the 35th USCT. After contracting smallpox, Gramby died in the post hospital at Summerville, South Carolina in May, 1866. Gramby persevered through the dangerous war years only to lose his final battle with a dreaded disease that took the lives of many soldiers, black and white, Union and Confederate. 18
Every man experienced the Civil War differently. For the soldiers of the USCT, most of whom left slavery to join the fight, the war offered numerous opportunities in addition to risks. Leaving plantations behind provided former bondsmen a glimpse of what freedom might offer in the future, if the Union prevailed. However, newly freed men faced many dangers, including illness, casualty on the field, and the risk of capture by the enemy, which could mean summary death or a brutal return to slavery. Even with the real possibility of danger facing the new recruits, most soldiers adapted to the rigors and structure of military camp life. Many soldiers excelled in camp, enjoying training and new responsibilities. John Monroe, quickly promoted to sergeant, experienced a different war than did Caswell Streeter, discharged due to illness. Alexander Mitchell and Martin Lawson participated in the battles and major skirmishes faced by the 35th. Both received wounds. Both left the regiment when it disbanded in June 1866. These two soldiers shared similar war experiences, very different from those of soldiers who could not, or did not participate as thoroughly as did Mitchell and Lawson. Benjamin Gramby, like Mitchell and Lawson, survived the war years, only to die from smallpox while still in camp. The timing of Gramby's death is especially unfortunate as it occurred just weeks before the regiment mustered out. Mark Bufford experienced quite a different war than did many soldiers of the 35th as he did not join the regiment until late December, 1863, and participated in detached service far away from the 35th. Like many others, Bufford fought his own battles with illness and survived. Named corporal at the end of the war, Bufford served until the unit disbanded. The war brought diverse experiences and left distinct memories for each black man who donned the Union blue. It also brought them confidence in their own abilities and their desire for true freedom after the war.
Footnotes for Chapter Three:
1. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94; Richard Reid, "Raising the African Brigade: Early Black Recruitment in Civil War North Carolina" North Carolina Historical Review, 70 (July, 1993): 281 and Appendix A; Joe A. Mobley, James City: A Black Community in North Carolina 1863-1900 (Raleigh, North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, 1981), 16-17.
2. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94; Reid, "Raising the African Brigade," 285.
3. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
4. Ibid.; Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, and Flora J. Hatley, A History of African-Americans in North Carolina (Raleigh, North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, 1992), 52-53; Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, 86-87.
5. Robert A. Margo, "Civilian Occupations of Ex-Slaves in the Union Army, 1862-1865," in Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, eds., Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery: Markets and Production: Technical Papers, Volume I (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992), 176-177, 182; Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
6. Margo, "Civilian Occupations of Ex-Slaves in the Union Army," 176-177, 182; Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
7. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
9. Ibid; Joseph T. Glatthaar, National Park Civil War Series: The Civil War's Black Soldiers (Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 1996), 35.
10. Crosby McCade, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's -1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
11. Caswell Streeter, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
13. Martin Lawson, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
14. Alexander Mitchell, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
16. Mark Bufford, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Fred M. Mallison, The Civil War on the Outer Banks: A History of the Late Rebellion Along the Coast of North Carolina from Carteret to Currituck (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1998), 132-133.
17. John Monroe, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
18. Benjamin Gramby, Compiled Military Service Record, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
"The 1st North Carolina led thus splendidly to battle"
Though never given adequate time for training from the regiment's inception, the 35th faced the enemy on numerous occasions in both small skirmishes and in larger battles. Before even leaving New Bern, the newly formed regiment participated in a raid into eastern North Carolina. Less than two months after mustering in, the 35th moved west into Duplin County, where the regiment engaged with Confederate pickets in several locations. While inland, the men of the 35th damaged the railroad, the depot, and a saber factory in Kenansville, and rescued three black prisoners from the courthouse. Two of the men joined the regiment. Though this particular raid involved little actual fighting, the men of the 35th accomplished a great deal. With the horrors of slavery still imprinted upon their minds and bodies, these new soldiers ventured into an area still clinging to slavery and left only after inflicting damage and creating disorder for both white and black residents of the area. The new soldiers of the 35th gained confidence from their foray into enemy territory. 1
Confidence became significant after the raid when the regiment received orders to leave New Bern. Soon after organization, the 35th left for Folly Island, South Carolina, to solidify forces around Charleston. As indicated above, the regiment faced endless fatigue duty that allowed little time for further military training. While under such difficult circumstances, Colonel Beecher attempted to prepare his men for real battle. As the men of the 35th performed exhausting duties, Beecher kept up a steady stream of requisitions for proper clothing, equipment, and arms. In order to obtain arms of a higher quality, Beecher left Folly Island in early February 1864. Bound for the North to attain arms, Beecher had no way of knowing that his men were about to face the enemy in a major battle. 2
Union troops amassed around Jacksonville, Florida, early in February 1864 under the command of Major General Quincy Gillmore and Brigadier General Truman Seymour. By occupying the area around Jacksonville, Gillmore pursued several goals. He hoped to acquire an outlet for lumber, timber, and cotton; to eliminate a Confederate source for supplies; to recruit men for the black regiments under his command; and to begin the process of restoring Florida to the Union. Gillmore directed Seymour to build defenses at Jacksonville, Baldwin, and the south fork of the Saint Mary's River. The 35th, along with the 54th Massachusetts, the 8th USCT, and the 2nd South Carolina (Colored) Infantry joined several white regiments at Jacksonville under Seymour's command. As the forces grew in number, Seymour embarked west along the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad establishing posts along the way. Confederate troops, led by General P.G.T. Beauregard, increased their defenses nearby as word spread of the Union arrival. 3
While troops on both sides maneuvered for position, the USCT regiments faced the familiar tasks of fatigue and picket duty at the various Union outposts. Gillmore intended all troops under Seymour's command to do fatigue and picket duty as the Union fortified positions in Florida. Seymour, however, developed ideas of his own. On February 17, 1864, Seymour wrote Gillmore, declaring his intention to march nearly 100 miles west of Jacksonville and destroy the railroad near the Suwanee River. Gillmore responded to Seymour's letter with a terse negative reply and by sending his chief of staff, General John W. Turner, to see that Seymour abandoned his plan. "You must have forgotten my last instructions," wrote Gillmore, "which were for the present to hold Baldwin and the Saint Mary's south fork as your outposts to the westward of Jacksonville and to occupy Palatka and Magnolia on the Saint John's." Though it would be beneficial to destroy the railroad, Gillmore wrote that he did not plan to move that far westward. Such a campaign could be disastrous. Delayed by bad weather, Turner did not arrive in time to stop Seymour from proceeding. 4
Upon his arrival, Turner discovered Seymour already had the enemy engaged at Olustee. According to Seymour's report on the battle of Olustee, "On the morning of February 20, I moved from Barber's, with all the disposable force at my control, with the intention of meeting the enemy at or near Lake City, and of then pushing the mounted force to the Suwanee River, to destroy if possible the railroad bridge at that stream." Just a few miles outside of Olustee, the front lines first met enemy gunfire. Seymour believed the Confederate force dramatically outnumbered his own army and suspected the Confederates intended to attack the Union camp at Barber's. The general proceeded with his battle plan, which consisted of a regiment on either side of the artillery, with an additional regiment on the right side, providing a longer line of troops. The 7th New Hampshire, a white regiment, lined up on the right, with the 8th USCT on the left. The Union soldiers faced heavy fire from the Confederates, and confusion ensued. According to Seymour, the 7th New Hampshire "had scarcely deployed and felt the enemy's fire when it broke in confusion." Several officers attempted to rally the men, but failed. The 7th retreated and gave no further effort in the battle. The 8th USCT fought well until Colonel Charles W. Fribley received a severe wound. Without their colonel, the men of the 8th also broke in disarray. At this point in the battle, Seymour ordered fresh troops to the front. The 35th, along with other units, answered Seymour's call. 5
The 35th and 54th Massachusetts, near the end of the march, quickly advanced to the line of battle. At the front, Barton's Brigade, made up by the 47th, 48th, and 115th New York took the place of the 7th New Hampshire and then spread out to cover the retreat of the 8th USCT. The 54th assumed the position of the 8th on the right of the artillery. The fresh troops pushed the Confederate left backwards, and Seymour called for the 35th to attack the weakening line. Seymour noted, "the 1st North Carolina was brought up to the right of Barton's Brigade by Lieutenant Colonel Reed in most brilliant manner." According to George W. Williams, an officer in the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia prior to joining the 54th Massachusetts, Lieutenant Colonel William Reed performed commendably during the fight. "He was an able officer," wrote Williams, "whose conspicuous gallantry attracted the attention of the officers of other troops who saw the 1st North Carolina led thus splendidly to battle." 6
However, the 35th and 54th also found themselves unsuccessful against the heavy gunfire. Seymour attributed the failure of his troops to the disparity in numbers and the greater defenses of the rebels. Surrounded by natural and man-made defenses, the Confederates had faced few dangers from the repeated Union advances. Union soldiers, black and white, encountered intense gunfire from the Confederates as they approached. At times, the Union forces appeared to make small gains before being repulsed by the rebels. Finally, Seymour saw that his men could not succeed, and ordered the retreat. "The struggle continued until dusk and ended with cheers of defiance," wrote Seymour, "and finding it hopeless, under existing circumstances to advance further, the troops were withdrawn in perfect order." The regiments retreated to Barber's, a community about ten miles east of Olustee, for the night. On February 21, the withdrawal eastward continued. First Lieutenant J. R. Barbour recorded the activities of the 35th in the regimental Morning Reports. His entry for February 21 noted: "Marched in retreat 30 miles . . . tired and hungry . . . soldiers suffer." 7
Indeed, many soldiers suffered during and in the aftermath of Olustee. Seymour took 5,500 soldiers into battle at Olustee, and lost 1,861 killed, wounded, or missing. The Confederates lost only 950. The 35th suffered 230 casualties. The missing included Major Archibald Bogle, left wounded on the field, and captured by the Rebels. Lieutenant Colonel William Reed, wounded mortally during the battle, died on the field. Thus, in its first major battle, the 35th suffered serious losses, including Reed, Bogle, several captains and lieutenants, and many soldiers. 8
Despite the heavy losses, the three regiments of the USCT performed well in a battle almost destined for failure. According to prominent African-American George W. Williams in A History of Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, "had it not been for the stubborn fighting of these Negro troops Seymour would have been routed and annihilated." The 35th and 54th entered the battle when a Union defeat loomed certain. Seymour's white regiments and the 8th failed to gain any ground, yet he never chose to fall back and combine the reinforcements with the regiments already engaged. Instead Seymour elected to send the 35th and 54th into action. Despite the failure of the first assaults, the black soldiers rushed to the front determined to prove their abilities. In his memoir, [A Brave Black Regiment: The History of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, 1863-1865], Second Lieutenant Luis F. Emilio noted the courageous efforts of the USCT in the futile battle. "This spirited movement into action of the colored brigade is acknowledged to have caused the enemy's right to give way somewhat," reported Emilio. The 35th and 54th threatened to capture the exposed rebel guns before the Confederates regrouped and took command again. Private Joseph T. Wilson of the 54th also remembered that the 35th briefly succeed in pushing the Rebels back before being swarmed by the enemy. Once engaged, soldiers witnessed the harsh realities of warfare as their comrades received wounds from the intense fire of the Confederates. 9
The 35th performed gallantly in the face of immense danger. Newspaper reporters remembered the 35th going valiantly into battle, despite the remote chance of success. Individual members of the regiment performed acts of courage as well. Corporal Isaac Evenhouse of Company B received a promotion to Sergeant on March 16, 1864, for "bravery at Olustee in securing colors." A soldier from the 55th Massachusetts, which did not reach the battlefield in time to participate, wrote a letter to the editor of the Weekly Anglo-African in which he described the battle. "Terrible fighting had been done in the few hours that the battle raged," he recalled, "and our colored regiments had done their part nobly, as is proved by the manner in which the 8th USCT and the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers, were cut up." Frustrated that many Americans still questioned the abilities of black soldiers, this soldier announced the success of blacks in uniform. "Our colored soldiers behaved in an unflinching and dauntless manner," he declared. Even General Seymour praised the performance of the black units. "The colored troops behaved creditably," he detailed, "the 54th and the 1st North Carolina like veterans." Seymour went on to attribute the failure to the "unanticipated yielding" of the 7th New Hampshire. However, the strong performance of black soldiers could not prevent a Union defeat. "The rout was complete," wrote Wilson, "the army was not only defeated but beaten and demoralized." Though the Union suffered a defeat, Olustee provided many black soldiers a first opportunity to taste real battle with the enemy. The 35th sustained heavy losses but gained valuable battle experience. 10
Despite their participation in Olustee, the situation did not dramatically change for the 35th in the months following the battle. Like most black units, the 35th still faced shortages and lacked a distinct military mission. Because the War Department infrequently chose to define a role for black regiments, most units faced incessant fatigue duty. In the weeks after Olustee, the 35th continued to perform fatigue duty, and Beecher, still protesting this type of assignment for his men, pursued his efforts to outfit the regiment properly. From headquarters in Jacksonville, Beecher repeatedly requisitioned proper arms, equipment, and clothing needed by his soldiers. 11
Though involved with obtaining necessities for the regiment, Beecher did not have to wait long to face the enemy again. In late May, the 35th was involved in an attack against the Confederates on the Saint John's River, Florida. An expedition, led by Brigadier General George H. Gordon, moved up the Saint John's with the intent of attacking the enemy. After landing at Palatka, General Gordon placed twenty-five soldiers and two officers of the 35th aboard the steamer, Columbine, and sent it back down the river. After landing, the soldiers marched to Volusia, joining Colonel William H. Noble of the 17th Connecticut Volunteers. However, the Union forces could not reach the enemy, and began marching back down the river. 12
While the ground forces marched in search of the enemy, the Columbine did not have to look far for the rebels. On May 23, Confederate forces attacked the steamer and captured it and the Union soldiers aboard. According to Confederate Captain J.J. Dickson, 2nd Florida Cavalry:
We captured in this engagement seven commissioned officers, one
claiming to be a non-combatant, nine seamen, and forty-seven enlisted
negroes; number killed and drowned twenty-five. Of the negro troops
Captain Daniels and five negroes wounded, three of which are mortal. 13
Captain Dickson also commented, "Most of the negro troops have owners in North Carolina and Florida." The Confederate captain still viewed black soldiers as the property of slaveowners and believed black men would find no permanent place in the Union Army. 14
Just over a week after the attack of the Columbine, the 35th met the enemy again. In June, 1864 the 35th participated in a skirmish at Camp Milton, Florida. According to the report of Federal Brigadier General George H. Gordon, forces began concentrating in Jacksonville in the days before the attack. Gordon planned a two-part attack on a long line of Confederate defenses. The first component, led by Colonel William H. Noble of the 17th Connecticut Volunteers, would follow McGirt's Creek north and attack the rear of the enemy's line. Noble commanded the 17th Connecticut Volunteers, the 157th New York, the 107th Ohio, and the 3rd and part of the 35th USCT. The second group would follow the dirt road from Jacksonville and attack rebel front line. Colonel James Shaw, Jr., of the 7th USCT led his regiment, the 144th New York, 75th Ohio Mounted, and the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery in the frontal attack. 15
The dual attack began in the early morning of June 1. Colonel Noble and his forces landed across McGirt Creek at about 3 a.m., close to the same time Colonel Shaw led his troops out of Jacksonville. "The front and rear of the enemy's works were gained by the two columns about the same time," noted Gordon, "but too late to capture the enemy." According to Gordon, the Confederates hurriedly abandoned their fortifications, burning portions of the railroad and leaving supplies behind in their haste. The Union soldiers destroyed what remained of the fortifications. Gordon, who admired the quality and strength of the breastworks, wrote, "the labor of many thousands of men for many weeks was thus destroyed and one of the most formidable barriers to the march of an army to Tallahassee removed." 16
After the destruction of the rebel stronghold, Gordon ordered his troops to return to Jacksonville. As the units prepared to march, rebel skirmishers appeared at the front of the line. After moderate firing, the rebels were pushed back, and the march continued. Impressed with the work of the Union troops, Gordon believed the destruction of the Confederate stronghold to be a great benefit to the Union Army. 17
At almost the same time, the rest of the 35th participated in a skirmish in South Carolina. Detachments from the 7th and 34th USCT and part of the 75th Ohio, along with the 35th began marching from White Point, near the Dawho River in the early morning of July 3. Led by Brigadier General William Birney, the troops quickly came under fire from rebel skirmishers. The Union soldiers returned the fire and continued marching for several miles until a creek was reached, with the rebel fort on the other side. Birney determined that the creek was impassable and ordered his soldiers to shell the fort from their positions. Though six Union soldiers received wounds, Birney reported: "Men and officers all seemed disposed to do their duty. The affair was an excellent drill for them preparatory to real fighting." Though the 35th had faced "real fighting"at Olustee, every opportunity to engage the enemy gave the soldiers confidence and experience. 18
Also in early July 1864, Major General John G. Foster, commanding the Department of the South, decided to advance against the Confederate defenses surrounding Charleston. On the islands surrounding Charleston Harbor, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, with the 33rd, 32nd, and 21st USCT awaited the arrival of other Union troops to join in the attack. Foster planned to divide his assault into three parts. The first segment, commanded by Brigadier General John P. Hatch, would advance to John's Island by way of the North Edisto River and destroy the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. Brigadier General William Birney would attack the same railroad, focusing his attentions on the rail bridge over the South Edisto River. The final division, led by Brigadier General Alexander Schimmelfenning, would attack Confederate defenses on James Island. The advance began late on July 1, with the movement of the 103rd New York, 33rd and 55th USCT to James Island. Confederates quickly fired on the advancing troops, creating confusion among all three regiments and marking the beginning of a long, hot day of fighting. The Union advances, slowed by difficult terrain and heat, did not surprise the Confederates, and failed to gain any ground. Finally, the Union commanders ordered a retreat. 19
Though the July 2 attack failed, Union activity continued around Charleston Harbor. Brigadier General William Birney arrived on James Island with the 35th, 7th, and 34th USCT on July 4. Birney's brigade fell in behind the 54th Massachusetts, and participated in the many skirmished that took place in the following weeks. On July 7 Birney wrote to Captain W.L.M. Burger that he would attack "just as soon as Colonel Beecher's regiment gets its arms." According to Birney, the detachment of the 35th "numbers only a little over 320 men for active duty; of these ninety are without arms and the rest have four kinds of arms, none of them fit for service." 20
Just a few months later, in November, Beecher received instruction from General John G. Foster to move the 35th, 34th and segments of cavalry and artillery to Hilton Head, South Carolina. From Hilton Head, General Foster planned to send a force under the command of General John P. Hatch to destroy the important Charleston and Savannah railroad near Pocotaligo, a point about fifteen miles upriver from Hilton Head Island. The 54th New York and the 54th and 55th Massachusetts reached Hilton Head by November 28, joined by the 34th and 35th USCT, the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and 3rd New York, Battery F. 21
Hatch intended for the troops to begin moving upriver before daylight on the morning of the 29th, but heavy fog delayed the start for several hours. Before daybreak, however, a number of ships began the mission up the Broad River. Hindered by poor visibility, some ships ran aground and others lost their way. The remainder of ships waited until daylight to begin their task. Despite the fog, by 8:30 a.m. most of the ships landed at Boyd's Neck. After a lengthy and difficult landing, Union forces finally marched west. However, several segments missed a necessary road and the force separated. Because of the various mishaps, the Union troops did not reach the Charleston and Savannah Railroad on the 29th as planned. The delay cost the Union forces dearly. On the 29th, few Confederates were in the area. However, on the morning of the 30th, when the mission resumed, Hatch faced a much larger enemy entrenched in the town of Honey Hill. According to Second Lieutenant Luis F. Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts, "Our failure to seize the railroad on the 29th or very early the next morning was fatal to success, for the enemy took prompt and effective measure to oppose us." 22
The army's march began early on November 30, but Hatch's force again faced difficulty. The various regiments pulled out of camp at different times and met logistical problems along the way. Difficult terrain slowed the excursion, allowing the rebels even more time to prepare. As troops neared Honey Hill, they attracted the fire from the rebels. After a few failed attacks, Hatch ordered Beecher to take the 35th forward. On this advance, Beecher lost his favorite horse and received injuries. His troops opened fire with enthusiasm, but Beecher halted the assault when the companies fell out of order after receiving ferocious fire from the rebels. According to the report of Brigadier General Edward E. Potter, who commanded the 1st Brigade at Honey Hill, "The 35th USCT, which had come up about this time, was pushed out on the right center; but the heavy fire of the enemy and difficulties of the ground compelled them to withdraw. Colonel Beecher was severely wounded, but kept the field." 23
Beecher's wounds did not prevent him from reforming his command and waiting as the 55th Massachusetts moved forward to met the Confederates. The 55th did not find success against the rebel fire either, and fell back to reform their lines. Meanwhile, part of the 54th and the 35th again stepped up to attack. During this advance, Beecher received another wound in the upper thigh. Beecher attempted to remain on the field, but an officer of the 54th ordered two soldiers to escort the colonel to the rear. 24
With the 35th and 54th struggling at the front, the 55th came forward for their second attack. Much like the first attack, the 55th found little success against the protected rebels and received heavy losses. Fighting continued all afternoon, but the battle was all but finished with the second retreat of the 55th. Full retreat began at dark. General Hatch ordered the 34th and 35th to protect their guns for the night as the other regiments went about removing the wounded and equipment from the field. Hatch's plan to cut the railroad was never realized. 25
Though unsuccessful, the excursion southwest of Charleston afforded USCT regiments and their officers another opportunity to demonstrate their abilities on the field. Under difficult circumstances, the 35th and 32nd USCT and the 54th and 55th Massachusetts again proved a willingness to fight with determination. In particular, General Potter praised the 35th and the 32nd. He wrote in his report, "The 32nd USCT, Colonel Baird, and the 35th USCT, Colonel Beecher are also deserving of great credit. Colonel Beecher, of the latter regiment, was severely wounded early in the action, but kept the field until the close of the day." Potter determined the causes of failure to be unfavorable ground and heavy fire from a firmly entrenched enemy. Despite these disadvantages, Potter expressed pleasure that his troops "maintained their position with the greatest tenacity and endurance." Though the soldiers in blue performed commendably, the battle of Honey Hill went to the Confederates. 26
The failed attempt cost the Union 750 casualties. The 35th lost 114 men, with only the 55th Massachusetts and the 25th Ohio losing more, 137 and 138, respectively. The Confederates suffered only 150 to 200 casualties, a number far less than the Union losses. Because of the many delays of Hatch's objectives, the Confederates had the extra time to prepare and protect themselves behind earthworks. Faced with swampy terrain on both sides and powerful gunfire at the front, the Union soldiers were hit hard. In addition, the Charleston and Savannah Railroad remained open, allowing many Southerners to escape when Sherman reached Savannah just a few months later. 27
The failure at Honey Hill marked the final campaign of significance for the 35th. Like many USCT regiments, the 35th saw few major battles. Because of the lack of a clear purpose, USCT regiments infrequently received proper training or equipment, thus rendering the soldiers poorly prepared to face the enemy on a battlefield. Commanders such as Beecher had to repeatedly demand arms, equipment, and clothing, in order to prepare their soldiers to fight. Exacerbating the problem, many black units received assignments for incessant fatigue duty, which allowed little time for training. Soldiers who where not properly outfitted or trained were unlikely to be called upon for battle by those in the U. S. Army and War Department who still questioned the abilities of black soldiers. 28
The 35th shared the difficulties faced by other USCT regiments, including insufficient training, heavy fatigue duty, and inadequate supplies. Despite these obstacles, the 35th did see action in the field. After a few minor raids and skirmishes, the 35th participated in the battle of Olustee on February 20, 1864. In this ill-fated engagement the unit sustained numerous casualties, but performed with courage and skill. After gaining confidence, the regiment participated in several encounters with the enemy in Florida, including the defense of the Union steamer Columbine on the Saint John's River in May 1864, and at Camp Milton on June 1, 1864. In early July, the 35th saw action in Charleston Harbor during the ongoing attacks on the Confederate stronghold. Fighting continued for several weeks as the Union soldiers attempted to take John's Island from the rebels. After this mission, the 35th moved slightly inland to Honey Hill, South Carolina, in late November 1864. Following the unsuccessful attempt to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, the 35th remained on duty in the Department of the South through Appomattox and the Confederate surrender.
In the defeated South, Union soldiers who remained encountered numerous duties. Beecher and the 35th confronted difficult responsibilities as an army of occupation. Assisting freedmen in the transition from slavery was no easy task, nor was enforcing reconstruction among the white population. Officers of the USCT worked closely with the Freedmen's Bureau, helping to establish work contracts between former bondsmen and planters. The Bureau also aided former slaves in understanding their new responsibilities as freedmen and encouraged them to become worthy citizens. Naturally, white southerners did not react in a positive manner to Federal troops. Seeing black soldiers and the Freedmen's Bureau in their hometowns initially infuriated whites in the South. However, the presence of soldiers did eventually help many southerners accept the changes made by the Freedmen's Bureau. Some officers, such as Beecher, developed relationships with both freedmen and planters that facilitated the establishment of working contracts. 29
Though Beecher resigned as colonel of the 35th in July 1865, he continued working in the occupied South. Promoted to brigadier general, Beecher received instructions in September 1865, from Major General Rufus Saxton to "adjucate a difficulty now existing between the former owner of that place [plantation of William Gillmore Simms in Barnwell District, South Carolina] and the freedmen." Saxton commented that Beecher had previous success on the Simms plantation in working out disputes, and that he had complete faith in Beecher's judgement. 30
Saxton was not alone in trusting Beecher to settle problems between freedem and former owners. On January 13, 1866, South Carolina planter Nathaniel Heyward described the success of Beecher in their area:
You allow me for myself and several friends, most respectfully
to request your influence in the intention of Brigadier General
Beecher in his present Command; as we consider it very desirable
to have his present beneficial influence in formation of Contracts
between ourselves and freedmen and their successful completion. 31
Fully satisfied with Beecher's accomplishments with the freedmen, Heyward worried that "change would be a great risk of injury to the cause." The planter did not want to lose the strong influence Beecher had over freedmen. Without him, local planters might face greater difficulty in working out contracts with freedmen. Obviously, the work of Beecher had a positive effect on various groups of people, including his former troops, officers, and even southern planters. 32
However, the positive work of Beecher and his troops did eventually come to an end. On June 1, 1866, the 35th mustered out in Charleston after three years of service to the Union. The regiment experienced a great deal during those three years, and the men who filled the ranks would be forever changed. Just like the other 180,000 members of the USCT, the men of the 35th would take home a greater sense of self-worth and a desire for true equality. 33
Footnotes for Chapter Four:
1. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men, 92.
2. Special Order Number 97, December 29, 1863, Order Book, Companies A-E, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C; Major Archibald Bogle to Lieutenant Thomas J. Robinson, December 30, 1863, Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94, National Archives, Washington D.C; Trudeau, Like Men of War, 128.
3. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 128, 130, 132-133; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Reports and Correspondence, 276-277. This work will be hereafter noted as OR series, volume: page number.
4. OR I 35/1:277, 286.
5. Ibid., 286-289.
6. Ibid., 289; Donald Yacovone, ed., A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 295-297; Trudeau, Voices of the 55th, 78; Luis F. Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment: The History of the 54th Massachusetts, 1863-1865 (Boston: Boston Book Company, 1891), 162, 167; George W. Williams, A History of Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1888), 206-208.
7. Morning Reports, Companies A-E, 35th Regiment USCT, R & P Office, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
8. Cornish, The Sable Arm, 268; OR I 35/1:286-289; Trudeau, Like Men of War, 152.
9. Williams, A History of Negro Troops, 205; Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 167; Joseph T. Wilson, The Black Phalanx (Hartford, Conneticut: American Publishing Co., 1890), 268-270.
10. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 146-148, 152; Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94; Trudeau, Voices of the 55th, 78; OR I 35:290; Wilson, The Black Phalanx, 273; Morning Reports, Companies A-E, 35th Regiment USCT, R & P Office, RG 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
11. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94.
12. OR I 35/1:393-395.
13. Ibid., 397.
15. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT, RG 94; OR I 35/1:401-403.
16. Ibid., 401-402.
17. Ibid., 401-402.
18. Ibid., 408.
19. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 256-257, 260-262; Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 199.
20. Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 210-214; OR I 35/2:171
21. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 315-316.
22. Ibid., 317-318; Williams, A History of the Negro Troops, 209; Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 240.
23. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 324; Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 243; OR I 44/1:426.
24. OR I 44/1:426; Trudeau, Like Men of War, 326-327; Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 247-248; Williams, A History of the Negro Troops, 211.
25. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 329-330; Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment, 250-251.
26. OR I 44/1; 427.
27. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 331.
28. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, 120, 121.
29. Ibid., 210-211.
30. James C. Beecher, Compiled Military Service Record, RG 94.
33. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment, USCT, RG 94.
Many black men wanted to join the Union Army from the earliest days of the Civil War. Throughout 1861 and 1862, Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists, both white and black, urged Lincoln to arm the willing blacks. While Lincoln contemplated emancipation in the summer of 1862, certain Union commanders and leaders reached decisions of their own.
Senator James H. Lane of Kansas made clear his intent to include black men in the cavalry units he proposed to recruit early in 1862. He introduced a resolution in January that declared all men in the state qualified for recruitment. Despite negative responses from Secretary of War Stanton, Lane continued with his recruitment in the early summer of 1862. The regiment received no official recognition until mustered in as the 79th United States Colored Infantry on January 13, 1863, six months after recruitment began. Without acknowledgement, the soldiers did not receive adequate pay or equipment. Nonetheless, Lane's regiment laid the way for other recruiters of black men. 1
Another antislavery man attempted to form a black unit in South Carolina at nearly the same time as Lane's recruitment efforts. Major General David Hunter, after receiving command of coastal South Carolina in the spring of 1862, declared all blacks living in areas under his authority free and began to recruit them. Hunter used harsh methods to bring black men into his unit, which intimidated the newly freed men. In addition, Hunter proceeded with his plans without authority from Lincoln and the War Department. By alienating the black men Hunter hoped to recruit and also angering the president, Hunter's plans to form a black regiment were destined for failure. However, weeks after denying Hunter the authority to officially form a black unit, Lincoln granted Brigadier General Rufus Saxton permission to do just that in the Department of the South, formally Hunter's command. 2
General Benjamin F. Butler eventually became a supporter of arming blacks. Stationed in Louisiana, Butler initially opposed blacks as soldiers, and became incensed when one of his officers, General J. W. Phelps, attempted to outfit a company of black men. Butler refused to support Phelps's actions, and Phelps threatened to resign over the issue. However, weeks after absolutely rejecting Phelps's actions, Butler began to waver. Recognizing a need for reinforcements, Butler decided that the "contrabands" could be put to use in ways other than laboring for the army. 3
After deciding to employ blacks as soldiers, Butler called upon the Louisiana Native Guards, the local unit of free blacks organized in April 1861. The Native Guards unsuccessfully offered their services to the Confederacy in the fall of 1861 and were refused. The men made themselves available to Butler in August, 1862. Butler accepted the Native Guards, including their black officers, which was significant. Little support existed for blacks in uniform, and even less for blacks as officers. Though incited by a need for manpower rather than antislavery beliefs, Butler did firmly support black soldiers and did not tolerate racism from his subordinate officers. Butler demanded fair treatment for blacks, declaring, "the colored man fills an equal space in ranks while he lives and an equal grave when he falls." 4
As Union military leaders made separate decisions to arm blacks, Lincoln came to a conclusion regarding emancipation. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves living in states of rebellion would become free on January 1, 1863. Once officially released, the proclamation further instructed that black men could be used in military capacities. With the legal groundwork laid by Lincoln, and precedents set by Lane, Hunter, and Butler, recruiting began in earnest in the first months of 1863. 5
Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew, after recruiting the 54th and 55th Massachusetts, believed a black unit could be raised in Union-occupied eastern North Carolina. He chose Brigadier General Edward A. Wild to lead what he hoped to be a brigade. Wild, a zealous abolitionist, searched for similarly minded officers for his units. He selected James C. Beecher to lead the first regiment, and Beecher and Wild chose antislavery men to fill the other officer positions in the unit. 6
In May 1863, Wild, Beecher, and their officers established camp outside New Bern, North Carolina, which had become a Union base in the occupied territory. Recruitment began in earnest. The first regiment, originally known as the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers and later designated the 35th, filled the ranks by late June. After not quite two months of drill and training, the 35th received orders to pull out of camp and embark for Charleston, South Carolina. 7
Like many USCT units, the 35th never obtained a distinct war goal from the War Department. The lack of a definite mission allowed black regiments to be used in various ways and presented problems with securing supplies and equipment. Black soldiers, including those of the 35th, sometimes did not receive adequate military training. The 35th had two months to recruit and train before being sent to Folly Island, South Carolina. Once the regiment landed, the men were put to use performing incessant fatigue duty, labors not at all unfamiliar to men just released from slavery. Fatigue duty, though necessary for a military campaign, frustrated and exhausted the men performing it continuously.
Similarly, the ambiguity concerning the role of the 35th and other black units caused shortages in clothing, equipment, and arms. Colonel Beecher repeatedly made requisitions for supplies. On some occasions, he even traveled north to try and obtain directly what he needed. Beecher recognized the importance of having his soldiers properly equipped in case they were given the opportunity to face the enemy. In fact, Beecher was away procuring supplies when his unit participated in the Battle of Olustee on February 20, 1864. 8
Though the unit faced many shortages and insufficiencies, Beecher remained determined. He strongly believed his men would perform well on the battlefield, which they did at Olustee, and simply wanted them to be treated as other soldiers. The colonel resolutely defended the soldiers of the 35th and became incensed when a detachment of his unit was treated unfairly by a white regiment. 9
Unfair treatment certainly plagued many black units. Like other USCT regiments, the 35th experienced racism from white soldiers, shortages, and the lack of a distinct war aim. However, the individual men of the unit experienced the Civil War differently. Despite the overall similarities, each soldier would leave their years of service with distinct and separate memories.
The 35th was made up of black men with an average age of 23.8 years. The soldiers ranged from fifteen to sixty-seven years old at the time of enlistment. The men were primarily black, with a small number listed in the unit's descriptive books as "light." Most were slaves prior to enlistment, and the vast majority of former slaves performed field work rather than skilled labor. The 35th drew recruits from all over eastern North Carolina, with most of the soldiers coming from the northeastern counties. 10
The Civil War was the defining event for the men who fought. For some black men, the war shaped their lives for the better by giving them the opportunity to achieve a greater sense of self-worth and pride in their accomplishments. Many black men only knew plantation work, and joining the USCT provided some with the chance for advancement and skill development. However, for other black soldiers, the war years would not be remembered so fondly. Those who experienced terrible wounds, illness, or maltreatment blamed the war for ruining their lives. Whether for the better or worse, the war dramatically altered the lives of black men who enlisted. 11
Though most black units did not see a great deal of action in the field, the 35th faced the enemy in two battles and in several skirmishes. At Olustee, on February 20, 1864, the 35th briefly succeeded in pushing the Confederate line back and nearly captured the rebel guns before the Confederate line reformed. Though the battle went to the rebels, General Truman Seymour, the commander of Federal forces, expressed pleasure over the performance of the 35th and the 54th. 12
At their next major engagement, Honey Hill, South Carolina, the 35th again performed well in the face of defeat. Though wounded twice, Beecher refused to leave the field and led his men into the fire on both occasions. In this battle, the Union lost the element of surprise due to logistical problems, and they discovered an entrenched enemy. Despite the determination of Beecher, the advances failed. 13
Though both battles ended in defeat, the 35th performed remarkably well for a unit that had not received adequate training or equipment. In other skirmishes, the regiment proved they could handle the enemy. For many men, such success provided a pride in their accomplishments and abilities.
The 35th shared major experiences with other USCT regiments. The men who fought took from their war years a greater desire for true equality which would guide them in the years after the war. Because of the dedicated service of black men, a growing number of sympathetic whites supported their hope for equality and genuine freedom for members of their race. Both whites and blacks saw how black soldiers made efforts to improve themselves by learning new skills in the army, including reading and writing, and the good brought back to their communities after the shooting stopped. Men who served in the war became political activists in their communities, involved in Republican politics during Reconstruction and betterment projects such as education for young blacks. The abolitionists who worked for arming blacks in the early war years now strove for acquiring true equality for the former soldiers and their families. It would not be easy. While protected from racial violence as soldiers of the United States Army, out-of-uniform black men had little protection until Congressional Reconstruction was imposed upon the South in 1867. However, the soldiers of the USCT took away from their war years a new determination that would propel them and their descendants to keep pushing for the equality that they believed would come. 14
Footnotes for Conclusions:
1. Cornish, The Sable Arm, 72-74; Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 66, 113-114.
2. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, 6-7, 10; Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, 75-76; Miller, Lincoln's Abolitionist General, 97-99.
3. Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 126-127, -142, 148: Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie, 207-208.
4. Private and Official Correspondence of General Benjamin F. Butler, 209, 211; Hollandsworth, The Louisiana Native Guards, 14-15, 26-28; Berlin, et al., eds., Slaves No More, 196-197; Berlin, et al., eds., Freedom, Series 2, 135-138.
5. Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 388.
6. Andrew to Stanton, NIMS 3:1158; Longacre, "Brave Radical Wild," 8-10.
7. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT.
9. Berlin, et al., eds., Freedom, Series 2, 493.
10. Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment USCT.
11. Berlin, et al., eds., Slaves No More, 222-223.
12. OR I 35:290.
13. Trudeau, Like Men of War, 324; OR I 44/1:426.
14. Berlin, et al., eds., Slaves No More, 232-233; Glatthaar, Forged in Battle, 258-260.
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Record Group 94:
Compiled Military Service Records
Beecher, James C. Compiled Military Service Record.
Bogle, Archibald. Compiled Military Service Record.
Bufford, Mark. Compiled Military Service Record.
DeGrasse, John V. Compiled Military Service Record.
Gramby, Benjamin. Compiled Military Service Record.
Lawson, Martin. Compiled Military Service Record.
McCade, Crosby. Compiled Military Service Record.
Mitchell, Alexander. Compiled Military Service Record.
Monroe, John. Compiled Military Service Record.
Reed, William N. Compiled Military Service Record.
Streeter, Caswell. Compiled Military Service Record.
Descriptive Books, 35th Regiment United States Colored Troops.
Inspection Report, Assistant Inspector General's Office, Department of the South, Hilton Head, South Carolina, September 9, 1864, Box 29, United States Colored Troops Regimental Papers, 35th and 36th U.S. Colored Infantry.
Order Books, 35th Regiment United States Colored Troops.
Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Negro in the Military Service of the United States, 1639-1889. 5 reels.
Congressional Globe. 1862. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
The War of the Rebellion. A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 73 volumes, 128 parts. Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office,1880-1901.
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Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the Civil War. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953.
Trudeau, Noah Andre. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998.
Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldiers of the Union. Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill, 1952. The 1978 edition, published in Baton Rouge by the Louisiana State University Press, is cited in this work.
Longacre, Edward. "Brave Radical Wild: The Contentious Career of Brigadier General Edward A. Wild." Civil War Times Illustrated. 19 (June, 1980): 8-19.
Margo, Robert A. "Civilian Occupations of Ex-Slaves in the Union Army, 1862- 1865." Without Consent of Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery: Markets and Production: Technical Papers, Volume I. Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, eds. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992.
Reid, Richard. "Raising the African Brigade: Early Black Recruitment in Civil War North Carolina." North Carolina Historical Review, 70 (July, 1993): 266-301.
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