The Pennsylvania Grand Review of Colored Troops in Harrisburg, PA

Harrisburg Grand Review 4 copy
US Colored Troops reenactors/living historians at the 2010 Pennsylvania Grand Review commemoration in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.
Image Source: All photos courtesy Yulanda Burgess.

As noted in Wikipedia, “The Grand Review of the Armies was a military procession and celebration in Washington, DC, on May 23 and May 24, 1865, following the close of the American Civil War. Elements of the Union Army paraded through the streets of the capital to receive accolades from the crowds and reviewing politicians, officials, and prominent citizens, including the President Andrew Johnson.” The Grand Review was basically a victory parade for the Union as it celebrated its defeat of the Confederate States of America.

Some 180,000 African Americans enlisted in the Union army, and were part of the US Colored Troops (USCT) – the part of the army that was created for the organization of black soldiers into the Union army. Yet, none of the regiments from the USCT were represented in the Grand Review. Some say this was a slight of black soldiers; others have noted that the USCT was engaged in other activities that made them unavailable for the Grand Review (a number of troops were sent to Texas over concerns for the protection of the Mexican border). For whatever reason, the black soldiers were not there for this glorious celebration of victory.

The state of Pennsylvania, and African Americans leaders in the state, would see to it that black solders soldiers got their chance to bask in the glow of glory, recognition, and appreciation. As noted here,

Black veterans held a parade in Harrisburg on November 14, 1865. Thomas Morris Chester, Harrisburg’s most distinguished African American, served as grand marshal. The parade formed at State and Filbert Streets (now Soldier’s Grove). The soldiers marched through Harrisburg to the South Front Street residence of U.S. Senator and former secretary of war Simon Cameron. Cameron reviewed the troops from his front porch and thanked them for their service to the nation.

Other speakers included Octavius V. Catto, an African American educator and USCT recruiter from Philadelphia; William Howard Day, abolitionist and clergyman; and Brevet Major General Joseph B. Kiddoo, former commander of the 22nd Regiment USCT. Pennsylvania was the only state to thus honor black soldiers who had helped save the Union.

Harrisburg Grand Review 1 copy

Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania, and a more central location for the state’s African American population. At the start of the war, Pennsylvania had the largest black population of any northern state, with 56,949 black residents. Pennsylvania also provided the most black soldiers of any northern state to the Union army, some 8,600 men in all.

In November 2010, a reenactment of the Pennsylvania Grand Review was held in Harrisburg. Various USCT reenactors from around the country participated. In addition to the reenactment of the Review Parade, there were numerous educational and cultural activities in the days before the march. It was a grand event.

Yulanda Burgess, who is a living historian, took a number of photographs from the event which are shown above and below. These belie the notion that African Americans are not interested in the Civil War.

Harrisburg Grand Review 2

This was the first Civil War type event that I had ever attended. I found it informative, enlightening, and even inspiring. And hey, now I’m even doing this blog.

Harrisburg Grand Review 5

 

Harrisburg Grand Review 3

The March 1865 Review of the Union’s Black Soldiers: “President Lincoln was deeply moved at the sight of these Negro troops”

Union Troops enter Richmond VA Leslie's Illustrated
“The Union Army Entering Richmond, VA., April 3,” from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 25, 1865.
As depicted in the illustration, African American soldiers led the way into Richmond when it was captured near the end of the Civil War. Just a week earlier, these same soldiers had marched in review for President Abraham Lincoln.
This is a colorized versions of an image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News by the postcard publisher Southern Bargain House of Richmond, VA.

Image Source: From MetroPostcard.com

For the Confederates, it was time to do the unthinkable: enlist slaves in their war to create a slaveholders’ nation. For the Union, it was time for black soldiers to strut their stuff in front of the president of the United States.

Such was the state of the American Civil War in March 1865. These two very different stories are discussed in the book HISTORY OF THE NEGRO TROOPS IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION 1861-1865, by George Washington Williams. The historian Williams was a veteran of the Union army as a member of the United States Colored Troops, or USCT. The section of his book which is cited below shows how the contrasting policies of the Union and Confederacy toward black enlistment played out in the closing months of the war.

By March 1865, the Confederate States of America (CSA) was on the verge of military defeat, and desperate times dictated desperate measures. After several months of intense debate, the Confederate Congress approved a measure that allowed slaves to enlist in the Confederate army. The administration of Confederate president Jefferson Davis added rules which required that slaves be conferred the status of freemen by their owners prior to enlisting; although I have seen some debate as to whether slaves so enlisted were to be temporarily free during their enlistment, versus being  permanently free both during and after their time as soldiers. In any case, it was a way to gain manpower at a time when the Confederacy was critically short of men to fight.

As it turned out, the new policy of enlisting slaves was too little too late. In April of 1865, CSA General in chief Robert E. Lee would surrender his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, and the remaining Confederate forces would follow his example over the next few months. But for a moment, African American soldiers were the great black hope of the white men in grey.

For the Union, meanwhile, hopes had been realized. In July of 1862, the Union Congress passed laws which allowed African Americans to enlist in the military, and gave freedom to slaves who did so. Eventually, some 200,000 black men would join the Union army and navy and they were a key part of the Union war effort.

By March 1865, Union forces that included black soldiers were on the brink of capturing Richmond, Virgina, the capital of the Confederacy. Indeed, on April 3, 1865, members of the USCT would take the lead in capturing the fallen city. With the end of the war so close, president Abraham Lincoln came to the Richmond area from Washington, DC, to see the events unfold.

On Lincoln’s itinerary was a review of the black troops. (A review is basically a military parade. In a military review, soldiers march in a formation that has been practiced through drilling.) As noted by George Washington Williams in HISTORY OF THE NEGRO TROOPS, some 25,000 black soldiers, “well drilled, well armed, and well officered, passed in review before the President, General (Ulysses) Grant, and the general officers of the Army of the James and the Army of the Potomac.” While noting the irony that Lincoln had initially “protested” against the use of black soldiers early in the war, Williams said that now, “Lincoln was deeply moved at the sight of these Negro troops.”

This was the last such review of black troops that Lincoln would see; an assassin’s bullet cut his life short on April 15. But for that one bright moment, the president was presented “one of the most magnificent military spectacles of the civil war.”

From the book HISTORY OF THE NEGRO TROOPS IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION 1861-1865, page 292-293:

On the 28th of January the Lower House of the Confederate Congress had resolved to employ Negroes as soldiers, but on the 7th of February the Senate refused to concur in the action of the House. On the 18th of February General Lee urged his plan of the military employment of Negroes, and on the 20th the Confederate House passed a bill authorizing the employment of two hundred thousand Negroes in the armed service of the Government, but the Senate promptly rejected the measure. The Negro, who had been manifestly and confessedly the cause of the war, was now the hope of both Union and Confederate governments. Fair hands that had been stained with the blood of bondmen, but which were now impotent in disaster, were outstretched to Ethiopia. But “Ethiopia’s hands long stretching mightily had plead with God,” and the cause of the despised Negro had become the cause of humanity and civilization the world over.

But the movement finally received the force of law, as shown in the following, which is the last part of the last Special Order issued from the Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office at Richmond :

“Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office,

” Richmond, April 1, 1865.
“Special Orders No. 78.

“XXIX. Lieutenant John L. Co wardin, Adjutant Nineteenth Battalion Virginia Artillery, is hereby relieved from his present command and will proceed without delay to Halifax County, Virginia, for the purpose of recruiting Negro troops, under the Act of Congress approved March 13th, and General Orders No. 14, Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, current series.”

On the 23d of March the first company of Negro State troops was mustered into the Confederate service, and by a strange coincidence President Lincoln left Washington city to review his Negro soldiers on the James River on the same day. (NOTE: A company is a group of 75-100 soldiers.)

The review was one of the most magnificent military spectacles of the civil war. The weather was fair and the atmosphere pleasant for the moving masses of troops. Twenty-five thousand Negro soldiers, in bright, new uniforms, well drilled, well armed, and well officered, passed in review before the President, General Grant, and the general officers of the Army of the James and the Army of the Potomac. The troops were reviewed between General William Birney’s headquarters and Fort Harrison, in full view of the enemy at Fort Gilmer.

The troops marched with company front, with banners flying and bands playing. Nearly every slave State had its representatives in the ranks of this veteran Negro army, while Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, of the Northern States, had regiments in the line. President Lincoln was deeply moved at the sight of these Negro troops, against whose employment he had early and earnestly protested. Hundreds of white officers and thousands of white soldiers witnessed the review with keen interest, and were loud in their praise of the splendid soldierly bearing of their Negro comrades in arms.

The entire review was highly satisfactory, and made a deep impression upon the minds of the civil and military chiefs who witnessed it.

Health Care, such as it was, for Civil War Veterans

A Bit of History partial Thomas Waterman copy
“A Bit of History – The Veteran” by Thomas Waterman Wood, circa 1865-6. This is one of three images by Wood that shows the transformation of a man from a slave into a newly-recruited soldier for the Union army and finally into a veteran. Many soldiers wore the wounds and scars of the American Civil War into post-war life. Sadly, there were not always resources in their communities or beyond to help them with their health issues.
Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

I’ve been ill the past few days, and I wound up having to make a long visit with the doctor. Unlucky me – I have an abdominal condition that will probably require surgery. But at least I have health care, so I can go to a doctor and get back to wellness.

Today, US military veterans have access to health care via the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and its Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. According to Wikipedia, there are currently 152 VA Medical Centers and approximately 1400 community-based outpatient clinics in the US. In 2014, the Veterans Health Administration was “rocked by scandal” due to “major problems with scheduling timely access to medical care.” But at least there is a system in place to attend to the health needs of our veterans.

Compare that to the circumstances for veterans, and especially black veterans, of the American Civil War. In the book Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files, edited by Elizabeth Regosin and Donald Shaffer, the editors note that

The vast majority of former slaves were poor… .medical problems (of Union veterans who were former slaves) both contributed to and were compounded by poverty. Illness left former slaves with the medical bills that they could not pay or without access to proper medical care, leaving them in a position where they had to treat to themselves with herbal remedies or patent medicine, forms of therapy that sometimes ameliorated symptoms but rarely provided a permanent cure.

The book goes on to site the case of black Union veteran Isaac Petteway, who served in the US Colored Troops, 37th Infantry Regiment, and his wife Rosa Pettetway. In 1889, Rosa filed for a pension after her husband passed away. The following is from the deposition that was filed with the pension request and found in the National Archives:

Q. After coming out of the Army did your husband the soldier ever have any fever or pneumonia or was he troubled with any cough or lung disease?

A. He had a bad cough and after he was taken down with his fatal illness he had a desperate cough. He was always subject to cold and he had the chills bad often.

Q. Tell me all you can about his condition from the time you say he was taken down until he died?

A. He was down in his bed three years, helpless as a child, and I nursed [him]. He was full of pains and misery, and that leg would pain him. He would holler so you could hear him holler along way. He had a very bad cough and complained of his side and chest, and I’ll cross his breast and stomach. The ulcer on the leg would run part of the time and there again would break out again. The sore or a corruption did not [intelligible] above the knee. There were no running sores on his body only the old one.
I didn’t think he had any hemorrhage or bleeding, not as I knows of.

Q. What did you believe was the immediate cause of his death?

A. That leg, the pain in it run up into his body and took his life away from him

Q. How do you know that it was not pneumonia or consumption he died of?

A. I don’t know, only I think it was the leg.

Q. When you found your husband was dying was there no way you could have secured a doctor, is there no State or county provision for Doctors for the poor?

A. No Sir, You can’t get a doctor here [Beaufort, N.C.] without the cash… We were not able to employ any doctor. I just treated my husband with herbs and such like—we never had any Doctor

It doesn’t seem right that a veteran should go out this way, to use a colloquial expression. Dignified service should have resulted in dignified care. But our health care policies have evolved for the better since then, and thankfully so. I hope Isaac and Rosa Petteway are resting in peace with the knowledge that their country is trying to do better by the soldiers who followed him.

Nina L. Brown and Children


Nina L. Brown with Daughters [Photograph of Nina L. Brown with Frances and Lois (daughters)], probably very late 1890s or early 1900s; additional details are here.
Source: Ohio Historical Society; from the Hallie Q. Brown/Frances Brown Hughes Collection. The photograph is located at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, OH.

These photographs are from the Hallie Q. Brown/Frances Brown Hughes Collection at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. Hallie Q. Brown (1845? – 1949) was a teacher, elocutionist, civil and women’s rights advocate, and Wilberforce University graduate, instructor, and trustee. Nina L. Brown was Hallie Q. Brown’s sister-in-law.

The photos are part of an online exhibit at the Ohio Historical Society’s website, the African-American Experience in Ohio 1850-1920.


Nina L. Brown and Jere Brown Jr., circa 1906-07; additional details are here.
Source: Ohio Historical Society; from the Hallie Q. Brown/Frances Brown Hughes Collection. The photograph is located at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, OH.

On the eve of the Civil War, in 1860, Ohio had the third largest population of blacks in the free states/the “North,” with 36,000 African American residents. Among northern states, only Pennsylvania (57,000) and New York (49,000) had more free blacks than Ohio. In fact, Ohio had more free blacks than any Confederate state, except the state of Virginia (58,000). Maryland, a “border” state that was considered part of the South, but was not part of the Confederate States of America, had the most free blacks of any state (84,000).

Hallie Q. Brown’s alma mater, Wilberforce University, was opened in the late 1850s as a place where youth of African descent could gain an education. It is one of the oldest private, historically black universities in the United States. It was named after William Wilberforce, the 18th century abolitionist. It was a joint collaboration of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, although the AME became its sole operator during the course of the Civil War.

Links of Interest – May 8, 2015

I invite you to check out these sites which have some interesting stuff:

[1] Grand Review Parade Week is coming to Washington, DC

Starting on Friday, May, 15, 2015, a number events will be held in Washington DC to commemorate the Grand Review Parade that was held by the Union army in May 1865 to celebrate the end of the Civil War and the preservation of the Union. The activities will culminate with the reenactment of the Grand Review Parade on May 17, 2015. In the 1865 parade, African American soldiers were not participants. In a fitting tribute to those black soldiers, the parade on May 17 will include reenactors from African American regiments, as well as descendants of black Civil War soldiers, along with reenactors from other Union regiments from around the country.


Scene from the 1865 Grand Review Parade, from the website for the 2015 Grand Review Parade Week.

Details are at the website, Grand Review Parade.org. The theme for the activities is “Grand Review Parade Weekend: A New Birth of Freedom and Union.”

The African American Civil War Museum of Washington, DC, is a major co-sponsor of the event. The Museum has planned several activities, starting on Friday, May 15, which are noted here.

This should be great fun and education for all. I hope you all can make it to my hometown of Washington, DC, for these events.

[2] African American Military Portraits from the American Civil War

This video discusses a museum exhibit of portraits of African American soldiers who served during the Civil War. There is an interesting and poignant story about one black soldier who served in various capacities in other wars, even after reaching 70 years of age.

[3] African American Civil War Reenactors in North Carolina

The New & Observer website has an article by Martha Quillin titled “Civil War saga: Black re-enactors tell their side of the story.” James White of Wilmington, NC, who is the commander of an African American Civil War re-enactment group, is featured in the piece.

James White USCT North Carolina Reenactor
Civil War re-enactors James White, center, his son, Jayden, left, and James’ brother, Joseph White. Courtesy of James White
Image Source: News & Observer, article dated January 24, 2015.

[4] African American Doctors in the Civil War

The picture quality is not great, but this is an informative discussion of African American doctors in the mid-19th century and the role they played in the American Civil War. The speaker is Dr. Robert Slawson, an author and docent at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

[5] The Belated Burial of the Confederate Flag

Artist, activist, and mathematician John C. Sims is seeking to stage a multi-site event in the former Confederate States on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, for “The Belated Burial of the Confederate Flag.” The event, which is “to take place simultaneously in 13 Southern states, at sites to be determined” is part of Sims’ “Recoloration Proclamation” project. Sims and his team are inviting “poets, artists, activists and community leaders to participate” in the event. This appears to be a flyer for the event:

Read more here: “Call for Artists: Be Part of John C. Sims’ The Belated Burial of the Confederate Flag,” from the Nashville Sscene.com. Story and image both posted by Stephen Trageser.

Contrasting Icons of Anti-slavery Art: Richard Ansdell’s “The Hunted Slaves” and Eyre Crowe’s “Slaves Waiting for Sale Richmond, Virginia”

Richard_Ansdell_-_The_Hunted_Slaves_-_Google_Art_Project-2
“The Hunted Slaves,” 1861, by English artist Richard Ansdell
From here: “Painted in 1861, the year of the outbreak of the American Civil War, this picture portrays two runaway slaves, turning to face the pack of mastiffs which has pursued them. When the painting was first exhibited the artist included a quotation in the catalogue from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem ‘The Dismal Swamp,’ which describes the flight of an escaped slave. The painting… is now in the ‘Legacies’ section of the International Slavery Museum.”
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Slaves for Sale Crowe
“Slaves Waiting for Sale Richmond, Virginia,” 1861, by English artist Eyre Crowe
From here: “Inspired and outraged by a visit he made to slave auction rooms in Richmond, Crowe commemorated the subject first in an engraved sketch which appeared in the Illustrated London News on 27 September 1856 (Slave Auction at Richmond, Virginia), and then by this oil painting which was exhibited at the British Academy in 1861. The original sketch, made on 3 March 1853, was published by Crowe in his book ‘With Thackeray in America’… “Slaves Waiting for Sale” is now held in the Heinz private collection in Washington D.C., United States.”
Image Source: Eyre Crowe.com;
a high-resolution image is here.

The above paintings are icons of anti-slavery art, although quite different in their approach to the subject. Both pictures are the work of English artists; they show that interest in American slavery and anti-slavery extended beyond the boundaries of the United States. Both were made just as the American Civil War was beginning; these artists may have perceived that the war was about slavery, and were keen to show the stakes involved. Continue reading

Union officer scolds US Colored Troops: “It is mutiny to refuse to take your pay, and mutiny is punishable with death.”


Recruitment poster for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, African Descent. Note that payment of $13 per month is advertised.
Source: John Banks Civil War Blog, from the Massachusetts Historical Society

Military necessity prompted the enlistment of Africans Americans as soldiers and sailors in the Union military during the American Civil War. But it did not necessarily prompt white men to treat black enlisted men with respect. This lack of respect is made clear in an infamous talk by a white officer to black soldiers of the majority black Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment (54th Mass Regiment), which has become famous due the movie Glory!

Although organized in Massachusetts, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment consisted of black men from as south as Philadelphia, and some further south of that; and also black men from as far west as Indiana, and even west of that. The men were literate, relatively well educated, and highly motivated. Most important, they were free black men. Their pride, and manhood, dictated they they would not allow themselves to be treated as members of a degraded race.

So it was that Union policy concerning salaries for back soldiers raised the ire of the men of the 54th Mass Regiment. Per the US government’s reading of the July 1862 Militia Act, which authorized black enlistment into the Union army, African American soldiers were to be paid “$7 (per month), in comparison to the significantly raised $13 that white soldiers received.” Apparently, this separate pay schedule for black soldiers was set on the idea that initial black recruits would serve as military laborers, not as combat soldiers.

But African Americans did serve in combat. Indeed, the 54th Mass gained its fame for its actions in July 1863, when it attacked Fort Wagner, a heavily guarded site in Charleston Harbor. Many men were injured or killed in that unsuccessful battle, including white officer Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who lost his life in the battle.

The unequal pay schedule made a sham of what the soldiers believed were promises that they would be treated fairly and equally (see the recruitment poster above). The issue was discussed in a letters written by George E. Stephens, a private in the 54th Mass. From his regiment’s camp in South Carolina, Stephens wrote the letter, dated October 3, 1863, to Robert Hamilton of the Anglo-African newspaper:

You have also heard I suppose of this matter of pay, it has caused a great deal of trouble, and if it is not adjusted one of the best regiments that ever left the Massachusetts will become utterly demoralized. …an offer (has been) made to pay us ten dollars per month less three for clothing, in other words pay us seven dollars per month. The men were enlisted as a part of the Mass. State quota of troops and never dreamed that any other pay but that of other Massachusetts soldiers would be given them. We have been urged and urged again to accept seven dollars a month, all, sergeant-major down to the humblest private to get no more. There are respectable and well to do men in this regiment, who have accepted positions. It is insulting to them to offer them about half the pay of a poor white private.”

Continue reading