African American soldiers faced trials and tribulations during the Civil War. But the struggle did not end there.
Source: From Civil War Journeys; original source was not identified
There was much animus towards southern African Americans among white southerners after the Civil War. Something as simple as an African American’s pride in his military service could become a flashpoint for violence. Consider this case, from post-war Virginia:
Freedmen’s Bureau Agent at Brentsville, Virginia, to the Freedmen’s Bureau Superintendent of the 10th District of Virginia
Prince Wm Co. Va Brentsville Jan’y. 15″ 1866.
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that a dastardly outrage was committed in this place yesterday, (Sunday,) within sight of my office, the circumstances of which are as follows.
A freedman named James Cook was conceived to be “impudent,” by a white man named John Cornwell; whereupon the whiteman cursed him and threatened him. The freedman, being alarmed, started away, and was followed and threatened with “you d——d black yankee son of a b——h I will kill you”; and was fired upon with a pistol, the ball passing through his clothes. He was then caught by the white man, and beaten with the but of a revolver, and dragged to the door of the Jail near where the affair occurred, where he was loosened and escaped.
He came to me soon after, bleeding from a deep cut over the eye, and reported the above, which was substantiated to me as fact by several witnesses. I have heard both sides of the case fully, and the only charge that is brought against the freedman is “impudence”; and while being pounced upon as a “d——d Yankee,” and cursed and called all manner of names, this “impudence” consisted in the sole offense of saying, that he had been in the union army and was proud of it. No other “impudence” was charged against him.
I know the freedman well, and know him to be uncommonly intelligent, inoffensive, and respectful. He is an old grey-headed man, and has been a slave of the commonwealth attorney of this co. a long time. He has the reputation I have given him among the citizens here, and has rented a farm near here for the coming season. As an evidence of his pacific disposition, he had a revolver which was sold him by the Government, on his discharge from the army, which he did not draw, or threaten to use during the assault; choosing, in this instance at least, to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong.
To show you the state of feeling here among many people, (not all) in regard to such a transaction, Dr. C. H. Lambert, the practicing physician of this place, followed the freedman to me, and said, that “Subdued and miserable as we are, we will not allow niggers to come among us and brag about having been in the yankee army. It is as much as we can do to tolerate it in white men.” He thought “It would be a good lesson to the niggers” &c. &c. I have heard many similar, and some more violent remarks, on this, and other subjects connected with the freedmen.
I would not convey the impression however, that there is the slightest danger to any white man, from these vile and cowardly devils. But where there are enough of them together, they glory in the conquest of a “nigger.” They hold an insane malice against the freedman, from which he must be protected, or he is worse off than when he was a slave.
Marcus. S. Hopkins.
And this is certainly related to the above: These are the only monuments to African American Union soldiers that were installed below the Mason-Dixon Line prior to 1990 (the movie Glory was released 1989):
Colored Soldiers Monument, Kentucky
Monument to the 56th USCT Infantry, Missouri
Monument to the Colored Union Soldiers, North Carolina
West Point Monument, Norfolk, Virginia
Civil War Monument at Lincoln Cemetery in Portsmouth, Virginia
Source for photographs: see here.
Three monuments are in former Confederate states, two are in Border (Union slave) states. By contrast there are hundreds of monuments to Confederate soldiers spread throughout the former Confederate and Border states by 1990. Note that the two Virginia monuments are in African American cemeteries.
In the South (i.e., below the Mason Dixon Line), monuments to Confederate soldiers monopolized the commemorative landscape for over a century after the war ended. The Jim Crow South was not open to the acknowledgment of black men who fought for the “yankees” or for their freedom. The lack of black soldier representation in public spaces created a white-washed narrative of African American participation during the war; if one were to look solely at monuments that were dedicated before 1990, you might think that no black men fought during this momentous period in US history.
Since 1990, a number of monuments to black Civil War soldiers have been installed in the South. But I think it’s fair to say that the commemorative landscape remains unfair and unbalanced in its representation of the African American experience during the Civil War. I offer some thoughts on how to more forward on this issue here.
FYI, the majority of African Americans who enlisted in the US Army during the Civil War were from Confederate and Border (Union slave) states. This is a count of the United States Colored Troops (the segregated portion of the US Army during the Civil War) by state of enlistment:
COUNT OF US COLORED TROOPS BY STATE
Union Free States & Territories
New York 4,125
District of Columbia 3,269
Rhode Island 1,837
New Jersey 1,185
New Hampshire 125
Colorado Territory 95
SUB-TOTAL, Union Free States & Territories: 37,818
Union Slave States
West Virginia 196
SUB-TOTAL, Union Slave States: 41,915
South Carolina 5,462
North Carolina 5,035
SUB-TOTAL, Confederate States: 93,346
State or Territory Unknown 5,896
GRAND TOTAL – USCT 178,975
Source: Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Volume 1, The Black Military Experience: Series II, p 12
The majority of black enlistees were from slave states. The four states that provided the most African American enlistees were Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Those four states provided over 47% of the men in the United States Colored Troops. None of those four states had a monument to the Colored Troops until after 1990.
Note: there were 1-2,000 African Americans who were enlisted in non-USCt regiments. A number of these were dedicated non-combatants, such as under-cooks. Additionally there were at least 18,000 black enlistees in the Union Navy.