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.”

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The Blackville Gallery, late 1890s


Image Description: 1897 Picture of the Blackville Gallery. Elegant hand colored wood engraving titled,”The Blackville gallery,” from Leslie’s Weekly. Shows scene of a rehearsal of the Blackville Choir. 11 x 16in. $150
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.

These are several of the “Blackville Gallery” photographs by Knaffl & Bro. studios of Knoxville, Tennessee, that in appeared in Leslie’s Weekly in the late 1890s.

Per Wikipedia, Leslie’s Weekly, born as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, was “an American illustrated literary and news magazine founded in 1852 and published until 1922. It was one of several magazines started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie… Throughout its decades of existence, the weekly provided illustrations and reports – first with wood engravings and Daguerreotype, later with more advanced forms of photography – of wars from John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry and the Civil War until the Spanish-American War and the First World War.”

In 1897/98, the magazine featured a set of photographs called the “Blackville Gallery” series. The photos show contemporary African Americans, presumably from Knoxville, engaged in various aspects aspects of domestic life, such as attending church or weighing a young child to check its growth. Some might say the photos are caricature-ish, and close to being minstrelsy. But as I look at the pictures, I am struck by the energy and enthusiasm that these amateur models (and these are staged images) bring to the photo shoots. They seem to be having fun with it. It’s as if they are comfortable with poking fun at themselves, and don’t see every attempt at humor at their expense to necessarily be degrading or insulting. Or so it seems to me.

The photographs were produced by Knaffl & Bro. of Knoxville, Tennessee. Wikipedia talks about Joseph Knaffl (October 9, 1861 – March 23, 1938) here.

These images are (or were) being sold as prints at the “Prints Old & Rare,” site. I have included the description of the images at the site, as well as their selling price, to give an idea of the current value of these pictures.


Image Description:1897 Photogravure featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “The Blackville Gallery, — No. III.” Caption reads, “The Blackville Cotillon, — “Mr. Johnsing, Turn Me Luse!” Image shows a small jazz ensemble playing for some dancers as a man claps to the rhythm of the music. The sign above his head reads, “Welcum.” Copyright by Knaffl & Bro., Knoxville, Tennessee. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.


Image Description: 1898 Photogravure by Knaffl & Bro., Knoxville, Tenn. featured in Leslie’s Weekly titled, “Weighing the Christmas Baby in Blackville.” Authentic portrait of a family at home trying to weigh a baby with their makeshift scale. A woman at left pours some water from an old kettle which was heated in the stovepipe as a child has a bite to eat at center. 22 x 16 in. $300
Source: Image and Description from Prints Old & Rare, an art seller. The description includes the price of the print.
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Washington, DC, April 2015

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Picture taken in Washington, DC, in April 2015, near Ford’s Theater. At left is Marquett Milton, a Civil War/US Colored Troops reenactor, with one of man’s best friends, along with other folks in Civil War era dress.

The past few months have seen a number of Civil War events in Washington, DC, such as the commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inauguration, Lincoln’s assassination, and the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.

Perhaps the biggest event will be the Grand Review Parade, scheduled for May 17, 2015. Be there, so you can take a picture of a Civil War reenactor with a dog… or something like that.

Creole Hairstyles, circa 1860s

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Image of an unidentified “Black Creole,” a free man of mixed African and European descent (also called a free man of color) from the New Orleans area in the 1860s.
Source: Image is from the site for the documentary Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. Image is also seen here on Flickr.

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Civil War era photograph of Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard. According to Wikipedia, Beauregard “was a Louisianan-born American military officer, politician, inventor, writer, civil servant, and the first prominent general of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. …(he) was born at sugar-cane plantation 20 miles outside New Orleans to a French Creole family…

“Trained as a civil engineer at the United States Military Academy, Beauregard served with distinction as an engineer in the Mexican-American War… after the South seceded he resigned from the United States Army and became the first brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. He commanded the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, at the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Three months later he won the First Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia.”
Source: From Wikipedia Commons. This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 525441.

A Reunion in Richmond, VA, April 1865: “This is your mother, Garland, who has spent 20 years of grief about her son.”

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It was the beginning of the end of the American Civil War: The National Republican, a Washington, DC newspaper, reports that the city of Richmond, VA, which was the capital of the Confederacy, was captured by Union forces on April 3, 1865. And the US Colored Troops – the “black troops”  – led the way.
The US Colored Troops consisted primarily of African American soldiers. One of those soldiers experienced an unexpected family reunion which exemplifies the meaning of the war to African Americans, especially those who had been enslaved. See the blog post below.
Source: From the April 3, 1865 extra edition of The National Republican, a Washington, DC newspaper; as noted in the African American Civil War Museum blog.

On April 3, 1865, Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederate States of America – was captured by the Union army. Soldiers in the United States Colored Troops (or USCT –  Union regiments primarily composed of African American soldiers) were the first to enter the city. Meanwhile, other USCT and Union regiments continued to pursue Confederate forces in the area led by General Robert E. Lee. General Lee would finally surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9th, 1865, at Appomattox, Virginia. By the end of June 1865, almost all of the Confederate forces had surrendered and the Civil War, for all practical purposes, was over.

One member of the US Colored Troops that entered Richmond was a chaplain named Garland White, of the 28th US Colored Infantry. Chaplain White wrote for the Christian Recorder, a newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) church. In the North, the AME was the most important church organization for free blacks. Garland White was a runaway slave from the Richmond/Petersburg area who fled to Canada, returned to the US, and joined the Union army  after policy changes by the federal government allowed black enlistment. In a Christian Recorder article (1), he wrote about the fall/liberation of Richmond; the joyous reactions of the city’s black residents; the presence of Abraham Lincoln; and an unexpected family reunion:

I have just returned from the city of Richmond; my regiment was among the first that entered that city. I marched at the head of the column, and soon I found myself called upon by the officers and men of my regiment to make a speech, with which, of course, I readily complied. A vast multitude assembled on Broad Street, and I was aroused amid the shouts of ten thousand voices, and proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind. After which the doors of all the slave pens were thrown open, and thousands came out shouting and praising God, and Father, or Master Abe, as they termed him.

In this mighty consternation I became so overcome with tears that I could not stand up under the pressure of such fullness of joy in my own heart. I refired to gain strength, so I lost many important topics worthy of note.

Among the densely crowded concourse there were parents looking for children who had been sold south of this state in tribes, and husbands came for the same purpose; here and there one was singled out in the ranks, and an effort was made to approach the gallant and marching soldiers, who were too obedient to orders to break ranks.

We continued our march as far as Camp Lee, at the extreme end of Broad Street, running westwards. In camp the multitude followed, and everybody could participate in shaking the friendly but hard hands of the poor slaves. Among the many broken-hearted mothers looking for their children who had been sold to Georgia and elsewhere, was an aged woman, passing through the vast crowd of colored, inquiring for one by the name of Garland H. White, who had been sold from her when a small boy, and was bought by a lawyer named Robert Toombs (2), who lived in Georgia. Since the war has been going on she has seen Mr. Toombs in Richmond with troops from his state, and upon her asking him where his body-servant Garland was, he replied: “He ran off from me at Washington, and went to Canada. I have since learned that he is living somewhere in the State of Ohio.” Some of the boys knowing that I lived in Ohio, soon found me and said, “Chaplain, here is a lady that wishes to see you.” I quickly turned, following the soldier until coming to a group of colored ladies. I was questioned as follows:

“What is your name, sir?”
“My name is Garland H. White.”
“What was your mother’s name?”
“Nancy.”
“Where was you born?”
“In Hanover County, in this State.”
“Where was you sold from?”
“From this city.”
“What was the name of the man who bought you?”
“Robert Toombs.”
“Where did he live?”
“In the State of Georgia.”
“Where did you leave him?”
“At Washington.”
“Where did you go then?”
“To Canada.”
“Where do you live now?”
“In Ohio.”

“This is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

I cannot express the joy I felt at this happy meeting of my mother and other friends. But suffice it to say that God is on the side of the righteous, and will in due time reward them. I have witnessed several such scenes among the other colored regiments.

Late in the afternoon, we were honored with his Excellency, the President of the United States, Lieutenant-General Grant, and other gentlemen of distincfion. We made a grand parade through most of the principal streets of the city, beginning at Jeff Davis’s mansion, and it appeared to me that all the colored people in the world had collected in that city for that purpose. I never saw so many colored people in all my life, women and children of all sizes running after Father, or Master Abraham, as they called him.


RECEIVING THE PRESIDENT. Abraham Lincoln riding through Richmond, April 4th, 1865, after the evacuation of the city by the Confederates.
Source: The Black Phalanx: African American soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, p 452, by Joseph T. Wilson; published 1890; book is available online at Project Gutenberg.
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A dispossessed slave master: “I have always treated my negroes kindly. I supposed they loved me.”


From the Library of Congress:Title: The (Fort) Monroe Doctrine, 1861. On May 27, 1861, Benjamin Butler, commander of the Union army in Virginia and North Carolina, decreed that slaves who fled to Union lines were legitimate “contraband of war,” and were not subject to return to their Confederate owners. The declaration precipitated scores of escapes to Union lines around Fortress Monroe, Butler’s headquarters in Virginia. In this crudely drawn caricature, a slave stands before the Union fort taunting his plantation master. The planter (right) waves his whip and cries, “Come back you black rascal.” The slave replies, “Can’t come back nohow massa Dis chile’s contraban”
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-36161; above image is from the Virginia Memory website.

The shooting war between the Union and the Confederacy – what we call the American Civil War – began in April 1861. The Union government made it clear at the beginning that abolition – freedom for the slaves – was not its goal; the goal was to preserve the Union. But almost immediately, the Union took acts which imperiled the institution, and ultimately destroyed it.

In May 1861, Union General Benjamin Franklin Butler, who was then commanding Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA, initiated the so-called “contraband policy.” This called for the confiscation of slaves who were used as laborers for the Confederate military. Eventually hundreds of slaves from the Hampton Roads area and even beyond would flee bondage to gain freedom in and around what would be called the “Freedom Fort.”

In 1864, James Parton wrote “General Butler in New Orleans,” a “History of the Administration of the Department of the Gulf in Year 1862, with an Account of the Capture of New Orleans, and a Sketch of the General, Civil and Military.” In this bio-text of Butler, a story is told of an unnamed slave master who lost all of his slaves after their escape to Fort Monroe. The dispossessed slave master goes to the Fort to see if he can get just one of those slaves – one particular slave – back in his possession.

The account of this slave master has a touch of schadenfreude to it. (“Schadenfreude” is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. The word is taken from German and literally means “harm-joy”. It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune.) The Union men who receive the master are clearly no fans of slavery or enslavers, and seem to find his situation more pathetic than sympathetic. They find an ironic humor in his situation that, understandably, he does not.

Meanwhile, it is clear that the owner is hurt, shaken, perhaps devastated by the departure and loss of his slaves. The slave patriarch says “I have always treated my negroes kindly. I supposed they loved me.” But just when the war “came home” to him in earnest, just when he needed his slaves the most, they abandoned him. Clearly, the master had feelings for at least some of his slaves that went beyond mere property ownership. He lost people that he cared for, and that he presumed cared for him. At the end of the story, the feelings of the master are written true: “He had fallen upon evil times.” Continue reading

Frederick Douglass on the late Abraham Lincoln


Frederick Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln by William Edouard Scott
This mural depicts Frederick Douglass asking President Abraham Lincoln to allow black soldiers to serve in the Union army during the Civil War. Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, and Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, are the two men standing in the back. The image surely depicts a fictional event: although Lincoln and Douglass met three times at the White House, those meetings took place after Congress approved the use of blacks as soldiers in the Union armed forces.

On April 14, 1865, president Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth in Washington, DC. On April 15, Lincoln passed away, becoming the first president to be assassinated in office.

On April 14, 1876, Frederick Douglass, perhaps the most prominent African American of his time, gave an “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln.” This was done in Washington, DC, at the unveiling of The Freedmen’s Monument which had been commissioned by African Americans to honor the late president.

Douglass’s speech remains one of the most thoughtful, critical, and honorific summaries of Lincoln’s role in achieving racial progress during his time in office.

Douglass says that Lincoln was the black man’s “friend” and “liberator,” and that “the name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic.” But he also says Lincoln was “preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men,” that “the race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration,” and that “truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.”

Douglass eschewed simplicity in discussing Lincoln. Lincoln’s policies toward and relations with African American were complex, and in his long speech, Douglass laid out those complexities in detail.

But I think this one comment from that speech sums it up: “Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Douglass understood that Lincoln was a man, a white man, of his times. But that is why Douglass was ultimately thankful for Lincoln, enough to see Lincoln as a hero for African Americans. Because despite his own prejudices, and those of the nation, Lincoln found cause to condemn slavery as evil, and to use the Civil War as a means to destroy the institution. Lincoln was a man of his times who rose above his times, to do something revolutionary. Douglass, and African Americans, were “appreciators of his benefits.”

Of special interest to me is the portion of the speech where Douglass says “under his rule, Lincoln did this” or “Lincoln did that.” (See the italicized text below.) To those who might claim Lincoln did little or nothing for the cause of African American freedom and advancement, and that Lincoln’s supporters were moved by “a blind and unreasoning superstition,” Douglass lists a bill of particulars, to use a phrase, about Lincoln’s achievements, a list that withstands the scrutiny of time.

I also found it interesting that in speaking of Lincoln’s humble origins, Douglass said that as “a son of toil himself, he was linked in brotherly sympathy with the sons of toil in every loyal part of the Republic.” Douglass seemed to feel that being a “common man,” Lincoln was uniquely poised to represent all working people, of any background, as he executed his duties.

These are excerpts from Douglass’s speech, and there is a lot of text here. We bloggers are sometimes told to avoid making posts with such length, as it may be too tedious for readers. But it has a lot to offer about how Douglass, and perhaps many other African Americans of the era, viewed the president. Enjoy the read:

Friends and Fellow-citizens:

I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object (the Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park, Washington, DC,) which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have today. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of our history in the United States; who shall survey the long and dreary spaces over which we have traveled; who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it with a sense of manly pride and complacency.

We stand today at the national center to perform something like a national act — an act which is to go into history; and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt, and reciprocated. A thousand wires, fed with thought and winged with lightning, put us in instantaneous communication with the loyal and true men all over the country.

Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. Harmless, beautiful, proper, and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence… In view, then, of the past, the present, and the future, with the long and dark history of our bondage behind us, and with liberty, progress, and enlightenment before us, I again congratulate you upon this auspicious day and hour. Continue reading