Monday, July 23, 2018

Civil War History

There is a long history of African Americans during the Civil War. Tons of black Americans heroically sacrificed to defeat the Confederate enemy. Many were Union soldiers. Some were Union spies and others gave great support to the African American Union heroes who battled against the evil pro-slavery Confederacy. In total, 186,097 black men joined the Union Army with 7,122 officers and 178,975 enlisted soldiers. About 20,000 black sailors served in the Union Navy and they formed a large percentage of many ship crews. Later on, many regiments were organized as the “United States Colored Troops” that reinforced the Northern side (especially in the last 2 years of the war). Union troops included Northern free black people and Southern runaway slaves. Black soldiers served in forty battles and hundreds of other skirmishes. 16 African Americans received the Medal of Honor. Back then, there was a debate on whether to have African American regiments in the Union. Many people were hesitant to do so including Union commanders and even President Abraham Lincoln (since he was afraid of the response by the Border States like Maryland). Black soldiers were needed since many white volunteers dropped out during the war. African Americans always volunteered since the first days of the war and many were turned down. July 17, 1862 was the date when the U.S. Congress passed the two Acts. These Acts allowed the enlistment of African American troops. The official enrollment of troops came after the final issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. Yet, state and local militia units already by enlisted black Americans like the Black Brigade of Cincinnati which rose in September 1862. This unit was used to provide manpower to stop a feared Confederate raid on Cincinnati from Kentucky. In May of 1863, Congress established the Bureau of Colored Troops in an effort to organize black efforts in the war.

There were African American medical officers after 1863. It started with Baltimore surgeon Alexander Augusta. He was a senior surgeon with white assistant surgeons under his command at Fort Stanton, Maryland. African American soldiers made up about 10% of the entire Union Army (United States Army). African Americans had large casualties. About 20% of all African American enrolled in the military lost their lives during the U.S. Civil War. Their mortality rate was significantly higher than white soldiers. Many escaped slaves sought to have refuge in the Union Army camps. They were called contrabands by Union officers. Many officers in the field experimented with contraband classified people for manual labor in the Union Army camps. Some became black regiments of soldiers. Some of these soldiers involved in this situation included Gen. David Hunter (1802–1886), U.S. Sen./Gen. James H. Lane (1814–1866), and Gen. Benjamin F. Butler (1818–1893), of Massachusetts. By early 1861, General Butler was the first Union commander to use black people (classified as contrabands) in a non-combatant role. They did physical labor duties. They were refused to be returned as escaped slaves at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Many escaped slaves came to General Butler to have asylum when slave-owners tried to re-enslave them. In September 1862, free African American men were forcefully conscripted and impressed into forced labor for constructing defensive fortification by the white citizens of the pro-slavery city of Cincinnati, Ohio. They were known as the Black Brigade of Cincinnati. They experienced harsh working conditions and extreme brutality by the Cincinnati police guards. So, the Union Army, under General Lew Wallace, stepped in to restore order and make sure that the black conscripted men received their fair treatment due to soldiers including the equal pay of privates. Many of those black American called contraband came into many colonies like at the Grand Contraband Camp in Virginia and in the Port Royal Experiment. Black people worked at hospitals and at other locations. Jane E. Schultz wrote of the medical corps that "Approximately 10 percent of the Union's female relief workforce was of African descent: free blacks of diverse education and class background who earned wages or worked without pay in the larger cause of freedom, and runaway slaves who sought sanctuary in military camps and hospitals." Tons of white soldiers and officers back then believed in the lie that black men lacked the ability to fight great. In October of 1862, African American soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry (in one of the first engagements involving black troops) silenced their critics by repulsing attacking Confederate guerrillas at the Skirmish at island Mount, Missouri in the Western Theater by October 1862. By August of 1863, 14 more black state regiments were in the field and ready for service. May 27, 1863 was the time of the Battle of Port Hudson in Louisiana. This was when African American soldiers bravely advanced over open ground in the face of deadly artillery fire. The attack failed, but the black soldiers  shown courage in the heat of battle. General Nathaniel P. Banks (1816–1894) recording in his official report: "Whatever doubt may have existed heretofore as to the efficiency of organizations of this character, the history of this day's this class of troops effective supporters and defenders." Noted for his bravery was Union Captain Andre Cailloux who fell early in the battle. This was the first battle involving a formal Federal African-American unit. 

Many African American Union soldiers fought oat Fort Wagner off the Charleston coast in South Carolina by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry on July 19, 1863. This battle has been shown in the film Glory from 1989. The "54th" volunteered to lead the assault on the strongly fortified Confederate positions of the earthen/sand embankments (very resistant to artillery fire) on the coastal beach. The soldiers of the "54th" scaled the Fort's parapet, and were only driven back after brutal hand-to-hand combat. Despite the defeat, the unit was hailed for its valor, which spurred further African-American recruitment, giving the Union a numerical military advantage from a large segment of the population the Confederacy. One of the greatest soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts was William H. Carney. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia on February 29, 1840. His mother was a slave. He learned to read and write at the age of 14. He was emancipated and he moved into Bedford, Massachusetts. He studied to be a minister and later fought for freedom. He later stated, “I felt I could best serve my God by serving my Country and my oppressed bothers.” He became a member of, and trained with, the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry’s C Company. A Union general later said of the men in the all-black units, “They are far more earnest than we…They know the deep stake they have in the issue.” During the assault on Fort Wagner, Sergeant William Carney was 23 years old and never allowed the flag touch the ground (when he was heavily wounded by enemy fire). On May 23, 1900 Sergeant William Harvey Carney was awarded his Nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.  He passed away on December 9, 1908. He is buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery. His final resting place bears a distinctive stone, one claimed by less than 3500 Americans. Engraved on the white marble is a gold image of the Medal of Honor.

African American soldiers who were captured by the rebels suffered harshly in prison camps. Some were murdered outright. Black prisoners were definitely not treated the same as white prisoners. Black prisoners received no medical attention, some had harsh punishments, and they wouldn’t be used in a prisoner exchange since the Confederate states didn’t view them as equal. African American soldiers were involved in every major campaign of the Civil War from 1864 to 1865,  except for Sherman's Atlanta Campaign in Georgia and the following "March to the Sea" to Savannah, by Christmas 1864. The year 1864 was especially eventful for African-American troops. On April 12, 1864, at the Battle of Fort Pillow, in Tennessee, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led his 2,500 men against the Union-held fortification, occupied by 292 black and 285 white soldiers. After driving in the Union pickets and giving the garrison an opportunity to surrender, Forrest's men swarmed into the Fort with little difficulty and drove the Federals down the river's bluff into a deadly crossfire. Casualties were high and only sixty-two of the U.S. Colored Troops survived the fight. Accounts from both Union and Confederate witnesses suggest a massacre. Many accused the Confederates of perpetrating a massacre of black troops, and the controversy still continues today. The battle cry for the African American soldier, east of the Mississippi River became "Remember Fort Pillow!" The Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia was one of the most heroic engagements involving black troops. On September 29, 1864, the African American division of the Eighteenth Corps, after being pinned down by Confederate artillery fire for about 30 minutes. The black soldiers charged the earth workers and rushed up the slopes of the heights. During the hour long engagement, the Division suffered tremendous causalities. Of the 25 African Americans who awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War, 14 received the honor as a result of their actions at Chaffin’s Farm. Black soldiers faced massive discrimination in pay and assignment in the Union side. According to the Militia Act of 1862, soldiers of African descent were to receive $10.00 a month with an optional deduction for clothing at $3.00. In contrast, white privates received $12.00 per month plus a clothing allowance of $3.50. Many regiments fought for equal pay. Some refused any money and pay until June 15, 1864 when the Federal Congress granted equal pay for all soldiers regardless of color. Black units were often disproportionately still assigned laborer work rather than the possibility of actual front line combat assignments. General Daniel Ullman, commander of the Corps d'Afrique, remarked "I fear that many high officials outside of Washington have no other intention than that these men shall be used as diggers and drudges." Both free and escaped slaves of black African descent were involved in helping the Union involving intelligence. They were called Black Dispatches. One of these spies was Mary Bowser. Harriet Tubman was also a spy, a nurse, and a cook whose efforts were key to Union victories and survival. Tubman is most widely recognized for her contributions to freeing slaves by the Underground Railroad. However, her contributions to the Union Army were important too. She used her knowledge of the country's terrain to gain important intelligence for the Union Army. She became the first woman to lead U.S. soldiers into combat when, under the order of Colonel James Montgomery, took a contingent of soldiers in South Carolina behind enemy lines, destroying plantations and freeing 750 slaves in the process. 

Like the Army, many in the U.S. Navy were ambivalent at first in having Northern free black people or runaway slaves. There were many escaped slaves who wanted refuge on Union ships. This caused the Navy to have a policy to allow black people to be in the U.S. Navy for the Union. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells made an order on July 22, 1861 to employ black people to be in the Navy. In time, the Union Navy would see almost 16% of its ranks supplied by African Americans, performing in a wide range of enlisted roles. In contrast to the Army, the Navy from the outset not only paid equal wages between white and black sailors, but offered considerably more for even entry-level enlisted positions. Food rations and medical care were also improved over the Army, with the Navy benefiting from a regular stream of supplies from Union-held ports.
Becoming a commissioned officer, however was still out of reach for nearly all black sailors. With rare exceptions, only the rank of petty officer would be offered to black sailors, and in practice, only to free black people (who often were the only ones with naval careers sufficiently long to earn the rank). Robert Smalls, an escaped slave, was given the rank of captain of the steamer "Planter" in December 1864. Robert Smalls would later be a Reconstruction leader and he was a black man who freed many black people in the South using a ship. Also, the elephant in the room must be shown. We know what that elephant is. You have to show it. There were a minority of black people who were in the Confederacy. These men were divided into two groups. One group was people forced to fight or forced to do manual labor (like Marlboro Jones who was a servant to a white Confederate soldier. Jones was a person who did forced labor). The other group were sellouts and traitors to black people (those in the Confederacy were both free and those enslaved) who erroneously believed that the Confederacy represented their interests as the Confederacy defended slavery and executed racist terrorism. By the end of the war, the Confederates were desperate. There was a debate on whether to arm black soldiers for the Confederacy. This debate existed among the Confederate Congress, the President's Cabinet, and C.S. War Department staff. In general, newspapers, politicians, and army leaders alike were hostile to any efforts to arm black people. The war's desperate circumstances meant that the Confederacy changed their policy in the last month of the war; in March 13 1865, a small program attempted to recruit, train, and arm black people (Davis signed the law and it was supported by Robert E. Lee. Davis later signed another order on March 23 to offer freedom to slaves recruited, but this emancipation was reliant upon a slave-owner’s consent. As early as January 1864, CSA General Patrick Cleburne of TN wanted slaves as soldiers and offered freedom to them if they fought and survived. His proposal was rejected by Confederate leaders A. P. Stewart and James Patton Anderson), but no significant numbers were ever raised or recruited, and those that were never saw combat. The short lived 1st CSA Louisiana Native Guard was a militia made up of free men of color, biracial creoles, etc. who was a short lived group that ended in April of 1862 as Louisiana wanted only free white men to fight.  A Union army regiment 1st Louisiana Native Guard was later formed under the same name after General Butler took control of New Orleans. At the end of the day, African Americans have a huge role in the U.S. Civil War. They fought hard for the Union in desiring freedom, equality, and justice. Heroes like Sergeant William Harvey Carney, Robert Smalls, Harriet Tubman, Sgt. Major Christian Abraham Fleetwood, Sergeant Andrew Jackson Smith, and other men and women used heroism, determination, and strength to cause the Union to have a total victory after the U.S. Civil War.

Amen and Hallelujah.

By Timothy

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