COLORED TROOPS IN UNITED STATES HISTORY


UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS


Before Fort Sumter, South Carolina was fired upon on April 12, 1861, seven states in the deep south had seceded from the Union, and a Convention was held in Montgomery, Alabama which adopted a Constitution and elected Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America. Shortly thereafter, four more states seceded, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Slave states remaining in the Union were Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware.


President Abraham Lincoln began to prepare to put down what he thought would be a minor insurrection with little opposition by blockading Confederate Ports and calling for 75,000 volunteers. Thousands flocked to the recruiting centers in the north as well as certain areas in the south controlled by Federals forces. Among the prospective volunteers were thousands of free Blacks in the north and newly escaped slaves in the south. The Blacks were told that this was a “White man’s war” and their services were not needed. A request was made to Governor David Tod (Todd) of Ohio who rejected the idea by echoing President Lincoln’s position and stating that “this is a White man’s government and that they were able to defend and protect it.”


As strategies were being developed on both sides and battle lines were drawn during the latter part of 1861 and into 1862, President Lincoln and the War Department realized that they had vastly underestimated the strength and determination of the Confederates forces, but refused to alter its policy. During this period, heavy casualties were suffered on both side with the Confederate being the victors in many campaigns.


At Bull Run (Manassas), Virginia, the Union forces were defeated in July 1861. Less than a month later on August 10th the Confederates recorded another victory at Wilson’s Creek, Missouri.


In early 1862, the Confederates claimed a big victory in the West with the defeat of Union Forces at Valerde, New Mexico on February 21, followed by the near defeat of Union forces on April 6 and 7 under General Ulysses S. Grant at Shiloh Church and Pittsburg Landing, Tenn. Each side suffered 10,000 casualties including Confederate General A.S. Johnston. And then came the defeat of Union forces at Shenandoah Valley on May 8, and the single bloodiest day of the war where both sides fought to grisly standstill at Antietam, 6,000 were killed and 17,000 wounded. Of course there were many other battles during this period where both sides claimed victory and suffered heavy losses.


Throughout this period, President Lincoln steadfastly refused to alter his policy on enlisting men of African descent. He was attempting to save or preserve the Union without dealing with the question of slavery and he did not want to alienate the border slave states that remained in the Union. However, groups including some military commanders defied the policy or lack of policy in regard to utilizing a readily available force.


In Cleveland, Ohio a newly organized military corps of Blacks declared that they were ready to do battle “as in times of 1776 and the days of 1812.” In New York City, blacks formed a military club. The first organization of blacks took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, a pro-slavery city in which prejudice was cruelly manifested. The Black Brigade was organized and due to the irate attitude of the White citizens was forced to disband shortly thereafter. The Proprietor of the place selected as the recruiting station was forced to remove the American flag. The Proprietor of another meeting place was told by the police: “We want you damned niggers to keep out of this; this is a white man’s war.”


The most persistent advocate of arming blacks was the outspoken abolitionist Frederick Douglass, probably the greatest black leader this country has ever had. “Colored men,” he complained, “were good enough to fight under Washington, but they are not good enough to fight under McClellan.” He further stated: “The side which first summons the Negro to its aid will conquer.”


Thousands of fugitive slaves flooded the Union lines wherever federal forces penetrated new areas in the south. Without a general governmental policy, many commanders tried to send the fugitive back to their masters, forbaded them to enter Union lines, or permitted masters and their agents