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Old April 12th, 2013, 08:17 PM   #1

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The United States Colored Troops


By the last year of the American Civil War, 200,000 African-Americans in 175 regiments were fighting in the United States Army, making up roughly ten percent of its manpower. Ulysses S Grant and William T. Sherman were both of the opinion that their participation was crucial to the Union victory in the War.

Individual blacks fought on both sides during the War on an 'unofficial' basis, but 'colored regiments' were first recruited in the Union Army in 1862. Despite initial doubts, these regiments generally proved to be made of good stuff, carrying the day at a number of battles. Regiments of the USCT fought throughout the Petersburg Campaign, and were also at Nashville, Appomattox Courthouse, and elsewhere.

There were other black units outside of the USCT (which was formally disbanded in 1866). These included the Corps d'Afrique, recruited from black Louisianan militiamen, and at least four regiments of volunteers - three from Massachusetts and one from Connecticut. The 54th Massachusetts won fame - and heavy losses - at Ft. Wagner in July of 1863, as seen in Glory.

Click the image to open in full size.

^^ Soldiers of the 4th US Colored Infantry Regiment
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Old April 13th, 2013, 02:57 AM   #2

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The role of the USCT is often overlooked. Even though racial prejudices kept them from being used to their fullest potential, they had a significant impact on the war. Here's what Lincoln said about them in a public letter to a skeptic:

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"I know as fully as one can know the opinions of others, that some of the commanders of our armies in the field who have given us our most important successes, believe the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion; and that, at least one of those important successes, could not have been achieved when it was, but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the commanders holding these views are some who have never had any affinity with what is called abolitionism, or with republican party politics; but who hold them purely as military opinions. I submit these opinions as being entitled to some weight against the objections, often urged, that emancipation, and arming the blacks, are unwise as military measures, and were not adopted, as such, in good faith.

You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then, exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes.

I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive—even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept.

The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great North-West for it. Nor yet wholly to them. Three hundred miles up, they met New-England, Empire, Key-Stone, and Jersey, hewing their way right and left. The Sunny South too, in more colors than one, also lent a hand. On the spot, their part of the history was jotted down in black and white. The job was a great national one; and let none be banned who bore an honorable part in it. And while those who have cleared the great river may well be proud, even that is not all. It is hard to say that anything has been more bravely, and well done, than at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and on many fields of lesser note. Nor must Uncle Sam's Web-feet be forgotten. At all the watery margins they have been present. Not only on the deep sea, the broad bay, and the rapid river, but also up the narrow muddy bayou, and wherever the ground was a little damp, they have been, and made their tracks. Thanks to all. For the great republic—for the principle it lives by, and keeps alive—for man's vast future,—thanks to all.

Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost. And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it."

- Abraham Lincoln, August 26, 1863

Source: Public Letter to James Conkling (August 26, 1863)?Miller Center
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Old April 13th, 2013, 04:43 AM   #3

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I think it was actually a strategic error to not make more use of the USCTs on the frontlines in 1864; the Union troops, particularly in the Army of the Potomac, were either green units or veterans with expiring enlistments who had little incentive to risk getting killed. The USCTs may have been green as well, but they had much better morale than many of the other new recruits in 1864.
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Old April 13th, 2013, 04:55 AM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Viperlord View Post
I think it was actually a strategic error to not make more use of the USCTs on the frontlines in 1864; the Union troops, particularly in the Army of the Potomac, were either green units or veterans with expiring enlistments who had little incentive to risk getting killed. The USCTs may have been green as well, but they had much better morale than many of the other new recruits in 1864.
Can't forget the catastrophe that resulted at the Petersburg crater when the USCT regiment slated to lead the assault was replaced at the last minute by some untrained, badly led white troops.
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Old April 13th, 2013, 05:27 AM   #5
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Even that we today in our very sober political environment would like to glorify the black importance in the civil war, they were of very marginal importance overall.
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Old April 13th, 2013, 05:43 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Viperlord View Post
I think it was actually a strategic error to not make more use of the USCTs on the frontlines in 1864; the Union troops, particularly in the Army of the Potomac, were either green units or veterans with expiring enlistments who had little incentive to risk getting killed. The USCTs may have been green as well, but they had much better morale than many of the other new recruits in 1864.
Agreed. The oft-overlooked Battle of New Market Heights was a clear demonstration of that morale and determination.

But although it may have been a strategic error not to put more USCT troops in combat, it was a political reality. Most white Americans just didn't believe that blacks would make good soldiers. They had to prove themselves first, which, when given the chance, they did. Here's what a Union officer, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, had to say about black soldiers in his diary:

Quote:
"The Second R.I. behaved splendidly, and I am very proud of them. We lost seven men. A division of colored soldiers charged over the same ground but were driven back. They fought well and left many dead on the field... I have not been much in favor of colored soldiers, but yesterday's work convinced me that they will fight. So Hurrah for the colored troops!" - Elisha Hunt Rhodes, June 19, 1864

Source: All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes - Elisha Hunt Rhodes - Google Books
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Old April 13th, 2013, 09:39 AM   #7

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Originally Posted by Kessler View Post
Even that we today in our very sober political environment would like to glorify the black importance in the civil war, they were of very marginal importance overall.
Actually, by the end of the war a full 1 in 10 Union soldiers was African American and they were important enough that some historians credit them with being the deciding factor in the outcome of the war.
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Old April 13th, 2013, 09:47 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Salah View Post
By the last year of the American Civil War, 200,000 African-Americans in 175 regiments were fighting in the United States Army, making up roughly ten percent of its manpower. Ulysses S Grant and William T. Sherman were both of the opinion that their participation was crucial to the Union victory in the War.

Individual blacks fought on both sides during the War on an 'unofficial' basis, but 'colored regiments' were first recruited in the Union Army in 1862. Despite initial doubts, these regiments generally proved to be made of good stuff, carrying the day at a number of battles. Regiments of the USCT fought throughout the Petersburg Campaign, and were also at Nashville, Appomattox Courthouse, and elsewhere.

There were other black units outside of the USCT (which was formally disbanded in 1866). These included the Corps d'Afrique, recruited from black Louisianan militiamen, and at least four regiments of volunteers - three from Massachusetts and one from Connecticut. The 54th Massachusetts won fame - and heavy losses - at Ft. Wagner in July of 1863, as seen in Glory.

Click the image to open in full size.

^^ Soldiers of the 4th US Colored Infantry Regiment
They were very much like white soldiers of the day, except they were angels descended from heaven because they were not white. The ridiculious steps we use to deify any black contribution and to demonize any white contribution are pathetic.
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Old April 13th, 2013, 09:55 AM   #9

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I ask this is simple terms only: "Was it legal to use former slaves, and clothe them in US uniforms, in the US Army since they were not legally US citizens at the time?"
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Old April 13th, 2013, 10:05 AM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
They were very much like white soldiers of the day, except they were angels descended from heaven because they were not white. The ridiculious steps we use to deify any black contribution and to demonize any white contribution are pathetic.
I think acknowledging that 200,000 blacks fought for the North, and around 30,000 of them died for it is hardly any kind of pathetic demonization of their white comrades.

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Originally Posted by tjadams View Post
I ask this is simple terms only: "Was it legal to use former slaves, and clothe them in US uniforms, in the US Army since they were not legally US citizens at the time?"
I suppose as 'contraband' of war the government could do whatever it wished with them
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