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THE



NEGRO AS A SOLDIER



IN THE



WAR OF THE REBELLION.



BY

NORWOOD P. HALLOWELL,

COLONEL, FIFTY-FIFTH REGIMENT, MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEERS.



Read before the Military Historical Society op
Massachusetts, January 5, 1892.



BOSTON:
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

1897.






Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

The Institute of Museum and Library Services through an Indiana State Library LSTA Grant



http://www.archive.org/details/negroassoldierin3955hall



THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER



IN THE



WAR OF THE REBELLION.




Rebecca,
a slave girl from new orleans



THE



NEGRO AS A SOLDIER



IN THE



WAR OF THE REBELLION.



BY

NORWOOD P. HALLOWELL,

COLONEL, FIFTY-FIFTH BEGIMENT, MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEERS.



Read before the Military Historical Society of
Massachusetts, January 5, 1892.



BOSTON:
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

1897.



Copyright, 1897,
By N. P. Halloweix.



John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.



THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER



IN THE



WAR OF THE REBELLION.



Once upon a time, at our old home in Philadelphia,
there were two little girls whose names were Rebecca
and Rosa. They had Caucasian features, an abundance
of long wavy hair, and complexions that were suggestive
merely of a clime sunnier than our own. Taking one of
their hands into your own, your eye might have discovered
at the ringer tips a color of a darker hue than the other
parts. It was the fatal single drop of negro blood that
cursed the whole beautiful fabric and made it possible for
these children to be fugitive slaves. Hid away in the
barn of our country residence was another fugitive, — a
tall, lithe, muscular man, black as anthracite, Daniel
Dangerfield by name, now forgotten no doubt, but then
enjoying for a brief period a national reputation. The
police force of Philadelphia was watching for that man.
The detectives looked mysterious as they went about on
their false scents and failed to see our Daniel as he passed
on to the next station of the Underground Railroad, com-
fortably seated in my mother's carriage, the curtains
drawn, my brother Edward on the box quite ready to use



2 THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER

his five-shooter ; and a younger brother in the less heroic
part of driver.

These fugitive-slave scenes, once so familiar, are recalled
because, to appreciate correctly the military significance of
the arming of citizens of African descent, it is necessary to
forget for the moment the great " Amendments," and to
remember the old times. To estimate the colored man
as a soldier it is essential to recall his status before the
war, for the reason that his previous condition of slavery
in the South, and his social, political, commercial and
religious ostracism in the North, ought naturally, and in
fact does do somewhat, to interpret his qualities when
bearing arms. The subject is complex. The character-
istics of the English are such that the expression, an
"English soldier," conveys a distinct idea; the words, a
" German soldier," at once suggest a well-defined picture.
To say simply a " French soldier " gives still another well-
understood type. A " negro soldier " or " colored soldier "
conveys, no doubt, to most minds some similar plain
meaning ; but is the impression made necessarily a correct
one ? Is not the expression " a colored soldier " as vague
as the expression " a white soldier " ? I think it is. Had
we only to deal with the thick-lipped negro of Congo, the
subject would be simple enough. But we are dealing
now with the soldiers of a people in whose veins is an
admixture of the blood of every nationality that is repre-
sented on this continent. The blood that coursed through
the veins of our little slave girls was, barring the one
fatal drop, the same blood that coursed through the veins
of one of the proud families of Louisiana, — a family that
sent its sons, the white ones, to our New England col-
leges. It was not the same thing — ninety-nine one hun-



IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION. 3

dredths of it was not — that flowed beneath the skin of
Daniel Dangerfield, innocent as he was, apparently, of any
such admixture, and yet it is all called "negro."

Nicholas Said, a private in our Fifty-fifth Massachusetts
Regiment, was a native of Bornou, Eastern Soudan, Central
Africa. He was tattooed on his forehead after the manner
of the ruling class of his tribe. His linguistic ability was
very marked. In the regiment he wrote and spoke flu-
ently the English, French, German and Italian languages ;
while there is no doubt that he was master of Kanouri,
(his vernacular), Mandra, Arabic, Turkish and Russian, —
a total of nine languages. The First Louisiana Native
Guards, mustered into the service at New Orleans, were
recruited from the free colored population of that city.
They are described as men of " property and education, a
self-reliant and intelligent class." " The darkest of them,"
said General Butler, " were about the complexion of the
late Mr. Webster." 1 On the other hand, the First South
Carolina Regiment had not one mulatto in ten, and all
the enlisted men had been slaves.

Such, in part, were the heterogeneous materials that
made up our colored regiments. Obviously, it will not be
safe to draw many arbitrary conclusions and to brand the
whole as distinctively African. Avoiding, however, any
further consideration of the difficulties suggested by
ethnology, let us interpret the colored soldier as best we
may by a partial review of his record in the War of the
Slaveholders' Rebellion. " The war for the Union was
not the first one in which the African fought for the
liberties of our country. Black faces were not uncommon
among the ranks of the patriots in Seventeen hundred

1 Higginson's History of Black Regiments, 1.



4 THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER

Seventy-six. The first man to fall in that struggle was
Crispus Attucks, who led the mob in its attack on the
British troops at the Boston Massacre. At Bunker Hill
j the free negroes fought intermingled with the whites ;
! and when Major Pitcairn was killed, it was by a bullet
**from a negro's rifle. At the battle of Rhode Island,
Colonel Greene's black regiment repulsed three successive
charges, during which they handled a Hessian regiment
severely. In the War of 1812 General Jackson issued a
proclamation authorizing the formation of black regiments,
and subsequently, in an address to the colored troops
thus enlisted, acknowledged their services in unstinted
praise." 1 General Washington, with characteristic caution,
wrote to Henry Laurens : " The policy of our arming
slaves is in my opinion a moot point, unless the enemy set
the example. . . . Besides, I am not clear that a discrimi-
nation will not render slavery more irksome to those who
remain in it." He adds, however, that these are "only
the first crude ideas " that struck him. Alexander Hamil-
ton, on the other hand, gave his unqualified and hearty
support to the measure. " An essential part of the plan,"
he urged, " is to give them their freedom with their
muskets." 2

The first systematic attempt to recruit colored men in
the War of the Rebellion was made by General Hunter at
Hilton Head. His effort was valuable as an example of
how not to do it. Impatient at the slow progress of his
work, he made the fatal mistake of forcing the freedmen
into the ranks. While working on the plantations they
were rudely seized by squads of soldiers and taken into

1 Fox's Regimental Losses, 52,

2 Livermore's Historical Research, 168.



IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION. 5

camp as prisoners. Here they were told by their enemies
that they were to be returned to slavery or sent to Cuba.
There was no mutual confidence between officers and
men. Desertions were numerous, discontent general. In
five months the regiment was disbanded without pay.
One company, however, maintained its organization, doing
some good work by hunting down and driving the rebels
from St. Simon's Island, — a job that had been initiated by
the colored residents of the island themselves. Twenty-
five of these natives had armed themselves, under the
command of one of their own number, whose name was
John Brown. He was ambuscaded and shot dead, prob-
ably the first black man, says Colonel T. W. Higginson,
whose recital I am following, almost literally, who fell
under arms in the war. This was the first armed en-
counter, so far as known, between the rebels and their
former slaves ; and it is worth noticing that the attempt
was a spontaneous thing, and not accompanied by any
white man. The men were not soldiers, nor in uniform.
The rebel leader, one Miles Hazard, and his party made
good their escape. In the following year there was cap-
tured at the railroad station in Jacksonville, Florida, a box
of papers. Among them was a letter from this very
Hazard to a friend describing the perils of that adventure,
and saying, " If you wish to know hell before your time,
go to St. Simon's and be hunted ten days by niggers." 1

The arming of slaves by Major-General Hunter, and a
similar movement initiated by Brigadier-General Phelps at
New Orleans, stirred President Jefferson Davis to the
innermost recesses of his unhappy mind. On August
20th, 1862, he directed that both generals should be no

1 Higginson's History of Black Regiments, 275.



6 THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER

longer held and treated as public enemies of the Confed-
erate States, but as outlaws ; and that in the event of the
capture of either of them, or that of any other commis-
sioned officer employed in drilling, organizing or instructing
slaves, with a view to their armed service in the war, he
should not be regarded as a prisoner of war, but held in
close confinement for execution as a felon at such time and
place as might be ordered. On May 1, 1863, the Con-
federate Congress passed an act which outlawed all com-
missioned white officers who should command negroes or
mulattoes, whether slaves or free, in arms against the Con-
federate States.

The attention of the country at large was first seriously
directed to the consideration of this new element in the
army when Governor John A. Andrew obtained an order
from Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, authorizing
him to organize persons of African descent into separate
corps for the volunteer military service. As a consequence,
a line of recruiting depots, running from Boston to St.
Louis in the West, and to Fortress Monroe in the South,

i was established and maintained to the close of the war.

% Two infantry regiments, the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth,
and one cavalry, the Fifth, were raised, and the ranks kept
at the maximum number ; a good piece of work, involving
an immense amount of labor, which was done mainly by
two citizens of Medford, — George L. Stearns and Richard
P. Hallowell.

Public opinion in the North was either avowedly hostile
to this scheme or entirely sceptical as to its value. In
Philadelphia, recruiting was attended with some little
danger, and with so much annoyance that the place of
rendezvous was kept secret and the squads were marched




A Lacerated Slave.

FROM BATON ROUGE, LA.



IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION. 7

under cover of darkness to the depot. In Ohio it was
considered a good joke to get the "darkies on to Massa-
chusetts," — a joke that was bitterly repented when Ohio
at a later day tried in vain to get those same " darkies "
credited to her quota. In Boston there were contemptu-
ous remarks by individuals from both extremes of society ;
by certain members of a prominent club, who later on
hissed the Fifty-fourth Regiment from their windows as it
marched on its way to the front ; and by a Boston journal
whose editors disgraced their columns with reflections too
vulgar for repetition. There was, too, much good-natured
laughing and harmless joking among other classes. Be-
fore long, however, the prevailing undertone of thought
became thoroughly respectful and kind, while the pecu-
niary aid given was limited only by the amount asked for.
The colored man from the free States as a soldier may
be conveniently and fairly tested by the record of our
Massachusetts regiments, for the reason, as we shall see
later, that those regiments contained every known variety
of citizen of African descent, and were recruited from every
class and condition of colored society. That the Massa-
chusetts regiments were not composed of picked men,
except as to physique, is conclusively shown by the statis-
tics. Those of the Fifty-fifth are here given. Those of
the Fifty-fourth do not materially differ.

Statistics of the Fifty-Fifth Regt. Mass. Vols.

Birthplace.



Maine 1

Vermont 1

Massachusetts .... 22

Rhode Island .... 3

Connecticut 4

New York 23



New Jersey .
Pennsylvania
Maryland .
Virginia . .
North Carolina
Georgia . .



8

139

19

106

30

6



8



THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER



Alabama .
Mississippi
Louisiana .
Arkansas .
Missouri .
Ohio . .
Indiana
Illinois . .
Kentucky .



5






9




S


1




7


1




9


66


District of Columbia .


. 10


222




1


97






56




1


68




. 11



Trades and Occupations.



Farmers 596

Laborers 74

Barbers 3-1

Waiters 50

Cooks 27

Blacksmiths 21

Painters 7

Teamsters 27

Grooms 7

Hostlers 9

Coachmen 3

Coopers 5

Sailors 20



Butchers

Iron-workers ....
Shoemakers ....
Masons and Plasterers .
Brick-makers . . .
Whitewashes . . .
Stonecutters ....
Printers ....

Boatmen

Teachers

Clerks

Porters

Carpenters ....
Wagon-makers . . .

Millers

Engineers



8
2
9
16
3
2
2
3



Firemen . .
Coppersmith .
Machinist . .
Rope-maker .
Fisherman
Tinker . . .
Harness-maker
Caulker
Glass-grinder .
Musician . .
Moulder .
Confectioner .
Tobacco-worker ,
Clergyman
Broom-maker
Baker . . . ,
Student . . ,



No. who had been slaves . 247
No. pure blacks .... 550
No. mixed blood .... 430
No. who could read . . . 477
No. who could read and

write 319

No. church-members . . 52
No. married ..... 219
Average age . . . 231 years
Average height . . 5J ¥ feet x



Every school has its obstreperous boys, every class at
Harvard has its fast men, every regiment in the service had
its hard characters. The problem to be solved in almost

1 Record of the service of the 55th Regiment of Mass. Vols. Infantry,
110 et seq.



IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION. 9

every congregation of men is not so much the care of the
virtuous many as the discipline of the troublesome few.
f Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was not a sentimentalist.
He imposed the strict discipline of the Second Regiment,
from which he came, upon the Fifty-fourth. The men of
a slave regiment required, and in the case of the First
South Carolina received, treatment very different from
that required by mixed regiments like the Fifty-fourth and
Fifty-fifth. In a slave regiment the harsher forms of
punishment were, or ought to have been, unknown, so that
every suggestion of slavery might be avoided. This was
Colonel T. W. Higginson's enlightened method, — the
method of kindness, and it was successful. Colonel
Shaw's method was the method of coercion, and it too
was successful. The unruly members of the Fifty-fourth
and Fifty-fifth were stood on barrels, bucked, gagged and,
if need be, shot ; in fact, treated as white soldiers were in
all well-disciplined regiments. The squads of recruits
which arrived at Readville for the Fifty-fifth could hardly
at first sight have been called picked men. They were
poor and ragged. Upon arrival they were marched to the
neighboring pond, disrobed, washed and uniformed. Their
old clothes were burnt. The transformation was quite
wonderful. The recruit was very much pleased with the
uniform. He straightened up, grew inches taller, lifted,
not shuffled, his feet, began at once to try, and to try hard,
to take the position of the soldier, the facings and other
preliminary drill, so that his ambition to carry " one of
those muskets " might be gratified. When finally he was
entrusted with the responsible duties of a guard, there was
nothing quite so magnificent and, let me add, quite so
reliable, as the colored volunteer. The effect of camp dis-



10 THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER

cipline on his character was very marked. His officers
were gentlemen who understood the correct orthography
and pronunciation of the word "negro." For the first
time in his life he found himself respected, and entrusted
with duties, for the proper performance of which he would
be held to a strict accountability. Crossing the camp
lines by connivance of the guard was almost unknown.
" Running guard " was an experiment too dangerous to
try. The niceties of guard-mounting and guard-duty, the
absolute steadiness essential to a successful dress-parade,
were all appreciated and faithfully observed. The clean-
liness of the barracks and camp grounds at Readville was
a delight. Not a scrap of loose floating paper or stuff
of any kind was permitted. The muskets, the accoutre-
ments, were kept clean and polished. Every one was
interested, every one did his best. The Sunday morning
inspections discovered a degree of perfection that received
much praise from several regular as well as veteran volun-
teer officers. It is not extravagant to say that thousands
of strangers who visited the camp were instantly converted
by what they saw. The aptitude of the colored volunteer
to learn the manual of arms, to execute readily the orders
for company and regimental movements, and his apparent
inability to march out of time at once arrested the atten-
tion of every officer. His power of imitation was great,
his memory for such movements was good, and his ear for
time or cadence perfect. You may call the imitative
power a sign of inferiority, or what you will. We have
now to do with the negro as a soldier, and as such it may
be accurately said that the average colored soldier adapts
himself more readily to the discipline of a camp, and
acquires what is called the drill, in much less time than



IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION. 11

the average white soldier. These characteristics stand
out clear and undisputed by those who have had expe-
rience in both kinds of regiments. Treated kindly and
respectfully, the average colored citizen is the most inof-
fensive of persons. He prefers to get out of rather than
in your way. Innately he is a gentleman. Instinctively
he touches his hat when passing. The requirements of
military discipline were very favorable for the full develop-
ment of these traits, so much so that in the matter of
etiquette and polite manners one felt that he was in com-
mand of a regiment of a thousand men, — each man a
possible Lord Chesterfield.

Fort Wagner.

Fort Wagner was situated on the north end of Morris
Island, Charleston Harbor. It was an enclosed work
constructed of huge timbers and rafters, covered over with
earth and sand, some twenty feet thick. In its bomb-
proof shelter a garrison varying from 750 to 1400 effective
men withstood with trifling loss the bombardment which
lasted almost uninterruptedly night and day for fifty days.
The terrible fire of the Federal land batteries and the
" Ironsides," eight monitors and five gunboats, seemed sure
to tear out the very insides of the fort, but, in fact, simply
excited a lively commotion in the sand. It was sur-
rounded with a ditch and provided with a sluice-gate for re-
taining the high tides. It extended from high-water mark
on the east, six hundred and thirty feet, to Vincent's Creek
and the impassable marshes on the west. It was armed
with eighteen guns of various calibre, of which number, fif-
teen covered the only approach by land, which was along
the beach and was the width of scarcely half a company



12 THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER

front in one place. This approach was swept not only by
the guns of Wagner, but also by those of Battery Gregg on
Curnming's Point, the very northern extremity of the island,
and by those of Sumter, and it was enfiladed by several
heavily-armed batteries on James and Sullivan Islands.

The first assault, in which the colored troops took no
part, was made on the morning of July 11th, 1863.
General Gillmore officially reported : " The parapet was
gained, but the support recoiled under the fire to which
they were exposed, and would not be gotten up." The
second and more famous assault was made at twilight on
the evening of July 18th, by two brigades, the one under
command of Brigadier-General Strong, the other under
Colonel Putnam, and the whole under Brigadier-General
Seymour. The First Brigade was designated to storm the
fort, the Second to support the First. Our Fifty-fourth
Massachusetts led the column. In quick time that de-
voted column went on to its destiny, heedless of the gaps
made in its ranks by the relentless fire of the guns of
Wagner, of Gregg, of Sumter, of James and Sullivan
Islands. When within two hundred yards of the fort,
the fire from the Federal batteries ceased, so that our men
might not be destroyed by it. In an instant the rebel
garrison swarmed from the bomb-proof to the parapet, and
to its artillery was added the compact and destructive fire
of fourteen hundred rifles at two hundred yards' range, a
storm of solid shot, shells, grape, canister and bullets that
annihilated the head of the column and staggered for the
moment the regiments that followed. Something must be
done, and that quickly, or everything would go clown
under that appalling fire. Not with the intoxicated cheer
of men who rush on to victory, but with the reckless



IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION. 13

shout that men give when they lead a forlorn hope, the
two hundred yards were passed, the ditch was crossed, the
parapet was gained, and the State and National colors
planted thereon.

A characteristic of veteran troops is that they cannot
always be made to attempt the seemingly impossible.
Over and over again we read of soldiers tried in many a
campaign, who, though hearing orders, heed them not, but
stand appalled and benumbed. A characteristic of the
white veterans who were engaged in the two assaults on
Wagner was that they " could not be got up," that is to
say in sufficient numbers to push the advantage gained to
complete success. On the second assault fragments of
regiments survived the narrow passage on the beach and
put in an appearance within the fort. Other fragments,
unable to scale the parapet, found shelter by lying down
on the slope of the fort. Colonel John L. Chatfield with
his Sixth Connecticut and fragments of the Fifty-fourth
Massachusetts and other regiments occupied the south-
east bastion. The Thirty -first North Carolina Regiment
(Confederate), which was to have defended that bastion
or salient, demoralized by a new and strange experience,
failed to respond, and remained in the bomb-proof. For
one hour the captured bastion was held against the inces-
sant attacks of the enemy, who now added pikes and
hand grenades to their weapons of defence and assault.
It was a valiant garrison, hard pressed, and was driven,
for a moment, from one side of the work to seek shelter
among the traverses ; but when reinforced from Sumter,
at the critical moment, it triumphed.

Colonel Shaw fell dead upon the parapet. Captains
Russell and Simpkins and other brave men fell while



14 THE NEGRO AS A SOLDIER

keeping the embrasures free from the enemy's gunners and
sweeping the crest of the parapet with their fire. 1 Lieu-
tenant-Colonel Edward N, Hallowell reached the parapet.
Desperately wounded, he rolled into the ditch, was again
hit, and with great difficulty managed to crawl to our
lines. An unknown number of enlisted men were killed
within the fort. Forty enlisted men, including twenty
wounded, were captured within the fort. The State flag,
tied, unfortunately, to the staff with ribbons, was lost.
The staif itself was brought off. The national colors
planted upon the parapet were upheld and eventually
borne off by Sergeant William H. Carney, a heroic man
whose wounds in both legs, in the breast and the right
arm, attest his devotion to his trust. The regiment went
into action with twenty-two officers and six hundred and
fifty enlisted men. Fourteen officers were killed or
wounded. Two hundred and fifty-five enlisted men were
killed or wounded. Prisoners, not wounded, twenty. Total
casualties, officers and men, two hundred and sixty-nine,
or forty per cent. The character of the wounds attest the
nature of the contest. There were wounds from bayonet
thrusts, sword cuts, pike thrusts and hand grenades ; and
there were heads and arms broken and smashed by the


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