Black Canadians fought in the American Civil War

Brief article (though supporting a much more indepth book) by a Canadian professor on the black Canadians who fought for the Union cause.  I’d been reading earlier this week about escaped slaves in Canada signing up for militia units to protect their new homes. This is an interesting counterpiece.

The black recruits who joined did so for many reasons. Anderson Abbott, the first Canadian-born black doctor, believed most fought to give “the world a higher conception of the value of human liberty.” Others were caught up in the excitement and adventure. Money also played a role, for by 1863 a knowledgeable recruit could earn hundreds of dollars in bounties or substitute fees.

Most of the African Canadians volunteering came from a hardscrabble working-class background and were supporting elderly parents, wives and children. The enlistment money allowed their dependants some financial security in their absence.

The timing of the black enlistment, however, suggests that one factor — fair treatment — was paramount. Some African Canadians volunteered as soon as black regiments began recruiting. Their numbers peaked in January 1864 and then slowed to a trickle by April, likely a result of Canadian black communities learning that some black regiments were being treated as second-class soldiers and assigned excessive fatigue duties and menial work. Canadian papers also carried reports of Confederate atrocities where black prisoners were cut down in cold blood.

via How black Canadians fought for liberty in the American Civil War.

Unfriendly Fires

Like Wisconsin, Indiana was a Union-heavy state that contributed much in the way of men to the cause. They didn’t contribute many colored troops, though, because according to this article Indiana was quite hostile to blacks.  There is even the rumor of native black troops being poisoned.

The young Townsend, from Putnam County, bought a pie from a peddler selling them in Camp Fremont in Indianapolis where the 28th USCT was mustered in.

“I don’t know for sure, but the abolitionist press reports lots of stories in the Civil War about people deliberately selling poisoned foods to black troops,” Etcheson said. “He gets really ill and has to go back to Putnamville, where he dies in the spring of 1865. I don’t know what the illness was, but pension records link it to the pie.”

via Ball State prof asks: Was black Civil War soldier from Indiana poisoned in 1865?.


This article isn’t particularly well written, but it did answer a question I had upon first reading it: Black troops got no bounty rewards, so I suppose there were no black substitutes.

Before the war would end, 180,000 blacks would take up guns and battle for their freedom.

But, while recruitment was easy at first, it grew harder. Even though they were accepted as soldiers, blacks were not given a fair shake, and potential volunteers knew it. Blacks could not serve as commissioned officers, for instance: For the next several score of years, they would always be ordered around by whites. They received less pay than their Caucasian counterparts and also were denied the sign-up bounty that whites received.

Worst of all, the Confederacy threatened to execute or enslave every black man captured and to execute every white officer over them.

Even Douglass quit trying to raise troops until he was convinced Lincoln was doing something to solve these issues.

via Bill Hand: The first black troops in the Civil War weren’t always easy to recruit – Local Columns – Sun Journal.

It’s Heeeeere!

I’m in under the wire of my deadline, but I can proudly say I’ve checked a resolution off my list already: The first ever Civil War Podcast is ready to go! (Take that, 2013!)

To marvel at my lucid writing and dulcet tones (I know, I know – I am an admitted amateur!) click the Podcast tab in the menu bar, then the January link. Clicking on the “0101 the emancipation proclamation 1” link on the January page will download a copy of the audio file to your hard drive.*

The topic is, as you can no doubt guess, the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed on this day in 1863. Much like Lincoln, I was slow to get moving on the topic, but as I’m sure Salmon Chase would say of me, “so you see, the woman moves.

Sadly, I decided to scale back my podcasty undertaking from a daily podcast to a weekly one (frankly, it takes a lot longer to research, write and record a 6 minute podcast than you’d think) but I hope you enjoy the presentation, which includes a piano intro/outro of “We Are Coming Through the Cotton Fields”, performed by my good friend, Tom Nagy. Hopefully his lovely playing will offset my monotone.

*I need to find a solution for embedding the link without incurring hosting surcharges. Podcasting is not a cheap hobby!

Shadows of History Exhibit

Civil War buffs in Washington, DC have another month and a half to partake in the Corcoran Gallery’s Shadows of History exhibition.

The photographs capture a wide range of subjects, from geographical views, landscapes, and portraits of soldiers and officers at rest, to the death and destruction in the aftermath of battles. Photographs by George Barnard, Issac H. Bonsall, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, James F. Gibson, Frederick F. Gutekunst, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Andrew J. Russell, D. B. Woodbury, and others, are included. A special emphasis of the collection is rare imagery of African American regiments and their underappreciated role in the war.

That’s quite the roll call of photographers, and the Colored Troops shots would be fascinating. I think I’ve seen the same 5 USCT photos a hundred times!

A True Story

I’m filing this under “memoirs”, regardless of the fact that it’s a Twain piece. Despite the huge coincidence at the crux of it, huge coincidences weren’t unusual in the war, and anyways it certainly feels real. You almost feel as though you’re sitting on the porch with Aunt Rachael as she tells it.

“Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?”

She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was a moment of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder toward me, and said, without even a smile in her voice: –

“Misto C –, is you in ‘arnest?”

It surprised me a good deal; and it sobered my manner and my speech, too. I said: –

“Why, I thought – that is, I meant – why, you can’t have had any trouble. I’ve never heard you sigh, and never seen your eye when there wasn’t a laugh in it.”

She faced fairly around, now, and was full of earnestness.

“Has I had any trouble? Misto C –, I’s gwyne to tell you, den I leave it to you…

Pre-Glory Glory

I’m catching up on Disunion articles I missed, and this one was very interesting. Everyone knows about the Colored Troops’ admission to the Union Army, but it never occurred to me that blacks were fighting before that, or that the Navy was totally desegregated.

Still, some black men managed to join the Northern forces. In October 1861 William H. Johnson of Company V, Second Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers, wrote to the Pine and Palm, a New York City black paper, describing army life in Virginia: “The proscribed [black] Americans, (and there are many), attached to this regiment” had even formed their own association, the “Self-Defenders of Connecticut.” Presumably, the need for able-bodied men convinced some officers to look the other way when it came to rules about who could and couldn’t fight.

Similarly, beginning in November 1861 George E. Stewart, the son of a former slave exiled from Virginia after Nat Turner’s Rebellion, sent correspondence from his unit in Maryland to another black paper, the Anglo-African. The younger Stewart made his way to the infantry by joining the Navy, which had always accepted black sailors, and then transferring to a land unit when the opportunity arose.

The Civil War’s Race Legacy

Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the reckoning of Civil War history as a black man schooled in the non-violence techniques of the Civil Rights era.

On a more specific level, the Civil War presents something of an ideological challenge. Old school nationalists may well identify with black men literally fighting for their freedom–but the fact that those soldiers were doing so under the American flag, and are an exceptional chapter in the American martial tradition presents a problem. Old school integrationists, can except that latter portion, but the fact that 180,000 black people took up guns presents a deep challenge to the notion that black freedom was achieved nonviolently. On the contrary freedom was most literally achieved through the reception and infliction of horrific violence, and completed through the utter rejection of that violence. Perhaps that’s the point.

Black Troops in the Confederacy

NPR unearthed an interesting story on a very rare, newly-inducted United Daughter of the Confederacy.

Mattie Clyburn Rice, 88, spent years searching through archives to prove her father was a black Confederate. As she leafs through a notebook filled with official-looking papers, Rice stops to read a faded photocopy with details of her father’s military service.

“At Hilton Head while under fire of the enemy, he carried his master out of the field of fire on his shoulder, that he performed personal service for Robert E. Lee. That was his pension record,” Rice says.