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Black Troops, White Commanders and Freedmen during the Civil War

Howard C. Westwood

Publication Year: 1991

Recounting the experiences of black soldiers in the Civil War


In the ten probing essays collected in this volume, Howard C. Westwood recounts the often bitter experiences of black men who were admitted to military service and the wrenching problems associated with the shifting status of African Americans during the Civil War.

Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War covers topics ranging from the roles played by Lincoln and Grant in beginning black soldiery to the sensitive issues that arose when black soldiers (and their white officers) were captured by the Confederates. The essays relate the exploits of black heroes such as Robert Smalls, who singlehandedly captured a Confederate steamer, as well as the experiences of the ignoble Reverend Fountain Brown, who became the first person charged with violating the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although many thousands were enlisted as soldiers, blacks were barred from becoming commissioned officers and for a long time they were paid far less than their white counterparts. These and other blatant forms of discrimination understandably provoked discontent among black troops which, in turn, sparked friction with their white commanders. Westwood's fascinating account of the artillery company from Rhode Island amply demonstrates how frustrations among black soldiers came to be seen as "mutiny" by some white officers.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page

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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

"I HAVE no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists," said President Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address. "I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination...

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pp. xi

THE AUTHOR is most indebted and deeply grateful to Dr. Elaine Everly and to Mr. Michael Musick of the National Archives for their generous and most perceptive guidance to his research in the preparation of the articles that make up the...

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1. Lincoln's Position on Black Enlistments

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pp. 1-20

WHAT part was played by Abraham Lincoln in making soldiers of black men? There always had been blacks in the United States Navy. But the army long had been pure white, and so it was at the Civil War's beginning, not because Congress had required it but because...

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2. Grant's Role in Beginning Black Soldiery

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pp. 21-36

As THE sun rose on the year 1863 Ulysses S. Grant had failed dismally in a move toward Vicksburg. Washington was so unsure of him that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent an agent, Charles A. Dana, to keep an eye on him. But when the sun...

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3. Benjamin Butler's Enlistment of Black Troops in New Orleans in 1862

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pp. 37-54

IT IS well nigh the fashion to brand Benjamin F. Butler as a self-seeking opportunist. Notable among the chapters in his career felt to reveal that character was his command at New Orleans from May to December 1862. Significant in that...

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4. Generals David Hunter and Rufus Saxton and Black Soldiers

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pp. 55-73

"HUNTER was not suited to the work and ... Rufus Saxton was." That, says Dudley Cornish in his superb Sable Arm, probably was the "conviction" of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that caused him to refuse to recognize a regiment of blacks recruited by...

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5. Mr Smalls: A Personal Adventure

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pp. 74-85

"0NE OF the most heroic acts of the war," reported the New York Times on May 19, 1862. Later, the commander of the Union navy along the South Atlantic coast, Rear Adm. Samuel F. DuPont, pronounced it "one of the coolest and most...

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6. Captive Black Union Soldiers in Charleston-What to Do?

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pp. 86-105

"THIRTEEN prisoners Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, black. What shall I do with them?" That message, hastily penned by Confederate Gen. Johnson Hagood on the night of July 16, 1863, near the beginning of the Union attack on Fort...

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7. Sherman Marched-and Proclaimed "Land for the Landless"

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pp. 106-124

WHEN General William Tecumseh Sherman undertook to march from Atlanta to the sea we may be sure that it never occurred to him that he would create a heated controversy over whether black men or white men would own thousands of...

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8. The Cause and Consequence of a Union Black Soldier's Mutiny and Execution

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pp. 125-141

OF THE nineteen Union soldiers executed by the Union army for mutiny committed during the Civil War, fourteen were blacks.1 Since the war was half over before the army began extensive enlistment of blacks, those figures understate...

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9. Company A of Rhode Island's Black Regiment: Its Enlisting, Its "Mutiny," Its Pay, Its Service

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pp. 142-166

ON MARCH 17, 1864, the men of a company of a Rhode Island black regiment were assembled for a roll call. On the call, all but one noncom stood mute. But in just a few minutes, after a quick exchange between one of the officers and one...

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10. The Reverend Fountain Brown: Alleged Violator of the Emancipation Proclamation

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pp. 167-182

THE FIRST conviction for violating the Emancipation Proclamation to come to the president for his review was that of Fountain Brown, an esteemed preacher and elder of the Methodist Episcopal church in Arkansas. Browns' alleged crime...


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pp. 183-189

Author Bios

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pp. 190

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386963
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328819

Publication Year: 1991