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Book Reviews EDITED BY CHARLES T. MILLER B-Il University Hall Iowa City, Iowa The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865. By Dudley Taylor Cornish. (New York: Longmans, Green. 1956. Pp. xiii, 337. $6.00.) MR. CORNISH'S IS THE FIBST EXTENSIVE HISTORICAL CONSIDERATION SUlCe 1888 given Negro troops in the Union Armies, and as such it is a significant contribution to studies both of American history and of the social progress and cultured development of the American Negro. The establishment of American Negroes as fighting troops in the Civil War was a gradual and difficult task, as this book reveals. Public sentiment, military logic, and even the Lincoln administration forbade such procedure until near the end of the war, when setting up Negro troops seemed advisable and, in some instances, necessary. During the first half of the war there was great conflict over the matter of giving military status to Negro troops. Mr. Cornish traces this period in faithful detail, providing an authoritative and highly interesting account of the difficulties involved. While many Northerners sympathized with the enslaved Negroes in the South, there were also many who felt that the Negro no more had a place in the Union Army than he did in contemporary society. Indeed, early in the war —before the advent of the Negro soldier—New York City witnessed race riots and other displays of violence, and the feeling of prejudice was reflected elsewhere . As for the military, most leaders thought that Negro soldiers were not only out of place but also unnecessary. And those leaders who were willing to give the Negro military status and train him for batde usually were thwarted by administrative decisions. President Lincoln, for one, felt that the sensitive border states would secede and join the Confederacy if Negro troops were committed to combat in the Northern armies, and he wanted at all costs to keep those states in the Union. This attitude gradually weakened, but it was not until the middle period of the war that Negroes were allowed to participate in the Civil War as soldiers. 93 94CIVIL WAB HISTORY Of special interest is the episode concerning die Union's General David Hunter , who in March, 1862, was placed in command of die Sea Islands along die Southern coast. Almost immediately General Hunter began making plans for training and arming Negroes. One of his first moves was his decree (issued witfiout Lincoln's knowledge and later declared void) that "persons in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, heretofore held as slaves, are . . . declared forever free." Without further delay General Hunter began die conscription which later made him infamous, ordering his district commanders to send to his headquarters all available able-bodied Negroes. As aresult, many Negroes were forced to leave their homes and join Hunter's troops. This measure embittered both the Negroes and the administration, but the persistent general made several more attempts to establish the first Negro regiment in the Union army. His methods were crude and eventually he lost his fight with Congress on this issue, but the fact remains that he succeeded in bringing the matter to public attention. Lorenzo Thomas, Owen Lovejoy, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, James Montgomery , and James Beecher were others who helped decrease racial barriers, and each is given due attention in this volume. As Mr. Cornish unravels the problem, he adopts a conversational tone (a refreshing technique in historical literature ) which carries with it the implication that the author actually knew all these men. What the fluent tone really means, probably, is that the author's research was so extensive that he writes about these men with direct, intimate, verifiable assurance. Similar techniques have often failed in other works, but Mr. Cornish has eminendy succeeded. The author's major emphasis is given to the actual setting up of Negro battalions duringthe later waryears, and much space is devoted to the smaller problems that arose after Negroes were accepted as combat troops. One point not fully exploited by the author, however, is the Negro's viewpoint of the war and of the various situations in which he found himself. True, there are a few references to his general attitude...


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