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THE CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE OF A UNION BLACK SOLDIER'S MUTINY AND EXECUTION Howard C. Westwood 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 the blacks' relative involvement in the most serious military crime. It seems strange that so disproportionate a number mutinously defied the authority that had become engaged in ending slavery. The first black to be executed for mutiny was William Walker, a sergeant of Company A of the Third South Carolina Colored Infantry. He was charged with leading his company in a strike which protested that the rate of pay to black troops was less than the pay to whites. Rarely have historians done more than note the event.2 More is merited. However risky it may be to generalize from an instance, the Walker story aids in tracing our society's stumbling advance from slavery toward freedom. Walker, twenty-three years old when he was enlisted in the spring of 1863, was one of the host of slaves who had come under Union dominion in November 1861 in the Port Royal, South Carolina, area.3 Early I am most indebted to Dr. Elaine Everly, of the National Archives, for perceptive guidance. 1 List of U.S. Soldiers Executed by United States Military Authorities during the Late War (Adj. Gen. Office, 1885). Blacks are listed on pp. 8-11. 2 Of historians' references, The Black Military Experience, 1861-1867 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), edited by Ira Berlin, is almost alone in doing more than noting the event. After a summary account on pp. 365-66 it provides some documentation on pp. 388-95. 3 Walker's age appears in the list of initial enlistments, Apr. 24, 1863, of Co. A, 3d South Carolina Colored Volunteers, (hereafter cited as List, Co. A, 3d S.C.) in U.S. Colored Troops, 21st Infantry, Regimental Descriptive, Letter and Endorsement Book, Office of the Adj. Gen., RG 94, Nat. Arch, (hereafter cited as 21st USCT, Reg. Des.). In Civil War Historv, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, ©1985 by The Kent State University Press MUTINY AND EXECUTION223 in that month a navy/army expedition had occupied Port Royal, roughly midway between Charleston and Savannah. Nearly all the white populace for many miles around fled; most of their thousands of slaves remained. During following months the Union achieved control of the entire coast between the vicinities of Charleston and Savannah, with lodgments also below Savannah and in northeastern Florida. Port Royal itself became a busy naval base for a blockading squadron. And, with managers and teachers brought from the North, the Treasury Department organized and launched a program to establish for the blacks a selfsustaining life of freedom on the rich coastal plantations. The program became known to history as the Port Royal Experiment. In June 1862 Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent Rufus Saxton, newly promoted from captain to brigadier general, as military governor, to lead Port Royal's orderly development and government.4 Employment by the army, the navy, and the Port Royal Experiment had opened great opportunities for South Carolina blacks. Walker, though illiterate, possessed unusual ability and found employment as a civilian gunboat pilot with the navy.5 By the spring of 1863 he and his fellow South Carolinians had left far behind their old world of slavery. A revolutionary opportunity in their new world was the enlistment of blacks into the armed ranks of the United States Army. Just after General Saxton's arrival in late June 1862 a military crisis in Virginia caused the recall of a large fraction of the Port Royal army. That, in turn, led the secretary of war, in a letter of August 25 to General Saxton , to authorize Saxton to recruit blacks as soldiers, under white officers, specifying that they were to "receive the same pay and rations as are allowed by law to volunteers in the service." This was the first time since the War of 1812 that the United States government had allowed any but white men in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 222-236
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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