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FREE MEN OF COLOR IN GREY Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. A NUMBEROFwriters have studied the use ofblacks as soldiers by the Union and Confederate governments during die American Civil War. Most of these works have focused on the Union army since it employed large numbers of black soldiers during the conflict. When the authors do cover the Confederate side, they usually limit their coverage to the free blacks of New Orleans who formed a regiment of"Native Guards" for the Louisiana militia and to efforts late in the war to employ slaves as soliders.1 Various Southern states enacted legislation accepting free blacks as laborers or in other noncombat roles, but until early 1865, the official policy of the Confederate government prohibited blacks from serving as armed soldiers.2 Scholars who have investigated the role of blacks in the Confederate armies usually have described only the body servants who occasionally picked up a weapon during a battle, though several writers have discussed the largely unsubstantiated cases of slaves serving in other combat situations .3 Two studies which look closely at blacks who aided the Confederate war effort fail to document satisfactorily the enlistment offree blacks as combat soldiers. One of these books exhibits a strong Confederate bias but cannot substantiate its assertion that "many of these [free blacks] were 1 George W. Williams, A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 (New York: Harper & Bros., 1888); Joseph T. Wilson, The Black Phaknx: A History of the Negro Soldiers of the United States (Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1890); Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1955); Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1956); James M. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965). 2 Williams, History of the Negro Troops, 82; Mary Frances Berry, Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868 (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977), 116 n. 12; War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records ofthe Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.C: GPO, 1880-1901), ser. 4, 1:1095, 1111, 2:941; General S. Cooper to Major General Dabney H. Maury, Sept. 28, 1863, Letters and Telegrams. Sent by the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General, 1861-65, chap. 1, vol. 38, p. 458, Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, National Archives. 3 Charles H. Wesley, "The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army," Journal of Negro History 4 (1919): 243; J. K. Obatala, "The Unlikely Story of Blacks Who Were Loyal to Dixie," Smithsonian 9 (1979): 94-101. Civil War History, Vol. XXXII, No. 3, ©1986 by The Kent State University Press 248CIVIL WAR HISTORY in active war participation."* In dealing with "the question as to whether or not any Negroes ever fought in the Confederate ranks," Professor Bell I. Wiley found no firm evidence to say that they did. He concluded, "If persons with Negro blood served in Confederate ranks as full-fledged soldiers, the per cent ofNegro blood was sufficiently lowfor them to pass as whites."5 Contrary to Professor Wiley's contention, a number of Louisiana free blacks did serve as soldiers, and their white comrades in arms did know them to be "free men ofcolor." Some fifteen hundred or more New Orleans free blacks made up the First Regiment Louisiana Native Guards. Free blacks in several country parishes of the state organized themselves into military companies. Professor John D. Winters has estimated that nearly three thousand free blacks had volunteered for militia duty by early 1862.6 With this many men in militia service, it seemed reasonable that a few individuals could have seen combat duty. In researching this theory, I documented fifteen free blacks who volunteered for and served in regular Confederate units as privates. Twelve of these men enlisted in Louisiana volunteer regiments, two in a home guard or reserve unit, and one in a Texas cavalry unit. Three of the first twelve fought in several battles, and two of the three received wounds. This manuscript will summarize the military service of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 247-255
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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