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72CIVIL WAR HISTORY The SableArm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865. By Dudley Taylor Cornish. Foreword by Herman Hattaway. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987. Pp. xviii, 342. $25.00, cloth; $9.95, paper.) At least since 1643 when Abraham Pearse, a "blackamore," took up arms in defense of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Afro-Americans have been active participants in the nation's wars. Throughout much of the nation's first century-and-a-half, blacks viewed military service as a means of proving their patriotism and of achieving for all black Americans more equitable, humane treatment at the hands of the dominant society. Though willing for blacks to share the risks of war when manpower needs became acute, white Americans have rarely been willing for them to share in its glory and even less inclined to reward them with "a white man's chance" in either civilian or military life. In 1898, shortly after black soldiers received five Medals of Honor and more than twenty Certificates of Merit for their performance in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War, a black observer predicted quite accurately that the nation would be "quick to forget that the first man to go to the crest of San Juan hill was a Negro, just as the fact has been forgotten that the first man who died in the American Revolution was a black man." The usual practice, he claimed, was to grant black soldiers passing notice, then allow them to become lost "in that sublime Americanism that forgets all that the Negro does but his crimes." So long as the official actions and policies of the military establishment reflected the racist attitudes of American society, Afro-American soldiers continued to besubjected to varying degrees of discrimination and exploitation . So long as racist presuppositions inspired a Jim Crow historiography , the record of their military contributions also suffered from distortion, misrepresentation, and omission. Until after World War II, standard histories as well as specialized monographs dealing with the national military experience tended to be a part of that historiographical motif. Eight years after President Harry S. Truman ordered an end to racial discrimination in the United States armed forces in 1948, Dudley Taylor Cornish, a thirty-year-old veteran of World War II, who had acquired a Ph.D. degree in history from the University of Colorado and begun his teaching career at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, published The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Longmans, Green, 1956). It was perhaps both revealing and significant that Cornish dedicated his volume to Eustace, a friendly, fair-complexioned Negro whom he had met on his first day in the army but who, much to Cornish's dismay, was transferred to a Jim Crow unit as soon as his black ancestry was discovered. Not only based upon impressive research in a wide range of materials, including previously untapped archival sources, but also written with grace and clarity, Cornish's volume won universal BOOK REVIEWS73 praise at the time of publication. After a period of thirty years, during which it has been read, cited and used as a model, The Sable Arm has achieved the richly deserved status of a classic. Much of what is today considered conventional knowledge about the role of blacks in the Civil War can be traced to Cornish's pioneer study. As befits a path-breaking work of the quality of The SableArm, the University Press of Kansashas reissued the volume with an incisive foreword by Herman Hattaway and a bibliographic update by the author. As the author of The Sable Arm recognized, the Civil War occupied a unique place in the military history of black Americans because, for the first time, they became a part of the American military establishment and won permanently the right to fight in the army of the United States. In recounting how these momentous achievements occurred, Cornish went far toward correcting the déficiences, myths, and misconceptions about the role of black soldiers in the war that saved the union and freed the slaves. In Cornish's view, the Civil War was a "prodigious revolution " for black Americans who, unwilling to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 72-75
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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