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In his pioneering study of emancipation, W. E. B. Du Bois made a provocative assertion about the manner in which African American men earned their freedom. “How extraordinary,” he wrote, “and what a tribute to ignorance and religious hypocrisy, is the fact that in the minds of most people, even those of liberals, only murder makes men.” Reflecting on the relationship between violence, manhood, and freedom, he continued, “The slave pleaded, he was humble; he protected the women of the South, and the world ignored him. The slave killed white men; and behold, he was a man.” Du Bois’s discomfort with the relationship between military service, manhood, and freedom seems at odds with the view held by many people at the time, particularly abolitionists, who imagined the military as not only the most direct path to political equality for African Americans and the swiftest route to slavery’s destruction but also as an indispensible vehicle for the internal transformation of slaves into free men and citizens. Frederick Douglass heralded soldiering as the key to both collective and personal liberation. He reminded a crowd in Philadelphia in 1863 that “slavery can be abolished by white men, but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect.” Confident “in the full belief that the true course to the black man’s freedom and citizenship was over the battlefield,” Douglass worked tirelessly as an army recruiter to convince his fellow African Americans to share in his libratory vision of military service. For Douglass, whose own transformation from slave to free man had begun years earlier when he drew blood in battle with the slave breaker Covey, fighting back enabled black men to break both the physical and mental bonds of slavery. The story of black manhood won on Civil War battlefields became a point of pride for African Americans in the dark days of Jim Crow. Why, then, did Du Bois seem so disenchanted with the glorious narrative of the black Civil War soldier?1

At first glance, Du Bois’s remark sits incongruously among reports of black soldiers’ valiant efforts at Fort Wagner, Milliken’s Bend, and [End Page 369] Petersburg, reminding readers of how “Negroes helped as regular soldiers or laborers in winning the Civil War.” A closer reading, however, reveals a possible source of Du Bois’s consternation: a white officer riding triumphantly through a field littered with the bodies of dead black soldiers and exclaiming, “Gentlemen, the question is settled: negroes will fight.” The realization that black men could only gain whites’ respect by fighting, and that their ultimate worthiness as men and potential citizens could be proven only through their deaths, created a momentary rupture in Du Bois’s signal effort to revise the history of African Americans and their role in bringing about the end of slavery. He neither explains this jolting commentary nor follows its implications for the story he endeavors to tell, which is perhaps why historians have overlooked it. One wonders, however, if in calling out liberals for their “ignorance” and “hypocrisy,” some of us might feel a bit chided for resembling that white officer glorying in the deaths of black men who had already given so much and would continue to give long after the guns of war had officially ceased.2

For the most part, historians have accepted Douglass’s equation of fighting and freedom. Shortly after the war, abolitionist-turned-historian William Wells Brown took the view of the army as a vehicle of black liberation and recounted the important contributions black troops made to the Union victory in The Negro in the American Rebellion: His Heroism and Fidelity.3 Brown’s history was part of a much larger movement to use black military sacrifice as leverage for political rights, particularly voting, which animated many of the postwar debates over Reconstruction on both the national and grassroots levels. The political importance of this history continued after Reconstruction’s disappointing end. In 1922, Carter G. Woodson advanced what has become known more recently as the “self-emancipation thesis,” crediting black Union soldiers, not Abraham Lincoln, with freeing the slaves.4 Black soldiers’ heroic deeds formed an important component of Woodson’s rationale for Negro History Week, which he believed would disprove the idea that “the Negro is nothing, had never been anything, and never will be anything but a menace to civilization.” During the “Double V” campaign of World War II, the history of black soldiering played an important role in advancing the cause of equal rights both in the military and at home and continued in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s as a new generation of revisionist historians worked to establish a trajectory of militant black activism that would inform and inspire the current struggles. Since the publication of James McPherson’s The Negro’s Civil War in 1965, an entire field has emerged dedicated to chronicling the black military experience. The Freedmen and Southern Society Project based at the University of Maryland has mined [End Page 370] the National Archives for federal records relating to African Americans in the Civil War and Reconstruction, and an entire volume in the project’s Freedom series documents the hardships and struggles, as well as the glory, of black Civil War soldiers and their families. This extended historiography is united by the view that despite racial prejudice, unequal pay, and sometimes violence, the United States Army offered black men not only the opportunity to, in Douglass’s famous words, “strike a blow” for their own freedom but also the skills, confidence, and independence needed to become citizens. As the editors of the Freedom series argue, “The achievements and pride engendered by military service helped to make the new world of freedom.”5

Yet if military service ushered in a new world of freedom, it did so unevenly. Although soldiering enabled black men to make claims on the state in new and powerful ways, building a political identity on the foundation of military service proved unstable. As Mary Frances Berry notes in her study of how the legal status of African Americans changed as a result of their Civil War service, when black soldiers were no longer needed to secure a military victory for the Union, the impetus to sustain their rights as citizens faded. Thus, the gains won in large part through black men’s military sacrifice, including the right to vote, receded all too quickly. While the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments represented revolutionary changes to the American body politic that would eventually overturn the racial restrictions of the Jim Crow era, the fact remains that the rhetoric of martial manhood employed by black veterans and their allies to win their rights in the 1860s did not sustain the larger projects of either southern or national reconstruction. How could a discourse that seemed so vital and held so much political currency in 1865 lose so much of its value in less than a decade?6

This essay suggests some explanations for these limitations by taking seriously Du Bois’s observation that “only murder makes men.” Although he did not fully articulate it, Du Bois sensed some troubling contradictions within popular representations of black masculinity that underlay the narratives of black martial valor. Advocates of black enlistment had to reconcile an effeminized image of enslaved black men as lacking the courage and intelligence necessary to become good soldiers with the murderous violence required of soldiers. In other words, black men’s capacity for killing had to be cultivated, but such a refiguring of black masculinity entailed serious consequences. It required white abolitionists and military officials who supported black enlistment to articulate a rationale for service that stressed control and discipline rather than political rights or independence. White reformers viewed military service as a civilizing agent for [End Page 371] enslaved men that would teach them the bourgeois values of self-restraint, hard work, and family obligations. Military officials were careful to balance their reports of black battlefield performance between the twin duties of killing and dying. Black soldiers did plenty of both, but officers tended to focus on their ability to obey orders and their willingness to die rather than their ability to take white lives. Whites’ ambivalence regarding black men’s capacity for violence complicated their understanding of black men’s capacity for freedom.

Military service also replicated aspects of violence and coercion that characterized slavery rather than freedom. Forced enlistments, corporal punishments, and violent death—often stripped of the glory typically associated with battlefield sacrifice—also represented the black military experience during the Civil War. The violence and coercion inherent in military service intensified the racial politics of emancipation within the army and did not always challenge the negative images whites had of African Americans, especially slaves, in the larger society.7 Despite the republican ideology of the citizen-soldier, the nature of military service did not rule out forms of bondage and servitude either within the army or outside of it.8

This realization should cause us to question not if military service made blacks into citizens but instead what kind of citizens it made. Much uncertainty followed southern blacks as they made their way to freedom. As Michael Vorenberg observes, “newly freed African Americans were formless shadows on the spectrum from person to citizen.” Lawmakers may have acquiesced to the idea that black soldiers might well be citizens, but what rights that title entailed were unclear. After all, women and children could be citizens, too. Despite the universalizing language, not all citizens enjoyed equal civil or political rights. The “obsession with manhood” that characterized much of the discourse of freedom in Civil War America could limit as well as enhance African Americans’ claims to equal citizenship.9

Although he was one of the most vocal proponents of the view that fighting would make slaves not only into men but also citizens, Frederick Douglass was hardly the first to posit this theory. Historian Francois Furstenberg traces its origins to the American Revolution and finds that the relationship between freedom and violent resistance was grounded in the “peculiar combination of liberal and republican ideology” that justified armed struggle against Britain as a noble and virtuous act. The belief that “‘nations were as free as they deserved to be’” translated to individuals as well and “made it possible to blame a person for his or her enslavement.” Continued enslavement proved a person’s unwillingness to resist, but resistance for black slaves was a tricky matter. Furstenberg relates the [End Page 372] eighteenth-century folk story of Quashi, a slave who would not be whipped and after a violent struggle subdued his master at knifepoint. But instead of killing his master and fleeing, Quashi cuts his own throat rather than take the life of the man who enslaved him but whom he nonetheless loved “as myself.” Furstenberg argues that Quashi’s story prescribed the proper course of action for a “virtuous slave”: suicide. Resistance that took the lives of white masters was inconceivable. Thus, the stories whites told about real-life slave rebels, such as Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner, emasculated the men by portraying them as fearful and submissive once captured by authorities. Had they been “virtuous” like Quashi and truly undeserving of their enslavement, they would have killed themselves.10

Black abolitionists rejected the notion that a slave could prove his virtue only through death, but they maintained the link between freedom and violent resistance. No one was more adamant in his belief that fighting was an indispensible attribute of manhood than Frederick Douglass. Douglass’s unstinting faith that military service would result in freedom for slaves and political rights for all black men stemmed not only from the citizen-solider ideal that had penetrated so much of American political culture since the revolutionary era but also from his own deeply transformative experience with violence. True freedom, according to Douglass, did not come as the result of a simple exchange of services—a kind of quid pro quo—but rather emanated from within. In his autobiography, he provided his readers with the most dramatic example of the power of fighting back. His refusal to submit to the efforts of the overseer Covey to break him marked a “turning point” in Douglass’s life as a slave. Douglass wrote that the two-hour ordeal in which he and Covey fought “rekindled in my breast the smouldering embers of liberty . . . and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before; I was a man now.” Fighting back, striking out with force, drawing the master’s blood, all of these symbolized Douglass’s denial of his position of servitude and his demands for recognition as an individual. “When a slave cannot be flogged,” Douglass argued, “he is more than half free.” In the war, Douglass saw an opportunity to channel the desire to fight back that he felt as both a slave and a free, yet marginalized black man in the North into a collective struggle for manhood and with it civil and political inclusion.11

Reiterating the themes of his autobiography, in which a moment of violence enabled Douglass to break the mental and eventually physical bonds of slavery, he told northern crowds throughout 1863 that black men must “know that those who would be free, themselves must strike the blow, and they long for the opportunity to strike that blow.” He chided those who believed that the recruitment of black soldiers was “only a military [End Page 373] necessity,” insisting, “it has a higher significance. It is a grand moral necessity.” Douglass created a millennial vision resulting from the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlistment of black men into the Army. Together, these two things enabled African Americans to realize their full humanity by uniting their physical liberation with their spiritual one. This was, in his mind, the “the final perfection of the race.”12

That perfection lay in the attainment of manhood and respect. Military service not only fulfilled black men’s inner strivings but also rehabilitated the effeminized image of enslaved men held by many whites, including those opposed to slavery. The specter of slavish passivity continued to haunt Douglass and other black abolitionists who endeavored to prove that African Americans did not deserve their enslavement. Military service also legitimated the taking of white lives denied Quashi and other slave rebels in the Union army during the Civil War represented the pinnacle for African Americans in the long journey toward freedom that began with Crispus Attucks and the Revolutionary War’s “colored patriots.” While everyday acts of resistance and self-defense provided African American men like Douglass means through which to assert their manhood, military service gave black men formal recognition by making them state actors. The Civil War’s scale provided black men an unprecedented opportunity to battle collectively for the emancipation of their race and with the sanction of state authority.13

Douglass was not alone in his advocacy of military service as a vehicle for black liberation. Many radical abolitionists shared his vision of freedom as a violent process of man-making. Their perceptions of slavery’s cruelty reflected the “foundational premise that slavery had emasculated African American men.” White and black abolitionists alike critiqued slaveholding by focusing the un-manning of enslaved men and its effects on individual development as well as the family. One prominent strain within this discourse focused on the inability of enslaved men to protect and defend their female kin. William Wells Brown tearfully lamented having watched his mother being beaten and being helpless to stop it. “Experience has taught me,” he wrote, “that nothing can be more heart-rending than for one to see a dear and beloved mother or sister tortured, and to hear their cries and not be able to render them assistance. But such is the position the American slave occupies.” According to Brown, the “American slave” was male and the most “heart-rending” cruelty he had to endure was the emasculation of being denied protective authority over women’s bodies. Women also decried their loss of men’s protection. Even as she exposed slavery’s attack on womanhood, Harriet Jacobs linked her own sexual vulnerability to the absence of male protectors. Her father was absent, and even had [End Page 374] he been available to her, he could have done little to stop the lecherous advances of her master. The slave whom she loved likewise was unable to make her his wife. Her chosen lover, a white man who promised to free her and their children, was unreliable. Without any male figure to depend upon, Jacobs took to the attic.14

Enslaved men’s inability to claim traditional patriarchal authority over the bodies of their female kin became part of a broader discourse about slaves’ presumed passivity. In their attempts to paint a sentimental picture of the American slave with whom a wider public could sympathize, white abolitionists stressed enslaved men’s natural docility and their Christian forbearance of slavery’s brutality. In a sermon aimed to enlighten antislavery audiences to the dehumanization of southern slaves as well as counter the charges that the antislavery movement aimed to foment a race war in the South, abolitionist minister Theodore Parker referred to them as “feeble” people who were naturally less aggressive and less vengeful than whites, while the poet Theodore Tilton described all blacks, not just the enslaved, as a “feminine people” who possessed “that strange moral, instinctive insight” typically ascribed to women. The white antislavery movement romanticized enslaved people as morally superior to the whites who held them in bondage, but like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom, they remained physically passive and essentially nonviolent.15

As the sectional conflict over slavery intensified, ideas of manly violence became increasingly important to radical abolitionism. Antislavery rhetoric became steeped in masculine bravado and bloody imagery. Not only did abolitionists see slavery as a “state of war” that justified arming free-state settlers in Kansas, violence also became a regenerative force capable of wiping away the stain of slavery. Manly violence became an important corrective to the presumed docility of the enslaved. Black radical abolitionists rallied against the sentimental feminization of black men and called on their audiences to prove their physical commitment to the cause of liberty. Douglass began to imagine a “day of judgment” when God would exact vengeance for the slave, and others, like David Walker and Henry Highland Garnet, worked to ensure that day would come sooner rather than later. “Let your motto be RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE! RESISTANCE!” concluded Garnet in a rousing speech entitled “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” which he delivered to the American Anti-Slavery Society’s national convention in 1843. According to Garnet, the mark of the slave was his unmanly docility. “You act as though you were made for the special uses of these devils. You act as though your daughters were born to pamper the lusts of your masters and overseers,” Garnet declared. Slave rebellion, whether imagined, as in Frederick Douglass’s [End Page 375] novel The Heroic Slave, or actual, as in John Brown’s calamitous raid at Harpers Ferry, provided a means to collective and personal remasculinization and, thus, liberation, while at the same time uniting white and black men across racial lines in the cause of liberty.16

The vision of freedom as fighting posed a conundrum for black abolitionists and their white allies: how to counter the image of docility that inhibited their push for black enlistments in the Union army while reassuring lawmakers and the public at large that black soldiers could be controlled. This contradiction within emancipationist discourse regarding black men and their potential for violence proved troublesome indeed. On the one hand, black men needed to demonstrate that they were not too docile, passive, or dimwitted to withstand the test of battle or life as free men. Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, believed that this perception of the slaves’ unmanliness lay at the root of much racial prejudice. “The Anglo Saxon habitually despises the negro because he is not an insurgent,” Higginson wrote in 1861 as the debates over enlisting black men into the army began to swell. Higginson, who had been one of John Brown’s secret financiers, advocated for allowing black men to fight so that they might gain whites’ respect. According to Higginson, army life could correct blacks’ docility and submissive nature. “Our race,” said Higginson, meaning whites, “does not take naturally to non-resistance, and has far more spontaneous sympathy with Nat Turner than with Uncle Tom.”17

At the same time, however, black men had to demonstrate restraint, obedience, and control. Making black men, particularly slaves, agents of state-sponsored violence posed a most troubling scenario for congressional lawmakers struggling to weight the costs of waging war with emancipation. Fearing that the war to save the Union was fast becoming a servile war “with its necessary accompaniments in the shape of murder, rape, outrage, rapine, and incendiarism,” one Kentucky congressman declared, “I would as soon think of enlisting the Indian, and of arming him with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to be let loose upon our rebellious countrymen, as to arm the negro in this contest.” Kentucky’s senior senator, Garrett Davis, invoked the memories of St. Domingue and Southampton, where armed blacks had used “red-hot pincers” on their white captives before “roasting them over a slow fire.” Davies warned that armed blacks would become the “destroying scourge of the cotton States.” The specter of slave rebellion, however, was not simply the product of overactive white imaginations. Frederick Douglass had invoked it as a recruiting tactic, encouraging northern black men to “Remember Denmark Vesey . . . remember Nat Turner.”18 [End Page 376]

Of course, it could be argued that as representatives of slaveholders still in the Union, the Kentucky delegation manipulated the fear of slave insurrection to limit the effects of Lincoln’s emancipation, and therefore their cries of “servile war” were little more than the desperation of men faced with the inevitable loss of their slaves. However, some nonslaveholding representatives concurred with their Border State colleagues. Senator John Sherman of Ohio, brother of Gen. William T. Sherman, admitted recruiting blacks into the Union army was “shocking to our sense of humanity” and would not sign on to the policy “unless [the men were] disciplined and under complete control, and never as armed men.” Sherman could only imagine arming blacks if forced “to choose between their employment and the destruction of this country.” Another Ohioan, Representative William Allen, deemed the proposition of arming slaves to be the “‘crowning act’ of that folly and madness which seem to have taken possession of the Government.” He urged Congress to consider “what gloomy hope” would remain if the Army inducted 150,000 black men. “When are we to expect peace . . . before a peace is conquered on the terms of the radicals?” he wondered. “Is the war thus to continue, and these soldiers to be the guardians of our liberties in the future?” Not a slave-owner himself, Allen did not utter desperate pleas to maintain a feeble grasp on his personal property. Nonetheless, the Ohioan feared an army that had “at its command half a million of ignorant, vicious, negroes with arms in their hands.” Allen seemed to predict the struggle that would ensue when Reconstruction governments attempted to use black soldiers, policemen, and militias to do just that. His fear that “they may become potent in the hands of tyrants” foreshadowed white southern criticisms of Republican Reconstruction.19

Commanders like Higginson attempted to reassure a skeptical public that black soldiers could be controlled. While lauding their courage under fire, white advocates of black enlistment praised the “absence of revenge and blood-thirstiness” among recruits. In his diary, Higginson wrote of his troops’ enormous “capacity of honor and fidelity” as well as their deep religiosity, which conditioned them to obedience and restraint. Higginson noted the frequency of prayer meetings and spiritual singing as a sign that black soldiers adhered to the same moral code as white soldiers. As sentinels in camp, Higginson observed no “upstart conceit” but rather “steady, conscientious devotion to duty.” He also dismissed any notion that black troops would take revenge on civilians. “I would far rather enter a captured city with them than with white troops, for they would be more subordinate.” However, Higginson noted a decided lack of sympathy for the physical suffering of others. Having endured so much cruelty and hardship themselves, Higginson believed the recruits had become hardened. This [End Page 377] made them all the more valuable as soldiers. “If I ordered them to put to death a dozen prisoners,” Higginson admitted, “I think they would do it without remonstrance.” Gen. Rufus Saxton echoed Higginson’s evaluation, remarking on black troops’ “fiery energy” and saying, “It requires the strictest discipline to hold them in hand.” Despite his professed faith in his troops’ obedience and restraint, Higginson’s opinion that slavery had blunted black soldiers’ ability to empathize with the sufferings of others left open the frightening possibility that black soldiers might perform their duties too well.20

The question of whether or not slaves would make good soldiers occupied much of the investigations of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission (AFIC), a War Department committee formed of leading white abolitionists including Samuel Gridley Howe, James McKaye, and Robert Dale Owen. Charged with determining the conditions necessary for the slave to fully reap the benefits of freedom and lead a “civilized life,” the AFIC collected testimony from former slaves, missionaries, and military commanders about the behavior of escaped slaves in contraband camps. Although the commission strongly supported enlisting refugees as both laborers and soldiers, it was concerned about arming slaves. It solicited information about freedmen’s “quarrelsome” reputations, propensity for anger, and desire for revenge against whites. Most respondents reassured the commission that although freedmen may be quick-tempered and “passionate,” they showed few signs of hatred for whites and didn’t speak of revenge. Observers stressed the freedmen’s “docility” and willingness to obey whites, especially if shown kindness and concern. The AFIC concluded that good officers who treated their men with respect and fairness would be the key to ensuring a disciplined force of black troops. John Eaton, a chaplain and superintendent of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Department, believed that despite certain “difficulties” he faced in becoming a soldier, the average freedman held other qualities that made him suited for combat. Like Higginson, Eaton believed that the African American’s slave experience had hardened him to violence. Because he “is used to suffering,” Eaton wrote, “and to seeing his own blood flow, he will not be now so easily shocked and dismayed by carnage, as those of more delicate sensibilities.” Nonetheless, Eaton advised military officials to reject “the lowest types of the inferior tribes,” or the “purely black,” who were more difficult to control. White officers should not fear trusting their lives to armed soldiers of “the better types of superior tribes,” as Eaton called mulatto, or mixed race, African Americans. Eaton noted the existence of some regiments that included men who looked white but had lived “all their lives slaves” and [End Page 378] encouraged efforts to form new regiments of mulattoes who could “not be distinguished by any African characteristics.”21

Despite their eventual support for black enlistment, the AFIC and army officials like Higginson and Eaton struggled to reconcile the image of effeminized, docile slaves with the deep-seated fear they shared with southerners about black men’s propensity for violence. Nonetheless, it was a fear that had to be overcome. Military necessity demanded it. The Confederacy’s inability to do so would help pave the way for its eventual defeat.22 “There can be no doubt the rebels would have armed them long ago had they dared put weapons in their hands,” Eaton told the commission. The time had come to do away with “that prejudice,” Eaton proclaimed, just as Washington and Jackson had done when they armed small numbers of black men in the American Revolution and War of 1812. Still, the idea of arming tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of black men, many of whom were “purely black” and perhaps lacking in the sentiments and self-restraint that came with the admixture of European blood, proved unnerving. The AFIC assured the War Department and Congress that black soldiers could be controlled and that arming them would not put the lives of their white officers and fellow troops at risk. The AFIC’s overriding concern was discipline, not liberation.

Even more than the church and the schoolhouse, the army provided “the most efficacious” means of disciplining the troublesome population of refugees growing within Union lines. The AFIC concluded that strict military discipline would help slaves un-learn certain “vices,” such as lying, stealing, and promiscuity, and instill in them the virtues of honesty, hard work, and fidelity. The discipline of military life stood in bold contrast to the presumed life of idleness and indolence southern slaves had led. Men in contraband camps would be encouraged not only to enlist in the army but also to marry the mothers of their children and establish proper families. With his wages, he could support his dependents, and if he refused to marry, he nonetheless would be “compelled to contribute to their support.” The army would provide not only the material means by which the newly freed man would support his family and assume his rightful place as the head of household, it also gave him the “self-respect and self-reliance” on which his domestic authority depended. When he was a slave, his family had not been permitted to take his name, the report explained. “He did not eat with his children or with their mother,” and because slave marriages, such as they were, were ruled not by any idea of “religious duty” but by profit, partnerships changed frequently, and there was little shame in illegitimacy. The combination of marriage and military service would combat [End Page 379] the “disintegration of the family” and establish the proper domestic relations between men and women.23

What former slaves needed was “judicious management,” and the military ensured that the growing population of refugees “need not be, except for a brief period, any burden whatever on the Government.” Drilling, marching, and parading in uniform, even if it was only for show, instilled in refugees a sense of purpose and honor. It also made them more willing to perform the kinds of manual labor the army required. “The organization of freedmen employed as military laborers into brigades, with badges around their hats, labeled ‘United States service,’” the commission reported, succeeded in making sure that “the men marched regularly to and from work.” The AFIC hoped that the training and discipline black men received in the military would gain them “respect and decent treatment in their social relations with whites.” But short of this rather vague proclamation about respect and decent treatment, the AFIC’s report did not issue any specifics regarding the postwar political status of freed people. Military service might help the emasculated slave gain his manhood, but it did not automatically result in the accumulation of political citizenship. The remunerations for military labor and soldiering were rations and wages. Just days after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Harper’s Weekly surmised, “We shall have to feed and clothe the emancipated negroes, and there is no present way of making them earn their living except by making them garrison our forts.” The calculations were clear: instead of military service being a means for earning citizenship, it became a way of paying back the favor of freedom. The military could be a vehicle for freedom, but, more pressing to the nation’s immediate concerns, it also became a tool of management for the growing population of refugees crowding in southern Army camps. The report’s full title says as much: “on the condition and management of emancipated refugees.” Although the AFIC concurred with Douglass that soldiering provided freedpeople some of the manly attributes required of free men, nowhere in the report did they entertain the idea that military service would result in the full inclusion of African Americans in the body politic.24

Thus, in addition to galvanizing radical abolitionists to advocate for black enlistment, the gender and racial politics of the emancipationist discourse of freedom planted the seeds for the white man’s burden—the problem of civilizing freed slaves. While the narratives of black martial valor were intended to supplant negative stereotypes of black emasculation under slavery, they reinforced white fears of black violence, leading government officials, even the most ardent abolitionists among them, to look for ways to discipline blacks’ deadly potential. The army became an [End Page 380] important part of the new civilizing imperative, offering whites a way to channel black men’s murderous impulses as well as inculcate freedpeople in the lessons of citizenship.25

Figure 1. The Man Who Won the Elephant at the Raffle. This 1863 broadside illustrates the enormous problems military service posed for the United States Army. Would slaves make good soldiers? What should be done with the thousands of women and children who followed the men to Union lines? How could freedpeople be disciplined and controlled? The questions suggest the pitfalls of assuming military service represented a linear, unproblematic path to national citizenship. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.
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Figure 1.

The Man Who Won the Elephant at the Raffle. This 1863 broadside illustrates the enormous problems military service posed for the United States Army. Would slaves make good soldiers? What should be done with the thousands of women and children who followed the men to Union lines? How could freedpeople be disciplined and controlled? The questions suggest the pitfalls of assuming military service represented a linear, unproblematic path to national citizenship. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

The actual treatment of black men within the Union army highlights the twisted road to freedom black soldiers had to travel. The reality of military life often fell short of Douglass’s manly aspirations. Soldiering did not always offer black men either the esteem they sought or the tangible relief they needed. Lack of adequate compensation, denial of rightful bounties, [End Page 381] neglect, and impressment characterized the black military experience alongside the glory of battlefield exploits. Black recruits often performed the same menial duties they had as slaves, acting as body servants or valets to white officers. As one black soldier put it, “It is retten that a man can not Serve two master But it Seems that the Collored population has got two a rebel master and a union master.” Douglass’s belief in the citizen-soldier ideal blinded him to the continuum of coercion and violence that shadowed his visions of jubilee.26

White officers proved naïve, at best, about the violence black recruits experienced and often dismissed their concerns about coercion and abuse. When a company within his regiment gained a new captain and lieutenant, Higginson found the men’s negative reaction “childish.” Although they had complained that their former officers had mistreated them, they continued to protest against the new ones “in a state of utter wretchedness.” Higginson tried to explain to the men that the new officers would be better, and that other companies had received new officers and their condition had improved. But only the commander’s promise that the new officers would not be “savage to we” assuaged their apprehension. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t—this was surely the case in the soldiers’ eyes, but Higginson failed to grasp the weight of the men’s concerns. Perhaps his misguided belief that they were somehow impervious to physical pain and deprivation impeded his ability to sympathize with the people over whom he and the other white officers wielded so much power.27

Army life was savage. Not only was pay irregular and unequal, army life also replicated the brutality and degradation freedpeople hoped to leave behind. Press gangs operated as the primary recruitment mechanism within Union lines. In the Border States and on the coast in Union-occupied Mississippi and Louisiana, soldiers—often members of the U.S. Colored Troops—attempted to persuade contrabands and fugitives to join the army. When they hesitated, potential recruits were threatened or forced into service. When they resisted, men were kidnapped and locked up until they relented. Even men already employed by the army as laborers on fortifications were not immune. “My men, Colonl, have not been drafted. They have been kidnapped in the night,” complained an army engineer stationed in Florida, in a letter to his superior. Men living near Fort Leavenworth in Kansas testified to being “knocked down and beaten like dogs” and imprisoned until they joined the service. Those who refused were tied up and held under water or “tied up by the thumbs all night” until they relented.

Statements made by impressed black soldiers reveal the pervasiveness of the practice throughout the South and the hardship—physical, emotional, and financial—impressment caused its victims. John Banks was cutting [End Page 382]

Figure 2. What Do I Want, John Henry? Submission and subservience continued to define the black military experience during the Civil War. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1865–66), vol. 1, no. 27. Digital image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
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Figure 2.

What Do I Want, John Henry? Submission and subservience continued to define the black military experience during the Civil War. Photograph by Alexander Gardner, in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1865–66), vol. 1, no. 27. Digital image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

wood for his family in the woods of eastern Virginia when a squad of ten armed black soldiers approached him and asked him to enlist. “I told them that I could not enlist because I was obliged to do the work for my family,” Banks reported. Disregarding his excuse, the party took the man off to camp “surrounded by armed soldiers, just though I was a prisoner.” He was allowed five minutes to say his goodbyes to his family. H. Ford Douglas, a black recruiter from Illinois, complained that the families of impressed men were left to starve in the middle of winter without the support of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Another Virginia black man relented to enlist with a group of U.S. Colored Troops only because “I thought dey might kill me; I was green and ignorant.” Ignorance aside, the man had good reason to be fearful of the armed men who persuaded him to enlist. John Banks recalled hearing stories of “men being obliged to ‘tote’ [canon] [End Page 383] balls because they refused to enlist and also of their being confined in the guard house on hard bread & water.” So when Banks arrived at camp, he “did not dare remonstrate but accepted the five dollars bounty and my uniform and clothing and performed the duty of a soldier.” A soldier guarding impressed men at camp in Newport News, Virginia, told them that if they didn’t enlist “he would put the contents of his musket” into them.28

Press gangs sometimes followed through with their promises of pain and death. George L. Stearns, the civilian commissioner for the Organization of Black Troops in Tennessee, complained to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton of the violence perpetrated by the soldiers on recruits. “On Sunday a large number were impressed,” after the soldiers had waited for the men to emerge from church services, related Stearns. “One was shot . . . he died on Wednesday.” Stearns feared that such actions would stymie his own recruiting efforts.29 After reporting that a young boy of fifteen had been shot by soldiers as he tried to escape, Harriet Ware, the wife of a northern planter in South Carolina, remembered that her cook’s husband was shot and killed by Confederates when he resisted their impressment efforts. “How are they to understand the difference?” between friend and foe, slavery and freedom, Ware wondered. Several of the men on her plantation decided to risk living among the “Secesh” on the mainland than stay on the island and live in fear of impressment. “They openly say, some of them,” wrote Ware, “that they wish the old times were back again.”30

Once they were officially “free,” some southern blacks harbored suspicion against the promises of emancipation due in no small part to the practice of impressment. A New York Times correspondent, attending an Emancipation Day celebration at Port Royal, noticed that at least one man looked very glum despite the joy of the occasion. When he asked this “very intelligent” freedman named Sam why he wasn’t joining in the celebration, Sam responded that he had no appetite for food or drink. The correspondent pressed Sam for the source of his melancholy; after all, he was now free. Sam responded, “I ain’t no fool massa. I know what dat means.” Perplexed, the reporter asked Sam what he meant. Sam relented by taking the journalist into a small coatroom away from the crowd, and shouldering a broom as if it were a musket, he “slowly shook his head in a meaning way.” Sam apparently dreaded the implications of a freedom that came on the tip of a bayonet. The plantation superintendent who had been so moved by the expressions of grief that the families of impressed soldiers displayed concluded that “this ‘conscription’ together with the manner of its execution has created a suspicion that the government has not the interest in the Negroes that it has professed.” While it is important to remember [End Page 384] that plantation superintendents’ competition with the army for black labor may have shaped their reports of military coercion, that knowledge should not blind historians to the ways the pressing need for soldiers could override the needs and desires of slaves themselves.31

Perhaps Sam feared becoming cannon fodder. While some white officers were sensitive to charges that black troops were wantonly exposed to enemy fire, others seemed more than willing to put them in harm’s way to save white lives. Samuel Kirkwood, the governor of Iowa, informed Gen. Henry W. Halleck that his “best colonel” hoped to see blacks die in place of whites. “When this war is over & we summed up the entire loss of life,” the colonel wrote in a letter to Kirkwood, “I shall not have any regrets if it is found that a part of the dead are niggers and that all are not white men.” The unnamed colonel echoed a sentiment that even one of the most ardent abolitionists in the Congress held. “If men are to be shot in the war,” declared Radical congressman Thaddeus Stevens, “let it not be our cousins, relatives, and friends. Let it be the slaves of those traitors who have caused this war. I would to God that a hundred thousand of them had been at Richmond to receive the first fire of their villainous masters.” Stevens worried that “the flower of our people are moldering the swamps of Virginia because we will not employ those who ought to be fighting this battle.” Arming black men, he contended, would raise the morale of white troops who resented having to fight a war for the sake of slaves.32 Stevens may have read the working-class rejoinder to “Father Abraham’s” plea for more troops printed in Frank Leslie’s. The verse mocked Douglass’s pretensions of citizenship, making death black soldiers’ only reward:

So, Father Abraham, if you please, in this here game of chess, You’d better take the black men against the white, I guess, And if you work the niggers off before rebellion’s slain, Which surely ain’t expectable—apply to us again.33

By denying that the death of black men on the battlefield held any redemptive promise, this verse reveals the racialized framework through which many white Americans, including some military officers like the Iowa colonel, viewed the citizen-soldier ideal. In this view, black soldiers were an expendable resource to be used up in place of white soldiers. Instead of liberation, soldiering represented the fulfillment of an obligation to white society, a way to earn their freedom and prove that they did not deserve enslavement. As the AFIC put it in its report to the secretary of war, “only through a baptism of blood” could black soldiers prove their manhood.34 [End Page 385]

As the long global history of arming slaves indicates, making slaves into soldiers did not necessitate making them into citizens, at least not the kind of citizens—full, equal, empowered with a wide range of individual rights—Douglass and other black abolitionists imagined. Nor did it require a reevaluation of slavery itself. In the classical age, Athenians begrudgingly bestowed freedom and a limited citizenship to slaves as a last, desperate measure in the Peloponnesian Wars, and then the privileges accorded them quickly receded. If for no other reason, slaves’ freedom and rights often proved transitory because the endless cycle of war and conquest might soon render recent manumissions by a defeated power null and void. Whatever the case, classical states remained fully committed to slavery as a social and political institution despite regular arming of slaves. In fact, as one scholar notes, the use of slaves as soldiers may have in fact contributed to a “demotion of the importance of military virtues” in Grecian politics.35

Even when slave-soldiers became a revered class, they remained subservient to the individual rulers or states that owned and employed them. This was the case of the Chikunda of southern Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Chikunda enriched their Portuguese prazeiros by conducting slave raids, collecting tributes from local peasants, suppressing resistance, and protecting the frontier estates. In gratitude, the prazeiros doled out generous bounties to their warrior slaves, as well as land and captives of their own. Despite these privileges, however, the Chikunda remained slaves, subject to flogging from their masters and prohibited from choosing their own places of residence or disposing of their property. Although their renowned military skills made them invaluable to the project of Portuguese colonialism, they did not make them free or guarantee them any formal, legal rights within that society.36

Although the mobilizations of citizen-soldiers in the French Republic during the tumultuous 1790s and early 1800s may have transformed the ideological relationships between freedom, citizenship, and military service in ways that inspired black abolitionists in the United States, more recent and local histories than those of ancient Greece or Portuguese southern Africa should have left them wary of staking too much on their performance of martial manhood. The praise of “colored patriots” in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 resulted only in a handful of individual manumissions. At no point did it seem possible that the service of a few might mean liberation of the many. Eventually even the Confederacy begrudgingly entertained the possibility of emancipating slaves so as to entice their service in its dwindling armies, but they envisioned a post-emancipation world in which white supremacy remained [End Page 386] intact. Douglass hoped that the larger numbers of black recruits in the Union army might bear more fruit than earlier American conflicts. If that were to happen, the Civil War would represent an exception to the general rule of arming slaves while maintaining fundamental systems of hierarchy and exclusion.37

Yet the discourse of national citizenship that emerged during the Civil War, particularly around the issue of black enlistment, was infused with the language of obligation. Instead of promising the rights of black soldiers, calls for black troops focused instead on black men’s obligations to defend their country, destroy slavery, and support their families. “Who is a citizen?” Attorney General Edward Bates rhetorically asked in his treatise on the matter. His answer would not have pleased Frederick Douglass and others who argued that military service entitled black men to full and equal citizenship with white men. While Bates denounced Chief Justice Taney’s earlier pronouncement against black citizenship, he nonetheless limited his definition to exclude “certain rights and privileges” that he believed were erroneously equated with national citizenship, including “voting and office holding.” According to Bates, citizenship denoted the most general “political quality” of being a member of the body politic “and bound to it by the reciprocal obligation of allegiance on one side and protection on the other.” Insofar as they were citizens, a status they shared with “paupers, lunatics, all females, and all minor males,” African Americans bore an obligation to uphold the nation, share in its national defense, and, according to the AFIC, not to be a burden to it. National citizenship, then, reflected a general status without clear meaning, one hardly incompatible with exclusion based on either race or gender. Thus, while black veterans would employ rights talk to define national citizenship as entailing specific political activities, such as voting and office-holding, the discourse of obligation would remain a potent weapon in the arsenal of those who wished to restrict their participation and access.38

Black soldiers’ deaths on Civil War battlefields represented the bitter irony of man-making in the age of emancipation. To demonstrate their worthiness for freedom, black men had to kill and be killed. In the eyes of many whites, who held deep-seated ambivalence about black men’s violent potential, their willingness to do the former could demonstrate their unfitness for freedom. Yet the image of black docility and dependence could likewise cast blacks outside the body politic. Moreover, military service replicated many forms of brutality and coercion that belied the rhetoric of liberation. While black abolitionists understood military service as a way to stake a claim on America’s revolutionary heritage and demonstrate their [End Page 387] manhood, that narrative rubbed uncomfortably against other ways of telling the story of the black military experience during the Civil War, ways that emphasized military discipline and its civilizing effects on blacks and their families rather than liberation and equality.

These conflicting narratives complicate the history of emancipation. Despite black men’s admirable performances on the battlefield, the results of their sacrifices were mixed. The narrative of martial manhood helped transform a “war to save the Union” into one for liberation and a “new birth of freedom.” In the postwar period, black veterans and their allies in Congress premised their claims to suffrage and civil rights on those martial performances. However, the imperative to discipline and civilize unruly and potentially violent freedmen also guided the process of Reconstruction. In time, white anxieties about the effects of military training on former slaves would translate into a justification for the South’s violent redemption. In recognizing this divided legacy, it becomes necessary to move beyond the celebratory narratives of freedom and military service that we long to tell and embrace the disquietude that needled Du Bois. Historians and their audiences hunger for and glorify examples of black resistance, but as Philip Morgan cautions us, “collective violence need not be the acid test of a people’s desire or candidacy for freedom.” The emancipationist discourse of martial manhood did just that, with deadly implications for freedpeople in the Reconstruction South.39

Carole Emberton

Carole Emberton is assistant professor in the history department at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). Her first book, Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South after the Civil War, will be published next year by the University of Chicago Press.


1. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (1935; repr., New York: Athenaeum, 1969), 110; The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself (1892; repr., New York: Macmillan, 1962), 349–50.

2. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction, 112.

3. William Wells Brown, The Negro in the American Rebellion: His Heroism and Fidelity (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1867).

4. Carter G. Woodson, The Negro in Our History (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1922). Most recently, the question “Who freed the slaves?” has been taken up in a thought-provoking debate between Ira Berlin and James McPherson. While Berlin supports Woodson’s argument that slaves, for the most part, freed themselves, McPherson stresses the importance of formal emancipation, in particular Lincoln’s proclamation. See Berlin, “Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meanings in American Life,” in Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era, ed. David Blight and Brooks Simpson (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1997), 105–22, and James McPherson, Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 192–207.

5. Brown, Negro in the American Rebellion; Woodson, Negro in Our History, 233–38; Woodson, “Black History Week,” Journal of Negro History 11, no. 2 (April 1926): 240; [End Page 388] James McPherson, The Negro’s Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted during the War for the Union (New York: Pantheon, 1965); Ira Berlin, Joseph Reidy, and Leslie Rowland, eds. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 2, The Black Military Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). See also Joseph T. Wilson, The Black Phalanx (New York: Arno, 1968); Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little & Brown, 1969); Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: Free Press, 1990); Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861–1865 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992); James G. Hollandsworth, The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience during the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995); John David Smith, ed. Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Noah Andre Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862–1865 (Boston: Little & Brown, 1998); Keith P. Wilson, Campfires of Freedom: The Camp Life of Black Soldiers during the Civil War (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2002); Martin H. Blatt, Thomas J. Brown, and Donald Yacovone, eds., Hope and Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001); Richard M. Reid, Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); Margaret Humphreys, Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Christian G. Samito, Becoming American under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2009); and J. Matthew Gallman, “‘In Your Hands That Musket Means Liberty’: African American Soldiers and the Battle of Olustee,” in Wars within A War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War, ed. Joan Waugh and Gary W. Gallagher (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 87–108. The importance of military service for the coming of freedom also plays a central role in Kate Masur, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010); Eric Foner, Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York: Norton, 2010); and Gary Gallagher, The Union War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).

6. Mary Frances Berry, Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861–1868 (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977). Kimberley L. Phillips takes a critical stance toward the military and its impact on the civil rights movement in the twentieth century in War! What Is It Good For? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012). For a more literary approach that considers the ambivalence among black writers regarding the sacrifices of military service, see Jennifer C. James, A Freedom Bought with Blood: African American War Literature from the Civil War to World War II (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007). [End Page 389]

7. Although historians have acknowledged the prevalence of coercive practices in the army, such as impressment and unequal pay, such abusive and often violent practices seem to matter little in the larger narrative of freedom. In their introduction to the Black Military Experience, the editors pay ample attention to the problems of impressment and unequal pay, acknowledging that “Union policy respecting black soldiers evolved slowly and painfully” (18). More recently, Christian G. Samito explores the disciplinary process for black soldiers accused of misconduct and argues that courts martial typically gave black defendants due process and a fair hearing. He also finds that as the war progressed, lenience toward black soldiers increased. However, scholars of civil courts report similar findings in both the ante- and postbellum periods, and even slave courts strove to follow standards of due process for black defendants. Thus, the internal legal culture that guided both civil and military courts could allow space for black claims, but that space was not constant; nor did it necessarily result in the attainment of greater individual rights or “citizenship.” See Samito, Becoming American under Fire, 91. On courts, legal process, and the rights of black litigants, see Ariela Gross, Double Character: Slavery and Master in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000); Christopher Waldrep and Donald G. Nieman, eds. Local Matters: Race, Crime, and Justice in the Nineteenth-Century South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001); and Laura Edwards, “Status without Rights: African Americans and the Tangled History of Law and Governance in the Nineteenth-Century South,” American Historical Review 112, no. 2 (April 2007): 365–93, as well as her larger study The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

8. For more on the contradictory and often restrictive meanings of citizenship in American political culture, see Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

9. Michael Vorenberg, “Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Fellow Citizens’—before and after Emancipation,” in Lincoln’s Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered, ed. William A. Blair and Karen Fisher Younger (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 151; Richard Yarborough, “Race, Violence, and Manhood: The Masculine Ideal in Frederick Douglass’s ‘The Heroic Slave,’” in Haunted Bodies: Gender and Southern Texts, ed. Anne Goodwyn Jones and Susan V. Donaldson (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997), 161.

10. Francois Furstenberg, “Beyond Freedom and Slavery: Autonomy, Virtue, and Resistance in Early American Political Discourse,” Journal of American History 89, no. 4 (March 2003): 1295–30, 1304, 1314–15, 1318–19.

11. Douglass tells the story of his battle with Covey in each of his three autobiographical works, first in chapter 10 of his Narrative, and then in a chapter entitled “The Last Flogging” in both My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times. As his time in freedom progressed along with the nation’s conflict over slavery, Douglass singled out the story and gave it a more pronounced importance within his narrative of liberation. On Douglass’s work as an army recruiter, see James H. Cook, “Fighting with Breath, Not Blows: Frederick Douglass and Antislavery Violence,” in Antislavery Violence: [End Page 390] Sectional, Racial, and Cultural Conflict in Antebellum America, ed. John R. McKivigan and Stanley Harrold (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999), 128–64.

12. Frederick Douglass Papers, ser. 1: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, vol. 3: 1855–63, ed. John Blassingame (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 550, 552. For more on Douglass’s millennial vision of the Civil War, see David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass’s Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989).

13. William Cooper Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855; repr., New York: Arno, 1968). J. Matthew Gallman also discusses the importance of collective masculinity for black recruits in “In Your Hands That Musket Means Liberty,” 96–97.

14. Bruce Dorsey, Reforming Men and Women: Gender in the Antebellum City (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002), 147; Brown, Narrative; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin (1861; repr., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000). On black women abolitionists and the politics of womanhood, see Shirley J. Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828–1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992) and Martha S. Jones, All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

15. Theodore Parker, “A Sermon on Slavery,” in A Letter to the People of the United States Touching the Matter of Slavery (Boston: James Munroe & Co., 1853), 12; Theodore Tilton, The Negro: A Speech at the Cooper Institute, May 12, 1863 (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1863), 11–12. See also James Oliver Horton, “Defending the Manhood of the Race,” in Blatt, Brown, and Yacovone, Hope and Glory, 13–15.

16. Henry Highland Garnet, “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” in A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, ed. Herbert Aptheker (New York: Citadel, 1951). In The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), John Stauffer argues that fantasies of rebellion drew white and black radical abolitionist men closer together. Matthew Clavin makes a similar point with regards to the memory of the Haitian Revolution in Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), although he also notes a “transcendent fear of black men” plaguing white visions of the postwar world (175). See also Stephen Kantrowitz, “Fighting Like Men: Civil War Dilemmas of Abolitionist Manhood,” in Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War, ed. Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 19–40; James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, “Violence, Protest, and Identity,” in A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men’s History and Masculinity, ed. Darlene Clark Hine and Earnestine Jenkins (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 382–98; and, most recently, A. Kristen Foster, “‘We Are Men!’ Frederick Douglass and the Fault Lines of Gendered Citizenship,” Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 2 (June 2011): 143–75.

17. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “The Ordeal by Battle,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1861, 94. [End Page 391]

18. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d sess. (July 1862), 3124, 3204–6; Douglass quoted in Eric Foner, ed. Nat Turner (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971), 139. Stephanie McCurry discusses the troubling analogy of the Civil War as a slave rebellion in Confederate Reckoning (260–61). See also Clavin, Toussaint Louverture, and Scot French, The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

19. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 3d sess. (1862), 85, 3200. See also the speech of H. B. Wright of Pennsylvania, 75–76 (emphasis mine).

20. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment (New York: Collier, 1969), 66–67, 70; Saxton quoted in “Negroes as Soldiers,” Harper’s Weekly, March 14, 1863, 174.

21. The records of the AFIC, including both their preliminary and final reports as well as testimony taken, can be found in Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861–90, National Archives Records Administration, M619, rolls 199–201. Eaton’s report is located on roll 200, file no. 6:24–25.

22. On this point, see McCurry, Confederate Reckoning, 310–57.

23. “Preliminary Report of the American Freedman’s Inquiry Commission,” June 30, 1863, AFIC Papers, roll 199, 5–9.

24. AFIC, “Preliminary Report,” 16–17. See also See Dudley Taylor Cornish, “The Union Army as a School for Negroes,” Journal of Negro History 37 (October 1952): 368–82; “Negro Emancipation,” Harper’s Weekly, January 10, 1863, 18.

25. Scholars of emancipation in the British Caribbean have noted the overriding concern with discipline and civilizing former slaves. See Thomas Holt, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991); Diana Paton, No Bond But the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780–1870 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994); Demetrius Eudell, The Political Languages of Emancipation in the British Caribbean and the U.S. South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); and Gale L. Kenny, Contentious Liberties: American Abolitionists in Post-Emancipation Jamaica, 1834–1866 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).

26. Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland, Black Military Experience, 153–57.

27. Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment, 69–70.

28. Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland, Black Military Experience, 55–56, 422, 424, 139– 40; Bell Irvin Wiley, Southern Negroes, 1861–1865 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), 108.

29. Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland, Black Military Experience, 140.

30. Elizabeth Ware Pearson, ed., Letters from Port Royal, 1863–1868 (New York: Arno, 1969), 186.

31. Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland, Black Military Experience, 49–50.

32. Ibid., 85–86; Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d sess. (1862), 3125–27.

33. “To Abraham Lincoln, on His Demand for Three Hundred Thousand Men,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, September 20, 1862.

34. AFIC, “Preliminary Report,” 20. [End Page 392]

35. Peter Hunt, “Arming Slaves and Helots in Classical Greece,” in Arming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern Age, ed. Christopher Leslie Brown and Philip D. Morgan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 30–32.

36. Allen Isaacman and Derek Peterson, “Making the Chikunda: Military Slavery and Ethnicity in Southern Africa, 1750–1900,” in Brown and Morgan, Arming Slaves, 95–119.

37. On the French Revolution and subsequent revolutions in the French Caribbean, see Laurent Dubois, A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787–1804 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006). Bruce Levine discusses southern emancipation schemes in Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plants to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). See also McCurry, Confederate Reckoning.

38. Edward Bates, Opinion of Attorney General Bates on Citizenship (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1862), 3–5. On the limited definition of citizenship during the Civil War, see also Herman Belz, A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and Freedmen’s Rights, 1861–1866 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1976), 17–34. On obligation, see Linda Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998). Kate Masur explores the rights discourse of black Union veterans in An Example for All the Land. See also Leslie Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 114–22; Kathleen Ann Clark, Defining Moments: African American Commemoration and Political Culture in the South, 1863–1913 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 56–94; and William A. Blair, Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865–1914 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 97–105.

39. Philip D. Morgan, “Conspiracy Scares,” William and Mary Quarterly 59, no. 1 (January 2002): 166. Black soldiers became primary targets for southern whites determined to quash grassroots black political organizing and reestablish white supremacy. See Berlin, Reidy, and Rowland, Black Military Experience; Steven Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003); Donald Shafer, After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004); Chad Williams, “Symbols of Freedom and Defeat: African American Soldiers, White Southerners, and the Christmas Insurrection Scare of 1865,” in Black Flag over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War, ed. Gregory J. W. Urwin (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), 210–30; and Aaron Astor, “‘I Wanted a Gun’: Black Soldiers and White Violence in Civil War and Postwar Kentucky and Missouri,” in The Great Task before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War, ed. Paul A. Cimbala and Randall Miller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 30–53. [End Page 393]

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