The Sixth Greatest Myth About the American Civil War Negro Yankees, Better Off?

As a part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that the history and legacy of the Missouri guerrillas is promoted in a fair, equitable, and true manner, we are presenting a series of articles in this venue intended to expose some of the basic, accepted "facts" paraded in many current histories on the Civil War and Border War that are, in fact, not true.

One prime example of disinformation that is accepted as truth, is the pervasive distortion of truth relating to the role played by Blacks who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Specifically, I refer to the common perception that colored troops were willingly accepted with open arms by their Union compatriots, and treated as equal partners of their white counterparts.

The reality is much different. The northern black man, many times, had a much harder time joining the Union army than his black, Southern counterparts.  Immediately after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter and a Civil War became imminent, many northern blacks attempted to enlist in Mr. Lincoln's army. Abolitionist leader and former slave Frederick Douglass stated in their regard: "We are ready and would go." (1) Blacks assumed that if they fought for the North, and the Union Army won the War, then they would be set free. Below is an image of a Union man-servant, thanks to website friend C Mack for allowing use to use his images.

However, most modern accounts of the conflict totally ignore the class and racial tensions bubbling just below the surface of northern life. One writer said: "Most white Americans at this time thought of black adults as children, lacking in mental ability and discipline. [They believed] Slavery had stripped black men of their manhood, so the thinking went, making them dependent and irresponsible. These stereotypes led most whites to assume that a black man could never be trained to fight like a white soldier." (2)

This was the prevailing belief by a large number of Northerners. These perceptions were present long before the Civil and had led to the adoption of the Militia Act of 1792, which "barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. Army; (Despite the fact that they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812)." There was actually a growing racism presence in the North leading up to the Civil War.
Initially, Lincoln supported the ban against using blacks in the Union army. He was concerned that it might lead the Border States like Missouri and Kentucky into joining the Confederacy. In hindsight, perhaps, "Honest Abe" might have been better served by preventing and not participating in many of the unconstitutional and inhuman actions.  Below is a Brady image of two man-servants.                                       

From Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus on eight different occasions, and his declaration of martial law in those parts of the country (such as Ohio in 1863) where the ordinary civil courts were open and well-functioning, to the imprisonment of Kentuckians without warrants, or proper indictments, to the destruction and theft of property in Jackson County Missouri, the chronicles of the conflict are chock full of heinous acts by the federal government and its soldiers, which drove Southern patriots to take up arms to defend their rights.

On August 30, 1861 John C Fremont declares martial law in Missouri and frees slaves of Missouri Confederates. 

On September 11th, 1861 Dishonest Abe Lincoln orders John C. Fremont to rescind his order freeing some slaves in Missouri and issue a new order conforming to the Confiscation Act passed by Congress.

On May 9th 1862 General David Hunter [US] frees the slaves in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

On May 19th Lincoln rescinds David Hunter's emancipation of the slaves in his department and uses the opportunity to call for a gradual emancipation.

On July 17, 1862  Dishonest Abe Lincoln writes a letter to the Congressmen from the border states, warning them of his upcoming Emancipation Proclamation. In it he states, "I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually. The next day he showed a draft to Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, both strong abolitionists.

 Meanwhile, in the spring of 1862, Major General Benjamin "Spoons" Butler commanded the forces that occupied New Orleans. The Confederate State of Louisiana, early in the war, had formed a militia of former slaves that was commanded by black officers. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, this entire unit offered to join the Union army. After some hesitation and after much deliberation, Butler accepted their offer. By doing so, "He transformed the Confederate militia into the First Regiment Native Louisiana Guards led by black captains and lieutenants. He later went on to form two more black regiments, which were commanded by white officers. These became the first, though unofficial, units of black troops in the Union Army. " (3)

When General John Fremont in Missouri and General David Hunter in South Carolina issued proclamations emancipating slaves and permitting them to enlist, their superiors quickly revoked them.  And one of those superiors was Abraham Lincoln, who still feared a widening rebellion if this action was allowed to stand.                                                                          

Soon, however, the growing number of ex-slaves and the decreasing number of white recruits, caused the Union Army to push for a removal of the ban. On July 17, 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, freeing slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. Five days later, Lincoln presented the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to Congress; the final version was adopted on September 22, 1862. Next is a photo of General John Charles Freemont                                                                                               
Meanwhile, "Increasing support for the abolitionists and for emancipation led to anxiety among New York's white pro-slavery supporters of the Democratic Party, particularly the Irish. To these New Yorkers, the Emancipation Proclamation was confirmation of their worst fears. It created a political firestorm that angered and dismayed conservative Republicans."In New York City, racial feelings among Irish immigrants were embittered by fears of black competition in the work place, and fueled by inflammatory "anti-nigger" editorials published in anti-war newspapers. In March 1863, further fuel was added to the fire in the form of a stricter federal draft law." (4)

Democratic Party leaders raised the specter of a New York deluged with southern blacks in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation. White workers unfavorably compared their $300 bounty with the $1000 bounty offered to the southern slaves. "In the midst of war-time economic distress, they believed that their political leverage and economic status was rapidly declining as blacks appeared to be gaining power". (5)
This act was the most explosive and unpopular policy of Lincoln's presidency. On July 13, 1863, three days of murder and mayhem known as the New York Draft Riots ensued. Untold numbers of African-Americans were hunted down and driven from their homes, beaten and/or lynched.

In addition to the perils of war faced by all Civil War soldiers, black soldiers faced additional problems stemming from racial prejudice. Blacks, for instance, were given inferior weapons and materials and inadequate medical care. They were initially paid a lowly $10 per month from which $3 was automatically deducted for clothing, resulting in a net pay of $7. In contrast, white soldiers received $13 per month from which no clothing allowance was drawn.

Blacks, like whites, were promised a bounty, but for blacks it was not paid until after the war was over, then only if they lived. Segregated units were formed with black enlisted men and typically commanded by white officers and black non-commissioned officers. What of the Missouri African-Americans?  Because of Missouri's divided loyalty, nowhere was a greater effort made to maintain the status quo. Around 109,000 Missourians fought for the Union while 30,000 fought for the Confederacy.   

In the fall of 1863, President Lincoln, forced by the need to raise more troops for the Union Army, sent Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas into Maryland, Tennessee, and Missouri to enroll blacks as solider. "For blacks, it was the dawn of a new day. They eagerly sought to enlist. Altogether, Missouri sent 8,400 blacks to fight in the Union Army, including the 62nd U.S. Regiment of (Missouri) Colored Infantry of African Descent. "Many Missouri blacks also served in out-of-state regiments, especially in the 1st Iowa Regiment of African Descent, and 1st and 2nd Regiments of Kansas Colored Volunteers."(6)
"Nationally, more than 186,000 blacks served in the military during the Civil War. They constituted 10 percent of the total Union Army force and 25 percent of the naval strength. Another 200,000 served as laborers and dock workers. There were more than 120 black regiments and 10 batteries of light artillery. By the war's end, more than 37,000 blacks had given their lives for their country. Nearly 35 percent of all blacks who wore the Union Army uniform saw combat, and they fought in 500 military actions and more than 40 major battles." (7)

It is easy to see what an overwhelming advantage to the Union Army these troops were in the dark days leading up to 1863 and until the end of the war. The black troops were absolutely critical to the Union victory, a fact left silent in nearly all Union histories. Large numbers of black children served as musicians, stables boys, powder monkeys and even man-servants for Union officers.

Blacks performed other valuable services for the Union Army besides fighting. They acted as informants and spies, pointing out locations of bushwhackers and guerrillas. They also worked as cooks, laborers, carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, nurses, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters."At the end of the war, the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantries raised more than $6,000 to fund a school back in Missouri. Nearly all contributed to this cause; one soldier gave $100 out of an annual salary of $156. The school they established in Jefferson City later became Lincoln University. " (8)

The outcome of the war seemed to forecast a rosy future for the black man, especially those who served as Yankee soldiers. Unfortunately that forecast proved to be highly inaccurate.

References: (1). "Journey to Equality, Black Troops in Union Blue"  copyright 1996, Constitutional Rights Foundation, 601 South Kingsley Drive, "Los Angeles, CA 90005. (2). Ibid. (3). Ibid.  (4). "The New York Draft Riots" An excerpt from: "In The Shadow Of Slavery"; African Americans in New York City 1626-1863. copyright  1996, Constitutional Rights Foundation, 601 South Kingsley Drive, "Los Angeles, CA 90005,  (5). Ibid.  (6)." Black Missourians in the Civil War" by Antonio Holland from: Preservation Issues" Missouri Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Program, electronic edition is Copyright 1995 University of Missouri-St. Louis. (7). Ibid. (8). Ibid.

© Patrick Marquis quantrillsguerrillas.com 2007, "Permission should be requested and agreed to before using this copyrighted essay and or image."                                                                                                                   

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