U.S. Colored Troops Essay


Colored Soldiers

The enlistment of colored men in Kentucky was in organizations belonging directly to the United States government. They did not serve any state organization, but were known as United States troops. In round numbers there were 14,000 of these enlistments in the state. As they were never in or connected with the Kentucky regiments, an account of them in no way belongs to this work, which is a history of the Union state organizations.

In regard to the use of negroes as soldiers the attitude of the Southern Confederacy was practically the same is that of the national government. This fact should not be forgotten whenever this subject is considered. The official records show that negroes were conscripted by the Confederacy in large numbers, for use in building fortifications, and as laborers and teamsters. All this character of work had to be performed, and in the Union armies it was done by the enlisted men. To the extent therefore that it was done in the Confederate armies and by conscripted negroes, leaving the white soldiers free to fight, this element must be counted as part of the military strength of the South.

But the Confederacy went further. It adopted the policy of putting the negroes in the army as soldiers. This has not been noticed in many histories of the war, but it is none the less a fact. Not only was that policy advocated by Jefferson Davis, and General Robert E. Lee, and many others in the highest positions, it was also favored by the Confederate House of Representatives and the Confederate Senate, and actually became a law, too late however, to be of any practical value to the Southern cause.

Abundant authority can be cited for this statement, but none other is necessary when the whole matter is stated in full in Jefferson Davis' book, entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government." In the first volume, pp. 515-519, the whole story is told.

Mr. Davis mentions the act of Congress which authorizes the employment of slaves for fatigue duty, and says this act "brought forward the question of the employment of negroes as soldiers in the army, which was warmly advocated by some and as ardently opposed by others." He then makes an extended quotation from his message on the subject opposing the policy. He then says:

Subsequent events advanced my views from a prospective to a present need for the enrollment of negroes to take their place in the ranks. Strenuously I argued the question with members of Congress who called to confer with me. To a member of the Senate (the House in which we most needed a vote) I stated as I had done to many others, the fact of having led negroes against a lawless band of white men, and the assurance which the experiment gave me, that they might under proper conditions be relied on in battle, and finally used to him the expression which I believe I can repeat exactly, "If the Confederacy falls there should be written on its tomb-stone, 'died of a theory'." General Lee was brought before a committee to state his opinion as to the probable efficiency of negroes as soldiers, and disappointed the probable expectation by his unqualified advocacy of the proposed measure. After much discussion in Congress, a bill authorizing the president to ask for and accept from their owners such number of able-bodied to negroes as he might deem expedient, subsequently passed the House, but was lost in the Senate by one vote. The senators of Virginia opposed the measure so strongly that only legislative instruction could secure their support of it. The legislature did so instruct them, and they voted for it. Finally, the bill passed with an amendment providing that not more than twenty-five percent of the male slaves between the ages of 18 and 45 should be called out. But the passage of the act had been delayed so long that the opportunity was lost. There did not remain time enough to obtain any result from its provisions.

This quotation from the History of the Southern Confederacy by its president, Jefferson Davis, establishes the truth of the statement that the attitude of the Confederacy to the policy of using negroes as soldiers in the armies was the same as that of the national government.

Copyright © 2000-2009, Robert M. Baker, Timothy Downey, and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Kentucky Division.


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