Eagles on Their Buttons: A Black Infantry Regiment in the Civil War

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EAGLES ON THEIR BUTTONS: A Black Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, Versalle F. Washington, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1999, 113 pages, $24.95.

Eagles on Their Buttons is the culmination of detailed research on the 5th US Colored Troop (USCT), which was raised in 1863 and fought during the last year and a half of the Civil War. Versalle Washington cites excellent source material regarding the regiment and its fight to become a full-fledged combat unit of the Union Army. However, his outstanding research is sometimes overridden by his lack of objectivity.

The 5th USCT was, at first, a state volunteer regiment of Ohio blacks and some whites. I am not sure that Washington gives a completely unbiased assessment of the obstacles these men faced. His logic appears to be seriously flawed when he stereotypes Southerners as racists then gives excellent, detailed descriptions of how racist Northerners were as well.

There were many black soldiers in northern regiments who might have made fine officers. …