Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era

By Lovett, BobL | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era


Lovett, BobL, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. Edited by John David Smith. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Pp. xxii, 451. Acknowledgments, introduction, maps, illustrations, contributors, index. $39.95.)

John David Smith, Graduate Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, was inspired by the latest research in African-American, military, and social history to gather fourteen original essays for Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era. Smith has published three other books, An Old Creed for the New South (1985), Black Voices from Reconstruction (1996), and Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and "The American Negro" (2000). Most of the other contributors have also published articles and books.

The essays in Black Soldiers in Blue make a valuable contribution to the history of African Americans in the Civil War. The reader will examine both the participation of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in battles and the postwar activities of black veterans. Half the book's essays focus on USCT involvement in military engagements, and the rest pay attention to other, relatively little-known aspects of their experience. Smith's introductory essay offers a balanced survey of the history of the USCT from emancipation until the end of the war.

These fourteen essays do not supersede the work on the Negro in the Civil War by historians George Washington Williams, Benjamin Quarles, John Hope Franklin, John Blassingame, Mary Frances Berry, Edwin S. Redkey, and others. But these essays give us another perspective and some new information in the format of a synopsis. The book also contains a good group of illustrations, maps, and photographs, which range beyond the usual ones reproduced in publications about the Negro's Civil War. Of special interest is the essay by Richard Reid that follows the postwar experiences of USCT veterans in North Carolina. Reid's essay is heavily dependent on the U.S. Census reports of 1870 and 1890. He suspects, however, that many veterans were afraid to report their USCT background for fear of retaliation by local Confederates sympathizers; this may have been especially true for the 1890 census, which was taken at a time when American racial lynching was at its worst.

Other essays show that even during the war the USCT suffered abuse from Union and Confederate soldiers as well as locals who feared and despised Negro men with guns and authority; this was especially true in Charleston, where Negro soldiers enjoyed the honor of first occupying that racist stronghold. …

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