Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War

Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War

Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War

Black Troops, White Commanders, and Freedmen during the Civil War


The important roles played by blacks in the Civil War have only recently drawn the scholarly attention they so richly merit. Now Howard C. Westwood's articles on this topic have been collected together with an original essay written especially for this volume.

Westwood's work covers topics ranging from the roles played by Lincoln and Grant in beginning black soldiery to the sensitive issues that arose when black soldiers (and their white officers) were captured by the Confederates. The essays relate the exploits of black heroes such as Robert Smalls, who singlehandedly captured a Confederate steamer, as well as the experiences of the ignoble Reverend Fountain Brown, who became the first person charged with violating the Emancipation Proclamation.


"I have no purpose, directly or in- directly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists," said President Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address. "I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Yet war came, with all its unanticipated consequences. Two years later, Lincoln wrote to Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee, about the "great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoring the Union. the bare sight of fifty thousand armed, and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi, would end the rebellion at once." Lincoln believed that persuading a prominent Democrat and slaveholder like Johnson to recruit would increase the political and psychological effect of such an army, but Johnson did not even reply. Revolutions beget counterrevolutionaries.

Howard C. Westwood's interest in various aspects of military emancipation led to the series of essays collected in this book, probing significant and dramatic episodes of the Civil War. Arming blacks carried political and social implications extending beyond wartime service. This major and irreversible consequence of the conflict forced commanders in the field as well as legislators and administrators in Washington to reappraise traditional thought and practice. Some rode, others resisted, the revolutionary tide. Consequently, on the battle lines as well as at Washington, inconsistency pervaded the treatment of black soldiers.

Initial hesitation and ambiguity in federal policy toward black participation in the war led David Hunter and Benjamin F. Butler to preempt Washington officials. Acutely sensitive to the separation of civil and military functions, Ulysses S. Grant followed Lincoln's policy with a model mixture of restraint in murky areas, vigor where clarity existed. William T. Sherman characteristically followed an idiosyncratic course.

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