Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

59

AL to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant:
CW, 6:374–375

In the summer of 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant commanded all Union forces in the District of Western Tennessee and Northern Mississippi. After a prolonged and costly siege, Vicksburg had fallen to Grant, and his army had gained control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy in two. Displaying his deep involvement in planning military strategy and the next move for his favorite general, Lincoln expressed his concern over the French in Mexico and continued blockade running out of Mobile, Alabama. He also sought to gauge Grant's opinion on the use of black troops. While the general shared the president's prejudiced views on African Americans, he needed no further convincing over their fighting ability. During the siege of Vicksburg, Grant learned of the untested unit of black soldiers that had repulsed a vicious Confederate attack at Milliken's Bend on June 7 and of the heroism of the men of the Corps d' Afrique that had served so gallantly, if unsuccessfully, at Port Hudson on July 9. In his reply to Lincoln on August 23, Grant—whose army was exhausted— told the president that “I have given the subject of arming the negro my hearty support. This, with the emancipation … is the heaviest blow yet given the Confederacy.” Lincoln, who only the year before thought blacks incapable of serving as soldiers, now saw them as indispensable to victory. “It works doubly, weakening the enemy and strengthening us.” The newly appointed Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, head of recruitment for the United States Colored Troops (USCT), arrived in Grant's district in the spring to assess the willingness of Union officers to accept black soldiers and to help raise men for the USCT. Recruitment in the Mississippi Valley, however, proved difficult at first as Confederates removed as many of their slaves as possible to Texas and Georgia. For a discussion of Lincoln's and Grant's views on the recruitment of black troops in the Mississippi Valley, see: James

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