THE ACT OF CONGRESS OF JULY 28, 1866, AND THE FORMATION OF
THE 39TH AND 40TH REGIMENTS OF INFANTRY, (COLORED).
Following the close of the Civil War it was realized that our permanent military establishment needed reorganizing and strengthening to cope with the unsettled condition of the country, and the possibility of foreign complications in Mexico. Accordingly, on July 28, 1866, the Congress passed an act which provided for additional regiments of artillery, cavalry, and infantry, and directed, among other things that of the six additional regiments of cavalry provided therein two should be composed of colored men, and of the forty-five infantry regiments provided for, four should be composed of colored men. The act further provided that a certain proportion of the vacancies in the commissioned ranks in the new regiments should be filled by selection from among the officers of Volunteers who had served two years in the field during the war, and had been distinguished for capacity and good conduct. These provisions as to the officers taken in connection with debates in Congress and correspondence of the period indicate that one of the purposes (not the only one) in establishing colored regiments in the Regular Army was to provide for and to reward meritorious officers of colored volunteer regiments then in the process of disbandment.
It is interesting to note that in a debate in the Senate on July 9, 1866, on the proposed measure, it was urged by some senators favoring the bill, in answer to certain objections, that colored troops were acclimated to the South, where they would probably be needed the most; that if it was a privilege to serve in the Army, the colored troops had earned the privilege by their gallantry, and that if it was a duty, they should not be allowed to shirk it, and that they were as good as other troops, and were less liable to desert.
The provisions of the Act of July 28, 1866, were promulgated to the Army in General Orders No. 56, Adjutant General’s Office, War Department, Washington, D. C, on August 1, 1866.
On October 20, 1866, there were approximately 12,500 colored volunteers still in the service, and in his report to the President, dated Washington City, November 14, 1866, the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, stated that the new colored regiments for the Regular Army would be recruited, as far as possible, from the colored volunteers still in the service.
To carry out the provisions of the Act the War Department, on November 23, 1866, published General Orders No. 92, and Section III of the order stated, in part:
“The four regiments of infantry to be composed of colored men, will be the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Regiments of Infantry. The field officers of these regiments are * *
Colonel Mower, Joseph A.
Lieutenant Colonel Wheaton, Frank
Major Von Schrader, Alexander
Station—Department of the Gulf.
Colonel Miles, Nelson A.
Lieutenant Colonel Hicks, E. W.
Major Compton, Charles E.
Station—Department of Washington.”
The new infantry regiments were to be organized with a headquarters and ten companies; headquarters being composed of a Colonel, a Lieutenant Colonel, a Major, an