Buffalo Soldier Regiment: History of the Twenty-Fifth United States Infantry, 1869-1926

By John H. Nankivell | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B (2)

THE FIRST BLACK SOLDIERS

It is well known that the first systematic attempt to organize colored troops during the war of the rebellion was the socalled “Hunter Regiment.’ The officer originally detailed to recruit for this purpose was Sergeant C. T. Trowbridge of the New York Volunteer Engineers (Colonel Serrell). His detail was dated May 7, 1862; S. O. 84, Dept. South.

Enlistments came in very slowly, * * * * Nevertheless, they gradually enlisted, the most efficient recruiting officer being Sergeant William Bronson, of Company A, in my regiment, who always prided himself on this service, and used to sign himself by the very original title, “No. 1, African Foundations” in commemoration of his deeds.

* * * * *

The “Hunter Regiment” remained in camp on Hilton Head Island until the beginning of August, 1862, kept constantly under drill, but much demoralized by desertion. It was then disbanded, except one company. That company, under command of Sergeant Trowbridge, then acting as captain, but not commissioned, was kept in service, and was sent (August 5, 1862), to garrison St. Simon’s Island, on the coast of Georgia. On this island (made famous by Mrs. Kemble’s description) there were then five hundred colored people, and not a single white man.

* * * * *

* * * * * the company remained two months at St. Simon’s, doing picket duty within hearing of the rebel drums, though not another scout ever ventured on the island, to their knowledge. Every Saturday Trowbridge summoned the island people to drill with his soldiers, and they came in hordes, men, women and children, in every imaginable garb, to the number of one hundred and fifty or two hundred.

His own men were poorly clothed and hardly shod at all; and, as no new supply of uni’ forms was provided, they grew more and more ragged. They got poor rations, and no pay; but they kept up their spirits. Every week or so some of them would go on scouting excursions to the mainland; one scout used to go regularly to his old mother’s hut, and keep himself hid under the bed, while she collected for him all the latest news of the rebel move ments. This man never came back without bringing recruits with him.

At last the news came that Major-General Mitchell had come to relieve General Hun’ ter and that Brigadier-General Saxton had gone North; and Trowbridge went to Hilton Head in some anxiety to see if he and his men were utterly forgotten. He prepared a report, showing the services and claims of his men, and took it with him. This was early in October, 1862. The first person he met was Brigadier-General Saxton, who informed him that he had authority to organize five thousand colored troops, and that he (Trowbridge) should be senior captain of the first regiment.

This was accordingly done; and Company A of the First South Carolina could honestly claim to date its enlistment back to May, 1862, although they never got pay for that period of their service, and their date of muster was November 15, 1862.

* * * * *

Except the Louisiana soldiers mentioned in the Introduction, of whom no detailed reports have, I think, been published, my regiment was unquestionably the first mustered into the service of the United States; the first company muster bearing date, November 7, 1862, and the others following in quick succession.

The second regiment in order of muster was the “First Kansas Colored,” dating from January 13, 1863. The first enlistment in the Kansas regiment goes back to August 6, 1862; while the earliest technical date of enlistment in my regiment was October 19, 1862, although, as was stated above, one company really dated its organization back to May, 1862. My muster as colonel dates back to November 10, 1862, several months earlier

-181-

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