Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865-1917

By Bruce A. Glasrud | Go to book overview

“They Are as Proud of Their Uniform
as Any Who Serve Virginia”
AFRICAN AMERICAN PARTICIPATION IN THE
VIRGINIA VOLUNTEERS, 1872–1899

Roger D. Cunningham

although African Americans fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, their participation in the nineteenthcentury militia was prevented by the Militia Act of 1792, which limited membership to “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen” between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. Most states interpreted this statute as legally preventing them from enrolling black militiamen. Before the Civil War, a few white units used black musicians, and some free black citizens organized segregated volunteer companies in the North, but the latter were not officially recognized by their respective state governments.1

During the war, almost 200,000 African Americans—most of them newly freed slaves—were allowed to serve in the Union Army and Navy, and in 1866, Congress rewarded their loyal service by adding six black regiments to the Regular Army. About 3,000 black veterans enlisted in these new units, while others, missing the military camaraderie that they had enjoyed during the war, joined freedmen who were attracted to martial pomp and ceremony and organized segregated companies that were accepted into the militia for the first time. By the mid-1880s, the militia of nineteen states and the District of Columbia, including every former Confederate state except Arkansas, incorporated black units.2

Virginia had one of the largest black militia contingents. For more than twenty-five years, the state provided arms and equipment to at least twenty

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