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

By Bruce A. Glasrud | Go to book overview

No Officers, No Fight!
THE SIXTH VIRGINIA VOLUNTEERS IN
THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR

Ann Field Alexander

When war with Spain threatened in the spring of 1898, the men of the First Battalion, Richmond’s black militia, were among the first Virginians to volunteer. They were stirred by the same patriotic feelings as other Americans, but war had special meaning for black soldiers at the end of the century, when violence and oppression marked race relations and white prejudice seemed intractable. Throughout the South, African Americans were losing political and civil rights acquired during Reconstruction.

As the plight of the race worsened, many black leaders reasoned that valor on the battlefield and a conspicuous show of patriotism during the SpanishAmerican War would halt the erosion of constitutional rights. Other leaders, including John Mitchell, editor of the black newspaper, the Richmond Planet, were cynical and worried that little good would come from black participation in the war effort. Mitchell’s study of American history suggested to him that whenever black troops won battles, the battles were forgotten. When black soldiers were defeated, the battles were “speedily remembered.” Nonetheless, men from Richmond’s battalion, and from Norfolk and Petersburg as well, signed up to fight.

Recognition for the African American soldiers of Virginia was slow in coming. Five years earlier, in November 1893, four representatives from the twenty-two-year-old militia had appealed to the city council that the unit

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