Tag Archives: USCTs

The Myth of the Black Union Soldier

Update: In my rush to finish the sources section at the end of the guest post I left out one important article by Carole Emberton, which has been incredibly influential on how I think about the connection between black Union soldiers, violence, and Reconstruction. “Only Murder Makes Men: Reconsidering the Black Military Experience,” Journal of the Civil War Era, 2, NO . 3 (2012).

Today I have a guest post at The Civil War Monitor’s “Front Lines Blog.” I’ve been meaning for some time to write a short essay about how United States Colored Troops have come to be remembered during the sesquicentennial. This is something that I can easily see expanding for my project on the sesquicentennial.

It’s hard to believe that 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the Hollywood movie Glory. Twenty-five years later it is also difficult to remember that for many Americans this was their first introduction to the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the broader story of African Americans and the Civil War. More than midway through the Civil War sesquicentennial, a very different picture confronts us. The story of black soldiers is front and center in a narrative that places slavery and emancipation at the center of our understanding of what the war was about and what it accomplished. The contributions of United States Colored Troops can be seen on the big screen, in plays and musicals, news articles, museum exhibits, on National Park Service battlefields and in the textbooks we use in our schools.

Click here for the rest of the essay.

“We Won That War and Never Let Them Forget It”

In 2011 I took part in a panel on the myth of the black Confederate soldier with Emmanuel Dabney, Ervin Jordan, and Jaime Martinez at the annual meeting of the ASALH in Richmond. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but I did not attend the Carter G. Woodson luncheon featuring Daryl Michael Scott. The topic of his address – or should I say sermon – was the importance of remembering the service of black soldiers as “The Greatest Black Generation.” Continue reading

Sketch of an Argument About the Crater

What follows is a very rough draft of the opening section of an essay that explores white Union perceptions of United States Colored Troops who fought at the Crater. Please feel free to comment and be as critical as you like. I very much appreciate it.

On July 9, 1864 Frank Leslie’s Illustrated featured on its front page a dramatic image of the 22nd United States Colored Troops carrying the first line of rebel works as part of the initial assaults by the Army of the James against the city of Petersburg, Virginia on June 15. The image depicts the men joining together to haul off a captured Confederate cannon while two dead soldiers serve as a reminder of the sacrifice paid for this prize. It is a moment of triumph that artist, E.F. Mullen, did not want readers to think went unnoticed on the field of battle. In the backdrop white Ohioans doff their hats, wave regimental flags, unsheathe swords and cheer in an open display of support for their black comrades.  Continue reading

Nothing Worth Reading Since Benjamin Quarles?

USCTYesterday I caught a panel discussion on race and the challenges of teaching Civil War history from a recent conference at Wake Forest, which aired on CSPAN. I didn’t find the panel discussion to be particularly interesting, but what struck me was a comment from Hari Jones, who argued that nothing that has been written about black Civil War soldiers since the publication of Benjamin Quarles’s The Negro in the Civil War (1953) is worth reading. Continue reading

Alvin C. Voris Connects Military Service to Race Relations

Alvin C. VorisAlvin C. Voris rose through the ranks in command of Ohio troops and by the end of the war was brevetted major general. Below are a few excerpts from his letters which were published a few years ago as A Citizen-Soldier’s Civil War: The Letters of Brevet Major General Alvin C. Voris and edited by Jerome Mushkat.

I find the evolution of Voris’s thinking on the conduct and service of black soldiers to be quite interesting and reflective of a broader trend within the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James. By November 10 Lincoln had been reelected and Voris had taken temporary command of a black unit. The Crater represents the nadir of white perceptions of their black comrades in arms. There is no questioning the fact that Ferrero’s Fourth Division was scapegoated by both those who were on the battlefield that day and those who learned later about it later, but a closer look suggests that the condemnations were relatively restrained and short-term.

It’s a more complex story and one that I am currently exploring for an essay that I need to finish in the next few weeks.  Continue reading