Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Not a mass of servile blackness:" Area African-American soldiers in the Civil War

26th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops Regimental Color. It features a gold embroidered oak wreath encircling the words "U.S. Colored Troops". The motto reads "God and Liberty." Image via New York State Military Museum website (http://dmna.ny.gov). 

"Not a school of boisterous apes, as they will tell you who deny the negro human attributes; not a mass of servile blackness that meets you with bended knee and eyes downcast, but nearly two thousand intelligent athletes - living bronze statues of Hercules, who have had the fortitude to flee oppression or possess the courage to battle against it . . . you expected to behold a great unwieldy collection of Jim Crows and Robert Ridleys, grinning unmeaningly out of the Government blue, but your scarecrow proves to be a living, thinking man -- your effigy gives palpable proof of being something human."
- New York Times reporter's impressions upon seeing the 26th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, in training - 28 Feb 1864

The United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) were regiments of the United States Army during the Civil War comprised of African-American soldiers. African-Americans were first authorized to be employed as combat soldiers in the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and the formation of African-American soldiers into regiments under state designations was officially begun later that year. By the end of the Civil War, the United States Colored Troops' 175 regiments supplied about one-tenth of the Union Army's manpower.

A recruiting poster directed at African-American men during the Civil War. It refers to efforts by the Lincoln administration to provide equal pay for black soldiers and equal protection for black POWs. The original poster is located in the National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917, Record Group 94.

In addition to the dangers that all soldiers faced during the Civil War, African-American soldiers also faced mistreatment and discrimination based on their race. African-American units were not used in combat as extensively as they might have been; African-American troops were often assigned the jobs of cleaning latrines, constructing fortifications, digging trenches, and loading and unloading wagons and ships. The camps of African-American regiments were at times plundered by white Union troops. African-American soldiers were paid $10 per month from which $3 was automatically deducted for clothing, resulting in a net pay of $7. Meanwhile, white soldiers received $13 per month from which no clothing allowance was drawn. In June 1864, after protest from both whites and blacks, Congress granted equal pay to the soldiers of the U.S.C.T. and paid the soldiers retroactively.

New York State was credited with 4,125 men in the U.S.C.T., and many African-American men who enlisted in New York joined the 20th, 26th, and 31st regiments of the U.S.C.T. In terms of numbers, New York contributed about 2% of the U.S.C.T. soldiers; over half of the soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops were from the Confederacy-led south.

Among New York's contributions to the United States Colored Troops are two men buried at Vale Cemetery: William Childers and Jared Jackson.

William Childers was born in Tennessee. In the early 1860s, he was living in Ballston and working as a waiter. He enlisted on December 19, 1863 and served as a private in Company F of the 26th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry. Notes in his service record indicate that he served in the action of July 1964 at Bloody Bridge, St. John's Island, South Carolina. After the war, he moved to Schenectady, where he worked as a coachman and a hostler until his death in 1890 at the age of 49. He is buried at Vale Cemetery. His name is included on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Mil 545 - Certification that William Childers, "a colored recruit," mustered into the Union army and was credited to the 5th Ward of the city of Schenectady.

Jared A. Jackson grew up in a farming family in Bethlehem, New York. He enlisted on December 14, 1863 and served in Company H of the 26th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry. He entered service as a private and was appointed as a corporal in August 1864. Soon after the war, Jackson moved to Schenectady. He and his wife, Hannah, lived in Schenectady, where Jackson was employed as a laborer. He died in 1888 from tuberculosis and chronic liver disease and was buried in Vale Cemetery. His name is also included on the African American Civil War Memorial.

You can learn more about the role of African-American troops in the Civil War this Saturday, January 26, when Dr. Allen Ballard, a Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University at Albany, will give a talk entitled "African-American Troops in the Civil War" at the Franchere Education Center at the Mabee Farm. Details are below -- we hope to see you there!

Lecture: "African-American Troops in the Civil War"

Speaker: Dr. Allen Ballard

Date: Saturday, January 26, 2013

Time: 2:00 p.m.

Location: Franchere Education Center, Mabee Farm Historic Site, 1080 Main Street, Rotterdam Junction, NY 12150

Cost: $5.00 admission – Free for SCHS members              

Dr. Allen Ballard will trace the role of African-American troops during the Civil War. As part of his presentation, he will read a selection from his historical novel, Where I'm Bound, which fictionalizes the experiences of an African-American regiment in the Union Army.  Ballard is a Professor of History and Africana Studies at the University at Albany. He is the author of two non-fiction books, The Education of Black Folk and One More Day's Journey: The Story of a Family and a People, two novels, Where I'm Bound and Carried By Six, and, most recently, a memoir entitled Breaching Jericho's Walls: A Twentieth-Century African American Life. Ballard's articles have appeared in scholarly and popular journals, including the New York Times Magazine.

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