Military history of African Americans is that of African Americans in the United States since the arrival of the first black slaves in 1619 to the present day. African American military history is marked by feats throughout several conflicts in American History;


Confederate Troops

    Confederate States Army

    Because of the controversial nature of the subject the debate over how many African-Americans served in Confederate uniform, and how many of them served willingly and without coercion is contentious. One estimate by Ed Smith of American University suggests that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks, both slave and free, served in the confederate military in some capacity; however, the vast majority of these were likely teamsters, cooks, musicians, and hospital attendants.

    "Almost fifty years before the (Civil) War, the South was already enlisting and utilizing Black manpower, including Black commissioned officers, for the defense of their respective states. Therefore, the fact that Free and slave Black Southerners served and fought for their states in the Confederacy cannot be considered an unusual instance, rather continuation of an established practice with verifiable historical precedence." - "The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell" by Lt. Col (retired) Michael Lee Lanning, Birch Lane Press (June 1997)

    There were many recorded instances of combat service of Black Confederates which can be found in the Federal Official Records, Northern and Southern newspapers and the letters and diaries of soldiers from both sides. In addition there are recorded instances of Black Southerners serving as regularly-enlisted combat soldiers before the Union allowed enlistment of Blacks.

    Elgin (Illinois) Daily Courier-News, Monday, April 12, 1948 - "Robert (Uncle Bob) Wilson, Negro veteran of the Confederate army who observed his 112th birthday last January 13, died early yesterday morning in the veterans' hospital at the Elgin State hospital...He enlisted as a private in Company H of the 16th regiment of Virginia Infantry on Oct. 9, 1862 and discharged May 31, 1863."

    For most of the war the Confederate Government prohibited the enlistment of African Americans as armed soldiers in the national army, but the states and individual units often varied from or ignored outright such prohibitions since there were actually very few "national army" regiments at any time during the war with most military units still under state command on loan to the Confederate government.

    The keywords in discussing "official Confederate policy" regarding Black soldiers are "national army." States still controlled their military policies within the Confederate command structure but, unlike the Union, did not surrender total control of their forces as part of a "national army."

    The Confederate Congress authorized salaries for black musicians in 1862, stating "whenever colored persons are employed as musicians in any regiment or company, they shall be entitled to the same pay now allowed by law to musicians regularly enlisted."

    Some individual states in the confederacy permitted free blacks to enlist as soldiers in their state militias continuing a longstanding tradition. The first to do so was Tennessee which passed a law on June 21, 1861 authorizing the recruitment of state militia units composed of "free persons of color" between the ages of 15 and 50. Louisiana, which had a sizable free black population, followed suit and assembled the all-black 1st Louisiana Native Guard. This regiment was later forced to disband in February, 1862 when the state legislature passed a law in January, 1862, that reorganized the militia by conscripting “all the free white males capable of bearing arms… irrespective of nationality”.

    Captured Union African-American soldiers, however, were not treated with equality by Confederate troops as white troops. It is a popularly-held folk legend unsupported by documentation that those who were captured were summarily put to death along with any white Union officers who were captured having led them into battle - this was a policy stated, but not put into practice, by the Confederacy. In reality, Black Union soldiers who were captured were treated as runaway slaves and, if their owners could be located, returned to them. If the owners could not be located they were put to work to support the Confederate war effort.

    Alabama authorized the enlistment of "mixed blood" creoles in 1862 for a state militia unit in Mobile.

    Black Southerners served as combat soldiers often with some of the most celebrated and feared Confederate commands and commanders:

    Federal Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805, Lt. Col. Parkhurst's Report (Ninth Michigan Infantry) on General Forrest's attack at Murfreesboro, Tenn, July 13, 1862: "The forces attacking my camp were the First Regiment Texas Rangers [8th Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers, ed.], Colonel Wharton, and a battalion of the First Georgia Rangers, Colonel Morrison, and a large number of citizens of Rutherford County, many of whom had recently taken the oath of allegiance to the United States Government. There were also many negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day."

    In January 1864, General Patrick Cleburne and several other Confederate officers in the Army of the Tennessee proposed using slaves as soldiers in the national army since the Union was using black troops. Cleburne recommended offering slaves their freedom if they fought and survived. Confederate President Jefferson Davis refused to consider Cleburne's proposal and forbade further discussion of the idea.

    The concept, however, did not die. By the fall of 1864, the South was losing more and more ground, and some believed that only by arming the slaves could defeat be averted. On January 11, 1865 General Robert E. Lee wrote the Confederate Congress urging them to arm and enlist black slaves in exchange for their freedom. On March 13, the Confederate Congress passed General Order 14, and President Davis signed the order into law. The order was issued March 23, 1865, but only a few African American companies were raised. Two companies were armed and drilled in the streets of Richmond, Virginia shortly before the besieged southern capital fell.

    Despite popular legend, there is documentary evidence that they did see limited combat service:

    Richmond Sentinel, March 21, 1865 - "THE BATTALION from Camps Winder and Jackson, under the command of Dr. Chambliss, including the company of colored troops under Captain Grimes, will parade on the square on Wednesday evening, at 4* o’clock. This is the first company of negro troops raised in Virginia. It was organized about a month since, by Dr. Chambliss, from the employees of the hospitals, and served on the lines during the recent Sheridan raid. "

    One of the units accompanied General Lee's retreat toward Appomattox and fought at the battle of Amelia, Virginia two days before Lee's surrender.

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