View Full Version : Black soldiers in white units?

Dusty Merritt
07-25-2008, 04:14 PM

Interesting article. Juanita Patience Moss, author of "The Forgotten Black Soldiers in White Regiments During the Civil War," claims at least 2,000 black men served in white Federal units.

"Moss's great-grandfather, Crowder Pacien, escaped from slavery at 18 and enlisted with the 103rd Regiment of Pennsylvania, a white Union Army division. He joined as a cook on Jan. 1, 1864, in Plymouth, N.C. He was discharged in June 1865 as a private."

I've heard of black cooks in white regiments, but does his promotion to private imply he ended up in a combat role? Moss says Pacien & at least 12 other black men fought in the Battle of Plymouth.

I'm quite interested to read this book. Anyone else ever encounter evidence of black troops in white units?

Curt Schmidt
07-25-2008, 06:17 PM

IMHO, pretty "ambiguous" research and a flawed data-gathering technique.

The article seems to drift between operationalizing "serve" and "fought."
Meaning, serving as cook, servant, laborer, etc., in a White unit is not quite the same as shouldering arms in the ranks in combat.

And, I have a problem with the concept of looking at rosters (how many at that?) and "making" men Black as a result of the descriptions. For example, if we went by say black hair and darker complexion... my father (an "Alpine German") would qualify as a Black.

IMHO, an interesting research question, but neither the very short news article or the research methodology makes or breaks the premise/question/hypothesis.


07-25-2008, 06:26 PM
The 39th New York (they, of course, being the UN of the AoP) lists Frank Cosey of Co. H and Sam Lewis of Co. K as being of color. Cosey, 18, was a sailor from Boston. He transferred to the 117th USCT in March, 1865. Lewis, 23, was from Culpeper, VA, and died of disease on August 6. 1863.

05-19-2009, 08:33 PM
Marc is correct there were a few blacks that served in the 39th New York. Check out http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/civil-war-cubans/garibaldi-guard.htm

I also attended a conference on USCT and black civilians during the war, and there was a woman there who had documentation on her ancestor who ran into federal lines early in the war and at some point was promoted to pvt and served if not the rest of the war most of the war with the unit. She said she would write a book about it but so far i am not sure if she has finnished it.

Yellowhammer Rebel
05-19-2009, 09:57 PM
I remember reading in a book about the Iron Brigade that one of there regiments (Minnesota I think) had a black serving in the ranks just like everyone else. The book stated that being mid-westerners they were more concerned with a persons qualities than with the color of their skin.

05-19-2009, 09:58 PM
If I am not mistaken, then the US navy was, and had been for a while prior to hostilities, taking on men of colour. Would this extend to this discussion or is it just limited to Infantry units.
Would they have been part of any Naval armed detachment alongside whites?

106th PVI
05-19-2009, 10:02 PM
Elijah Onley served with the 42d Penna. He was an escaped slave from Maryland and "adopted" the Pennsylvania men. He became Lt Colonel Edwin Irvin's servant and fought in the battleline with the soldiers. There are many accounts and the story/ photos of him in "History of the Bucktails 42d Regiment of the Line" by Thompson & Rausch and "42d, 149th & 150th Pennsylvania Bucktails Photo Album" by Patrick Schroeder.

Pvt Schnapps
05-20-2009, 09:04 AM
Army Regulations forbade the recruitment of nonwhite soldiers in Para. 929:

"Any free white male person above the age of eighteen and under thirty-five years, being at least five feet three inches high, effective, ablebodied, sober, free from disease, of good character and habits, and with a competent knowledge of the English language, may be enlisted."

But these restrictions, especially regarding the English language (e.g., in the 9th Ohio and 32nd Indiana), seem to have fallen by the wayside for the volunteer service during the war.

Kim Crawford's book on the 16th Michigan mentions a black soldier serving in the ranks of Company B during the Peninsula Campaign.


A Grand Army of Black Men has a chapter titled "Black Soldiers in White Regiments."


In addition, several "white" regiments accepted American Indian recruits, including Penobscots in Maine and, in Michigan, a contingent of Chippewas who violated the Regs both racially and linguistically:

Very few of them had any knowledge of the English language, which made it very hard to drill them like the other soldiers, and they often rebelled in many little things they were required to do, and had to be handled with soft gloves, so to speak, in order to keep them in line with the other soldiers. The idol of their company was Big Tom, an Indian Sergeant of immense proportions, and it was thru this Sergeant that the officers of the company were able to handle them.

Charles Bibbins, in Raymond Herek's These Men Have Seen Hard Service

There's faint evidence that some of the provisional units of government employees called out in the defense of Washington in July, 1864 were integrated, though others were raised on segregated lines with black employees detailed as teamsters or formed up under white officers and NCOs. It's something I'm still looking into.

05-20-2009, 12:46 PM
Michael has a great point. What the regs say and what the troops did were to different things.

05-22-2009, 01:27 AM
As far as he navy goes, my understanding is that it had already been integrated for decades, if not since the beginning, due at least to the limited space on ships.

It seems that most of the 11th Corps would be in violation of regulations regarding 'a competent knowledge of the English language.'
There were 6 Iroquois in the 86th New York Infantry.

I don't want to drift from the focus of this thread, but the last two examples reinforce the theme that the regulations weren't necessarily always being paid attention to...

Pvt Schnapps
05-22-2009, 08:01 AM
I should probably add in defense of the Regulations that the army adapted them to the demands of war on a continental scale in several ways. Later revisions include such things as providing for recruiting ads in German newspapers, removing "Christian" from the requirements for chaplains (thus allowing units like Company C of the 82nd Illinois access to an official rabbi), and establishing the USCT.

My favorite quote on the Regulations comes from T. W. Higginson in an article in The Atlantic Monthly called "Regular and Volunteer Officers" (September 1864):

How many good volunteer officers will admit, if they speak candidly, that on entering the service they half believed the “Army Regulations” to be a mass of old-time rubbish, which they would gladly reedit, under contract, with immense improvements, in a month or two, — and that they finally left the service with the conviction that the same book was a mine of wisdom, as yet but half explored! ... Many a form which at first seems to the volunteer officer merely cumbrous and trivial he learns to prize at last as almost essential to good discipline; he seldom attempts a short cut without finding it the longest way, and rarely enters on that heroic measure of cutting red-tape without finding at last that he has entangled his own fingers in the process.

But you know me, Todd. I'm a big fan of red tape. :)

05-22-2009, 04:52 PM
Also you got to remember in some parts of the country they did not consider a person of color to even be an American Citizen freedman or not and this still was prevelant especially in the south up to the 1940s, I had the opportunity today actually to see original arrest records in South Carolina from the 40s and the black males were listed as follow.

Race: Black

Nationality: NEGRO

Curt Schmidt
05-22-2009, 07:15 PM

IMHO, the "lessons" of the Civil War were largely lost and forgotten until well after WWII.

While there are a few exceptions, IMHO...

Historically, the Navy was hardly integrated. NUG, blacks could only serve at shore installations or on harbor craft, being relegated to messmen, stewards, and laborers on combat sea craft until April 7, 1942 when the Navy (on paper) opened its "general service."
The Coast Guard got the jump on the Navy but allowing other than Black messmen, and then putting Blacks on combat shipss.
The Marines first admited Black recruits after May 1, 1942.

The model for Navy integration was the destroyer escort U.S.S. Macon commissioned in March of 1944 with mostly White officers and Black crew.
When launched in 1943, it was nicknamed "Eleanor's Folly" for the First Lady's integration views.

Others' mileage will vary...

Context is everything Mess

Old Cremona
05-23-2009, 08:31 AM
I think Curt is referring to the USS Mason, DE 529.

Curt Schmidt
05-23-2009, 08:51 AM

Yes, thanks for the correction. U.S.S. Mason.

The Macon was either a zeppelin or a cruiser.

Typograpically Challenged Mess

05-24-2009, 03:30 AM
Thanks for pointing that out about the navy. I hadn't really thought through what black sailors were doing onboard ship, only about the fact that blacks and whites were on the same ships together. That makes the situation basically the same as it was in the army.
I'm also wondering, given the laxness of a volunteer army, if any of the black men listed as privates in white units carried a musket, or were just listed as such occasionally. The racist majority would seem to me to have put a stop to it.

Gary of CA
05-24-2009, 10:15 AM
The Navy didn't desegregate its sailors until the New Era Navy (1880s). When that happened, minorities were removed from the ranks and limited to serving as cooks or stewards or laundrymen. Before that though, the USN was an integrated service and one could find a black petty officer commanding white seamen. The USN wasn't reintegrated until many years later.

Marine Mike
05-25-2009, 11:57 PM
Navy desegregation was a depends. African-Americans made at one point was 23% of the Navy (18,000+), the Navy beginning the conflict at 5%. The Navy at it's high point had about 700 ships of all types. The distribution of Blacks depended on the ship with as little as 5% on capital ships like the U.S.S Kearsage to 100% on ships suppling provisions and coal. Their ratings and duties varied per experience. Men who spent a number of years in the whaling fleet would get higher rates and better positions in the blue water navy, tatoos were helpful. A few became gun captains which would indicate they were also trained in boarding pike, musket and cutlass.
The unskilled, many being branded contrabrand, were given duty and respect as per the stereotype of their time. The inability of most contraband to read reinforced the stereotype. That being said many contraband proved great value of their knowledge of local waters in the brown water navy.
I've included a link to the National Archive
and the National Park Service.

Mike Stein
U.S. Marine Guard

05-27-2009, 01:12 PM
Maybe not too related, but while we're on the topic of the Navy, I seem to remember that a black sailor was "pressed" into service aboard the CSS Shenandoah in 1864 (?)...and somewhat reluctantly because he had apparently once served in the USN. I wonder then, how many African-Americans might have served in the CSN?

-Sam Dolan
1st Texas Inf.

Marine Mike
05-28-2009, 02:20 AM
There was a David White that was impressed to serve the officers mess on the Alabama. I don't remember which ship he was captured on but recall it was early in the Alabama's carerr. He was among those drowned when the ship went down after its fight with the Kearsarge. But I'd be interested in what you can find on the Shenandoah. It's possible because of it's attacks on the whaling fleet.

Mike Stein
U.S. Marine Guard

05-28-2009, 05:18 PM

I cannot quite remember what I read about the black sailor aboard the Shenandoah, though I did read it in one of the two books that were out on the subject back in '06 and '07.

-Sam Dolan
1st Texas Inf.

Charlie Newman
06-13-2009, 09:49 PM
i was reading and over 9,000 black soliders were in the Union Navy

David Fox
06-14-2009, 06:00 AM
A point: the Civil War Union volunteer regiments were not the people for whom the U.S. Army recruitment regulations were initially promulgated. In the emergency of '61 and '62, plenty of men who had little or no command of English, who had numerous birthdays since turning 35, or who hadn't shaved yet openly joined volunteer organizations. To add to the "colour" mix, northern Indians joined in numbers. The Regulars MAY have remained simon-pure, but not the bulk of the forces. As to the Confederacy, Louisiana units sometimes drilled to French commands and the Confederate Calendar a few years ago illustrated a Mexican-American. Somewhere I've seen an Oriental.... And don't get me started on General Stand Watie.
I am sceptical of the current modest flood of wish-dreaming putting blacks into Confederate ranks. Many servants (many who ran away at an early opportunity, many who were loyal and some who shouldered a musket in the heat of battle), the odd mascot, the New Orleans free black unit which offered its services in '61 (apparently declined), that elusive unarmed black unit drilling in Richmond in the war's last days, yes; but as for signed-up, paid as soldiers and issued a musket, I'm from Missouri on that. Just as a few woman disguised their identity and campaigned, a few blacks (by then-legal definition) passing for white may have donned grey too.

06-14-2009, 06:11 AM
I am so glad I mentioned the navy, this stuff is priceless. I never realized that it was so in depth and even in the Navy was not as clear cut as it first seemed. Anyone know the designation of the two Black regiments raised by the CS, left behind, who became Union., or what unit they became/joined?
(Richmond I think)

06-14-2009, 06:09 PM
I believe the Navy thought that way because at that point in time you sailing was a skilled job that not every one could do and many of the jobs that went along with the sea. Unlike the Army where most ppl can be trained relativly easily.

06-16-2009, 10:47 AM
To add to the general fund of knowledge from my friend Marvin's post...

The US Navy was charging full steam ahead from the Age of Sail and Wooden Ships with Iron Men into the Age of Steam and eventually the Dreadnoughts/Battleships. The regulations were only incrementally changed before and during the Civil War to reflect the addition of Engineering Officers and Ratings to work the steam plants and many of the old devices of the Age of Sail were in full force. The Navy had a huge expansion and although vessels were outfitted in Naval Yards under Naval Regulations, once that ship put to sea and was on blockade duty or some other station it was the sole responsibility and perview of the Captain.

So... how did 9,000 some odd Black Sailors join the Navy. Many applied for positions on ships in the Northern Cities, similiarly to how Amry volunteers were recruited, each ship's Captain had to recruit sailors to fill his ship's company before he could put to sea. Duty in the Navy was the only means available to a Freeman to serve until units like the 54th MASS and eventually the USCT's were formed in late 1862 to 1863. If you had a skill, it was even easier and you could often sign on to a ship immediately into a skilled rating like Yeoman, Blacksmith, Sailmaker. One benefit of signing on to the Navy was steady work and at least the chance of being returned to your home port. Fishing was a seasonal occupation in many cases and Merchantmen took you from home for extended periods.

Once on station the only way to fill losses in the crew was to take on locals. In the case of US Ships in Southern Waters, Contrabands and Freemen would be enlisted onto Navy Ships to fill vacancies by their Captains. In many cases these could be unskilled men, allowing the sailors with expereince to move into the technical ratings. There were 'Schoolmasters' and the larger vessels who's duty it was to educate the midshipmen (future officers) and the crew to take on greater responsibilities.

That is a long discussion, sorry. To sum up, the Navy was the only means for a Freeman to serve at the start of the war, it was a technical job and those with skill could sign on very easily and with the presence of the Navy in southern waters, it was a means for Freemen and Contrabands to find employment and escape the situations they were in in the Confederacy.

06-16-2009, 06:49 PM
To add to Pete's point there were about 30,000 blacks who served in the Union Navy. All of who served on ships side by side to their white counterparts.

06-17-2009, 02:46 PM
To add to Pete's point there were about 30,000 blacks who served in the Union Navy. All of who served on ships side by side to their white counterparts.

Side-by-side indeed Mister Greer as shipmates should be and in all ratings from Landsman to Boatswain and every one in between.

Where'd I get 9,000 from? I can be silly at times and you are absolutely correct. On a side note, the US Marines did not enlist any blacks during the Civil War or the 19th Century for that matter, whereas the Union Army eventually had upwards of 250,000 in the segregated USCT Regiments.

One thing to include in this discussion is that the Navy was a means to upward mobility for all minorities in the 19th Century. Skills learned in the Navy, were directly applicable to future employment in the fishing, merchant and whaling fleets as well as indirectly applicable to a dozen landside industries.

David Fox
06-18-2009, 07:41 AM
Re: recruitment of Blacks into the 19th Century U.S. Navy. Our Navy, like pretty-much everyone else's, tended to copy the British Senior Service. British ships had long included all manner of nationalities and colours in their musters. The only caveat: no Black sailor, merchant or naval, cared to dock at Charleston, South Carolina prior to The War. There the local authorities routinely locked-up in jail any Black sailor who dared come ashore to stretch his sea legs.

07-27-2011, 10:51 AM
Just an FYI there was a slave who enlisted in the 111th Illinois and served as a stretcher-bearer and died doing his duty. His name was Austin Gilmore.


07-27-2011, 02:00 PM
The Navy had a huge gap to fill when they started wartime enlistments with many peactime merchant or river commercial sailors enlisting in the Army rather than the Navy at the start of the war. The Navy was not viewed as the hero's way to go to war, but instead seen as taking the easy way out. On the blockade to a point, but especially in the Western Flotilla (Brown Water Navy) freedmen made a huge proportion of the numbers. I've seen enlistments of over 200 men (former slaves) from Warren County, Mississippi (Vicksburg is the county Seat) and the Parishes across the river in the Louisiana. That does not even count the hundreds from the area that joined the USCT units. If you think about it, those 200 men is a large enough number to man a City Class Gunboat (U.S.S. Cairo had a crew of 175 sailors) with men to spare.

Although African Americans had served in the Navy since the Revolution, from 1839 onwards the Navy allowed them to make up no more than 5% of total recruits each month. Due to the recruiting issues mentioned above the 5% ban was lifted, which allowed hundreds of freedmen in the North enlist and join the war effort (which they were not yet allowed to do in the army). It is estimated that 15 - 20% of Navy recruits during the war were African American.

The Navy had language issues with immigrants as well. It is perhaps well known that roughly 20 - 25% of soldiers in the Union army were foreign born. The Civil War Navy was about 45% foreign born.

There was a quote from a fireman on the Monitor that "on a crew of 40 there is only 8 of us American born." A coal heaver on the Kearsarge wrote that "We only want one or two more to make all nations, Some can hardly speak English. . . . We have got Americans, English, Irish, Scotsh, Welsh, Portugese, Italian, Russian, Dutch, and Belgian."

The Cairo, which had a crew of 175 included 6 from Norway, 8 from Germany, 3 from France, 16 from Ireland (about 20% of the entire Navy was Irish born), 1 from Sardenia, 5 from Scotland, 3 from Denmark, 8 Canadians, 12 from England, 2 from Portugal, 2 from Sweden, and 1 Russian. One can only comprehend the language issues involved with the running of the ships and gunboats in the Navy. I would imagine keeping the Irish and the English from getting after each other required a lot of work as well.

Of the 118,044 sailors that enlisted in the Federal Navy during the war 60-65% were either African American or Foreign Born.

If anyone is interested the above information comes from Union Jacks: Yankee Sailors in the Civil War by Michael J. Bennett & Life in Mr. Lincoln's Navy by Dennis J. Ringle

10-15-2011, 10:39 AM
Brad Quinlan a local Atlanta historian and tesearcher has found large numbers of African-Americans serving in white units during the Atlanta Campaign mostly units from Ill and Iowa.


Hairy Nation Boys
03-08-2014, 04:41 PM
The men who would make up Company C of the 12th Iowa when recruiting in and around Fayette, Iowa had a black man that they were going to allow in their ranks. That is until the recruiting officer told them no. But they always kept their name "University Recruits 101" the 1 for the man who was turned away.

03-09-2014, 02:36 PM
Formed in Kansas from refugees the Indian Territory, the Indian Home Guard regiments were composed of various Native Americans. They included "Curly Indians" also known as African-Americans. While not a white regiments, they did include multiple races.