Military history

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


Black Soldiers

LINCOLN’S ambiguous declaration that the Civil War was “in some way about slavery” concealed a great deal more than it revealed. The most passionate anti-secessionists in the North were abolitionists; by no means all Northerners, however, were abolitionists, and few were emancipationist. Many regarded slavery, as long as it was confined to the Southern states, as an efficient and convenient means of controlling an alien population. The free blacks of the Northern states were not a welcome element. Some states indeed had enacted anti-black electoral laws, and a social prejudice against blacks was common and widespread, particularly among the poor, who competed with blacks for employment at the bottom of the economic heap. Segregation, in education and church membership, was the rule rather than the exception; few blacks enjoyed the right to vote, and extension of the franchise was not a cause espoused by many abolitionists; even equality before the law and free access to the courts was a step too far for many whites. Yet it was obvious to many in the North that abolition of slavery logically entailed emancipation. What to do with several million emancipated slaves was a problem to which few had an answer or seemed to want to find one. There was a widespread belief that liberated blacks would prefer to remain in the South, because of their familiarity with its environment and particularly its climate. Those not persuaded by such wishful thinking, though not only they, supported the idea of colonisation, that liberated blacks might be persuaded, or if not then coerced, to migrate to Central America and the Caribbean or to return to West Africa, where the territory of Liberia had been set up for the settlement of American freedmen and the British colony of Sierra Leone for British ex-slaves. As Frederick Douglass, the leading black spokesman for the cause of emancipation, harshly pointed out, however, there was little point in abolition if its end result was deportation of its beneficiaries.

Yet there was a practical solution to the problem, which recommended itself for other than social reasons in wartime conditions. And that was to enlist free blacks, including Southern runaways—or contrabands, as they were known—into the army, to fight the Confederacy at the front. Once the idea of black enlistment became current, the advantages seemed obvious. Enlisting blacks would not only add to the North’s operational numbers but also deprive the South of their labour. At the same time it would enhance the North’s reputation abroad, particularly in Britain, the country the North most wished to influence and one where opinion was most sensitive to the idea of emancipation. Britain had led the way in the suppression of the international slave trade, through the work of the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery patrols, and Victorian Britons cherished their anti-slavery credentials. The South’s persistence in the slave system was the principal obstacle to its diplomatic recognition by London in 1861-63. Thus there were both practical and political arguments for emancipation from the middle of the Civil War onwards.

There remained, nevertheless, strong objections to it. Beside racial prejudice, which in various degrees of intensity and for different motivations was almost universal in the North, there were also practical considerations. What was to be done with four million ex-slaves if they were to leave the plantations? How would they be employed, accommodated, and provided for? Enlistment would mop up a considerable number—eventually between 180,000 and 200,000 blacks served in the Union armies, two-thirds of them ex-slaves—in circumstances that promised control of their behaviour and freedom of movement. There were, however, all sorts of difficulties over their admission to the ranks. Frederick Douglass might argue that black freedom, unless fought for, was not worth having. Many white soldiers held that they were fighting a white man’s war and that the enlistment of blacks would compromise the terms of the struggle. In the last resort, however, the difficulty came down simply to widespread Northern disbelief in the black soldier’s combat value. Would the blacks fight? Or would they run away and leave the white soldiers in the lurch? Today, when black soldiers have won a sterling reputation as battlers in the modern republic’s most bitterly contested wars, such a question seems not worth pondering. Indeed, the American black community’s loss of enthusiasm for enlistment during the Iraq conflict sent waves of alarm through the Defense Department, so heavily had the U.S. Army and Marine Corps come to depend on black recruitment to the combat formations, particularly the infantry, to guarantee essential numbers. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, Africans had not yet won the formidable military reputation they have subsequently attained. The Zulu kingdom was still scarcely known outside southern Africa. The French army, though it recruited from the same regions as the slave contingents had been drawn, did not use its black regiments outside West Africa. The British West India Regiment, though its membership was ethnically identical to the slave population of the South, was employed only as a colonial police force. So it was understandable that the white American should ask about black recruits, “Will they fight?,” since few had done so in American experience. Black participants, on both sides, in the Revolutionary War, or the War of Independence as the English call it, had figured as individuals, not as members of formed black units. There were no black units in the antebellum army, while public policy in the antebellum South was to ensure that its black inhabitants were kept in a state of abject passivity.

Yet the first stirrings of black martiality during the Civil War took place paradoxically in the Southern states, not the North. The free blacks of Louisiana, the only part of the South to contain anything like an emancipated black community, formed and volunteered a militia unit, the Regiment of Free Men of Color, as early as May 1861. Its members wished to demonstrate their civic responsibility, but though the state governor appointed a colonel to command it, it provided its own weapons and uniforms and it was employed only on local guard duty. The Confederate government awarded it no recognition whatsoever. Also in May 1861 there occurred an event which would lead to a general enlistment of black soldiers. Three escaped slaves presented themselves at Fortress Monroe, announcing that they had been forced by their master to dig a Confederate battery. Shortly afterwards a Confederate officer appeared demanding that the runaways be returned, as was required under federal legislation. The fortress commander, Benjamin Franklin Butler, refused, giving as his reason the use to which the slaves’ labour had been put, which made them, he said, legitimate contraband of war, and so legitimately to be confiscated. From this case derived the use of the term “contraband,” which was henceforth to justify the taking into service of all runaways from the South. Soon the number of contrabands began to rise rapidly, as they defected to the Union enclaves established along the Atlantic coast as a result of the North’s amphibious campaign to impose blockade. Several appeared near Charleston, South Carolina, while the black population of the Sea Islands consigned itself entirely to the Northern invaders. At first the contrabands were employed only as military labourers. Bit by bit, however, and with decreasing controversy as white losses in battle rose, military functions were extended to the blacks. After the promulgation of the Emancipation Act in September 1862, black enlistment was legally authorised and black regiments began to be formed, starting in Louisiana, where, after its capture by the Union army, the personnel of the free black militia regiments of 1861 approached the occupiers and asked to be mustered as Federal soldiers. On September 27, 1862, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard was formally admitted into the United States Army. It was shortly to be followed by many more; eventually 166 black regiments were formed, at first designated as “Colored” or “African Descent” as an appendage to the regimental title. Ultimately all became U.S. Colored Troops. The U.S. Army, though nearly 3 percent black by 1865, remained effectively segregated. There were less than a hundred black officers in the 166 black regiments and none of higher rank than captain; black soldiers were paid less than white.

At the very end of the war, as the clouds of defeat began to gather over the Confederacy, there arose a mood even there to make good its growing shortage of manpower by enlisting slaves. The proposal to arm and train slaves as soldiers, advanced by General Patrick Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee in January 1864, found favour with many of his senior subordinates, who accepted his argument that black enlistments would greatly expand the South’s fighting strength. Others, however, violently disagreed. Cleburne’s proposal simply caused division and ill feeling until Jefferson Davis forbade its being further discussed or even mentioned. By November 1864, however, Davis called on the Confederate Congress for permission to purchase slaves to be used as military cooks and transport drivers and went on to say, “Until our white population shall prove insufficient for the armies we require and can afford to keep in the field, to employ as a soldier the Negro would scarcely be deemed wise or advantageous. But should the alternative ever be presented of the subjugation or the employment of the slave as a soldier, there seems no means to doubt what would then be our decision.” Congress, however, drew back at this point, with the former presidential candidate Howell Cobb stating, “You cannot make soldiers of slaves or slaves of soldiers. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”1 But policy in the North, where ex-slaves in tens of thousands had been enlisted since the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863, proved that blacks made brave and efficient soldiers, which proved that the whole point of slavery was indeed wrong, for many other reasons as well. In February 1865 General Robert E. Lee had brought the weight of his enormous prestige to bear upon the matter, in a letter to a Confederate congressman in which he concluded that if the enlistment of blacks was the only means to avert defeat, then blacks must be accepted as soldiers. By March 1865, the Confederate Congress officially called on slave owners to make up to a quarter of the slaves in any one state available for military service. Eventually only two companies of black soldiers were enrolled, and they had taken no part in fighting before the Union army arrived in Richmond to impose surrender. Ironically many of the Union soldiers involved were black. Twenty-three soldiers of U.S. Colored Troops won the Congressional Medal of Honor before Appomattox. Thereafter the U.S. Army reverted to unequal treatment of its black soldiers, a policy not to be reversed until the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower after the Second World War.

By the end of the Civil War, the question of whether black soldiers could fight had been answered on several battlefields. They gave their first display of combat readiness at Port Hudson, near Vicksburg, on the morning of May 27, 1863. The black troops engaged belonged to the formerly Confederate Native Guard of Louisiana, now incorporated into Banks’s U.S. Army of Occupation. The object of the operation was to break through to the town which obstructed Union use of the waterway. The approach to Port Hudson was defended by earthworks on a steep bluff behind the Little Sandy Creek, held by the 39th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and the 9th Louisiana Partisan Rangers, supported by six guns. They were outnumbered by the Native Guard, but the strength of the position and their supporting artillery made good the disparity. Most of the black soldiers, moreover, had only just been issued rifles and were inexperienced in their use. They nevertheless mounted three charges on the Confederate lines and suffered casualties of 37 killed and 155 wounded before the fall of darkness brought the battle to an end. The news of the Port Hudson fighting was widely reported in the North and cited as concluding the issue of whether black soldiers would fight. The New York Timeswrote, “It is no longer possible to doubt the bravery and steadfastness of the coloured race when properly led.” That was premature. Port Hudson was too small a battle to provide evidence for large judgements.

Shortly afterwards, however, and nearby, at Milliken’s Bend, another battle occurred which gave a better verdict. Milliken’s Bend, opposite Vicksburg, was one of Grant’s supply points for his siege of the city before its fall. It was garrisoned by three black regiments raised by an enthusiast for black enlistment, General Lorenzo Thomas; the 9th and 11th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent) and the 1st Mississippi (African Descent). The local Confederates had decided to mount an attack on Milliken’s Bend with General Henry McCulloch’s brigade of three Texas regiments. Attacking on June 7, 1863, they advanced confidently to the assault and drove the Union troops back to their line of earthworks above the river’s edge. The Texans, however, had paused to loot the Union encampment and were disorganised as a result. As they reached the river they came under fire from Union artillery and gunboats, the Choctaw and the Lexington, which drove them back. McCulloch was reinforced but agreed with the Union commander that it was futile to persist. Both Confederate forces withdrew. They had lost 44 killed, Union losses were 98 killed and 233 wounded. Charles A. Dana, the assistant secretary of war, who had been sent from Washington to observe Grant’s operations, wrote that “sentiment in regard to the employment of negro troops has been revolutionized by the bravery of the blacks in the recent battle of Milliken’s Bend. Prominent officers, who would in private sneer at the idea, are now heartily in favour of it.”2 A Confederate lady, Kate Stone, wrote in her journal that “it is hard to believe that Southern soldiers—and Texans at that—have been whipped by a mongrel crew of white and black Yankees. There must be some mistake.”3 There had been white soldiers at Milliken’s Bend, a small detachment of the 23rd Iowa, but the overwhelming majority of the Union force had been black. No mistake about that.

Milliken’s Bend preceded a whole series of operations by black soldiers against Confederate positions in the lower and seaboard South. One of the first was at Fort Wagner, at the mouth of Charleston harbour, on July 18, 1863. It was very strongly defended by four battalions of South Carolina infantry and copious artillery. The attacking force consisted of four battalions of white troops and one black, the 54th Massachusetts (Colored). The 54th had been raised by the fervently abolitionist governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrews, in March 1863, immediately after the proclamation of emancipation. Because of the small size of the Massachusetts black population, he had to cast his net wide and many recruits came from elsewhere in New England, some, including the sons of Frederick Douglass, from New York. In the spring of 1864 it was deployed in small operations along the coast of South Carolina but in July was brought by ship to attack Morris Island, on which Fort Wagner stood. The purpose of its arrival was to take the fort and the island.

The attack began on the evening of July 18 after preparatory bombardment. The 54th advanced along the foreshore, at times having to wade in the shallows. Until the outworks of the fort were reached, the Confederates held their fire; then, as the black soldiers began their charge, they opened a violent bombardment and volleying which inflicted large casualties. The 54th nevertheless re-formed the gaps in its lines and pressed onward. The leading troops crossed the ditch, scaled the earthworks slope, and reached its crest. Some proceeded to enter the fort, but casualties were very heavy. Among those killed was Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th’s abolitionist colonel. Fighting within the fort became hand-to-hand, and was quickly disfigured by Confederate atrocities, as enraged Confederates killed and wounded the black soldiers trying to surround them. Eventually there was a Union withdrawal, but not before Sergeant William H. Carney had so distinguished himself that he was later awarded the Medal of Honor, the first to be given to a black soldier. Many of the wounded were evacuated or managed to make their own way back to Union lines. Among those who had fallen in the shallow water, some were drowned as the tide rose. In the aftermath of the battle the Union began to sap towards Fort Wagner, digging further trenches until, in early September, the place was no longer defensible. On September 7, it and Morris Island were abandoned by the Confederates, the prelude to the eventual fall of Charleston itself. Ralph Waldo Emerson composed a threnody to the death of young Colonel Shaw, who became celebrated throughout the North, as did the 54th Massachusetts, which had lost 272 men killed, captured, or wounded.

In the aftermath of the attempt to capture Charleston, which would drag out into a long siege, only to be resolved by Sherman’s invasion of the Carolinas in 1864, the Union decided on an invasion of the state of Florida. Very much a backwater of the Confederacy, with neither strong secessionist credentials nor a large contribution to the South’s fighting forces, Florida had been isolated from the rest of the South by Union amphibious operations that had captured the naval bases of Fort Pickens, Key West, and Fernandina. The secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase, had fixed upon Florida as a means to further his ambition of running for the presidency in 1864. He believed that the state might be brought back within the Union if its Confederate defenders could be overcome and the population offered the chance to take the oath of allegiance, as Lincoln had proposed in the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction of December 1863, and Chase had adherents in Florida. He also saw an existing force available in the troops of the Charleston expedition. Their commander, General Quincy Gillmore, chief of the Department of the South, had achieved fame and advancement by his successful bombardment of Fort Pulaski in April 1862. Gillmore believed that he could enlarge the size of his forces by enlisting black soldiers from the slave population of Florida and thereby escape from the backwater in which the failure of the attack on Charleston had kept him. He persuaded Halleck to let him make the attempt. He received orders to take the 54th Massachusetts from Charleston and was given a number of both white and black regiments from further afield to mount the expedition. They included a number of units trained at Camp William Penn, Pennsylvania, specially established to enlist and train black soldiers. The 8th U.S. Colored Troops and the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers, together with the 54th Massachusetts, were sailed to Jacksonville, Florida, arriving on February 7, 1864. There, with a brigade of white New York troops, they formed for Gillmore a small army, which he led from Jacksonville towards Olustee on the headwaters of the St. Mary’s River, which forms part of the boundary between Georgia and Florida. This army reached Olustee on February 20, 1864, and were confronted by Confederate earthworks dug into thick woods and held by 5,000 Georgia and Florida troops commanded by General Joseph Finegan, under the overall command of Beauregard.

Gillmore’s cavalry ran into the Confederate outposts on the morning of February 20 and a confused battle broke out. The Confederate men were supplied with artillery which inflicted heavy casualties, but the Union mounted several charges. The line of battle swayed back and forth in the dense woodland. The 54th Massachusetts made a counter-attack, but by six o’clock in the evening the Union was in full retreat to Jacksonville, pursued by Confederate cavalry. One rebel soldier, meeting an officer, asked what was happening: “Shooting niggers” was the all-too-truthful answer. Dozens of black Union troops, wounded and unwounded, were shot or bludgeoned to death as darkness fell over the battlefield. The medical officer of the 8th U.S. Colored Troops saved many by filling ambulances with black soldiers in preference to white since, he said, he knew that white soldiers taken prisoner would survive but he feared that black soldiers would not. In all, 1,861 Union soldiers were killed and wounded at Olustee as against 950 Confederates. Olustee was an undoubted Union defeat, which brought to an end the overly optimistic attempt to take Florida back into the Union.

While the Florida campaign petered out, that in the Tennessee-Mississippi borderland flickered up. There were no large concentrations of troops in the area, only a scattering of Union posts and the standing cavalry force of Nathan Bedford Forrest, against whom the Union had never prevailed. Sherman had appealed to his troops to bring Forrest to surrender as a means of restoring order in the region. Forrest was not prepared to be tied down, and he decided to carry operations against Sherman’s isolated outposts. The first on which he fixed in April 1864 was Fort Pillow, fifty miles above Memphis on the Mississippi. Sherman had ordered its abandonment, but the local Union commander, General Stephen Hurlbut, decided on his own authority to reoccupy it. Its garrison in April 1864 consisted of two regiments of coloured artillery and one of white infantry. Though entrenched, they were too few in number to defend the position. The cavalry that formed part of the garrison disliked the blacks: they were Tennesseans, and some were ex-Confederates who had changed sides. When Forrest, who had promised to “attend to Fort Pillow,” turned up on April 12, his men swiftly overcame the resistance and then began imposing surrender, which had been his object from the outset. Surrendering both blacks, and whites, were shot down as they stood or knelt. The wounded were done to death. Confederate apologists later insisted that Forrest rode about trying to get his men under control. If so, it was with little effect. Sixty percent of the garrison, both white and black, were killed. Before his attack, Forrest had asked the Union commander to surrender but been refused. Two hundred and thirty-six of the garrison survived to be taken prisoner but of those only fifty-eight were black. The news of Fort Pillow sped rapidly and aroused anger in the North, though not in the South. Negro soldiers seem to have learnt that they risked all in going into battle against Confederates but decided to sell their lives all the more dearly. They continued to fight bravely when put to the test.

The Fort Pillow massacre encouraged Union efforts to hunt Forrest down, and in April 1864 General Samuel Sturgis arrived in Memphis with orders to pursue him. Many of Sturgis’s soldiers were black, belonging to the 55th and 56th U.S. Colored Troops and the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery of nine batteries. Sturgis led his force out southward towards Tupelo, Mississippi, with the object of destroying railroads supplying Forrest and so provoking an encounter. Forrest had two cavalry brigades and some artillery and so was outnumbered by Sturgis but nevertheless advanced to attack. The two forces encountered each other on June 10 at Brice’s Crossroads, north of Tupelo. The developing battle went badly for the Union from the start, since Forrest’s men found an unmarked road which led into Sturgis’s rear. His supply train then got entangled with his fighting troops and in the confusion the Union column was forced into retreat. The retreat continued for several days, with Forrest in pursuit, until the Union troops eventually found refuge at Guntown, Tennessee. The battle of Brice’s Crossroads greatly enhanced Forrest’s reputation. It did not, however, tell against the military reputation of black soldiers, since it was rightly regarded as a failure of generalship by Sturgis, who was removed from command and not re-employed.

Black soldiers were also engaged in the unfortunate expedition to the Red River in Arkansas in 1864. Their most important field of engagement as the war drew to a close was in Virginia, to which large numbers were sent during the siege of Petersburg. Together they formed the Ninth Corps, almost completely composed of black soldiers, its original units having been broken up to provide garrisons for the West. The Ninth Corps, whose regiments had been raised and trained in Maryland, was sent to join the Army of the Potomac in early March 1864. It was the first black unit to march through Washington. On its way, one of its white officers recorded that, as it passed through Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “we was stoned by the low people.” In Washington the regiment was reviewed by President Lincoln. The corps had been started forward into Virginia and was caught up in the fringe of the fighting at Spotsylvania but did not take part. A Massachusetts officer who witnessed the turmoil voiced what was still the all-too-common white opinion of black soldiers: “As I looked at them my soul was troubled and I would gladly have seen them marched back to

Washington…. We do not trust them in the line of battle. Ah, you may make speeches at home, but here, where it is life or death, we dare not risk it.”4 In the fighting around Spotsylvania, the Ninth Corps protected the rear of Grant’s army and skirmished against Confederate cavalry. Some black soldiers were taken prisoner. Unfortunately, the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia showed themselves as ready to kill captured blacks as their Deep Southern comrades.

As Grant prosecuted the Overland Campaign, the Ninth Corps took part in the effort to capture Richmond by direct assault. The effort was launched from the Bermuda Hundred, an enclave in a loop of the James River. It culminated in July 1864 in the most celebrated of all actions by black troops during the war, the assault on the Crater, which became notorious because of the mismanagement of the operation by Grant’s commanders. Having undermined the Confederate earthworks defending Elliot’s salient and exploded a gunpowder charge, the Ninth Corps then charged what remained of the Confederate position in an effort to break through. The Union orders given were lamentably confused. A black division was first selected to lead, but the commanders had second thoughts and a white division was substituted. It had not prepared or rehearsed, and when it got into the crater the explosion had created, it quickly fell into confusion. When the superseded black division then attempted to retrieve the situation, it fell victim to a strong Confederate counter-attack. The Confederates slaughtered the Union troops caught on the floor of the crater and killed prisoners wholesale. The survivors of the assault fled in terror to Union lines, but at least a thousand were trapped inside the crater and shot dead or bayoneted while trying to surrender. At the end of the day, it was found that 3,500 of the 15,000 Ninth Corps soldiers were dead. Seven black soldiers received the Medal of Honor for bravery shown at the Crater, out of 24,000 engaged altogether. In the aftermath, General Burnside was relieved of command. Grant’s review on the operation was as judicious as could be: “General Burnside,” he wrote, “wanted to put his colored division in front, and I believe if he had done so it would have been a success. Still I agreed with General Meade as to his objections to that plan. General Meade said that if we put the colored troops in front and it should prove a failure, it would then be said and very properly, that we were shoving these people ahead to get killed because we did not care anything about them.”5

After the disaster of the Crater, black troops continued to take part in the siege of Petersburg and in other operations in northern Virginia and the Carolinas, including the assaults on Fort Fisher. They were principally involved, however, in operations along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where they had the satisfaction of taking part in the capture and occupation of Charleston in February 1865. Soon after, they joined other Union troops in taking possession of Petersburg. The pinnacle of their culminating operations, however, was to be their inclusion in the march into Richmond in April 1865. At first light on April 3, the Twenty-fifth Corps, now an all-black formation, left its lines and began to march on the city. The approaches were not defended, the Confederate troops having left under Lee’s orders to retreat towards Appomattox. The 9th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), was the leading regiment and marched down the streets leading to the Confederate capital, singing “John Brown’s Body.” The route was lined by black residents of Richmond, cheering frantically to welcome their liberators, who were followed by more black and white soldiers, all with the certainty that the end of the war was at hand.

As peace returned, black soldiers were largely chosen to garrison the Southlands. A hundred black regiments were distributed across the former Confederate states. On May 13, 1865, the 62nd USCT took part in the last engagement of the war at Palmito Ranch, on the Rio Grande in Texas. In all 178,975 of the Union army in the Civil War were black, of whom 2,870 died in combat. When the peacetime army was reconstituted, two new infantry and two cavalry regiments were enlisted from blacks.

The war experience of black soldiers had been varied but difficult. Disfavoured, sometimes openly despised by their white comrades and commanders, they had from the outset fought on probation. They were not expected to perform well in combat, and they had been excluded from all of the war’s great battles, most of which were over in any case before black troops were enlisted in large numbers, from 1863 onwards. The main feature of the war experience for black troops, however, was the reaction of white Confederates on meeting them in combat. There was undoubted Negrophobia in the mentality of many Northern soldiers, which weakened as the war progressed and the reputation of black soldiers improved. White Southerners simply hated black soldiers and were outraged at meeting their ex-slaves or supposed ex-slaves on the battlefield. They were commonly killed if taken prisoner. The survivors, if wounded, were taken out of hospitals to be shot or bayoneted. The danger of atrocity at the hands of the enemy might be supposed to have motivated black soldiers all the harder to avoid capture, but the reality seems to have been that the blacks were often terrified into passivity when confronted by the most black-hating Southerners, such as Texans and Mississippians. Fort Pillow was the worst of the Southern excesses but by no means an isolated one. Virginians proved as Negrophobic as their comrades from the Deep South.

By 1865 nearly one-tenth of the Union army was black. Psychologically the commitment of black soldiers enormously enhanced the Northern war effort. Yet despite their large numbers, black soldiers made disappointingly little material contribution. Faced by the ferocity of their Southern antagonists on the battlefield, they simply could not stand up to combat as white soldiers did. Forrest, their grimmest persecutor, was simply stating reality when he said that blacks could not cope with white Southerners, who, in the last resort, were fighting to preserve slavery as the mastery of the white over the black.

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