Saturday, December 4, 2010

The following is a speech I delivered at Gettysburg National Cemetery on Dedication Day for the United States Colored Troops Gravesite Dedication on November 19, 2010:

To Preserve the Union for Liberty

The firm basis on which of our national identity was established was articulated in the Declaration of Independence: the Creator had endowed all men with certain unalienable rights. Thus the conviction in the minds of the people that liberty is a gift from God is the foundation of the house that is our nation. Concerned that the foundation was comprised by slavery, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; and his justice cannot sleep forever.” This founding father, the author of the Declaration of Independence, a slaveholder, feared that the conflict over the disposition of new territories as either slave or free might lead to a civil war. The house for which he had laid the foundation was divided, half slave and half free. If these United States were to remain united, if this Republic was to become a more perfect Union, if we the people were to ensure the domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, then that peculiar American institution, slavery, had to be abolished.

Today we come together to honor those who gave the full measure of their devotion to preserve this Union for Liberty. In April 1861, when open hostilities began in that civil war that Jefferson feared, men of African descent could not legally stand and fight as soldiers in defense of their country, in the defense of their rights as citizens. In July 1862, after what Secretary of State William Seward called “the greatest disasters of the war,” Congress changed the law because the assistance Americans of African descent was needed to be preserve the Union. Nine days after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Militia Act of 1862 into law, James Molson, an Afro-Pennsylvanian, joined the 107th NY Volunteers. He fought with his American comrades of European descent at Antietam. With his comrades in battle, he fought here at Gettysburg; and he gave his life to preserve the Union for liberty during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Private Molson was like thousands of Americans who have willingly offered their lives that we might be a nation where all are indeed free. The soldier above all citizens is called upon to perform the most Christ-like duties, the soldier is called upon to sacrifice his life for others. Today we honor Americans who sacrificed to save the Union, and who sacrificed to secure what should be, what could be, liberty for all, oh liberty that precious gift from God.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln acting on the authority Congress had given him, with a practical military measure to preserve the Union, transformed the Civil War into a war for liberty. Armed with the Emancipation Proclamation, Americans of African descent helped save the Union while bringing about a new birth of freedom in our house, this nation, thus restoring the foundation, the firm conviction in the minds of the people that liberty is a gift from God.

As we go forth from these hollowed grounds, made hollowed by those who sacrificed that we might all be free, let us honor them by working to achieve in this house all that this nation can be, a land where liberty and justice are indeed for all. Do not let their sacrifices be in vain! May their blood stain our memories, and their examples increase our faith that we might march on as faithful Americans dedicated to keeping this Republic one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

After Liberty Was Secured

After Liberty Was Secured

There was a Grand Review in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. On November 14, 1865, African descent soldiers who had been on occupation duty in the South and who had been preparing to embark on ships for Texas during the Washington Grand Review (May 23 & 24, 1865) marched through the streets of Harrisburg. The keynote was William Howard Day, who, said Major Martin Delany, had been “chosen to arrange the military policy of the under ground railroad relative to the slave enlistment.” The grand marshal of the Grand Review was Thomas Morris Chester, a war correspondent and native of Harrisburg. Chester wrote on the eve of the Washington Grand Review, “That the negro corps, under General Weitzel, has received marching orders is well known throughout their camps, and they are beginning to put on the war-paint with the impression that they are going to Texas. They look forward to the period of embarkation with a great deal of satisfaction [emphasis mine].” According to Chester, these soldiers did not feel slighted by Washington. They were excited about liberating Texas because these freedom fighters knew their work was not done.

In Harrisburg (November 4 – 7, 2010), the state of Pennsylvania celebrated the 145th anniversary of what has often been referred to as the Grand Review of United States Colored Troops. Kicking off the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War with such an event will hopefully excite an examination of African American participation in the Civil War that will explore formerly ignored facts. There are a number of questions we should ask in order to apprehend these facts. Such as what was the true magnitude of their contributions? How important were all their duties to the mission? Why did Benjamin Butler, Thomas Higginson, and Robert Shaw report that African descent soldiers were highly competent in drill soon after being enlisted? Did they have prior military training? If so, who trained them?

I think we can find the answers to these questions if we begin with the following questions: Why was William Howard Day the keynote speaker in Harrisburg? Why did Delany report that Day “was chosen to arrange the military policy of the under ground railroad relative to the slave enlistment”? Why was Thomas Morris Chester the grand marshal? And why did they select Harrisburg to host their grand review? The answers to these questions will lead to a greater understanding of African American activities before, during and after the Civil War. We are not yet close to appreciating the magnitude of their contributions because too many facts are being ignored and too many questions are being left unanswered. The result has been that a story of victims is being told instead of a story of victors. The Harrisburg Grand Review was really about a victory over tyranny achieved by enslaved and/or disenfranchised Americans.

It is commonly believed that United States Colored Troops were slighted by not being included in the Washington Grand Review. Of course, the colored troops that were actually in the Washington parade did not feel slighted. I was quoted in the Harrisburg Patriot-News as saying there were “colored regiments” that marched in the Washington Grand Review, but what I said was that there were “colored troops” that marched, not regiments. Over five hundred names of United States Colored Troops who marched in the Washington Grand Review can be found on the walls of the African American Civil War Memorial. If fact, a pioneer corps comprised of African Americans preceded every division in Sherman’s army in the Washington Grand Review. These African descent soldiers had experienced the hell of combat, marched hundreds of miles and laid hundreds of miles of railroad tracks. Like Seabees and combat engineers, they were important members of the overall military force that claimed a hard fought victory in the war. They marched proudly with their heads high along the avenue in Washington, and Captain Horace Porter reported, they were “conspicuous by their height.”

General Phil Sheridan did not participate in the Washington Grand Review even though the rest of his command did. Sheridan was ordered to Texas to take command of the forces being deployed there. General Sheridan took his orders without complaint because as a soldier he understood that duty called. Men of African descent assigned to the Texas command were no less dignified in their acceptance of their soldierly duties. There was no time for parading in Washington while there was still liberating to be done.

As late as September 1865, Chaplain Garland White of the 28th US Colored Troops wrote from Texas: “Some silly-minded men talk sometimes about home, and I am here to quiet them by assuring them that all will come right in the end, at the same time feeling in my own heart that unless we are made equal before the law we have got no home.” The Grand Review of United States Colored Troops was organized by the Garnet League, which expressly sought equality before the law. In May 1865, surely Chaplain White and the members of such a league would have thought only the “silly-minded men” in their ranks wanted to march in Washington and go home, especially since Texas had not been returned to the Union, thus the enslaved there had not been liberated. Far from being “silly-minded,” African descent freedom fighters were eager to put on their war paint and embark on ships for Texas to complete the work of enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation.

The following is the speech I delivered during the Harrisburg Grand Review (November 6, 2010) entitled “After Liberty Was Secured”:

While reflecting on the contradiction of slavery existing in a nation that claimed liberty as a gift from God as its foundation, Thomas Jefferson (a slaveholder) wrote: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; and his justice cannot sleep forever.” In April 1861, the great houses of the South and the great houses of the North raised sword against sword. The firstborn sons of those great houses were taken in a bloody civil war. After suffering the greatest disasters of the war, Congress gave President Lincoln the authority to arm men of African descent and to declare free slaves in states in rebellion. And a cry for help was issued in the Emancipation Proclamation.

Men of African descent answered that cry for help. They captured Charleston, the Cradle of Secession, and one regiment that trained at Camp William Penn was a part of that liberating army [32nd USCT]. They captured Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, and one regiment that trained at Camp William Penn was a part of that liberating army [22nd USCT]. They stopped Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, and five regiments that trained at Camp William Penn were there to witness the surrender of Lee’s army to General Grant [8thUSCT, 41st USCT, 43rd USCT, 45th USCT, and 127th USCT].

And in the early morning of June 15, 1865, fleeing an army of United States Colored Troops, the Confederate governor of Texas, the last state in rebellion, crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico with Confederate Generals John Mcgruder and Kirby Smith as well as 10,000 Confederate soldiers. Six regiments that had been trained at Camp William Penn were there to occupy and return Texas to the Union, thus liberating the enslaved [8thUSCT, 22nd USCT, 41st USCT, 43rd USCT, 45th USCT, and 127th USCT].

After liberty was secured and the last group of slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation was liberated, it was now time to celebrate. This was no consolation grand review. Thomas Morris Chester, a native son of Harrisburg, knew this was no consolation grand review. This is not the consolation prize. This is the prize. This is the celebration of victory and liberty for all!”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why Leading Scholars Make False Reports on USCT Service by Hari Jones

One of the attractions of our museum is that we direct young scholars to primary sources. Teachers have changed the way they teach the Civil War as a result of the information they have received from our museum. The Delany Group Reading List has been of great benefit to educators and scholars across the country. Though false information and images promoted by the movie Glory have proven market value, it is my opinion that the market will demand more accurate information in the near future. It is easy to demonstrate from primary sources that the work of leading academics have promoted information aligned with the movie in lieu of facts found in primary sources. The works of such scholars have proven market value. Some in the museum business believe that the truth must be compromised in order to attract visitors. But most are simply afraid to disagree with esteem scholars.

Many of the false statements concerning the service of United States Colored Troops (USCT) are results of poor scholarship by leading scholars. Even in a 2008 John Hope Franklin edited work published by Howard University Press (Legacy: Treasures in Black History), we find obviously false statements. For example, the fatalities of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863 are reported to have been 281, which is eleven more than the regiment lost to disease and combat in two and half years of service. The regiment’s actual fatalities at Fort Wagner were 54. Since most academics support this false report, it is difficult in the current atmosphere to tell the truth. Thus, the truth is currently being suppressed. In order to make the grade, many young scholars are being compelled to ignore the truth and to iterate falsehoods.

Among these often iterated falsehoods are that 1) there were no African American officers in the United States Colored Troops, 2) the 54th Massachusetts was the first African American regiment in the Civil War, 3) African Americans were denied equal pay (some qualify this by stating that they were denied equal pay for most of the war), 4) President Lincoln did not intend to assign African Americans to combat duty, and 5) Sergeant William Carney was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor. All of these statements are false. Some require more complex explanations, but the truth can be discovered if one consults the primary sources.

1) There were over one hundred African American officers commissioned in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. Their records can be found at the National Archives, and their names are on the Wall of Honor at the African American Civil War Memorial. In the first regiment of African descent mustered into the Union Army in 1862, all of the commissioned officers except for the regimental staff officers were men of African descent.

2) Though the first regiment of African descent organized under the Union umbrella during the Civil War was the 1st South Carolina Infantry, it was not officially mustered into federal service because General David Hunter had acted illegally when he organized the regiment in the spring of 1862. Thus, the regiment was disbanded that spring after a Congressional Inquiry. After Congress granted President Lincoln the authority to arm men of African descent, General Rufus Saxton was ordered by the War Department to reorganize the regiment on August 25, 1862. It was mustered into the Union Army in January 1863. The 1st Louisiana Native Guards organized in New Orleans under General Benjamin Butler became the first African descent regiment mustered into the Union Army in September 1862. The 54th Massachusetts became the ninth regiment of African descent mustered into the Union Army in May 1863.

3) In section 6 of the Militia Act of 1862, which gave President Lincoln the authority to arm men of African descent, Congress mandated that African descent men enlisted under that act be paid only $10.00 regular pay with $3.00 to be taken away for their uniforms. Privates of European descent received $13.50 at that time. When the Bureau of United States Colored Troops was established on May 22, 1863, this section of the Militia Act was interpreted to apply to all men of African descent regardless of rank or whether he was free or enslaved before enlistment. For one year African American enlisted men were denied equal pay, African American commissioned officers received equal pay. On June 15, 1864, President Lincoln signed legislation into law that awarded men of African descent equal pay and arrears. The soldiers who were free men prior of April 1861 were entitled to all of their back pay. Those who were enslaved prior to April 1861 received back pay starting on January 1, 1864. As result of this act of Congress, men of African descent were denied equal pay for only one year, and most received all of their back pay. Therefore, they were not denied equal pay for most of the war, and most who served were not denied equal pay at all. According to the Congressional records, the fact is that their heroism on the battlefield earned them equal pay.

4) Scholars who state that Lincoln did not intend to arm men of African descent or assign them to combat duties often use paragraph six of the Emancipation Proclamation in which the President states that men of African descent will be assigned to “garrison forts” as their evidence. Edna Medford at Howard University has been known to advance this argument. It is important to note that to be assigned to garrison a fort in a combat zone is in fact combat duty. Since President Lincoln did not order his generals to remove African descent soldiers from combat zones, it is ridiculous to conclude that he did not intend to assign them to combat duty. When we combine this fact with the fact that all USCT regiments were combat arms regiments, the statement becomes even more ridiculous.

5) Sergeant William Carney received the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900. He was the fifty-first African American to receive the Medal of Honor. The first African American to receive the nation’s highest military honor was a sailor by the name of Robert Blake, who received the Medal of Honor in April 1864. Because Carney’s noteworthy act of courage happened before Blake’s, scholars intent on suppressing the truth have argued that Carney was the first to receive the Medal of Honor even though Blake received his medal over thirty-six years before Carney. This justification of false information leads me to suspect that the poor scholarship of many historians is intentional.

In the next five years as primary sources become more accessible to young scholars and curious readers, the poor scholarship of leading scholars will be exposed. Whenever a Civil War scholar states that the movie Glory is accurate or “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence,” we can be certain that the scholar making the statement is either ignorant of the historical evidence or chooses to suppress the evidence in order to align his scholarship with what is most marketable. It is our intent to align our scholarship with the truth. We trust that the market will indeed value good scholarship in the near future.