JUST LEARNING TO BE MEN:
A HISTORY OF THE 35TH
UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS,
by SHANA RENEE HUTCHINS
A thesis submitted to the Graduate
North Carolina State University
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts in History
(Under the direction of William C. Harris.)
The purpose of the research was to describe the organization, recruitment, and experiences of the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers, later designated the 35th United States Colored Troops. Lincoln's decision to arm blacks and Congressional groundwork laid through the Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act is detailed, as well as the stories of certain Union leaders who enlisted black men without Lincoln's approval. Published primary sources and secondary accounts provided information for the background. The Descriptive Books of the 35th furnish social and demographic information about the enlisted men and officers of the unit. At the National Archives, Order Books, Morning Reports, Correspondence, and Service Records were examined.
The experience of the 35th USCT during the Civil War was similar to most black regiments. Both white officers and black soldiers faced a multitude of obstacles such as insufficient training, clothing, equipment, and other supplies. Racism from other white units effected the 35th directly, enraging their colonel. Every USCT regiment did not have officers who strongly supported the idea of black soldiers. However, the 35th did. Colonel James C. Beecher and many of his officers championed the rights of their men and worked to improve their situation throughout their service.
Every soldier of the 35th experienced a different Civil War. Some soldiers gained confidence in new abilities and skills obtained. Others left service bitter and angry. Most took home a desire for greater equality and the determination to fight for it.
The Civil War is the most extensively studied period of American history, but the experiences of black soldiers has, until recently, remained a neglected segment of Civil War History. Despite the thousands of books written about the Civil War, very few have addressed the role of black men in the war. While the movie Glory brought fame and attention to the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers and their celebrated colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, historians have not given proper attention to the other United States Colored Troops units. In particular, the units organized by Brigadier General Edward A. Wild in eastern North Carolina have not been the focus of a major study.
However, the USCT has attracted the attention of some scholars. In 1956, Dudley Taylor Cornish wrote The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865. Cornish's work thoroughly outlines the move towards arming blacks during 1861-1862 as well as the swift recruitment efforts of the spring and summer of 1863. The historian also traces the difficulties faced by black soldiers, including racism from white units, insufficient pay, poor equipment, and lack of training. According to Cornish, "Had [the black soldiers] not fought his way into the Union Army, had he remained a passive observer instead of active participant, the history of the American people in general and of the American Negro in particular must have been far different from what it has been." The Sable Arm continues to be a standard for the study of black soldiers during the Civil War. 1
Historian Joseph T. Glatthaar completed a major study of black soldiers and the white soldiers who led them in Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. Published in 1990, this book carefully examines the interaction between races in United States Colored Troops. In detail, Glatthaar describes the attitudes, behavior, and experiences of both black soldiers and white officers. He delves into the recruitment process, finding it a distasteful task for white officers, and provides insight into the harshness of prejudice that black soldiers faced throughout their service. As The Sable Arm is the authority for understanding the move towards arming blacks, Glatthaar's work goes a little further into the everyday experiences of black soldiers and white officers of the USCT. Glatthaar attempts to "examine the interaction of the two racial groups to understand better not only these black commands and their contributions to Union victory but also the aspirations, prejudices, and behavior of their officers and men and the society from which they came." 2
Similarly, A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865, (1992) edited by Edwin S. Redkey, contributes even more towards the understanding of war experiences for USCT soldiers. A Grand Army of Black Men is a collection of letters written by black soldiers during the war years. These letters, written to both family members and to black and abolitionist newspapers, describe in detail the experiences of black soldiers. They write about their encounters with the enemy, their frustrations, and their hopes for true freedom after the war. One soldier, writing to the Weekly Anglo-African in October, 1864, described his hopes: "Brethren, let us join hands. Let us by a common cause now made holy by our blood, raise ourselves from the mire. Let us be men. May heaven smile on your doings." Redkey's collection reminds us that the 180,000 soldiers of the USCT were individuals, with different experiences. 3
Drawing on A Grand Army of Black Men, historian Noah Andre Trudeau edited letters written by soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers in his Voices of the 55th (1996). Trudeau's work contains letters from very early in the recruitment and organization process through the end of the war. Many of these letters proved valuable to this study, as the 55th was frequently stationed near the 35th. Soldiers of the 55th shared similar experiences to those of the 35th. The two regiments were in camp in New Bern briefly before being sent to Folly Island, South Carolina, in August, 1863. 4
The letters of George E. Stevens of the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers were used by Donald Yacovone in A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens (1997). A fiery northern abolitionist, Stephens documented the early war years and served as a recruiter for the 54th. His letters to the Weekly Anglo-African described slavery as he witnessed it while travelling south with the Union Army and also detailed the recruitment process for the 54th. Stephens depicted the war life of his regiment, frequently commenting on political affairs and debates that flourished in the black and abolitionist newspapers. A powerful spokesperson for black soldiers, Stephens' letters offer many different topics to explore further. 5
Noah Andre Trudeau, in Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (1998), delves into the military experiences of the United States Colored Troops soldiers in depth. Trudeau attempted to tell the fuller story of the black soldiers rather than merely what was recorded by white officers, and asserts, "The actions of black troops in the Civil War require no validation from me, nor are they well served by broadly generalized statements based on biased material. It is my hope that by providing an honest and carefully researched account of their combat experiences, I may in some way help these soldiers tell their own story." Carefully researched and documented, this work provides a concise military history of USCT regiments. 6
Though historians have recently devoted more attention to the black soldiers of the Civil War, there remains much to be written. There has not yet been a major study of the emancipation experience in North Carolina. The move to enlist black men in eastern North Carolina, though not ignored, has not received a great deal of study. In the September 1995 issue of Carolina Comments, historian John David Smith wrote "Emancipation in North Carolina: Research Pitfalls and Opportunities." This essay drew attention to the dearth of scholarship concerning emancipation in North Carolina, and inspired this thesis. Indeed, "Just Learning to Be Men: A History of the 35th United States Colored Troops, 1863-1866" is intended to provide a history of one of the three regiments recruited in North Carolina. There is more research to be done, for both emancipation and black soldiers. 7
1 Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (New York: Longman's Green and Co., 1956), xiii. The 1987 edition, published by the University Press of Kansas, is cited in this work.
2 Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (New York: The Free Press, 1990), x.
3 Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 216.
4 Noah Andre Trudeau, Voices of the 55th (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside House, Inc., 1996), 15.
5 Donald Yacovone, A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 127, 157, 181.
6 Noah Andre Trudeau, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), xxii.
7 John David Smith, "Emancipation in North Carolina: Research Pitfalls and Opportunities," Carolina Comments 43 (September, 1995):135-142.
Copyright 1999 by the NCUSCT Project.
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