Were Blacks Involuntarily Conscripted Into the Union Army?
Much has been made by modern historians of the fact that an estimated 186,000 Blacks fought under the United States flag against the South. However, we are seldom, if ever, told the reason for this. According to the William Whiting, "All the property of rebels [is] forfeited to the treasury of the country," and "slave property [is] subject to the same liability as other property to be appropriated for war purposes" (The War Powers of the President [Boston: John L. Shorey, 1862], pages 28, 107). Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, elaborated on this premise in a dispatch to Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton on 25 August 1862: "The population of African descent that cultivate the lands and perform the labor of the rebels constitute a large share of their military strength, and enable the white masters to fill the rebel armies and wage a cruel and murderous war against the people of the Northern States. By reducing the laboring strength of the rebels their military power will be reduced" (Official Records of the War of the Rebellion: Armies, Series I, Volume XIV, pages 377-378). Consequently, the invading Northern army began to seize Southern slaves and conscript them into service to the United States, often against their will. In a 26 February 1864 dispatch from Huntsville, Alabama, General John A. Logan wrote that "a major of colored troops is here with his party capturing negroes, with or without their consent.... [T]hey are being conscripted" (ibid., Series I, Volume XXXII, Part II, page 477). On 1 September 1864, Captain Frederick Martin reported from New Berne, North Carolina, "The negroes will not go voluntarily, so I am obliged to force them.... I expect to get a large lot to-morrow" (ibid., Series I, Volume XLII, Part II, pages 653-654). General Rufus A. Saxton reported, "Men have been seized and forced to enlist who had large families of young children dependent upon them for support and fine crops of cotton and corn nearly ready for harvest, without an opportunity of making provision for the one or securing the other." On at least one occasion, "three boys, one only fourteen years of age, were seized in a field where they were at work and sent to a regiment serving in a distant part of the department without the knowledge of their parents...." (ibid., Series III, Volume IV, page 1028). It was also reported that, "On some plantations the wailing and screaming were loud and the women threw themselves in despair on the ground. On some plantations the people took to the woods and were hunted up by the soldiers.... I doubt if the recruiting service in this country has ever been attended with such scenes before" (ibid., Series III, Volume II, page 57).