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Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality

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Men of Color to Arms!

Men of Color to Arms!

  • Hardcover
  • August 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06039-3
  • 6.5 × 9.5 in / 336 pages

The good folks at W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. sent me a pre-release copy of Elizabeth D. Leonard’s new book, Men of Color to Arms! Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality. As with many good books of history, Leonard chronicles the experiences of individuals including Christian A. Fleetwood, winner of the  Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Chaffin’s (Chapin’s)  Farm (Virginia, 1864). But she also sheds a light on pervasive prejudice against advancement and even recognition of the contribution of black soldiers to the war effort.

Particularly insightful is Leonard’s coverage of the role of black regulars in the clearing of the west’s natives for white settlement. This excerpt…

Elizabeth D. Leonard

Leonard

The strengthening of the fort system in Texas, and indeed all along the nation’s western frontier, and the posting of active duty soldiers at Fort Davis and a multitude of other military installations in this vast region constituted a key component of the army’s response to its postwar charge. Now that the Confederate rebellion had been suppressed and the South had been, in theory at least, reclaimed for the Union, a task of primary strategic importance for the united nation – though, in the eyes of many then and now, a morally questionable one – was to “pacify” the remaining unsettled land and Native people located within the boundaries of the United States in preparation for the advance of “American civilization. The black Regulars were to play a key role in this process. (pp. 76-66).

Leonard’s insightful overview of the Battle of Beecher’s Island is well worth a read. The Tenth Cavalry, largely black Regulars, saved the day.

The book is receiving well deserved “buzz.”  This from James M. McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom):

“Once again Elisabeth Leonard demonstrates the versatility and range of her skills as a historian and writer. This penetrating account of the black regular regiments in the U.S. army after the Civil War joins her earlier studies of women during the Civil War and the prosecutors of Lincoln’s assassins on a select shelf of important books.”

I’ll add that the book is just a pleasure to read. Highly recommend!

Elizabeth D. Leonard is the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History at Colby College. Other books by professor Leonard include: Yankee Women: Gender Battles in the Civil War, All the Daring of a Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies, and Lincoln’s Avengers: Justice, Revenge, and Reunion after the Civil War.

A resident of Waterville, Maine, Leonard received her M.A. in United States History from the University of California, Riverside in October of 1988 and her Ph.D. in June, 1992.

Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as "Revolutionary"

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[Note: This post is part of a series on The Civil War as Revolution which is available at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War, and Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as Revolutionary.]

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Indulge me while I – mull over and expound upon - one of Dr. McPherson’s essays in Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution.

If the mantel of “revolutionary” is worn by individuals who – because of their unique presence – drive transformational change, Abraham Lincoln must certainly be considered among them. Such a label might at first seem unfitting in that Lincoln was known for his conservatism. Indeed his early actions reflected caution and a desire for a limited, minimally disruptive war. His journey toward “revolutionary” took a big leap forward when the Border States ignored his repeated offers of graduated and compensated emancipation. His failure to sway them left him angry enough to, as McPherson phrased it, “embrace the revolution.” Lincoln’s “revolutionary” response? He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the final version of which was delivered on New Year’s Day 1863. With it came a new “revolutionary” charter for the war: forceful overthrow of slavery and the South with it.

Emancipation Proclamation
McPherson considers the enabling of black soldiers to fight and kill their former masters “by far the most revolutionary dimension” of Lincoln’s “emancipation policy.” And embrace it Mr. Lincoln did. Over 180,000 black soldiers would serve in Northern armies before the conflict ended. I must agree with Mr. McPherson’s conclusion that Lincoln evolved to fit the pattern of a revolutionary leader and became – once over his initial reluctance – arguably more radical than some of the founding fathers

Troops
District of Columbia. Company E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, at Fort Lincoln
Civil War photographs, 1861-1865 (Library of Congress)
Copyright © 2007 Rene Tyree

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