FrederickDouglass-1848

Black Regiments Proposed

via Douglass’ Monthly – May 1861

NEW YORK, April 20,1861

MR. EDITOR:

This present war arises out of the indignant protest of the North against the unreasonable and inadmissible demands of the South with regard to slavery extension;in fact, it is liberty making for the first time a decided stand against slavery. In this state of things, it seems to me extremely proper that the descendants of Africans should take a prominent part in a war which will eventually lead to a general emancipation of the race. Africans have fought well in the Revolution. There were two regimen’s of them, and the record of these times show that they made efficient, zealous and reliable soldiers.Gen Jackson spoke highly of the colored men who fought at New Orleans. Most of our national vessels have a squad of colored sailors, who mess together, and serve the game gun, which is called the black gun. Officers in the navy say the black gun is always the best served. Every body knows what bravery the blacks displayed in St.Domingo.

I think that at least one fine regiment could be raised from colored men in the North and East. Canada would likely furnish a good number, and I have no doubt these volunteers would give a good account of themselves on the field of battle. Then think of the moral effect such a regiment would have if carried with the rest of the forces in the very heart of slavedom. It would form a nucleus for the organization of slaves emancipated by the proclamation that will surely come from ‘Old Abe,’ when the army is fairly on its march through the South, and he begins to settle his accounts with the rebels.

I thought best to make these suggestions to you who are the devoted and efficient advocate of the advancement of the race—so you might, if you think proper, give expression to the idea in your paper, and develop it.

My plan would be to advertise for the formation of an African Zonave regiment. I suppose a sufficient number of vigorous and nimble fellows could be enrolled. Abolitionists through the country would no doubt favor the idea, and subscribe freely to uniform the regiment, the arms to be furnished by the State. When you are sure of say two hundred men, offer the regiment to the Governor of New York, or Massachusetts. Perhaps it would be better to communicate to the Governor your intentions before taking the trouble to enlist anybody. If he favors the plan, you can go ahead; if he does not, it would be useless to attempt raising a regiment that would not be mustered with the rest, and of course would not pay. I think myself that before we get through with the war, everyman, black or white, able and willing to carry a musket, will be wanted, and the Government will accept readily the services of all those who shall offer to bring down this infernal confederated rebellion to an end. This will be a frightfully bloody war; but if a race is to be redeemed by it, it will be

IMMATERIAL.

NOTE

France has some regiments of native Africans, who are incarnate devils on afield of battle. The Austrians had a touch of their quality in Italy.

Remarks from the Editor

The measure recommended by ‘Immaterial’ meets our entire approval. He speaks only what is passing in the minds of all thoughtful colored men of the North. If we are not seen in the present conflict, the fault is not with us, but with our circumstances.

For the present, at least, we are between two fires. The slaveholders are willing to take free blacks to fight for slavery, but neither Mr. LINCOLN at Washington, nor Mr. DAVIS at Montgomery, wants us to fight for freedom; and if we fight,we must fight against the North as well as the South, ABRAHAM LINCOLN as well as JEFFERSON DAVIS. Mr. LINCOLN in his war proclamation assures the man stealers and pirates of the Cotton Confederacy that he shall not war upon their ‘property.’ We all know that means that no attempt will be made to destroy slavery. Those of our number who have offered our services to the Government, have been coldly turned away, and in one instance, at Fort Pickens, sent back to slavery in irons to be whipped to death.

Our men are ready and eager to play some honorable part in the great drama of revolution now going forward; but we want to fight for freedom, and to know who we shall have to fight. Until another stage shall be reached in the progress of the war, we should be between two fires. Nevertheless, we do most earnestly urge our people everywhere to drink as deeply into the martial spirit of the times as possible; organize themselves into societies and companies, purchase arms for themselves, and learn how to use them. The present war may, and in all probability will reach a complexion when a few black regiments will be absolutely necessary. Let us not only be ready on call, but be casting about for an opportunity to strike for the freedom of the slave, and for the rights of human nature. [FD]

Collection: African American Newspapers
Source: Douglass’ Monthly – May 1861
Title: Black Regiments Proposed

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment that saw extensive service in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The regiment was one of the first official black units in the United States during the Civil War. The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment, recruited from freed slaves, was the first Union Army regiment organized with African American soldiers in the Civil War, though many had fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 on both sides.

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