Army Life in a Black Regiment

This book, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, is the conference book for the 2014 Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  Higginson was an abolitionist associated with John Brown who commanded the First South Carolina Volunteers, which later became the 33rd USCT.

In reading this book I was struck by two things.  First, that Higginson referred to his black soldiers in one way like slaveholders referred to their slaves–as childlike.  Throughout the book he constantly refers to his soldiers as overgrown children, childlike in their innocence, and always cheerful.  The second thing that struck me was his forthright admission of the bad way the US government treated his soldiers, especially with regard to their pay.  It’s obvious he was deeply offended by the disparity in pay between white and black soldiers.

He does indeed like his soldiers, and he likes the fact that they perform well against the rebels.  They mostly operated in the Jacksonville area of Florida, but later in the Port Royal area of South Carolina.

I think the book is valuable not for the outline of military operations, not for the descriptions of these black soldiers, but rather as revealing what a prominent abolitionist of the time felt about African-Americans.  This is someone from the 1860s giving us his thoughts about African-Americans in general, and African-American soldiers.  We can see a patriarchal attitude in his writing as well as a patronizing attitude toward his soldiers.  It’s an interesting viewpoint for us in the 21st Century looking back.

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2 comments

  1. The 1st South Carolina, wasn’t it?

    1. Yep. First South Carolina Volunteers. Later became the 33rd USCT.

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