150 Years Ago: Friday, November 28, 1862

The First of Many Former Slaves Enlist in Union Army under Major General Benjamin Butler

The First of Many Former Slaves Enlist in Union Army under Major General Benjamin Butler, May 1862

Far away in the Union occupied city of New Orleans, Louisiana, Major General Benjamin Butler has been overseeing the occupation and military efforts with little input from Washington City. Even though the general idea of black men being able to enlist in the military has not been approved by Congress or the President, Butler has taken it upon himself to allow former slaves to enlist within regiments under his control. The New Orleans Delta publishes a letter from one of the black soldiers enlisted:

We arrived at this place (Lafourche Landing) on the 1st instant, eight hundred to eight hundred and forty-five strong, only about thirty men having fallen out, and these from sickness. We have not, as yet, had the pleasure of exchanging shots with the enemy. But we are still anxious, as we ever have been, to show to the world that the latent courage of the African is aroused, and that, while fighting under the American flag, we can and will be a wall of fire and death to the enemies of this country, our birth-place.

When we enlisted, we were hooted at in the streets of New Orleans as a rabble of armed plebeians and cowards. I am proud to say, that if any cowardice has been exhibited since we left Camp Strong, at the Louisiana Race Course, it has been exhibited by the rebels. They have retreated from Boutee Station beyond Terrebonne Station, on the line we have marched, burning bridges and destroying culverts, which, no sooner than coming to the knowledge of Col. Thomas, of the 8th Vermont Regiment, have been repaired as quickly as they have been destroyed.

I am not of a disposition to claim for our regiment more than its share of praise, but I venture the assertion that there is not a regiment in the service more willing to share the hardships of marching and bivouacking, and more desirous of meeting the enemy, than this regiment, led by Colonel S. H. Stafford and Major C. F. Bassett.

As Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his men near their final destination of Fredericksburg, Virginia, he receives a letter from his wife (Mary) Anna from Charlotte, North Carolina. She lets him know that he is the father of a baby girl, born November 23, who is named Julia Laura and looks a lot like her father. “Julia” is named after his mother who died when he was seven, and the middle name “Laura” is after his younger sister. Most importantly it appears that Anna and Julia are healthy; this is a relief to Jackson, who lost his first wife in childbirth (the son was stillborn) and his first daughter with Anna, named Mary, lived for only a few weeks.

Burnside returns to his headquarters across the river from Fredericksburg, refreshed from his very brief stay in Washington. He has rejected Lincoln’s proposed plan and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck backs his decision. With Lincoln giving in to Burnside and Halleck, it is now up to Burnside to carry through with the plan he started fourteen days ago. It continues to rain and Burnside’s men continue to sit in camps north of the city, awaiting their orders.

Taken from a Richmond, Virginia newspaper printed on November 20, The Georgia Weekly Telegraph in Macon echoes reports on movements around Fredericksburg from a Confederate perspective:

The Enquirer of this morning says the enemy yesterday took possession of the hills commanding Fredericksburg, on the north side of the Rappahannock, and covered the town with their batteries. The women and children have been leaving for the past few days, and ‘ere now the place is fully prepared to invite its doom. Its heroic citizens would prefer for it to surrender. Our forces still hold possession, and the enemy for the present does not dare attempt the passage of the river. Thus far the contending forces only threaten each other.

Prisoners captured at Fredericksburg say that Steinwhar’s corps occupy the hills opposite Fredericksburg. Their camp fires extend twelve miles.

A private letter from Gordonsville says the whole Yankee cavalry made a raid into Greenbrier county on Friday last and captured about a dozen wagons, and fired the barn of Colonel McCherry, and destroyed his wheat crop.

Prisoners who arrived yesterday by flag of truce say that the removal of McClellan came near producing a revolution among the Federal troops; that entire regiments threw down their arms, and those detailed to arrest them refused to, and that Burnside’s army is thoroughly demoralized.

These statements may be received with great caution.

About The Civil War Project

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. This site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or other individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.


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