Learn More – Teach More
Lincoln’s Evolution from Colonizationist to Cautious Egalitarian
CLASSROOM ACTIVITY #1
An African-American Response to Colonization
Students will understand the details involved in a colonization plan sent to Abraham
Lincoln and the United States Congress on December 1, 1863.
Students will recognize the manifestations of racism in nineteenth century America.
Students will write a personal letter taking a particular point-of-view.
Students will analyze a primary document and select relevant information for their point-
Lecture by Dr. Robert Durden
Colonization proposal for the relocation of former slaves to the Lagoon of Cheriqui (Panama)
sent by Buel Conklin, a Long Island florist, to Abraham Lincoln and the United States Congress
on December 1, 1863. (text below)
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mdbquery.html (search Buel Conklin)
Assign students to read the Colonization Plan of Buel Conklin and record significant details of
the plans both supporting and opposing the idea of colonization.
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mdbquery.html (search Buel Conklin)
Assign students to write a personal letter from the point-of-view of a former slave to President
Abraham Lincoln. Students might use the following questions in preparing their letter:
What aspects of the plan would benefit you as a freed slave? Why?
What aspects of the plan would you oppose as a freed slave? Why?
What relevant information from the plan might be used to convince Abraham Lincoln to
approve or disapprove of the plan?
Personal Letter Guidelines:
Dear President Lincoln
Body of the Letter
Brief introduction of author and issue
Explanation of the author’s position
A Letter contains reference to specific details of the colonization plan, has a clear point-of-
view, and has appropriate tone and style.
B Letter contains reference to a only a few details of the colonization plan, has a clear
point-of-view, but lacks appropriate tone and/or style
C Letter is vague, lacks a point-of-view, does not contain details of the colonization plan,
and does not have letter style.
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln
Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mdbquery.html (search Buel Conklin)
From Buel Conklin to Abraham Lincoln and Congress1, December 1, 1863
[Note 1 Conklin was a Long Island florist.]
To the President of the United States
Congress Assembled at Washington,
The following memorial, petitioning for the adoption of the plan herein proposed for colonizing a
portion of the liberated negroes, is respectfully addressed by the undersigned, in the hope that they will
give it their serious consideration & approval.
The multitude of blacks now looking to the Government for some assistance in their difficulty &
every day increasing in numbers, has rendered it necessary, that the Government should take some
decided step for the alleviation of their condition.
It is the belief of the undersigned, that the Government, by offering sufficient encouragement to
the private enterprise of colonizing them in foreign parts, as proposed herein, can dispose of a large
portion if not all of the cases of those who are now or may be dependent upon it, not only without
expense & without trouble to itself & with every advantage to the negroes, but, in accordance with the
general wish of the people.
Throughout tropical America, there are thousands of acres of valuable land, unoccupied & for all
present purposes worthless to the Governments which hold them. They can be bought for a mere trifle -- a
few cents per acre, & are now taken up with an indefinite prospect of the occupant's having to pay for
them at all.
Unlike the prairies of the West, they are better adapted to the negro than the white man, & in
many instances will probably only be successfully settled by him: & the Governments of Central & South
America & of the West India Islands, for no other consideration than that of seeing these lands reduced to
a state of cultivation, should be willing to offer them freely to the blacks.
Already, several states have expressed their willingness to receive the negroes as settlers, & the
Government could, undoubtedly, procure every reasonable concession for them.
It is to be hoped, that the effort which it is making to establish them upon the confiscated lands at
the South, may be attended with success. But, the position which nature or circumstances have assigned
to the negroe in the intellectual sphere, the distinction of color & the peculiarities of his physical
constitution, must ever operate in the temperate zones, where less depends upon the physical than upon
the mental capacities, as a barrier to the enjoyment of a true equality with the whites.
In his native climate, the negro is in many respects superior to the white man & only needs the
influence of education to raise him to an equality in the social sphere.
Any plan, therefore, which, without expense to the Government & with every advantage to the negroes,
shall transfer them, with their own consent, to a land more congenial to their natures & better adapted to
their habits than our own, should deserve the serious consideration of the august body to whom this
memorial is addressed.
In looking about for a suitable locality in which to establish a colony, it will be found, that the
climate of the Lagoon of Cheriqui is mild & salubrious to a degree seldom met with on the coast of
tropical America; while the fertility of the soil, the advantages of the situation & the magnificent harbor,
leave little remaining to desire.2 There the bread-fruit & the palm, the orange & every tropical production
thrives with the greatest luxurience, while the cotton plant springs up spontaneously throughout the
settlements & matures its bolls of white fiber under every conceivable disadvantage.
[Note 2 The Chiriqui region is located in what is now the country of Panama. The region had
been considered a prime location for the colonization of freedmen as early as 1861, when
Ambrose W. Thompson had formed the "Chiriqui Improvement Company" for that purpose. The
Lincoln administration backed the plan to the extent that it entered into a provisional contract
with Thompson in September 1862. The project came to a halt, however, when the Central
American states bordering on the region expressed their strong disapproval of the scheme, even
hinting that force would be used to stop it. There are many documents in the collection relating to
the Chiriqui resettlement scheme.]
It is at this point, that the undersigned would propose to establish a colony; & it is hoped that the
following plan for accomplishing this end, may be found to possess every advantage for which the
Government or the negroes could wish.
It is asked of the Government,
That it shall procure from the United States of Columbia, the right to establish a colony of free negroes
upon the unoccupied lands in the neighborhood of Cheriqui Lagoon or on the islands situated in it;
together with a grant of 20 acres of land to each individual on the condition of his settling upon &
improving it: or, failing to secure the latter concession, that it shall procure the land for the colonists at
such reasonable rate, not exceeding fifty cents per acre, as it can obtain.
That it shall endeavor to procure for each person so settling, an exemption from taxation upon the above
lands & from duties upon importations for the space of 5 or for 10 years; & also the right of taking up
within that period, as much more land, not exceeding 30 acres & subject to taxation if the United States of
Columbia shall so determine, as in addition to the first 20 acres, he may be able to reduce to a state of
That, in consideration of the undersigned's taking upon him the charge & management of the colonists as
hereafter indicated, it shall secure to him, either by procuring a grant of or by purchase from the United
States of Columbia, the possession in perpetuity of the island known as Pope's Island, & such land upon
the now unoccupied portion of Provision Island as may be needed in addition in carrying out this
scheme.-- To be held subject to the laws of the United States of Columbia3 And shall furnish me papers
properly acknowledged as security for the undisputed possession of the same.
[Note 3 The territory now encompassed by Panama belonged to Colombia in 1863.]
That, in persuance of this scheme, it shall furnish transportation to the Lagoon of Cheriqui for a colony of
1000 negroes each year for five successive years, (or any less term of years) & for the wives & children
of such among them as are married, not exceeding such number of individuals as Congress may
designate; & shall furnish provisions for the first 1,000 colonists for a period not exceeding five months
& to an amount not necessarily exceeding the cost of $22 per man: & shall furnish each individual of such
colony with an ax, spade, hoe, & machete, & with nails for roofing a dwelling 12 by 18 feet in dimentions
& seeds & plants sufficient for planting four acres of land as hereafter indicated.
That it shall furnish for the use of the colonists while under this system, the following impliments,
machines, stock &c, viz, 200 froes; 200 drawing knives; 5 roller-cotton gins capable of cleaning 600 lbs
each per day; 10 horses; 4 waggons & material for harness; cooking utensils not to exceed $500;
carpenter tools not to exceed $500 & material for roofing 100 buildings each 12 feet square, to be used as
barracks by the colonists. Also a small propeller not less than five tons burden, to be used in conveying
men provisions &c from one part of the Lagoon to another, or material for the construction of flat boats
for that purpose, & an apparatus for hulling rice & for grinding corn-- The whole including cost of
impliments &c furnished to the first colonists as prescribed in section 4th not to exceed the cost of
And in consideration of the above concessions & advantages each individual of the first colony, shall be
under obligations to clear up plant & cul-cultivate under my directions for the space of 15 months, the 4
acres of land which may be allotted to him on or of the other of the islands named in section 3d; two acres
of which shall be devoted to the culture of cotton & the remainder to the production of provisions for his
And the individuals of the succeeding colonies shall be under similar obligations, to clear up & cultivate
in cotton, each the two acres of land which may be allotted to him upon either of the above named islands,
& shall also cultivate such portion, not less than one acre, of the provision grounds planted by the
preceeding colonists as may be necessary for the support of himself & family.
And in addition to the above each individual shall plant & cultivate, either among the cotton sowed by
him, or upon the space separating his land from his neighbors', a certain number of cocoa-nut trees, viz at
the rate of one tree to every 900 square feet of the said cotton fields
And the Government shall have the right of purchasing from the colonists at one tenth of its actual value,
the whole or any less portion of the cotton produced by them during their term of 15 months upon the
above named lands, & of remunerating itself for the expense incurred in carrying out this scheme, from
the sales of such cotton, recieving in addition a certain rate of interest upon that expendature, not
exceeding 20 per cent. Or, it shall be entitled to the whole or such portion of the proceeds of the sales of
the cotton over one tenth, as shall be equivalent to such expendature & interest: & any remainder shall be
distributed among the colonists, at or as soon after the expiration of their term as possible; in the
proportion of the amount of cotton received from each.
And if the Government shall fail to remunerate itself fully from the above salves, it shall be entitled to one
twentieth, or in case it shall furnish impliments, nails & seed for the palm trees, (as prescribed for the first
1000 persons.) to each colonist, to one tenth of the produce or the proceeds of the cotton fields & to one
half of that of the cocoa-nut trees growing upon such fields for such time following the expiration of the
term of each colony, as shall suffice for the discharge of the debt
The colonists shall be subject to the regulations & restrictions & entitled to the advantages herein
1. If the Government shall not supply each or any colonist after those of the first colony with impliments,
seeds &c as mentioned in the preceeding section, they will be supplied to them at a cost not exceeding
that of procuring & getting them to them -- to be deducted from the returns of the cotton fields.
2. Each colony shall be separated into divisions of 20 individuals each, who shall elect the most
intelligent member from among them, to assist me when needed in directing their labors.
And the members of the division of every person thuse elected, shall be under obligations to aid him in
cultivating his portion of land the same as their own. And if any member of a division shall become sick
or otherwise incapacitated from duty for a time, it shall be the duty of the other members to cultivate his
portion of land for him for a reasonable length of time, until he shall become able to take charge of it
If any individual shall die while under the operation of this system & such person shall have a family it
shall devolve upon the whole colony to take care of his portion of land for the family (provided they shall
not be able to do it themselves) which shall be entitled to the same advantages & concessions as were
offered to the deceased.
But if the latter shall have no family, the land allotted to him shall be disposed of as described in the
following division of this section.
3. If any individual shall desert the colony or persistently neglect the regulations thereof, he shall forfiet
all title to the advantages & concessions which were offered to him, & the land vacated thus shall be
allotted to the division to which he belonged, provided it shall be willing & able to take the additional
charge, or to any other division or member of a division that may be willing & able to take it: And such
division or individual shall be entitled to all the advantages which were offered to the person whose land
they have taken in charge.
4. Any produce harvested by the divisions from their provision grounds during the first 12 months of their
term over what is needed for their support, shall be disposed of nine tenths of the proceeds of such sales,
shall be appropriated to the following purposes, viz; one tenth for medical attendance & the remainder for
the purchase of such animal food as may be required; to be made either by the colonists themselves or for
them; & any remainder to be distributed among them at the end of their term, in the proportion of the
value of the produce recieved from each.
5.At such times as the services of the colonists are not needed in the proper cultivation of the land allotted
to them as heretofore described, they shall be employed in clearing up & planting with such products as
will afford them subsistence after the expiration of their term, a portion, not less than one acre, of the land
granted to each; & in getting out the material for & in erecting a dwellilng upon the same, to be 12 by 18
feet upon the ground & one story in height.
And these lands of the colonists shall be locted in one or more bodies & in such parts, as a regard to
health, character of soil & advantages of situation may direct, & shall be distributed among them by lot.
But no individual shall be under obligations to clear or settle upon any lands as mentioned in this section
contrary to his desire & his refusal to do so at the expiration of his term, shall be taken as the final
expression of his will & the land which should have been recieved by him, shall be allotted to some other
colonist as his portion.
6. At the expiration of the term of 15 months, each individual shall be allowed the privelege of continuing
the cultivation of the cotton fields planted by him or of leasing such right to any other colonist entitled to
the same privilege, for a period of 10 years dating back to the time of his landing in the lagoon; provided
he has shown himself to have been, an industrious & deserving person & shall agree to cultivate the fields
& gather & clean the cotton fuccording to my directions, for the share of nine-tenths of the whole & shall
maintain the original number of cocoa-nut trees growing upon such fields & collect & prepare the
produce for market for one half of the whole -- such persons furnishing their own impliments provisions
At the expiration of the period for which this system shall be in operation, all the impliments, machines,
stock &c mentioned in section 5th, shall be delivered into the possession of the colonists; unless the
Government shall arrange for its continuation.
A plan not materially differing from the above was forwarded to the President during the month
of November last. But on mature consideration, it has appeared advisable to the undersigned, to reduce
the expense on the part of the Government to as low a figure as possible, lest the outlay should be any
obstacle to its adoption.
By an increase of the expense by an amount not exceeding $3,000, the land could be cultivated by
plow & the amount somewhat increased. The horses for this purpose, could be purchased in the savannas
of Cheriqui at $12 per head, & a portion of the forest thinned out & sowed with certain kinds of grasses
by the first colonists, would furnish sufficient provender before the accession of those succeeding them.
It is confidently believed by the undersigned, that a portion of the freedmen can be settled upon
the lands of Cheriqui, more advantageously to themselves than upon the confiscated lands along our
southern sea-coast; especially if the occupancy of those lands can only be for a limited period.4
[Note 4 Late in 1863 the Federal government adopted a policy whereby plantations of rebels
seized by the Union were leased to Freedmen.]
In any event there will be thousands who will be unable to take advantage of the opportunity
offered them of procuring such lands, from the want of some means of support while their crops are
growing. Under the system herein proposed they will be provided for until they are able to support
themselves from their own land & have erected a dwelling upon it -- will be possessed of a sum of money
at the end of their term greater, probably than they could save up from their earnings during the same
period elsewhere & are offered for 10 years a source of income, (independent of their own property) more
than sufficient for their support.
In the tropics the Sea Island cotton is a perenial & lasts & bears abundantly for five or six years.
In four years many of the palms would commence bearing & would yield a full crop of 100 or more nuts
on the following season. The average period of the trees producing woud not exceed five or at most six
There is always a market in the Lagoon for cocoa-nuts, at $8 to $16 per 1000, & double that
amount can be procured for them in New York.
The trees planted by each colonist, would not be worth less than $75 to him in any year & in
ordinary times would bring him in double that amount, while his share of the produce of the cotton fields,
would be worth much more.
When the cotton plant has fully developed itself, the labor of cultivation becomes comparatively
little & the cultivation of a cocoa-nut grove consists almost solely in collecting the fruit. The families of
the colonists or a few individuals detailed from each division, would be sufficient for the performance of
all the work.
The land allotted to the colonists, could be cut & burned at the rate of 10 or 12 days to the acre.
But allowing three months for the clearing & planting of the land, it will leave twelve months remaining
for the growth & maturity of the cotton, a period three or four months longer than it has in this country &
an average yield of 300 lbs, which is no more than the usual crop on good lands at the South, may be
reasonably calculated upon.
That the climate of Cheriqui is adapted to the cotton plant, may be seen from the numerous
specimens found growing wild about every settlement & maturing an abundant crop of pods although
standing in the sod or in the shade of other trees.
The climate of Cheriqui is mild & moist, & without doubt, the long staple cotton can be raised in
as great perfection on the island of the Lagoon, as on those off the coast of Georgia & Carolina.
Taking the estimate of 300 lbs as the average yield per acre, the value of the crop raised by the
first colony at the present price of 80 cts per lb, would amount to $480,000. But if we base our
calculations upon 25 cts as a sum below which the price of Sea Island cotton is not liable to fall, nor in all
probability that of the short staple for the next three or fur years to come, the crop will still be worth
$150,000, a sum, which, after the share of one tenth has been deducted for the colonists, will be nearly
double the amount of any expense which the Government can incur in their behalf.
If the colonists were collected at New-Orleans or along the Gulf Coast, it would shorten the
distance of transportation by nearly half & should not take above five or six days to convey them to the
Lagoon. The Government having numerous vessels, especially designed for transporting men, should be
able to convey them at a comparatively small expense. The cost of provisioning the first colony would be
very materially diminished after the first three or four months, as many productions such as beans & peas,
corn cassada & rice could be raised in that time. A large portion of the food required, could be had
cheaper there than here. For instance, beef may be purchased in the savannas, a distance of only 20 or 30
miles from the Lagoon, at 3 or 4 cts per lb, & standing at $12 per head. The united efforts of over two
hundred men, would soon open a rout by which they could be driven across without difficulty.
The avarage cost of provisioning the first colony of 1000 persons, would not exceed $150 per day.
In a climate where the productions of the soil can be planted during any month of the year with
equal success -- where three or four crops of pease & beans & two or three of sweet-potatoes, corn & rice
can be raised upon the same spot of ground during the year, it requires but little space for man's support.
That the surplus raised upon the provision grounds will be sufficient for the purpose to which it is
proposed to apply it, may be seen from the following estimate, of the amount & value of the produce of
three or four of the principle crops planted
One half acre of upland rice, usually cultivated
there, twice sown, will yield at least 20 bushels worth at 6 cts per lb -- $72
One fourth of an acre of beans -- 10 bushels-worth ... 30
" ... " ... " ... of pease ... " ... " ... 30
" ... " ... " ... of corn ... 20 ... " ... " ... 15
Total ... $147
It is needless to mention the produce of the yam cassada sweet potato &c.
In constructing the dwellings for the colonists it is proposed to form the exterior walls of adobe or
sundried brick or of bamboo; both of which methods are in common use throughout the district of
The palms growing abundantly about the Lagoon will furnish all the material needed, for
covering any buildings which may be needed for the storage of cotton, provisions &c, & the barracks
might be covered with the same, if it were not for the difficulty of procuring it at once.
If, on the other hand, thy are covered simply with tin, put on in such a way as to obviate the
necessity of nailing, as is sometimes done, the skeleton or framework could be erected & the covering
laid on in a few hours, while it would possess the advantage of being capable of being removed at any
time & the building erected in a more convenient place. Such removal would be necessitated, from the
fact that the buildings could not be erected at once where finallly needed on account of the forest.
Such material as here described for roofing would possess the additional advantage, of costing
but little to convey it to the Lagoon, & would last long enough for all purposes required of it. When
finally rusted through, it might be covered with pattern leaves & still form a good roof.
The small amount of land allotted to each individual to cultivate will leave an abundance of time,
for clearing up & planting a portion of his own land & for erecting a dwelling, such as proposed upon it.
The following estimate of the outlay on the part of the Government which this scheme will
involve will be found to be under rather than over the probable amount.
Provisioning the first colony of 1000 individuals ... $22000
One thousand axes ... 1000
" ... " Spades. ... 1000
" ... " ... Hoes ... 500
" ... " ... Machetes ... 150
200 froes ... 100
" ... drawing Knives ... 200
Five Cotton Gins ... 500
Ten horses ... 120
Waggons & harness ... 175
Cooking utensils & carpenter's tools ... 1000
Barracks ... 1500
Propellor Eng ... 2000
Rice huller & mill ... 175
Total ... ________________________ ... $30,420
In asking the Government to procure a grant of land to each colonist, the undersigned does so
under the belief that the demand will not be refused by the United States of Columbia. But even if it
should have to purchase the land, it should not reasonably cost over 25 cts per acre. Thousands of acres of
land have been bought & are still bought throughout Central America at that price & even less; & if the
negroes were obliged to purchase the land at the same rate as here, it is the opinion of the undersigned
that they could settle, with more advantage in the end, at Cheriqui then at the South.
The families of the first colonist, unless the government provisioned them, could not be taken to
the Lagoon during the first six months. But as a large portion of the colonists would be unmarried, it
would not cost more, perhaps not near so much to provide for their families as for them.
If necessary, such colony could be composed entirely of single persons.
If Congress shall adopt the plan herein proposed it will be the constant effort of the undersigned,
to improve the condition of those placed under him, in every possible way; as well in regard to the future
as the present, & to induce them to enter upon some regular system of culture. Having visited Cheriqui,
expressly for the purpose of investigating the country for himself -- of ascertaining its capabilities &
adaptation to colonization purposes -- its productions & their method of treatment -- the difficulties of
clearing the forest & the way in which they can best be obviated, he is perfectly confident, of his power of
perfering all that is herein proposed, & the Government may rest assured, that if the proposition is
accepted, no effort on is part will be spared, to carry it out successfully.
With all due respect,
Your obedient servant
Cold Spring L. I. Dec. 1st 1863
Learn More – Teach More
Lincoln’s Evolution from Colonizationist to Cautious Egalitarian
CLASSROOM ACTIVITY #2
A Memorial to fallen African-American Union Soldiers
Students will understand the contributions of African-Americans to the Union War effort
beginning in 1863.
Students will study how the enlistment of African-Americans in the Union war effort
may have changed Lincoln’s perspective on their eventual political equality.
Students will analyze and interpret photographs of African-American soldiers.
Students will interpret primary source accounts of Civil War battles.
Students will create a memorial to honor fallen African-American soldiers.
Lecture by Robert Durden
Excerpts from a speech given by Daniel Ullman, a former white officer in the Union Army, in
1868 describing his reasoning for having supported the enlistment of freed slaves into the Union
army. (text below)
Excerpts taken from a speech delivered in 1892 by African-American Colonel Norwood P.
Hallowell to the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts in which he describes several Civil
War battles in which African American troops fought and died for the Union Army. (text below)
Photographs of African-American soldiers taken during the Civil War.
Assign students to read the speech excerpts of Daniel Ullman and Norwood P. Hallowell.
Students should search for evidence of the contributions of African Americans to the successes
of the Union Army.
Assign students to examine the photographs of African American soldiers during the Civil War.
Students should search for evidence of contributions of African Americans to the war effort.
Assign students to design a Memorial to be placed at the grave of the Unknown African
American Civil War Soldier to commemorate the role of African American soldiers in the Civil
Depict historically accurate contributions of African-Americans
Two or Three Dimensional
Contain some written statement
Contain an image, sketch, or relic
Constructed with readily accessible materials
Create a display space for the Memorials.
Assign selected students to make a brief presentation on of their Memorial for the class. Students
should explain the intended meaning.
Hold a class discussion on how the contributions of African Americans to the Union war effort
might have changed Abraham Lincoln’s perspective on the freed slaves’ eventual political
A Memorial displays originality as well as a detailed understanding of soldiers’
contributions during the Civil War.
B Memorial displays some originality and at least two details regarding soldiers’
C Memorial displays a lack of originality and fails to convey any understanding of actual
Address by Daniel Ullman, Before the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Union of New York
In October 1862, Daniel Ullmann, a white officer, met with President Abraham Lincoln. During
the meeting, Ullmann attempted to persuade the President to arm and enlist freed slaves into the
Union Army. Later, at Lincoln's direction, Ullman organized and armed freed slaves in
Louisiana. The following excerpts, from African American Perspectives, 1818-1907, are taken
from a speech given by Ullmann in 1868. Why did Ullmann think it was a good idea to enlist the
freed slaves into the Union Army? What important qualities does Ullmann think African-
American troops possess?
Comrades, Ladies And Gentlemen: In the summer of 1862, during the operations of the "Army
of Virginia," in the Piedmont region, having been prostrated by typhoid fever, as the choice of
evils, I was left behind, by the surgeons, to the tender mercies of the Rebels, and was, of course,
quickly taken prisoner. Favored with a strong constitution, I survived both the fever and Libby
prison. On being paroled, still exceedingly feeble, I returned from Richmond to Washington, on
the 10th of October, 1862. I considered it my duty to call immediately on the President. I was
received by Mr. Lincoln in his usually kind manner, and at his request, gave to him an account of
my sickness and improvement. I found him more serious and depressed than I recollect to have
seen him at any other time. . . .
Perceiving that the mind of the President was pre-occupied, I soon took my leave, and returned
to the Hotel. About seven o'clock of the evening of the same day, I was roused by a knock at my
door, and a voice saying, "a message from the President." Of course, I immediately repaired to
the "White House," and found Mr. Lincoln waiting for me. He said that he had sent for me,
because he had not been satisfied with our interview in the morning,--that he was so much
engrossed at that time with other matters that he had not appreciated what I had said, and desired
me to enter more into detail as to what I had heard and observed of the effect of his
proclamation. I did so. He catechised me closely. My statements appeared to impress him deeply.
After I had finished, I took the liberty of saying, "Mr. President, from what I have heard in
Washington to-day, there seem to be doubts as to the issuing of the proclamation of Freedom on
the first of January. Subtile and powerful combinations are organizing, I understand, to influence
your action in the premises." . . . He took my hand, and assured me, that unless the rebellion
should collapse, the Proclamation would be issued. I then said: Now, Mr. President, let me go
further. . . . You arm the Blacks, and enlist them into the armies of the United States." The
President interrupted me. "That cannot be done," he said, "It would drive many of our friends
from us. The people are not prepared for it." My answer was, "I am by no means sure of that, Mr.
President . . . He listened to me with that sympathetic expression, which was one of his marked
characteristics, and allowed me in a conversation which consumed sometime, to urge these
points: That to arm the Blacks was;
1. The most direct way to crush the Rebellion.
2. The surest path to the extinction of slavery.
3. The most feasible mode of bringing home to the slaves that he really intended to free them.
4. That John Quincy Adams had in his admirable arguments on the admission of Texas, shown
that it was clearly within the warpower; and that it was a mode of greatly reducing the expenses
of the war; especially as now it was difficult to raise troops, except by a draft, or by offering
ruinous bounties. That I felt sure that thus, without the expenditure of a dollar in bounties, we
could enlist from 200,000 to 400,000 faithful and loyal soldiers.
5. The mode designated by Providence to redeem, regenerate and elevate a race. . . .
Immediately after the issuing of the Proclamation of Freedom, on the 1st of January 1863, the
President directed the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, to order me to raise and organize
Regiments of colored troops in the Department of the Gulf. My duty was to initiate and supervise
the recruiting and officering Regiments, of which the privates and non-commissioned officers
should be Blacks--freemen or freedom,--and to command them. . . .
I shall, doubtless, be expected to answer the questions, so often put, "What sort of soldiers do
Blacks make?" . . .
Now, I have commanded colored Regiments, as good troops as need be, and I have commanded
some, indifferent, and some very inferior. In their abnormal state, they require good officers
more than other soldiers. I have seen colored Regiments--weak, disorganized, inefficient--which
stripped of their miserable officers, and placed in the hands of men, who both knew their duty
and discharged it, were raised speedily to a high degree of discipline and effectiveness. The
privates of the Colored Troops were pretty uniformly reported to me to be sober, docile,
subordinate, obedient, attentive, and, as soldiers, enthusiastic. As sentinels, and on general picket
duty, they have no superiors. On a march, it was generally necessary to check them. Their
powers of endurance, none will question. As to their fighting qualities, it is surprising that doubts
were so extensively entertained, when we have the well-known record of the testimony as to
their bravery and good conduct, of so experienced a judge of what constitutes a soldier as
Andrew Jackson. . . . The self-denying good temper of these troops, their knowledge of
localities, their prompt obedience, their soldier-like power of endurance, and above all, their
firm, unflinching, never-varying friendship, were invaluable. There never was a scintilla of
evidence that there was any foundation for the stupendous deception attempted, with unblushing
effrontery, to be palmed off on mankind, that the slaves were contended with their condition. On
the contrary, we found that a knowledge of the causes and character of the war was not only
almost universal among them, but was also remarkably clear and accurate, and they never failed
to hail our advent with enthusiastic.
The Negro as Soldier in the War of Rebellion
The following excerpts, from African American Perspectives, 1818-1907, describe several Civil
War battles in which African-American troops fought and died for the Union Army. The excerpts
are taken from a speech delivered by Colonel Norwood P. Hallowell, an African American, to
the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, January 5, 1892. What portrait of African-
American soldiers does Hallowell create through his descriptions?
In the disastrous affair of Olustee, Florida, February 20th, 1864, the redeeming feature appears to
have been the conspicuous gallantry of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts. That regiment was
hurried into action at the very crisis of affairs. It checked the onward sweep of a victorious
enemy. and covered the retreat towards Jacksonville in a thoroughly creditable manner, as I am
told, under the immediate direction of Colonel Edward N. Hallowell. In this battle the Eighth
U.S. Colored Infantry lost three hundred and ten dead, wounded and missing,--the missing
mostly dead or wounded left on the field,--one of the severest regimental losses during the war.
Honey Hill, S.C., November 30, 1864.
This assault, in its main features, was a repetition of Wagner. The only approach attempted to the
rebel batteries and intrenchments was the narrow cutting through which the road crossed the
swamp. Through this defile five companies of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts were ordered to
storm the enemy's works. The order is not free from the charge of down-right recklessness.
Against the concentrated fire of artillery and musketry at one hundred yards' range the five
companies charged in vain, were rallied twice and then withdrawn with a loss of twenty-nine
killed and one hundred and fifteen wounded, or one half the officers and one third of the enlisted
men engaged. A useless slaughter, not compensated for by some brilliant fighting both before
and after the charge. . . .
At Port Hudson and at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, the official reports commend the colored
troops for steadiness in maintaining positions and for heroism in charging the batteries of the
In a paper read before the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, by General John C.
Palfrey, the conduct of the black regiments at Port Hudson, June 27, 1863, is recorded in these
forceful words: "Between the attacks of Weitzel and Augur an assault was ordered from our
extreme right by the black regiments as a diversion. Their ground was very difficult and
disadvantageous, and the garrison received them with special temper and exasperation. But they
fought without panic, and suffered severely before falling back in good order. Their conduct and
its indication of character and manliness made a profound impression on the army, and later
through the country. The day should be one of the famous dates in the progress of their race."
At the first attempt on Petersburg, Virginia, in June, 1864, Hinks' Division of the 18th Corps,
under fire for the first time, carried the line of works in its front, and captured in succession
seven pieces of artillery with great spirit and dash. This decided success of the colored troops
gave to General Smith an opportunity to seize Petersburg, advantage of which, however, was not
taken, whether through a misinterpretation of General Grant's orders, or because the city was
believed to be untenable, is a matter of considerable debate.
Chaffin's Farm and Fort Gilmer.
Paine's Division of the 18th Corps and Birney's Colored Division of the 10th Corps were
conspicuously engaged at Chaffin's Farm, in the assault on Fort Gilmer and the intrenchments at
New Market Heights. At Fort Gilmer they scaled the parapet by climbing upon each other's
backs. A distinguished rebel general wrote at the time: "Fort Gilmer proved the other day that
they would fight."
At the battle of the Crater, at Petersburg, July 30th, 1864, the colored troops were ordered in
after the assault was a bloody failure. They failed to retrieve the disaster, but were in no way
responsible for it. Their casualties in Ferrero's Division were 1327 killed, wounded and missing.
The white soldiers in the Crater were permitted to surrender; many of the blacks were given no
In the victory at Nashville, December 16th, 1864, the heaviest loss in any regiment occurred in
the 13th U.S. Colored Infantry,--55 killed and 106 wounded: total 221. General George H.
Thomas, the hero of that battle, a Virginian and at one time a slaveholder, when riding over the
field, saw the dead colored troops commingled with the bodies of the white soldiers, and said,
"This proves the manhood of the negro."