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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Civil War - "The Negro on Duty"

August 18, 1862
The New York Herald

THE NEGRO ON DUTY. - If fanaticism would only recognize the
fact, there are plenty of ways in which negroes could be made
more serviceable to the Union cause than by placing arms in
their hands. The deficiencies of our ambulance service, for
instance, have been due entirely to the absence of
organization and system that prevailed in it. In the French
and Prussian armies the service is as perfect as discipline
can properly make it. A corps of men is specially trained for
it, and they are never diverted from it to any other kind of
work. Take the contrabands - generally speaking, able bodied
and lusty fellows - form them into a corps of this sort,
properly officered, and subject to all the regulations and
penalties that govern the military? The practice of
withdrawing soldiers from the ranks to carry the wounded to the
rear is one that tends very much to cripple the effective
strength of our army, and there is no reason that we can see
why negroes should not be allotted to this duty. They are
susceptible of discipline - as was shown in the army of
McClellan, who was the first to place them under military
discipline - and, so long as they are not called upon to
handle a gun or fight, would be delighted to be thus employed.
The withdrawal of able bodied soldiers as nurses from there
hospitals suggests another service to which they could be
profitably devoted. It is proposed now to employ convalescent
soldiers for their purposes; but it is obvious that they are
of all persons the most unfitted for it, their own experience
of a hospital given them a distaste for the work, and their
continuance in its impure atmosphere tending to retard their
recovery. There is no better attendant or nurse than a negro.
Here is, therefore, another service for which they are well
fitted, and it requires only that they shall be subject to
stringent military control, as in the French hospitals, to cure
them of their lazy tendencies. In the work of digging and
trenching no better laborers can be found, always provided
that they are kept under rigorous surveillance. The proper
way of treating them would be to enroll them in distinct gangs
or organizations for all these purposes, subjecting them to the
rules of the military service, and punishing them as deserters
when found attempting to run away. There are at present from
forty to fifty thousand able bodied contraband males within
our lines, who by this plan could be made to relieve the army
from a great deal of toilsome and harassing labor, thereby
adding to its effective strength and rendering it at all times
more ready to take the field. This is the only way in which
the negro can be made of any use to Union. To arm him would
only be to spoil a good laborer and make a wretched solider,
to say nothing of disgusting white men with the military

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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