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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Character and characters

Last night I revisited almost 40-year old notes I took at the National Arhcives when examining the discharge papers of black regulars who served between the end of the Civil War and the start of the Spanish-American War.

There is no scientific method or statistically valid sample here--my memory fades but a review of my notes shows that what I did was this: beginning in l870,and then every five years until l895, I examined the discharge papers of between 40 and 50 soldiers (selected from all four of the black regiments) that took their discharge in these years. I have note cards on a total of 278 men.

All but 36 of this sample were discharged "with character". By definition and regulation "with character" meant a rating of at least "good". Of the 242 soldiers dismissed with character, l55 received a rating of "good" (or some variant such as "very good").

Eighty-seven soldiers in my sample received discharge ratings of "excellent" or some embellishment such as "an excellent soldier", "a first-rate man"--and my all time favorite rating from an officer "I highly recommend this soldier to any employeer".

The re-check of my notes showed that about a third of the "excellent" ratings were given to NOC's or to privates who took their discharge at the end of more than one enlistment (aka veteran rankers).

The files of the 36 fellows who departed the army without character (a rating of less than good) make wonderful reading. And some of these soldiers must have been real characters. I have already messaged about the soldier who received a "character" of "do not re-enlist this man under any circumstances." Other quotes from my notes are: "not trustworthy", "three times convicted of theft from comrades", "should never have been enlisted", "a good enough man when sober," and my all time favorite in this catagory, "I did not accept a commission in a colored regiment to command such a soldier."

Tom Phillips

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Character and characters
Re: Character and characters

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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