Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
				Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

Colored men and their relation to the military service

Colored Men and their Relation to the Military Service, as Established by Laws and Orders during the Late War, and their Recruitment as Soldiers


Correspondence, Orders, Reports, and Returns of the Union Authorities from May 1, 1865, to the end.




SOURCE: Official Records -- Series III -- Volume V -- S# 126  

At the commencement of the rebellion, April 15, 1861, the Army was composed exclusively of white troops. The regulations of the Army governing the recruiting service (par. 1299) provided that "any free white male person above the age of eighteen," &c., "might be enlisted." Negro slavery existed in fifteen States of the Union, and fugitive slaves escaping from one State to another were delivered up on claim of their owners.

The first legislation by Congress directly affecting colored persons was the act approved March 13, 1862.(a) It prohibited all officers or persons in the military or naval service of the United States from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor who escaped from any persons to whom such service or labor was claimed to be duo, and provided that any officer found guilty by a court-martial of violating this article should be dismissed from the service.

This was followed by an act, a approved July 17, 1862, the twelfth section of which authorized the President to receive into the service of the United States, for the purpose of constructing intrenchments, or performing camp duty, or any other labor, or any military or naval service for which they were found competent, persons of African descent, and provided that such persons should be enrolled and organized, under such regulations, not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws, as the President might prescribe.

The thirteenth section of this act directs--

That when any man or boy of African descent, who by the laws of any State shall owe service or labor to any person who during the present rebellion has levied war, or has borne arms against the United States, or adhered to their enemies by giving them aid and comfort, shall render any such service as is provided for in this act, he, his mother, and his wife and children, shall forever thereafter be free, any law, usage, or custom whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding: Provided, That the mother, wife, and children of such man or boy of African descent shall not be made free by the operation of this act, except where such mother, wife, or children owe service or labor to some person who during the present rebellion has borne arms against the United States, or adhered to their enemies by giving them aid and comfort.

The fourteenth section provides that "the expenses incurred to carry this act into effect shall be paid out of the general appropriation for the Army and volunteers."

The fifteenth section directs that--

All persons who have been or who shall be hereafter enrolled in the service of the United States under this act shall receive the pay and rations now allowed by law to soldiers, according to their respective grades: Provided, That persons of African descent, who under this law shall be employed, shall receive ten dollars per month and one ration, three dollars of which monthly pay may be in clothing.

The amount of pay allowed to infantry soldiers (white) at the passage of this act was $13 per month, and an allowance in clothing of $3.50 per month, and one ration each.

The act entitled "An act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes," approved July 17, 1869,(a) provides that whoever shall commit treason "shall suffer death" and all his slaves be "declared free."

Section 9 provides--

That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the Government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the Army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the Government of the United States, and all slaves of such persons found on [or] being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterward occupied by the forces of the United States shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.

Section 10 provides--

That no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty, except for crime, or some offense against the laws, unless the person claiming said fugitive shall first make oath that the person to whom the labor or service of such fugitive is alleged to be due is his lawful owner, and has not borne arms against the United States in the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid and comfort thereto; and no person engaged in the military or naval service of the United States shall, under any pretense whatever, assume to decide on the validity of the claim of any person to the service or labor of any other person, or surrender up any such person to the claimant, on pain of being dismissed from the service.

Section 11 declares--

That the President of the United States is authorized to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion, and for this purpose he may organize and use them in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.

And by the latter section the authority of the President to receive into the service persons of African descent is extended, giving him authority to employ as many of this class of persons as he might deem necessary for the suppression of the rebellion.

The pay of this class of persons, as fixed by the twelfth section of the preceding act, was not changed.

Section 12 declares--

That the President of the United States is hereby authorized to make provision for the transportation, colonization, and settlement, in some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States, of such persons of the African race, made free by the provisions of this act, as may be willing to emigrate, having first obtained the consent of the government of said country to their protection and settlement within the same, with all the rights and privileges of freemen.

Under the authority conferred by the two preceding acts of Congress the President, on the 22d day of July, issued the following order:

First. Ordered, "That military commanders within the States of Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas, in an orderly manner, seize and use any property, real or personal, which may be necessary or convenient for their several commands as supplies, or for other military purposes; and that while property may be destroyed for proper military objects, none shall be destroyed in wantonness or malice."

Second. "That military and naval commanders shall employ as laborers, within and from said States, so many persons of African descent as can be advantageously used for military and naval purposes, giving them reasonable wages for their labor."

Third. "That as to both property and persons of African descent, accounts shall be kept sufficiently accurate and in detail to show quantities and amounts, and from whom both property and such persons shall have come, as a basis upon which compensation can be made in proper cases; and the several departments of this government shall attend to and perform their appropriate parts toward the execution of these orders."

On the 22d day of September, 1862, the President issued a proclamation(a) announcing:

First. "That it was his purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress, to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to the free acceptance or rejection of all slave States, so called, the people whereof may not then be in rebellion against the United States, and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of slavery within their respective limits."

Second. "That the effort to colonize persons of African descent, with their consent, upon this continent or elsewhere, with the previously obtained consent of the governments existing there, should be continued."

Third. "That on the first day of January following all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, should be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."

Fourth. "That the Executive would, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, should then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, should on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State should have participated, should, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof were not then in rebellion against the United States."

On the 1st day of January, 1863, the immortal decree of emancipation a proclaimed freedom to the blacks of all the States declared in rebellion, with the exception of certain parishes in Louisiana.

By an act approved March 3, 1863, it is provided as follows:(a)

That cooks shall be detailed, in turn, from the privates of each company of troops in the service of the United States, at the rate of one cook for each company numbering less than thirty men, and two cooks for each company numbering over thirty men, who shall serve ten days each.

That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause to be enlisted, for each cook, two under-cooks of African descent, who shall receive for their full compensation ten dollars per month and one ration per day, three dollars of said monthly pay being in clothing.

On the 30th of July, 1863, the President ordered as follows:(*)

The act of February 24, 1864, (a) amendatory of the enrollment act, section 24, provided--

That all able-bodied male colored persons between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, resident in the United States, shall be enrolled according to the provisions of this act, and of the act to which this is an amendment, and form part of the national forces; and when a slave of a loyal master shall be drafted and mustered into the service of the United States, his master shall have a certificate thereof, and thereupon such slave shall be free; and the bounty of one hundred dollars, now payable by law for each drafted man, shall be paid to the person to whom such drafted person was owing service or labor at the time of his muster into the service of the United States. The Secretary of War shall appoint a commission in each of the slave States represented in Congress, charged to award each loyal person to whom a colored volunteer may owe service a just compensation, not exceeding three hundred dollars, for each such colored volunteer, payable out of the fund derived from commutations, and every such colored volunteer on being mustered into service shall be free. And in all cases where men of color have been heretofore enlisted, or have volunteered in the military service of the United States, all the provisions of this act, so far as the payment of bounty and compensation are provided, shall be equally applicable as to those who may be hereafter recruited. But men of color, drafted or enlisted, or who may volunteer into the military service, while they shall be credited on the quotas of the several States, or subdivisions of States, wherein they are respectively drafted, enlisted, or shall volunteer, shall not be assigned as State troops, but shall be mustered into regiments or companies as United States colored troops.

It will be observed that the able-bodied male colored persons were thenceforward to form part of the national forces. But it was provided, in the case of a slave being drafted, that the $100 bounty then allowed to drafted men should be paid to his master; and where a slave entered the service as a volunteer, instead of receiving the bounty which was allowed to other recruits, the master was entitled to receive a compensation from the Government, not to exceed $300. It was further provided that men of color drafted or enlisted should "be credited upon the quotas of the several States or subdivisions of States."

A fair construction of this statute authorizes the payment of $100 bounty to free colored men who might be drafted; and in lieu of bounty to the slave it gave him his freedom, while his master, if loyal, received a compensation for the loss of his services.

Up to this time and until the passage of the act entitled "An act making appropriations for the support of the Army for the year ending the thirtieth day of June, eighteen hundred and sixty-five, and for other purposes," approved June 15, 1864,a there was no law providing for the payment of bounty to colored volunteers, either free or slave, and the pay of colored troops still remained at $10 per month, as fixed by the act of July 17, 1862.

The act just cited provides--

That all persons of color who have been or may be mustered into the military service of the United States shall receive the same uniform, clothing, arms, equipments,   camp equipage, rations, medical and hospital attendance, pay and emoluments, other than bounty, as other soldiers of the regular or volunteer forces of the United States of like arm of the service, from and after the first day of January, eighteen hundred and sixty-four; and that every person of color who shall hereafter be mustered into the service shall receive such sums in bounty as the President shall order in the different States and parts of the United States, not exceeding one hundred dollars.

This section placed colored troops on an equal footing with white troops in all respects touching pay and allowances, but withheld the bounty as hitherto, except in such amount as the President might order, not to exceed $100.

The third section provided--

That all persons enlisted and mustered into service as volunteers under the call, dated October seventeen, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, for three hundred thousand volunteers, who were at the time of enlistment actually enrolled and subject to draft in the State in which they volunteered, shall receive from the United States the same amount of bounty without regard to color.

This section was practically inoperative for the reason that but few colored persons were enrolled, drafted, or credited on the call of October 17, 1863. The law directing the enrollment of colored men was not passed until February 24, 1864, and the colored men raised by draft or voluntary enlistment prior to this date were credited to the call of February 1, 1864 (which was being filled when the law directing the enrollment and draft of colored men was passed), and to the subsequent calls.

The fourth section provided--

That all persons of color who were free on the nineteenth day of April, eighteen hundred and sixty-one, and who have been enlisted and mustered into the military service of the United States, shall, from the time of their enlistment, be entitled to receive the pay, bounty, and clothing allowed to such persons by the laws existing at the time of their enlistment. And the Attorney-General of the United States is hereby authorized to determine any question of law arising under this provision. And if the Attorney-General aforesaid shall determine that any of such enlisted persons are entitled to receive any pay, bounty, or clothing, in addition to what they have already received, the Secretary of War shall make all necessary regulations.

In conformity with this section the Secretary of War ordered as follows:(*)

An act approved July 4, 1864,(a) provided--

That the President of the United States may, at his discretion, at any time hereafter, call for any number of men as volunteers, for the respective terms of one, two, and three years, for military service; and any such volunteer, or, in case of draft, as hereinafter provided, any substitute, shall be credited to the town, township, ward of a city, precinct, or election district, or of a county not so subdivided, toward the quota of which he may have volunteered or engaged as a substitute; and every volunteer who is accepted and mustered into the service for a term of one year, unless sooner discharged, shall receive and be paid by the United States a bounty of one hundred dollars; and if for a term of two years, unless sooner discharged, a bounty of two hundred dollars; and if for a term of three years, unless sooner discharged, a bounty of three hundred dollars, one-third of which bounty shall be paid to the soldier at the time of his being mustered into the service, one-third at the expiration of one-half of his term of service, and one-third at the expiration of his term of service. And in case of his death while in service, the residue of his bounty unpaid shall be paid to his widow, if he shall have left a widow; if not, to his children; or if there be none, to his mother, if she be a widow.

This section authorized the payment of like bounty to all persons enlisting, omitting the distinction hitherto observed in regard to colored troops, and was evidently intended to allow the same amount to both classes, and bounties were paid accordingly.

Section 3 provides "That it shall be lawful for the Executive of any of the States to send recruiting agents into any of the States declared to be in rebellion, except the States of Arkansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana, to recruit volunteers under any call under the provisions of this act, who shall be credited to the State and to the respective subdivisions thereof, which may procure the enlistment," but was repealed by the act of March 3, 1865.(a)

Section 14 of an act approved July 4, 1864, provided--

That the widows and children of colored soldiers who have been, or who may be hereafter, killed, or who have died or may hereafter die of wounds received in battle, or who have died or may hereafter die of disease contracted in the military service of the United States, and in the line of duty, shall be entitled to receive the pensions now provided by law, without other proof of marriage than that the parties had habitually recognized each other as man and wife, and lived together as such for a definite period next preceding the soldier's enlistment, not less than two years, to be shown by the affidavits of credible witnesses: Provided, however, That such widow and children are free persons: Provided further, That if such parties resided in any State in which their marriage may have been legally solemnized the usual evidence shall be required.

Section 5 of an act approved March 3, 1865,(a) provided--

That all persons of color who were enlisted and mustered into the military service of the United States in South Carolina, by and under the direction of Major-General Hunter and Brigadier-General Saxton, in pursuance of the authority from the Secretary of War, dated August twenty-fifth, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, "that the persons so received into service, and their officers, to be entitled to and receive the same pay and rations as are allowed by law to other volunteers in the service "--and in every case where it shall be made to appear to the satisfaction of the Secretary of War that any regiment of colored troops has been mustered into the service of the United States, under any assurance by the President or the Secretary of War, that the non-commissioned officers and privates of such regiment should be paid the same as other troops of the same arm of the service--shall from the date of their enlistment, receive the same pay and allowances as are allowed by law to other volunteers in the military service; and the Secretary of War shall make all necessary regulations to cause payment to be made in accordance herewith.

Section 22 provided--

That the third section of the act entitled "An act [further] to regulate and provide for the enrolling and calling out the national forces, and for other purposes," approved July fourth, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, be, and the same is hereby, repealed.

The foregoing embraces the entire legislation and the most important Executive orders touching the relation of colored men to the military service.

The classes of colored persons who received bounty under the foregoing laws and the amounts respectively paid to them are shown by the following order of the Paymaster-General, viz:

Washington, D.C., May 26, 1865.



1. All persons of color who have been enlisted and mustered into the service of the United States, and are mustered on the rolls as "free on or before April 19, 1861," are entitled to bounty as follows, viz:

If enlisted prior to October 24, 1863, $100.

If enlisted in an old organization after October 24, 1863, and prior to April 1, 1864, $300.

If enlisted in a new organization after December 24, 1863, and prior to April 1, 1864, $300.

If enlisted between April 1, 1864, and July 17, 1864, inclusive, $100.

2. All persons of color enlisted and mustered into service under the President's call for 300,000 volunteers, dated October 17, 1863, who were at the time of enlistment enrolled and subject to draft in the State where enlisted, are entitled to bounty as follows, viz:

Enlisted in any organization of colored troops between October 17 and October 24, 1863, $100.

Enlisted in an old organization after October 24, 1863, and prior to April 1, 1864, $300.

Enlisted in a new organization after December 24, 1863, and prior to April 1, 1864, $300.

Remark to be entered on the muster-roll: "Enrolled and subject to draft in the ---- enrollment district of the State of ---- at time of enlistment."

3. All enlistments of colored men after July 18, 1864, for one, two, or three years, entitle them to bounty of $100, $200, and $300, respectively.

4. Colored soldiers who have been, or hereafter shall be, discharged by reason of wounds received in battle, on skirmish or picket, or in action, or in the line of duty, and who are otherwise entitled under existing laws to bounty, are entitled to receive the same bounty as if they had served out the full term of enlistment.

5. All persons of color drafted under the act of March 3, 1863, and prior to September 5, 1864, and their substitutes, are entitled to a bounty of $100, provided they serve two full years. They have also the same pay and allowance as white soldiers.

6. Under section 2, act of June 15, 1864, no bounty was ordered by the President for persons of color who should enlist between that date and July 19, 1864, unless free April 19, 1861.

7. For colored persons, when discharged, the final papers should contain the same data for bounty as was required to elucidate their claims upon the muster-rolls. Paymasters, when they can consistently do so, should aid in conveying information on this point to all interested.




The following brief outline of the recruitment of colored persons is taken mainly from the reports and records of the Bureau for Colored Troops, and is inserted here in connection with the foregoing recapitulation of the laws and orders on the subject.

The acceptance of colored men as soldiers in the service of the United States began in Louisiana by the muster in, on the 27th of September, 1862, of the First Louisiana Native Guards, subsequently designated Seventy-third Regiment U.S. Colored Troops.

Four other regiments were raised in that military department and mustered in prior to March 7, 1863, two of them before the 1st of January, 1863.

The efforts made in the early summer of 1862 to raise colored troops in South Carolina did not result in the muster of an organization until January 31, 1863, when the First South Carolina Volunteers, subsequently designated Thirty-third U.S. Colored Troops, was mustered into the service as soldiers. Three other regiments were mustered in in that department prior to July 1, 1863.

In April, 1863, a regiment was completed in Kansas, called the First Kansas Volunteers, subsequently designated Seventy-ninth U.S. Colored Troops. Another regiment then in process of organization was some time after completed.

Early in the spring of 1863 the organization of colored troops was commenced in the Mississippi Valley under the personal supervision of the Adjutant-General of the Army. His first regiment was mustered into service on the 1st of May, 1863, as the First Arkansas Volunteers of African Descent, afterward designated Forty-sixth  Regiment U.S. Colored Troops. Five other regiments raised in like manner were mustered in prior to June 30, 1863.

The Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Regiments of Massachusetts Volunteers were colored troops. They were organized in Massachusetts, and were mustered into service between March 30 and June 22, 1863. They were organized, officered, &c., by the State authorities, like other regiments of volunteers, and so continued until mustered out.

The foregoing colored troops were raised prior to the commencement of the operations of the Bureau for Colored Troops, which was created by General Orders, No. 143,(a) dated May 29, 1863.

Under the immediate supervision of that Bureau, a regiment designated the First U.S. Colored Troops was mustered into service in the District of Columbia on the 30th of June, 1863, and simultaneously with this a regiment was mustered in in North Carolina.

At this period, June, 1863, the recruitment of colored troops was going on all over the country, and so continued until stopped by orders on April 29, 1865, in consequence of no more troops being required.

With the exception of the two Massachusetts regiments above mentioned, the military organizations composed of colored men were mustered directly into the service of the United States, and were organized and officered by officers acting under the authority of the United States, and not of any particular State.

Since March 27, 1865, all appointments of officers for these troops have been made exclusively by the War Department, and after an examination by a board of officers. Prior to that time the Adjutant-General of the Army, in the Mississippi Valley, made appointments, in the name of the Secretary of War, to the regiments which he organized; and department commanders made, subject to the approval of the President, provisional appointments to the regiments organized by them.

The recruitment of men of color by draft and substitution was exclusively under the control of this Bureau, but their recruitment as volunteers was mainly under the Bureau for Colored Troops, especially established for that purpose. To present together the entire results of these operations, which, however, were produced in the main by the action of the Bureau for Colored Troops, the following extract is made from the report of the chief of that Bureau:

On the 15th of July, 1865, the date on which the last organization of colored troops was mustered in, there were--


In the service of the United States 120 regiments of infantry, numbering in the aggregate                 98,938

Twelve regiments of heavy artillery                 15,662

Ten companies of light artillery                         1,311

Seven regiments of cavalry                                 7,245

Grand aggregate                                                 128,156


The foregoing is the largest number of colored troops in service at any one time during the war.

The entire number of troops commissioned and enlisted in this branch of the service during the war is 186,017.(b)

The States in which this force was recruited or drafted are as follows, viz:

 Maine 104
 Vermont  120
 Massachusetts  3966
 New York  4125
 Pennsylvania  8612
 Maryland  8718
 Virginia  5723
 West Virginia  196
 Alabama  4969
 Louisiana  24052
 Tennessee  20133
 Michigan  1387
 Indiana  1537
 Missouri  8344
 Iowa  440
 Kansas  2080
 Colorado Territory  95
 Not accounted for  5083
 New Hampshire  125
 Rhode Island
 Connecticut  1764
 New Jersey  1185
 District of Columbia  3269
North Carolina
 South Carolina  5462
 Florida  1044
 Mississippi  17869
 Arkansas  5526
 Kentucky  28703
 Minnesota  104
 Wisconsin  165
 At large  783
 Total (*)  186017


Recruiting of men in States in rebellion to be credited to loyal States.

(Under section 3 of the act approved July 4, 1864.)

The law authorizing recruiting in the rebel States was published on the 6th of July, 1864; on the 9th regulations to carry it into effect were issued. Every facility which the War Department could control was afforded to make the law effective for raising troops. The results were as follows:


Total number of recruiting agents appointed by Governors of loyal States to recruit in rebel States     1,045

Total number of recruits credited through these agents    5,052


These recruits are embraced in the preceding enumeration of volunteers mustered into service. They were credited to the States by whose agents they were obtained.

The authority granted under this act was repealed by section 22, act of March 3, 1865, and on the 8th of March(a) a circular was issued from this office announcing the fact for the information and guidance of all concerned.

No material advantage to the service resulted from this undertaking. All, or nearly all, of the recruits to be had in the rebel States were being obtained through the proper military officers and agents of the War Department. Without increasing the number of men enlisted, the law enabled States in the North to lay claim to credits for the men enlisted in the South, and thus reduce their quota for draft. To obtain these credits local bounties were lavishly provided. They were unnecessary, and did not have the effect of increasing the number of recruits obtained, but in many instances enriched bounty brokers and corrupted military officers.








LWF Communications
Trotwood, Ohio

Category: Civil War | Subcategory: Colored Troops | Tags: Native Guard , Mississippi , North Carolina , Virginia , South Carolina , Tennessee , Georgia , Florida , Alabama , Louisiana , Texas , Washington , Kansas , 1869
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1299, 1387, 1537, 1764, 1786, 1811, 1837, 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865, 1869, 27th, 30th, Alabama, Ark, Arkansas, Arkansas Volunteers, Army, Cavalry, Colorado, Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indian, Indiana, Iowa, Jersey, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mary, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Old, Pennsylvania, Recruitment, South Carolina, Tennessee, Territory, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, War Department, Ward, Wisconsin,