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The First Kansas Colored
They were the first black men to fight in the Civil War. They were the first to serve alongside whites. And they were the first to die.
February/March 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 1
I had long been of the opinion that this race had a right to kill rebels.” Col. James M. Williams, commander of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, always spoke, said a contemporary, as though he were “grinding his molars or gritting his teeth.” His regiment of escaped black slaves had been the first organized into service for the United States government, and he was determined that it give a good account of itself. They had already been the first blacks in combat in the Civil War and the first to die serving the flag. Williams had worked his men hard for months, had strong-armed civilian authorities to get his way, wedding his Puritan abolitionist fervor with a self-conscious sense of personal dignity. Now the twelve hundred men of his command—camped for the night of July 1, 1863, at Cabin Creek, Indian Territory- were about to make history, and if Williams did not know it, he nonetheless had brought it to pass.
Never before in the Civil War had black troops fought alongside white ones. Most whites, even many abolitionists, refused to consider the proposition. Maybe blacks should not be slaves, but certainly they were not the equals of white men and should not dishonor white soldiers by taking up arms themselves. Yet at this moment Williams had under his command some white infantry and cavalry units from Colorado and Kansas. The Confederates had blocked the line of march; they stood between Fort Gibson and the essential mile-long supply train in Williams’s charge. Whatever white men might think in general, here they would have to work with black soldiers if they wanted to survive. The Rebels were only a few hundred yards away, on the other side of the creek. Williams would attack the next morning, and he would use all his men.
It had taken the efforts of some very unusual men in addition to Williams to get the colonel and his command to the brink of battle.
The Kansas senator James H. Lane, the “Grim Chieftain,” was an outrageous demagogue. Tall, lanky, with a high forehead, deep-set eyes, and hollow cheeks, Lane was histrionic, played to his audience with populist rhetoric, and always put on a good show. He had a habit of progressively undressing while haranguing a crowd, throwing off one garment after another as his voice grew more strident. Had his life taken a different turn, he might have become a road-show preacher (in fact, one of his campaign tactics was to find God and be rebaptized in the towns where he traveled to deliver his speeches and undress). Instead, he had gone from pro-slavery Democrat to abolitionist Republican. At the start of the war, when the Federal capital was threatened with capture, Lane had organized the “Frontier Guards” and camped with them in the East Room of the White House to protect the President. Lincoln found him amusing, but in need of a leash.
In June 1862 Lane started recruiting troops from among free blacks, especially the swelling numbers of fugitive slaves in Kansas, men who had fled their masters in Missouri and Arkansas. Raising black troops was against the law, and the public and Army were on the whole strongly hostile to it. One Northern soldier summarized the general feeling: “I will Never fight by the side of A Nigger & that is the feeling of the army.…” Said another: “If a negro regiment were to come and camp near an old regiment out here, the men would kill half of them.” And at the very moment Senator Lane was starting to form the 1st Kansas Colored in Leavenworth, on the basis of what he interpreted as a verbal approval from Lincoln, in Washington the President was telling a visiting delegation that “to arm the Negroes would turn 50,000 bayonets from the loyal Border States against us that were for us.”
Lane did not agree, or he did not care. Things were going poorly for the Union that summer of 1862, and Washington was moving inexorably toward a policy of total war. Lane was already organizing Indians and had been “liberating” blacks from their masters in Missouri for almost a year. The President was wary of Lane’s threat to lead thousands of Indian and black Jayhawkers on a vast scorchedearth reprisal raid across secessionist territory, but he needed the men desperately. He tried to sidetrack Lane from a combat command by appointing him recruiting commissioner for Kansas. The ploy worked. Lane started to stump the state with typical vigor: “Great God! They say Jim Lane can’t enlist colored troops!… That is what I am here for. And I hold in my hands a list of the copperheads, disloyal and rebel element in this community; and when I get through organizing colored troops, I am going off to draft these men as cooks for the Negro regiments.”
Kansas had an unusually large number of people with progressive racial views. The territory had been settled in the 185Os, the defining group of men coming from New England with a moral purpose: to make sure Kansas entered the Union free of slavery. They had been fighting since 1854. John Brown had murdered in Kansas in the name of abolitionism before returning east to raid Harpers Ferry and become to abolitionists the martyred symbol of the North’s cause. The commander of Fort Gibson, which Williams’s supply train was struggling to reach, was Col. William A. Phillips, a friend of the abolitionist Horace Greeley and a free-soil veteran of the struggles in Kansas before the war. And the commanding general for the entire “Army of the Frontier” was James G. Blunt, a goateed, Maine-born abolitionist doctor who learned his fighting with John Brown during the “Bleeding Kansas” days and was as combative and paranoid as Lane was unscrupulous. The two worked closely together to get blacks under arms, formalities be damned.
Southerners hated Kansas soldiers because of what Kansas represented. Its citizens were in general strongly identified with New England, and Confederates everywhere showed their anti-New England feelings by calling all Northerners Yankees. Thomas J. Key, a Kansan who had supported slavery in the struggles there during the 185Os and who fought for the South, described the Southerners’ widespread beliefs when he said he “hated the base and amorous race of Puritans” because they advocated miscegenation. The Southern bushwhacker William Quantrill would sack and burn Lawrence, Kansas—the heart of abolitionist sentiment—and murder all the town’s men out of hatred for what Kansas abolitionists represented and partly in response to the successes of the 1st Kansas Colored.
Kansas’s reputation drew a steady influx of slaves fleeing Missouri and Arkansas as soon as fight. ing started. They tend- ed to congregate in Leavenworth, although many found greater acceptance, and safety, among the Indian tribes just beyond the white settlements. When the war began in 1861, Kansas had barely eight hundred blacks; by 1865, more than thirteen thousand had made their way to freedom there.
Caesar Johnson was typical of these fugitive slaves. He had belonged to a master in Arkansas, but once the war began, he escaped west into Indian Territory. For a time he lived among the Cherokees, even taking one for a wife. Eventually he made his way through the prairies north to Kansas, first to Lawrence because of its abolitionist reputation, then to Leavenworth to find work. He enlisted in the 1st Kansas Colored there.
Once in Kansas, many blacks had difficulty adjusting to freedom. Often they equated work with slavery and rebelled against it. Often they didn’t want to enlist either. They not only feared leaving their families helpless but also worried about mistreatment by the Army; some had heard that President Lincoln would sell them back into slavery once the war was over. In particular, blacks found insulting the terms Senator Lane offered them: ten dollars a month and a “certificate of freedom.” White soldiers received thirteen dollars, and blacks in Kansas did not need any certificate- they were free. Still, a lot did enlist. They preferred to fight their former masters than to hide from them, and to them, the war was about slavery.
It took a Kansas demagogue, a radical abolitionist general, and an eye-for-an-eye colonel to get the 1st Kansas into action.
Many more had no choice. As Colonel Williams drilled his first recruits outside Leavenworth in the summer of 1862—out of sight because of the hostility conservative whites felt about giving blacks uniforms and rifles—Senator Lane warned the ex-slaves: “Negroes are mistaken if they think white men can fight for them while they stay at home. We have opened the pathway. We don’t want to threaten, but we have been saying that you would fight, and if you won’t fight we will make you.” Some of the 1st Kansas Colored’s initial missions in the fall of 1862 were raids to “liberate” slaves and bring them into the Army at bayonet point.
Many officers in Kansas bickered about whether blacks should be allowed to serve in the Army as a result of Senator Lane’s recruiting and Colonel Williams’s drilling, and when President Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, some of them grew so disgusted that they resigned their commissions.
Williams’s response to the turmoil his activities were causing in Leavenworth was simple: he ignored it. The authorities were a problem, but after all, he had hundreds of armed men to enforce his will, and in mid-July 1862 Congress had at last made it legal to “enroll persons of African descent” for “any service for which they may be found competent.” So Williams did as he wished, and he wished to recruit, arm, and drill black men.
By late August 1862 five hundred men were in camp outside Leavenworth. Only days before, they had been fugitives, slaves, property like someone’s horses and pigs. Now they wore red pantaloons imported from France and marched in step. The men exhibited enormous pride when in uniform and under discipline, and they impressed everyone with their “fine appearance” and their superb precision on the drill field. Their officers were white, as was the case in all black units throughout the war, but their noncoms officers were black. These noncoms were virtually all illiterate. Slaveholders had generally forbidden their chattel to learn how to read or write. Out from under the control of their masters, most black soldiers during the war showed great interest in learning to read, and benevolent societies of civilians formed around black units to teach them. Illiterate or not, the noncoms performed with diligence and competence throughout the war.
All the blacks in Williams’s new outfit had been denigrated as subhuman, assumed to be cowards at the same time they were forbidden to bear arms for fear of their savagery. For much of their service they were assigned to cut hay or carry crates, tasks whites considered less honorable than fighting. If they left the protection of the Union army, they risked summary murder as renegades by men who hated and feared them. After escaping from their masters and before enlisting, many had lived barefoot and in rags around Union camps in Arkansas in makeshift tents of quilts and blankets, with a few handfuls of straw for bedding and banked earth to block the wind, rain, and snow. Little more sustained them than a fatalistic and unhesitating faith in God. Unless the Army fed them, they starved.
But now the men of the 1st Kansas Colored were wearing the brass buttons stamped “U.S.,” and they had rifles on their shoulders. In a few months they would march into battle singing their own version of “John Brown’s Body”:
As one colonel back East later wrote, they had gone from “clanking chains to clashing arms.” They were taking control of their own lives. Whatever happened to them, society could not be completely the same again.
It was good that Williams worked his men so hard. For while even relatively sympathetic Kansans considered black troops a questionable experiment, the response of the Confederate government to the North’s arming of blacks was categorical: on August 21, 1862, Confederate army headquarters issued a general order that such “crimes and outrages” required “retaliation.” Any captured Northern officer who had commanded black troops would be “executed as a felon.” Southern troops made clear they would take no black prisoners. The best the 1st Kansas Colored could hope for if captured was to be returned to slavery. But Southern troops in Arkansas and Missouri spoke of the “First Nigger” regiment up in Kansas and would surely slaughter any defenseless black soldiers they found.
That fall a detachment of 225 men from the 1st Kansas Colored moved one hundred miles southeast to near Butler, Missouri. On October 28, 1862, a group of 500 Confederates surprised them. After a sharp skirmish the 1st Kansas drove off the enemy. Ten 1st Kansans died in the fighting, with 12 wounded. This was the first time anywhere in the war that black troops had been in combat.
Other, more recently organized companies of black troops joined the original five hundred men of the 1st Kansas Colored during the winter and spring of 1863. By early May all of them were fed up. They were constantly assigned the hardest work and given the least rest. Not only were white soldiers paid more, but many of the 1st Kansas had served for over ten months, and the regiment had not been paid even once, while all around them the white soldiers were paid regularly.
Men started deserting. Williams noticed “a restlessness and insubordination,” a “muti- nous” spirit. He protested to General Blunt, demanding that his men be paid, but instead he received marching orders; they probably saved the 1st Kansas Colored from disintegration.
These morale problems over pay are nearly all that we know of the individual feelings of the men in the ranks. Occasionally one finds allusions to their pride in drill or uniform, and once in a great while a soldier is quoted—but only exclaiming in combat or at the instant of being killed. No one, civilian or military, seems to have thought the soldiers’ remarks worthy of taking down. The one descendant of a 1st Kansas Colored soldier the author was able to locate confirmed that his grandfather, Caesar Johnson, was illiterate. Staff Johnson kindly shared what reminiscences his grandfather had told him; they have been incorporated in the text. However, if the record is all but mute about what these soldiers thought, it is very clear about what they did.
Williams had been ordered to move his men eighty miles south, to Baxter Springs, Kansas, as part of the general redeployment of troops out West in conjunction with Ulysses Grant’s actions around Vicksburg. Colonel WiIliams’s mission was to protect and reinforce the regular wagon trains that rolled by on their way south.
Williams now also had some white men under his command—most of them disgusted to be serving with blacks. The cavalrymen were particularly reluctant, and their balking forced Colonel Williams and his men to act with little knowledge of the enemy’s movements.
As a result, on May 18, 1863, a foraging party of twenty-five men from the 1st Kansas Colored and twenty white soldiers were surprised and routed by three hundred Rebels. The Confederates massacred twenty blacks, killed three whites, and took five prisoners, two of them black. Under a flag of truce the Confederate commander exchanged the white prisoners with Williams for Confederates whom the main body of the 1st Kansas Colored had captured earlier, but he refused to exchange the blacks. A little later Williams got word that the Confederates had murdered one of them. He sent another flag of truce, demanding the body of the person who had committed the “barbarous act.” The Confederate commander replied with an insult. Williams promptly ordered shot one of the Confederate prisoners he held. The unfortunate man was dead within thirty minutes. Williams informed the Confederate commander. For the next few weeks, at least, Williams’s ruthless firmness kept the Confederates in his immediate area from murdering black prisoners.
The next morning Williams visited the place where his men had been attacked: “I…for the first time beheld the horrible evidences of the demoniac spirit of these rebel fiends in their treatment of our dead and wounded. Men were found with their brains beaten out with clubs, and the bloody weapons left by their sides, and their bodies most horribly mutilated.”
From then onward Colonel Williams made sure his cavalry supported him.
The Union army in the summer of 1863 maintained a garrison at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, a group of stone buildings on a bluff a dozen miles or so north of today’s Muskogee, Oklahoma. From there Federal forces were able to protect the Indians who had remained loyal to the Union from the raids of their Confederate brethren and could control much of western Arkansas and even threaten the Rebel capital of Little Rock. But half the Union troops in Kansas and Arkansas, twenty thousand men, had been sent east that spring to help Grant in his siege of Vicksburg. Late in June, to fill the gaps thus opened, General Blunt ordered Williams and the eight hundred men of the 1st Kansas Colored to accompany a large wagon train leaving the post at Baxter Springs on its ninety-mile trip south to Fort Gibson. The men were to strengthen the escort to the crucial supply train and then reinforce the beleaguered garrison. The milelong train of two hundred wagons was no secret as it rumbled out of camp. The Rebels had been expecting it, and their scouts and spies reported its departure immediately.
The Confederates were pressing Fort Gibson, hoping to force Grant to send some of his men back to Arkansas and ease the strain he was putting on the great stronghold at Vicksburg. The Union soldiers in Fort Gibson were almost besieged themselves. Their rations gone, they were surviving on the unsanitary beef and wheat of the Indians who camped around the fort. Cholera had broken out in the fort, and men were dying. If the Confederates could capture the supply train, the Federals would have to withdraw more than 150 miles north, to Fort Scott, Kansas. The South would regain control of Arkansas.
So the creeping supply train had become the key to the war’s westernmost theater. To capture it, the Confederates sent twenty-two hundred men, Indians and Texans under the command of the Indian leader Stand Watie and Brig. Gen. Douglas Cooper. With twice as many men and the initiative of choosing how and when to attack, their prospects looked good.
There had been heavy rains in late June, and high water held up the wagon train for three days at the Neosho River, fifteen miles south of Baxter Springs. When the river had finally fallen enough to cross on June 26, some Cherokee Indians who were part of the escort preceded the train across and noticed a fresh trail on the far side. They pursued it and found the Confederates awaiting them on the road to the south, at a ford over Cabin Creek. The Rebels had dug a line of rifle pits along the sloping bank on the south side of the creek, camouflaging them with willow boughs. The Cherokees saw the Confederate force but not the rifle pits. About this time six hundred white cavalry and infantry arrived to reinforce Williams’s command.
The 1st Kansas Colored and the wagon train trudged down the road, arriving at the ford about noon on July 1. There had been more rain since they crossed the Neosho, and Cabin Creek was too high for infantry to ford that day. Colonel Williams ordered the train parked in the open prairie, posted a one hundred-man guard, had the rest of his force camp for the night, and called in his officers for a war council.
It had taken Kansas, which had already bled over slavery for nine years, a rabble-rousing senator, a radical abolitionist general, and a teeth-gnashing eye-for-an-eye colonel to bring the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry to the banks of an obscure creek where they would make history that few would notice and virtually all would forget. For at the exact moment the 1st Kansas stared across Cabin Creek in the fading light, millions of Americans strained to pierce the smoke and chaos a thousand miles to the east as 160,000 men fought each other at Gettysburg, and held their breaths as Grant wrestled to bring down Vicksburg and open the Mississippi.
Williams’s men rose at dawn on July 2. The colonel deployed one battery of artillery on an elevated position to his left, part of one at his center, only two hundred yards from the enemy, and a mountain howitzer on his right. He assigned a mounted company of the Third Indian Regiment to lead the attack and put the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry directly behind it as the main assault body.
On the far side of Cabin Creek the twenty-two hundred Texans and Indians awaited the attack they could see forming to their front. They would add the advantages of being dug in and on the defensive to their almost two to one numerical superiority. In the rifle pits General Cooper probably had deployed at least a regiment of a thousand men in “500 files,” two rows of five hundred men, one directly behind the other, covering a front of four hundred yards. That meant the 1st Kansas Colored faced a wall of five armed men across every two yards of front, men shooting downhill from concealed positions. To reach them, the Federals would have to cross several hundred yards of ground, wade a rain-gorged stream, scramble up the far bank, and then ascend a slope in battle line, marching shoulder to shoulder.
Civil War rifles were accurate to about 250 yards and lethal to more than 500. A soldier could load and fire his musket about twice a minute. That meant that if the Rebels were well commanded, every 100 yards of Confederate line that morning could fire a solid volley of 250 shots every fifteen seconds. This was almost a bullet spaced every twelve inches, four times a minute, toward a solid mass of advancing men. Colonel Williams’s months of drill had been to prepare the men to face this.
Williams had his twelve hundred men deployed by eight o’clock. He directed his artillery to open fire on the Rebel positions with shell and canister. The black soldiers knelt waiting, bayonets fixed. The men had already been in combat and were not afraid; they were willing to die for the Union, but they flinched involuntarily at each artillery report.
After forty minutes Williams decided the enemy had been sufficiently prepared. He ordered his artillery to cease fire and his men to charge. The Indian cavalry moved out screaming, crossed the creek, and advanced up the other side. The way seemed clear. Suddenly, fifteen to twenty-five yards in front of them, a line of Confederates rose from the concealed rifle pits, shouldered their weapons, and fired a point-blank volley. The Union officer commanding the assault fell from his horse wounded, and the men retreated back to the north side of the creek.
The assault had been blown apart, but the cloud of smoke from the volley revealed the Confederate positions. Colonel Williams ordered the 1st Kansas Colored, which had just reached the water’s edge, to file to the right along their own side of the creek and form a battle line directly across from the Confederates. As soon as they took up the new position, they found themselves in easy range of the Confederates and clawed at the rifle pits with a hot fire while the Union artillery opened up again.
An hour into the fighting Williams ordered his companies of Kansas cavalry to replace the Indian regiment in the advance and to assault the Rebel lines again. This time, under the strong supporting fire from the 1st Kansas Colored, the cavalrymen managed to establish a beachhead on the south side of the creek. But there were not enough of them to take the Rebel line. Williams pushed forward into the river, his infantry wading after him, waist deep in the water. Once across, the men of the 1st Kansas Colored stopped on the far bank to re-form ranks, then advanced at a run, yelling. Soldiers fell as the regiment went up the slope, but the line still closed on the firing Confederates.
It was too much for the Rebels. Their line in the rifle pits collapsed, but they regrouped four hundred yards farther back, forming up on the edge of the prairie. Williams ordered a third assault. This time the enemy had no entrenchments to help them hang on. The Union surged ahead, and the Confederates broke and ran. It was a rout. The Kansas Colored pursued them for five long miles.
Only eight men from the 1st Kansas Colored had been killed, thirty wounded, perhaps indicating that the Rebels shot too high in the heat of battle, a common error of troops firing downhill. The Confederates suffered about one hundred killed and wounded; their bodies floated by Fort Gibson for days afterward.
The entire battle had lasted two hours. The wagon train was saved, the road to Fort Gibson opened. The train moved out that afternoon and reached the fort on the evening of July 5, ending the garrison’s near starvation and cholera. In the following weeks the 1st Kansas Colored went on with other Union forces under General Blunt to drive the Confederates out of nearly all of Arkansas.
Cabin Creek was a tonic to the men of the 1st Kansas Colored: their morale rose, they stepped spryly for weeks afterward, their relations with the white troops improved. And at long last, they even got paid.
The 1st Kansas Colored’s regimental historian noted the broader significance of the Cabin Creek battle: “This engagement was the first during the war in which white and colored troops were joined in action, and to the honor and credit of the [white] officers and men…be it said they allowed no prejudice on account of color to in- terfere in the discharge of their duty in the face of an enemy alike to both races.” The question of whether blacks would run from a fight was resolved too: the men of the 1st Kansas Colored “evinced a coolness and true soldierly spirit which inspired the officers in command with that confidence which subsequent battle scenes satisfactorily proved was not unfounded.”
Those who escaped watched the same Texans they had beaten at Cabin Creek taunt the wounded black men before killing them.
Colonel Williams was understandably proud. Two weeks later, in the major Battle of Honey Springs, he was seriously wounded in his face, chest, and both hands at the instant he ordered his troops to fire into the enemy line only forty paces away. General Blunt visited him in the field hospital after the battle: “The first thing the colonel said…was, ‘General, how did my regiment fight?’ The general replied, ‘Like veterans, most gallantly.’ And the colonel added, ‘I am ready to die, then.’” Blunt later remarked: “I never saw such fighting as was done by that Negro regiment.… they make better soldiers in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command.”
Men less favorably predisposed than Williams and Blunt also were impressed. An officer of a Western cavalry regiment commented about Cabin Creek, “I never believed in niggers before, but by Jasus they are hell for fighting.” Because of the 1st Kansas Colored’s performance, white soldiers in the far West came to accept fighting alongside the former slaves.
President Lincoln’s attitude had also evolved throughout 1863. Late in August, after the 1st Kansas Colored had stood at Cabin Creek and Honey Springs, after other black units had seen action along the Mississippi and the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment had fought its famous battle at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, Lincoln reproved a group of visitors, come to complain about the arming of blacks: “You say you will not fight to free Negroes. Some of them seem to be willing enough to fight for you.” The same day he sent an open letter to his Democratic opponents, who were exploiting public hostility to blacks to damage Republicans: “You are dissatisfied with me about the negro [but] some of the commanders of our armies in the field who have given us our most important successes, believe … the use of coloured troops, constitute[s] the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.…when this war was won, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”
The 1st Kansas Colored carried on to the end of the war, marching and sweating, fighting and dying across much of Arkansas and present-day Oklahoma. Fighting alongside white units became routine. They saw more regular combat than any other black regiment of the war. Nine months after Cabin Creek the 1st Kansas was decimated in the disastrous Battle of Poison Springs, Arkansas, suffering half its men killed in four hours. They had been attacked by a greatly superior force while escorting another wagon train. Those who were able to escape were obliged to watch the triumphant Confederates—the same Texans they had beaten at Cabin Creek—taunt the wounded black men lying on the ground with shouts of “Where is the First Nigger now?,” answered by “All cut to pieces and gone to hell by bad management,” before they bayoneted or shot them. Losses were so severe that white non-commissioned officers had to be assigned temporarily to the 1st Kansas Colored’s ranks to plug the gaps.
The survivors vowed never again to take prisoners. For the rest of the war, the battle cry for black soldiers in the entire West became “Remember Poison Springs!”
The 1st Kansas Colored were discharged at Fort Leavenworth in October 1865. The men disappeared into the anonymous ranks of civil society. Soldier Caesar Johnson, like many of the men from the regiment, settled in Leavenworth with his Indian wife, laying aside his rifle to shoulder loads as a hod carrier. He harbored no rancor toward whites, again apparently like the other men in the regiment, instead focusing on making a new life as a free man. The regimental historian closed his narrative by saying that “citizenship in a free country amply rewards the warworn soldier.”
The achievements the black soldiers had won with “well poised bayonets” languished, grew rusty, and were lost. Eighty years later American generals in World War II unanimously opposed using blacks in combat roles or integrating them with whites. Secretary of War Henry Stimson believed that “the Negro still lacks the particular initiative which a commanding officer of men needs in war…and the social intermixture of the two races is basically impossible.”
The men of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry themselves had spent their lives separate from white society. Complete social integration was virtually unimaginable, and they did not seek it. First, they had to prove that they too were men. But some of them probably felt in an inchoate way what a black journalist had written in July 1863, the same week that they and white men had gone into battle together for the first time ever: “White Americans remember!…we are well aware of the fact that…the avenue to honor and promotion is closed to us; but for these things we care not.…Promotion we will not ask, until we have earned it, and when we have, this nation shall know no rest until…the highway of advancement is open to the dusky sons of America, as well as those of paler hue.”