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[177]

‘I'll let Sambo be Murthered instead of myself’: colored infantry at Fort Lincoln, 1862 This picture possesses especial interest as the subject of the following comment by Major George Haven Putnam (a contributor to Volume I of this history) from his experience as a Federal officer in charge of colored troops: Late in the war, when the Confederacy was sadly in need of fresh supplies of men, the proposition was more than once brought up in the Confederate Congress and elsewhere for the arming of the slaves or of a selection of the slaves. But such a step was never ventured upon. On the Northern side, as early as 1862, regiments were formed of the colored residents of the North, the first two being the famous Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts. These men represented, of course, a fairly high average of intelligence and of education, and they did brilliant fighting. In the course of the succeeding two years many regiments were organized out of the plantation negroes as they made their way across into Federal lines, or as Federal control extended over plantation country. These men also rendered earnest, faithful, and usually effective service. They lacked, as was quite natural, individual initiative. They did not do good fighting in a skirmish-line. They wanted to be in touch, shoulder to shoulder, and within immediate reach of the commander's word; but there is hardly an instance in which, when once under fire, they did not fulfil their duty pluckily and persistently. The army rosters show that more than 150,000 colored men fought under the Stars and Stripes.

 

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