Another inspiring history of black Civil War soldiers.
Ash (History/Univ. of Tennessee; A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865, 2002, etc.) reminds us that when the Civil War began no one wanted black soldiers except the abolitionists. But this minority made a great deal of noise, and they kept the subject in the public eye. After Union forces captured coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas, the commander of the Department of the South, General David Hunter, in April 1862 began supplementing his weak occupying forces by recruiting blacks in his jurisdiction. The War Department ordered him to disband the troops, but the groundwork had been laid. By autumn the Lincoln administration’s opposition was softening, and Hunter’s successor got approval for a request to enlist Negroes in the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. The regiment’s colonel was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a prominent abolitionist and literary figure (discoverer of Emily Dickinson) who worked hard to prepare his men for battle and make their achievements known throughout the North. Superiors approved his plan to lead troops south in February 1863; together with the Second South Carolina Infantry, they captured Jacksonville, Fla., with little fighting. The goal was to hold the city, raid the surrounding countryside and recruit escaped slaves for additional black units. The regiments remained for three weeks, raiding and fighting off desultory Confederate attacks, until they were abruptly ordered home for reasons never adequately explained. Although other historians have paid little attention to the Jacksonville raid, Ash maintains that it was this watershed expedition, the first significant combat mission undertaken by black soldiers and as such widely reported in Northern newspapers, which persuaded the Lincoln administration to order full-scale black recruitment in March 1863.
A well-constructed, readable account of a minor Civil War action that may or may not have had major consequences.