I was disappointed that you chose to publish an article on blacks who fought for the Confederacy (“The Black and the Gray,” 7/17) instead of chronicling the heroic record of the 200,000 Union black soldiers who fought for their freedom and the freedom of an entire people.
I think those black soldiers are owed an article because they fought for years, despite the extreme peril that they faced at the hands of the Confederates.
This danger existed because the Confederates routinely murdered, wounded, or captured black soldiers. There isn’t room in this letter to list even a small fraction of these massacres. Let a few examples suffice:
1) On April 18, 1864, at Poison Springs, Ark., the 1st Kansas Colored fought heroically for several hours against a much larger Confederate force. In the end, they were forced to retreat, and their wounded were murdered by the victorious Confederates as they lay on the ground. The loss of the 1st Kansas in this massacre was 117 killed and 65 wounded.
2) The Battle of Olustee, Fla., fought Feb. 20, 1864, was one of the bloodiest small battles of the Civil War. Three black regiments, the 54th Massachusetts, the 8th U.S. Colored infantry, and the 1st North Carolina Volunteers (Colored), inflicted tremendous losses on the enemy, but despite their efforts, the Union army was defeated. Again, the black wounded were murdered by Confederates as they lay on the field.
3) The most infamous massacre of the war occurred on April 12, 1864 at Fort Pillow, Ky. Here Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest, who later founded the Ku Klux Klan, slaughtered 185 black soldiers, along with a large number of black women and children.
4) The bloodiest but least known massacre of black soldiers took place during the Battle of the Crater, July 30, 1864. Four hundred twenty-three blacks were killed in action or murdered, twice the number who fell at Fort Pillow.
I suspect that reporters shy away from writing about these and other massacres of black troops because they fear that these atrocities make blacks look like victims, not heroes. Actually, the opposite is true. Black soldiers knew of these massacres. They knew they too could expect little mercy from their Southern enemy. Yet they fought anyway. This extraordinary courage makes black soldiers all the more heroic.
For more information on this topic, I refer your readers to Noah Trudeau’s new book Like Men of War, my article “The Battle of the Crater” in the September 1997 issue of Civil War History, and John Cimprich and Robert C. Mainfort Jr.’s “The Fort Pillow Massacre: A Statistical Note,” Journal of American History, December 1989.