When the war ended, I goes back to my master, and he treated me like his brother. Guess he was scared of me, because I had so much ammunition with me.
(AlbertJones, Co K, 1st Colored Cavalry [Jones Narrative])
Was their service worth it for the blacks who fought in the United States Army during the Civil War? George Grant thought it was. Many times after the war he would tell his daughter, Omelia Thomas, "I am part of the cause that you are free" (Thomas Narrative). Charles H. Anderson was less impressed with freedom. "After the war I was free. But it didn't make much difference to me. I had to work for myself instead of somebody else" (Anderson Narrative).
A USCT cavalry sergeant (third in line), probably from the 4th USCC regiment, savors one of the fruits of his efforts in the USCT. He is about to cast his vote for the first time in his life. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)
Not every black soldier benefited from service. John Pope spoke bitterly about how his father, Gus Pope, was treated: "He served in the war three years and never came home. He served in the 63rd Regiment Infantry of the Yankee Army. He died right at the surrender... My father was promised $300.00 bounty and 160 acres of land... No he never got nary penny nor nary acre of land. We ain't got nothing" (Pope Narrative).
Some veterans of the USCT joined the Regular Army after the war, becoming part of the famed "Buffalo Soldiers." There, they had once again to prove their worth, as the frontier posts were garrisoned by "galvanized Yankees" - Confederate prisoners of war who gained release by joining the Union Army to serve in the West. As to the fates of individual USCT soldiers quoted in this book:
Charles Gabriel Anderson (56th USCI) became a barber, a carriage driver, and a window washer.
Charles H. Anderson (122nd USCI) worked for the C&O Railroad for 30 years, "bossing" a track gang.
Peter Bruner became one of the first black employees of Miami of Ohio University, eventually retiring with a pension.
Henry H. Buttler went to college, became an engineer after the war, and later spent 22 years as an educator.
William Baltimore (4th USCHA), Thomas Cole (1st USCLA), William Emmons (117th USCI), George Grant (78th USCI), Albert Jones (1st USCC), and James Spikes (55th USCI) returned to farming. All lived into their 80s and 90s.
John Eubanks worked at a lumberyard after the war.
Charles Hubbard (6th USCI) died at Petersburg.
Alexander Newton (29th Connecticut Volunteers) was discharged in 1865, returned to his store, felt the calling of religion, and became a minister. He wrote his memoirs in 1910.
Prince Rivers (1st South Carolina and 33rd USCI) entered politics and was elected to South Carolina's Reconstruction government.
Richard Slaughter (19th USCI) survived the shambles at the Crater, and worked as an oysterman and fisherman in Hampton, Virginia, for over 40 years after his discharge.
Isaac Stokeley's fate is unknown. Susie King Taylor became a schoolteacher after the war, and later retired to Massachusetts, where, with the aid of the former officers of the 33rd USCI, she published her memoirs, now considered a classic of Civil War literature.
As these black men in blue uniforms grew older, many wrote their memoirs, but memories of their accomplishments faded. Between 1925 and 1950, many historians ignored their contributions.
Despite this, the USCT veterans benefited from their service. Army service gave veterans both organizational and leadership skills. Moreover, as Albert Jones realized, it provided a nucleus of black men schooled in war.
Immediately after the Civil War, blacks had rights that they would not regain until after World War II. They could vote, and in many cases could and did run for public office.
There was some erosion of these rights in the 1870s, but not until Reconstruction ended and these veterans started growing old, in the 1880s, did the South begin imposing large numbers of laws limiting the rights of blacks.
Even then, those who had served in the USCT did better than those who had not. Life was hard for all blacks at the end of the 19th century, but it was harder for non-veterans. Veterans were eligible for pensions. Henry Buttler and his wife, Lucia, retired on the $75/month pension he received. James Spikes was 91 when he told an interviewer, "The government gives me a pension now cause I was a soldier. It comes in right nice - it does that" (Spikes Narrative).
Some veterans were cheated of their pensions, but many received them. As William Baltimore, who served in the 4th USCHA Regiment, related to an interviewer, "It was a lucky day when the Yankees gets me. If they hadn't I don't know what'd become of me. After I went blind, I had hard times. Some of my white friends dug up my record with the Yankees and got me a pension. Now I am sitting pretty for the rest of my life" (Baltimore Narrative).
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