American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

First Negro Regiment

You have not forgotten how short a time ago it was that the anti-slavery men in Boston had been mobbed; you have not forgotten how bitter many Northerners felt towards black men and women, and towards anti-slavery men and women; you have not forgotten the Run-away Slave Law, which allowed a slave owner to pursue his slaves into the Northern States and take them wherever they were found.

All these feelings had been changing little by little during these two years of war. Nowhere was there quite such bitter feeling, and in Boston it seemed to have died away entirely.

Early in this year, after the Proclamation had been sent forth, there began to be much talk of raising a negro army. "Why not let these slaves fight for their own freedom?" the people began to say.

"Niggers can't fight! Niggers don't know enough to fight!" cried some, who did not quite believe in them yet.

"Whoever saw a nigger soldier?" cried another.

"Fancy a nigger trying to Forward, march! Right wheel! Left wheel! Right about Face!" laughed some of the soldiers.

But for all this the "nigger" regiments were formed; and they proved as effective and as brave as those who laughed at them, I have no doubt.

The first regiment of colored men was the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, Robert G. Shaw its colonel.

This regiment was to have been sent to the capital by way of New York; but it was found that the feeling against negroes was still strong in that city, so strong that there began to be signs of mobs ready to attack this regiment if they passed through that city.

These troops, therefore, were sent by way of water from Boston.

To show yoy how rapidly the feeling against these black people died out, I must tell you that in only a few months from this time, all New York turned out to cheer a colored regiment that marched down Broadway on its way to the war. Yes, indeed, they were cheered as long, and with as much noise and hearty good-will as had Ellsworth's troops been cheered two years before, when they marched down this same street.

"To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late;

And where can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods!"

—Indiana's Roll of Honor.