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Violence Committed Against Black Soldiers in Washington, DC (1863)locked

Violence Committed Against Black Soldiers in Washington, DC (1863)locked

In 1863 the Reverend Henry McNeal Turner helped to recruit soldiers for an all-black regiment made up of escaped slaves and freedmen in Washington, DC. However the city remained a hostile environment for African American soldiers, as evidenced in the letter below to The Christian Recorder. In it the correspondent claims to have witnessed the brutal beating of a black corporal named John Ross, in which a nearby police officer refused to intervene. In this case, according to the letter, the officer received a disciplinary hearing. Though violence, discrimination, and other protests against African American soldiers proved to be an obstacle to recruitment, by the end of that year, nearly every state in the Union had made an effort to raise black regiments.

Washington, June, 1863

Mr. Editor:—Passing along 7th Street, a few evenings ago, I saw an excited rabble pursuing a corporal belonging to the 1st Colored Regiment, District vols., named John Ross. Among the pursuers, was a United States police officer. Ross protested against being dragged away by these ruffians, at the same time expressing his willingness to accompany the police officer to whatever place he might designate; claiming at the same time his (the police officer’s) protection from his assailants. But, shameful to say, that officer, after he had arrested Ross, permitted a cowardly villain to violently choke and otherwise maltreat him. After the melee, the corporal received some pretty severe bruises, whether from the policeman’s club or from the stones that were thrown by the mob, I will not say. He quietly walked to the central guard house with this conservator of the peace, amidst the clamoring of the mob, their yells and shouts of “Kill the black ---- ------ -----,” &c., &c., &c., “strip him, we’ll stop this negro enlistment,” &c., &c., &c. Now Mr. Editor, what will an enlightened world think? What will posterity think? . . . that the United States, right under the shadow of the War Department, was insulted in the person of one of her defenders. But what, you ask, had Mr. John Ross done? Stop, I’ll tell you. He had dared to enlist at his country’s call, and leave home and all that makes life dear, to burn, and bleed, and die for his country. This is his crime, (if crime he committed;) for this he is mobbed: but these indignities must cease; the good time is coming when cowardly traitors will not insult United States soldiers, be they black or white. . . . Since writing the above, policeman Parker was cited to appear before the Provost Marshall, to answer the charge of beating corporal Ross, and tearing the chevrons from his coat. A preliminary examination was held, and he was ordered to find security for his appearance, to answer, before General Martindale, Superintendent Webb becoming his bondman. Rev. H. M. Turner, Chaplain of the 1st Regiment Colored District volunteers, preached a war sermon in her regiment, on Sabbath; his theme was fight, fight, fight. . . .


Source: The Christian Recorder, June 20, 1863. Reprinted in James M. McPherson’s, The Negro’s Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union, pp. 180-81.