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  --  CORPS D'AFRIQUE.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XVI.

Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany



WHILE completing his last lectures of the course in Chicago, the order was granted by the department to raise the famous Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, whose fame is enhanced by the glorious burial of its brave young commander with his dusky guards, and the memories of Forts Wagner and Olustee.

For this regiment he received the appointment of acting assistant agent, under Charles L. Remond and Charles H. Langston, Esq., for recruiting, and acting examining surgeon for the post of Chicago, from Major George L. Stearns, chairman of the military committee, being authorized by Governor John A. Andrew, of Massachusetts.

His eldest son, then but eighteen years of age, at school in Canada, wrote to him for permission to join that regiment. In granting the request, it drew from him a reply worthy of his heart and head.

After the regiment was filled, he applied by letter to the war department at Washington for the appointment as surgeon to the blacks in the army. He received the usual polite reply, that "the letter was received and on file under consideration." Hearing nothing of his application, after a considerable time had

elapsed, he was advised by his friends to write again by way of a reminder , and was on the point of doing so, when the news flashed over the wires that Dr. Augusta of Canada had been appointed as surgeon in the army, with the rank of major . Neither did this second defeat dishearten him, for it was a realization partly of his plans of seeing a black of representative rank in the army. He then concluded to abandon the sending of a second application to the department, fearing to embarrass the government in such appointment, and by this retard the progress of the cause he was endeavoring to advance.

Meanwhile Rhode Island had been ordered to raise the heavy artillery; and eighteen hundred black men, afterwards increased to twenty-five hundred, were required for this service. Some of his friends had pushed forward his claims in this direction to the authorities. He was visited at his home in Canada concerning the recruiting, and made agent under a commissioned captain in the service to superintend the recruiting of this arm of the service.

Establishing himself at Detroit, Michigan, removing thence to Chicago, he soon found himself borne smoothly along on the wave of success. His efforts were seconded by the most influential colored people of the place: among them we find the name of Mr. John Jones, the wealthiest colored resident of the state, who entered intimately into his confidence, bringing all his influence to bear in assisting the government to put down the rebellion.

So satisfactory was his course in the West to the authorities of Rhode Island, that the captain under

whom he served was relieved, and he then placed in entire charge, and its accompanying responsibilities, without the military commission , however, or even rank given by courtesy , as the country was not up to that at the time.

Orders at this time were sent to him concerning a change about to be made in relation to the pay and recruiting of the men, which, while it would have resulted in increasing his own pay, would greatly have reduced the bounty--twenty-two dollars a man. To this proposed injustice he instantly refused to lend his influence. And he soon received a telegram to the effect that he was relieved. He then demanded a settlement for his past services. Not being answered, he sent a messenger to Governor Smith, who at once summoned him to Rhode Island. At Providence he met his excellency and Major Sanford, U.S. mustering officer, who, together with the governor, the past difficulty being satisfactorily settled, united in recommending his appointment to the military authorities of Connecticut, that state having at the time a quota to fill of five thousand. An official of that state was telegraphed, who contracted with him to superintend the recruiting. He retained his former quarters at Chicago, but was afterwards compelled to remove the Cleveland, Ohio, in consequence of an abrupt interruption on the part of the authorities of that city and the State of Illinois. He complained of affairs being badly conducted, and after a most unsatisfactory official visit to New Haven, occasioned by the absence of Governor Buckingham, he resigned, with a loss of about three thousand dollars to himself.


He immediately went west, and opened an independent recruiting station, witnessing, he says, "with unutterable disgust, the hateful mercenary recruiting trade of selling men in the highest market, and denounced them, whether black or white.

The legitimate quotas in a few country districts of Western Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, he aided in filling, "persistently refusing," he says, "the offers made for men, by a class who prowled the country under various names and pretended military titles, with a shudder and a scout, despising the man who would sell his brethren for a price." So great were his fears lest imposition or intrigue be practised on the men, and his promise be made void, that he invariably accompanied them to their destination.

The most interesting epoch in his recruiting career was when he was called upon, by the military committee of one of the districts of Western Ohio, to contract to fill their quota of two thousand five hundred men, under the new act of Congress. The office of the committee was at Cleveland, Ohio. He consented to negotiate for them, provided that he was commissioned a state officer under the new act regulating the appointment of state officers in recruiting. The committee suggested first to make sure of the choice and contract; then they would have whereon to base an application to the governor. This course was complied with, and the application then made to the governor, who expressed himself to the effect that he regarded the proposal too novel to find favor at Washington, as a black man could never have been designed or intended in the new recruiting order. He further intimated

that the authorities at Washington would be consulted as to whether or not such an appointment would be acceptable to them. "Governor Brough," said he, "that arm which shall be the most successful in putting down this wicked rebellion, is the arm which will be at present most acceptable to the people of the United States and the authorities at Washington, be that a white or black arm." The governor, smiling, he continues, replied that he did not dispute it, adding that he thought I might leave for my destination, and regard the commission as certain to be forwarded with documents for other state officers.

After a short visit to his home, he engaged his examining surgeon, an accomplished colored gentleman, who had been with him in the Rhode Island and Connecticut recruiting service, returned, and arrived at Nashville, where in two days, he received his commission from the governor.

At Nashville the famous letter (famous at least to those whom it concerned) of Major General Sherman, then at Atlanta, Georgia, to Lieutenant Colonel John A. Spooner, provost marshal general and commissioner from Massachusetts for Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia, was under consideration and discussion. He writes of it, "Great was the consternation produced among 'government agents' there; and such were the offers made to me by parties for 'partnership, division of profits, and the like,' that I was constrained to have on hand but the one answer for all. Gentlemen, I have an honorable appointment. I cannot and will not sell my brethren for a price, nor my birthright for a mess of pottage." Worn out by these actions, and disgusted,

he left the place, going directly to Ohio, where after a few weeks spent in Galliopolis and Portsmouth, "I became convinced," he said, "that the business of recruiting had reached such a state of demoralization that no honorable man, except a U. S. commissioned officer , could continue it successfully without jeopardizing his own reputation." He returned home, gaining nothing but experience by his commission.

  --  CORPS D'AFRIQUE.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER XVI.