Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A 5th USCC Soldier Airs Grievances about His White Officers

If any USCT unit deserved its fair share of respect it was the 5th United States Colored Cavalry. Raised in Kentucky and trained at Camp Nelson the unit had barely been in the saddle when it was thrown into combat at Saltville, Virginia, in October 1864. There they fought on foot, attacking up a steep mountainside. Many of the men that were wounded ended up being killed after they had surrendered. If that horrific incident was not enough, in late January 1865, they were attacked by Confederate guerrillas near Simpsonville, Kentucky, while herding cattle from Camp Nelson to Louisville. Over 20 men were killed.

After the war the 5th served in Kentucky and then were sent to Arkansas. There they were mustered out in March 1866.

In the fall of 1865, while still in Kentucky, one disgruntled member of the unit wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton about the regiment's white officers. It must be remembered that at the time the letter was written, slavery had not officially ended in Kentucky; that would not come until December, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified.  The letter follows in full. Some punctuation and paragraphs have been added to help clarify.

Bryant Station Lexington Ky
Oct the 22. 1865

Mr E M Stanton
We are here and our wives and children are laying out doers [doors] and we have no chance to get home for them[.] we havnt had Six days furlough to See our wives and we have been in the army fourteen months[.] these [the 5th's white] officers are laying here and learning us nothing[.] instead of them learning us Sometheing they are Robing [robbing] us out of our money[.] they are taken [taking] our rations and Selling them and are Keeping the money[.] i think it is mighty hard for us to Stand that after coming from under bondage[.] their are men that has never had the chance to learn anything[.] they will give them change for one a one dollar for a fifty dollars[,] in Stead of teaching them better[.] that is the way they treat them[.]

we come in three years or Sooner discharge[d.] we would be willing to Serve three years longer [but] under these circumstances it would disheartin any one and [to] haf [have] to pay thirty dollars for a ten days pass when our wives comes to the camp to see us[.] they are not allowed to come in[to] camp and we are not allowed to go and See them[.] they are drumed of[f] and the officers Says ["]go you damed bitches[."] you know that is to[o] much[.] they [the wives] are treated So by these officer[s.] they ought to be a friend to us and them [wives] to[o.] the major makes his Brages [braggs?] that he will keep those dam niggers [soldiers] in [the service] until he makes a fortune[.] they have us cleaning up farms and cutting up Stumps for these citizens and they pay the officers for it and they allow these citizens to run over us[.] if we Say any thing to them we are put in jail and two or three months pay docked from us.

if you please[,] allow us the privelege of going home to Situate our familys for the winter[.] we hate to See them laying and Stroling around[,] but we cant help our Selves[.] we are able to Situate them by labor if they [officers] will allow us the privelege[.] we have payed nine hundred dollars for the raising of our brass band[,] now they want to claim the instruments off of us[.] its now more than what i [our] masters would have done[.] the loss of this fifth regiment is over thirteen hundred dollars by these officers[.] i think it is mighty hard for us to lay here and they fool with us that way[,] and when they hear of us being mustered out [of service] they Says that they will right to washington and they will holde us[.] they Say if they cant holde us any other way they will move us out of the State[.]

Shame[,] Shame[,] Shame,] how we are treated[.] they will not let us trated [trade or buy] out Side of the Sutlers[.] if we do they want to punish us[.] things that the Sutler has got that is only worth a dollar[,] they charge us Seven or eight dollars[.] if you want to b[u]y any thing out Side they Say ["]know [no] god dam you [,] go to the Sutlers and b[u]y[.] I must bring my letter to a close[.]
5 US "C" Cav
Your most devoted Soldier until death

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