Saturday, September 7, 2013

116th USCI Soldiers Write to President Johnson

I have mentioned the 116th United States Colored Infantry on several occasions here on Random Thoughts. These men enlisted in Kentucky and trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County. They participated in the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns and after the war, like a number of other USCT units, they were sent to the Texas/Mexico border.

While stationed in south Texas four non-commissioned offers wrote a telling letter to President Andrew Johnson. Knowing Johnson's attitude toward African Americans I am sure the letter had little to no effect on the commander-in-chief. Still, the letter shows their concerns and their demands for the rights they felt their service in the Union army had earned them. These men of limited education but still in the ranks over a year after the war had ended wanted to be heard. They were concerned that the $300 bounty they were to be paid for their enlistment was not going to be honored. Without these funds the soldiers were concerned for their futures and the futures of their families.

White Ranch [Texas] July 3rd 1866

Dear President
I have the honor to address the[e] as follows[.]  the few remarks i wish to say and to inform you of is this[:] the Condition of our familys in Kentucky and the Condition of our self[.] we Kentuckians are men that Came our in this great and noble cause[.] we did come out like men[.] we have stood up to geather with Comrades and have proved not only to the people but to the world that we have been faithfull and prompt to all dutys[.] we have fulfilled all posts that we have been put and then as for a Regiment['s] Commander to treat the soldiers so mean as we have been treated i think is out of the question[.] My President and vice i think as a dutyfull as the 116th Regiment of U.S. Colored Infantry have not had no more quarters shown them then what [h]as been i dont think it is right[,] for i think that there are not the tenth part of quarters shown us that is intended for us[,] for if our officers and field officers would take the Law as it is given to them and use it they have not the power to use such ill treatment[.] Mr President and vice we learn by the [news]papers that the sum of three Hundred dollars [bounty pay] that was promised us when we inlisted in the service[,] we would not get it[.] but if the [Kentucky] Governer [Thomas E. Bramlette] should turn out the men of our standing barehanded i would like to know how you would expect for us to live ear [here] after[.] we are a nation that was poor and had nothing when we came to the service[.] we had neather house nor money[,] no place to put our familys[.] now these poor nation of colour have spent the best part of his days in slavery[.] now then what must we do[?] must we turn out to steal to get a start [on our future?] we left our wifes and Children no place for them to lay there heads[.] we left them not counted on Equal footing as the white people[.] they where [were] looked on like dogs and we left them with a willing mind to exicute our duty in the army of the United States war to eather to make us a nation of people eather in this generation or the next to come[.] Now Mr President[,] i wish you to ansure [answer] this letter and let us know we are to do[,] as this Regiment is labouring under a great mistake untill you let us know what we are to do and you will releive our mind a great deal and we will remain your affectionate Brother Soldier[.] Direct to
1est Sargint Wm. White
1" D[itt]o McMeail
2" D[itt]o Taylor
[Corpor]arl Thomass

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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