Monday, September 16, 2013

Joseph Holt on USCT Recruiting in Kentucky

Joseph Holt is probably best known to history as the man that oversaw the prosecution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. However, he was also a native Kentuckian that had had a long political career by that point. For example, in 1857 he was appointed as Commissioner of Patents under the Buchanan administration, and then in 1859 served as Postmaster General, and finally Secretary of War, albeit briefly.

Holt was an unconditional Unionist, not the most common thing from Kentucky in the Civil War. He was instrumental in providing information to the Lincoln administration to help the president handle the Bluegrass State's unique situation.

Unlike most white Kentuckians Holt encouraged black enlistments. In late July 1864, when black recruitment was peaking he wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. While his statements are a often a bit exaggerated and overly optimistic at some points, it provides intriguing reading.

"The recruiting of colored troops, in Kentucky is proceeding most satisfactorily. About ten thousand have already been enlisted, & this number, it is believed, will be doubled in Sixty days. They have for some time been coming in at the rate of about a hundred per day. When we consider the perils & menaces, which these downtrodden men have to brave in making their way to the recruiting stations, we cannot but regard the example of their courage & loyalty & zeal as among the noblest & most cheering signs of the times. The commencement of the recruiting of colored troops in Ky. was signalised by disgraceful outrages perpetrated in the twin, & it would seem inseparable interests of treason & slavery. Slaves escaping from their masters, with a view of entering the military service were waylaid beaten maimed & often murdered. This shameful condition of things, however has disappeared, under improved public sentiment, & from the vigor & success with which the government has continued to press its policy. The popular opinion is rapidly reaching the conclusion that the policy of recruiting colored troops is too firmly established to be resisted, & that it is the interest, as it certainly is the duty of Kentucky to acquiesce in it. The feeble opposition which still remains is fostered mainly by unscrupulous politicians, who hope to make out of this popular irritation a certain amount of political capital to be invested in the approaching presidential election. Upon the whole the recruiting of colored troops in Kentucky, must be held to the a decided success thus far, & to be full of encouragement for the future. The service under the vigilant & faithful administration of Maj[or] Slidell & his subordinates, is marked by energy & discretion, & promises soon to bring to the support of the government a numerous & zealous body of soldiery, of a class whose courage & loyalty have been conspicuous on so many fields.
J. Holt"

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