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Lt. Charles Bridges, 80th Colored Troops

4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Lincoln, Washington, D.C., ca. 1864

4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Lincoln, Washington, D.C., ca. 1864

Item 67505 info
Maine Historical Society

The outbreak of war had led many northern blacks to volunteer for the military, and Union advances had been met by a constant flow of fugitive slaves, but the United States consistently resisted arming blacks, with Abraham Lincoln as staunch of an opponent as any.

By the summer of 1862, however, the failure of the Peninsula Campaign and the opening of the Mississippi Valley theater had made clear to both commanders and potential volunteers that this would not be a short war.

With enlistment flagging, the Army began to look to blacks, especially former slaves, as a new source of manpower.

The Militia Act of July 1862 authorized the president to receive blacks for "any military or naval service," but it was one of his generals, Benjamin F. Butler, who took the lead.

Holding onto New Orleans with a force of only 14,000 and fearing a Confederate counterattack, Butler mobilized several free black militia companies organized but never used by the Confederates.

Between August and December, he assembled three regiments with a total strength of more than 3,000 men, designated as the Louisiana Native Guards.

While Butler retained their black officers, his successor, Nathaniel T. Banks, who took over in December 1862, began systematically replacing them with whites.


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