HEADQUARTERS EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS, New Berne, N. C., May 5, 1863.
Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.:
SIR: A letter from Governor Andrew, of date of April 1, is referred to me by the War Department under date of April 27. I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of the same, and in reply beg leave to say:
If it be the policy of the Government and the orders of the proper authorities, I will carry out with my best effort the idea of raising colored troops in this department, but would suggest as my opinion, based on experience, that not more than one reigment, if even that, could be raised in this department by voluntary enlistment, and forces enlistments would of course alienate the negroes, the very object the Governor of Massachusetts wishes to avoid.
I will briefly state the times and circumstances under with I have armed and used negroes in this department. Besides the arming of spies and scouts, which was abandoned, we armed them at Elizabeth City during the time that post was threatened by guerrillas; we obtained about eighty, and they did their duty well enough, but we found they could not be trusted in any out ward movement or raid, probably owing to their lack of discipline.
During the late attack on Washington the negroes applied to me for arms, and to strengthen my lines I armed about 120, all I had arms for. They did their duty well and seemed willing to fight-- the test was not applied, of course. They seemed to realize that the time was one of emergency and self-preservation, and that they must help; but the emergency having passed, they did not and do not seem willing to enlist. They wish to work for the Government, but to live with their families. Again, here at this post, I received a petition signed by about 120 negroes for arms and organization in the U. S. service. I replied that if names or promises could be received from enough to constitute the nucleus of a regiment, I would consider the matter and be prepared to take action on it. Since then officially I have heard nothing, but unofficially hear that not more than about 300 men or names were obtained.
I wish, however, to state the wishes of the Government, if ordered, will be carried out, not only with obedience (my duty as a soldier), but with zeal, and in such a way as to endeavor to make it popular rather than antagonistic to the feelings of the white troops.
Referring to the postscript of Governor Andrew's letter, I beg leave to say, my orders are to act on the defensive, and that therefore the Fifty-fourth would not be able to participate in "active operations of a brilliant sort;" and, moreover, that white troops can stand the climate of North Carolina very well, but that in South Carolina white troops are very liable to the malarious influences of the climate, which of course negro troops can stand. If, therefore, the Fifty-fourth and other negro regiments could relieve white regiments in that department, the interests of the service would, in my opinion, be doubly served.
I have the honor to remain, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
J. G. FOSTER,