War of the Rebellion: Serial 124 Page 0696 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

The terms of this act are without restriction, and no distinction is made, or was intended to be made, between persons of African descent held to service or labor and those not so held. The President is empowered to receive them all into the military service, and to assign them such duty as they may be found competent to perform. The tenacious and brilliant valor displayed by troops of this race at Port Hudson, Milliken's Bend, and Fort Wagner has sufficiently demonstrated to the President and to the country the character of service of which they are capable.

In the interpretation given to the enrollment act, free persons of African descent are treated as "citizens of the United States" in the sense of the law, and are everywhere being drafted into the military service. In reference to the other class of persons of this race, those held to service or labor, the twelfth section of the act of 17th of July is still in full force, and the President may, in his discretion, receive them into the Army, and assign them such field of duty as he may deem them prepared to occupy. In view of the loyalty of this race, and of the obstinate courage which they have shown themselves to possess, they certainly consitute, at this crisis in our history, a most powerful and reliable arm of the public defense. Whether this arm shall now be exerted is not a question of power or right, but purely of policy, to be determined by the estimate which may be entertained of the conflict in which we are engaged, and of the necessity that presses to briure to a close. A man preciptated into a struggle for his life, on land or sea, instinctively and almost necessarily puts forth every energy with which he is endowed, and eagerly seizes upon every source of strength within his grasp; and a nation battling for existence that does not do the same may well be regarded as neither wise nor obedient to that great law of self-preservation from which are derived our most urgent and solemn duties.

That there exists a prejudice against the employment of soldiers of African descent is undeniable. It is, however, rapidly giving way, and never had any foundation in reason or loyalty. It originated with and has been diligently nurtured by those in sympathy with the rebellion, and its utterance at this moment it necessarily in the interests of treason. Should the President feel that the public interests require he shall exert the power with which he is clothed by the twelfth section of the act of 17th of July, his action should be in subordination to the constitutional principle which exacts that compensation shall be made for private property devoted to public uses. A just compensation to loyal claimants to the service or labor of persons of African descent enlisted in our Army would accord with the uniform practice of the Government and with the genius of our institutions. Soldiers of this class, after having periled their lives in defense of the Republic, could not be re-enslaved without a national dishonor, revolting and unendurable for all who are themselves worthy to be free. The compensation made, therefore, should be such as entirely to exhaust the interests of claimants, so that when soldiers of this class lay down their arms at the close of the war they may at once enter into the enjoyment of that freedom symbolized by the flag which they have followed and defended.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. HOLT,

Judge-Advocate-General.