No Diversity at the GAR in 1891


While white and black Southerners fought alongside each other in integrated units during the War Between the States, such was not the case in the Northern army. In the Grand Review in Washington in May, 1865 when triumphant soldiers in blue exulted in their success in subjugating fellow Americans, there was no place for the black soldiers dragooned into serving in place of white Northern citizens uninterested in fighting. It is said that the only black soldiers in the parade were there as comic relief, riding on mules and carrying shovels. That said, the following New York Times article (courtesy Stephen Schneider of Blountville, Tennessee) is not at all surprising. The black unit mentioned in the last paragraph started the war mustered in as the Louisiana Native Guards, and it was for the most part disbanded after Butler captured New Orleans. It was reformed as a Northern unit after replacing its Southern black officers with white, and using captured black slaves as enlisted men. See James Hollandsworth’s "The Louisiana Native Guards," LSU Press, 1995, for more on this.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402

"They May Withdraw"
Southern Grand Army Men Won’t Affiliate With Colored Veterans:
The New York Times, August 9, 1891

New Orleans: August 8—-Angry, disappointed, bordering on indignation, was expressed on all sides by the leading spirits of the Grand Army posts here when the news was received that colored veterans must be given free recognition and admission to the order. The greater part of the officers of the white posts are ensconced in comfortable berths in the Custom House, and there is indignation over the action of the national body was greatest.

Private telegrams announced that under the new decision matters would remain as heretofore. "That means," said a prominent Federal official, "that we will act as we did last year and just decline to allow colored posts representation in the Department Council. If we are forced to give then recognition, we will probably surrender our charter and then convert our organization into a social, fraternal and benevolent order for white ex-soldiers."

This is the general sentiment expressed by all white veterans. The demand for recognition in the Grand Army of the Republic ranks by the Negroes is regarded as a political move of their leaders. Colonel Jim Lewis is charged with desiring to elect himself Department Commander so as to secure a fat Federal office. The white veterans give as one of the reasons for their dissatisfaction the fact that large numbers of the members of the colored posts are only thirty or thirty-five years old, and consequently could not have been old enough to bear a musket in the war. It is said that when the late Department Commander, Jacob Gray, saw he could not be re-elected by the white posts, he granted enough charters to colored posts to accomplish that object, but he was checked by the political shrewdness of the white delegates.

To organize eight colored posts in as many days required rapid work, and it is charged that men were mustered into the new posts 100 at a time without the production of their discharge papers or, indeed, any further investigation into the question whether they served or not (other) than their own statements. The white Grand Army members in Louisiana number over a thousand. If they cut off from all connection with the national organization, it is very probable the other Southern States contending with the same problem will also withdraw, and that they will all unite in one grand organization limited to the South, and surrender to the colored comrades the control as well as the membership of the regular Grand Army organization in their States.

Another singular complication arises from the fact that the Negro brigade which fought with such unquestioned gallantry on the right of the Federal line at Port Hudson (and of which Lewis and most of the Grand Army claimants are members) was made up of the original native grand guard regiments which were organized under authority from Richmond and sworn into the Confederate service before the capture of this city by Butler, which fact would disbar them from membership in the Grand Army.