The Bureau of Colored Troops
The Birth of the Organized Black Soldier


     On May 22, 1863 the United States War Department issued General Orders Number 143 establishing a specialized bureau within for the purpose of the organization of black enlisted troops. A pioneer program that would handle all matters related to the organization of these men of color. Only officers pre approved by the War Department would be worthy of recruiting such bodies and no authorization granted to any one man wishing to raise more than that of a single regiment. These infantrymen would be accepted in companies, and then consolidated into battalions and regiments, and the Adjutant General would number their unit by the order of their acceptance. They would become the United States Colored Troops, or USCTs.

     The Adjutant General of the Army, Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas had thus organized nearly twenty regiments in Mississippi and had rendered valuable service at Vicksburg and elsewhere. Two federal regiments had already been recruited out of the state of Massachusetts, and one from the state of North Carolina by Brigadier General Edward Augustus Wild.

     Recruiting stations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania raised the Sixth and Eighth USCTs while Major General Robert Schenck began recruiting in Maryland with a station opened, and under the supervision of Colonel William Birney in Baltimore. The 4th and 7th USCTs were organized for federal service having been loosed from the local jails and slave pens that angered Baltimoreans had sent them off to. With the Confederacy's inability to consider arming the slave in large organized bodies under arms, the Bureau of Colored Troops had a field day federalizing the United States Colored Troops from all over the country including South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee.

     The screening board for white officers to lead these troops into combat was rigorous, the qualifications more stringent. By October of 1863 three boards for commissioning applications were established in Washington City, Cincinnati, Ohio and the third in St. Louis, Missouri. Of the fifteen hundred thirty four applicants five hundred seventeen of them were found qualified to lead them. Those officers rejected were mostly due to mental or physical disqualifications.

     The following year the number of colored federal troops had grown from fifty eight regiments in 1863 to one hundred and forty of them rendering a manpower increase of over one hundred thousand blacks in uniform. They had fought with the political odds against them, however determined to see the war through, established for themselves respect from those in the War Department as well as the Executive Mansion.

     There were no more questions whether the idea of the uniformed Negro would succeed. They fought with a dogged tenacity that rendered them an asset to help turn the tide of the war. President Lincoln's other hand had just come out from behind his back and it packed a ferocious punch.


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2003

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar.net