African Americans in the Civil War Navy 1861-1865
Americans have a history of maritime service that dates back before the American
Americans have served this Nation's Navy in every conflict that America has
been involved in.
In most of the accounts of the Civil War, emphasis has been
placed on land
battles that were fought in various regions of the Southern and Northern States.
Very little has been told of the “War on the
Battles and strategies that were acted out on the oceans, seas and inland
important part in the war and have long been neglected.
more neglected, has been the history of African Americans in the Union Navy.
How many served
was difficult to determine the number of men of color who served. That was
because the Navy was racially integrated and did not keep separate records for
blacks and whites.
Unlike the Navy, the Army was segregated and grouped all men of
color under the Bureau of Colored Troops, organized into regiments and commanded
by white officers.
This made it much easier to determine numbers and data.
The first estimate of 29,511 was revealed by the Secretary of the Navy
around the turn of the Century.
This estimate was reached by dividing
the overall navy enlistment figure of 118.044 by four [25%].
In 1973 David L. Valuska’s dissertation downsized it to slightly less
than 10,000. [9,600] This figure was reached by his review of existing navy
Over the last ten years, a special research partnership between Howard
University, the Department of the Navy and the National Park Service has been
able to examine a much larger number of records and have confirmed that nearly
18,000 men and 11 women served.
to the Emancipation Proclamation:
Black enlistments were limited
to 5% of the navy's enlisted force.
Although Black enlistments were limited to 5% at the start of the Civil
War, only about 2.5% of U.S. Navy sailors were men of color.
By the second quarter of 1862 enlistments had increased to 15%
By the third quarter of 1863 thru 1864 the numbers had increased to 23%.
By the third quarter of 1864 thru the third quarter of 1865 it was 17%
At the end of the war after many men had been discharged the number of
black sailors was down to
Lincoln orders a blockade of Southern ports.
the start of the war the Union Navy had less than 70 vessels. Less than
50 that were operational and around 30 of those were away on duty at various stations
around the globe. By the end of the war there
would be around 700 navy vessels in operation.
Anaconda Plan called for cutting off Confederate commerce by the blockading of
over 3,400 miles of coastline and patrolling the high seas.
The next phase was to patrol inland waterways and divide the South by a major
thrust along the Mississippi River. These actions along with coordinated
land operations were designed to overcome the Confederate war effort.
Blockade of Southern ports
Protect merchant shipping from Confederate Commerce Raiders.
Hunt down and destroy Confederate Commerce raiders in both European and
Control the inland waterways in order to stop the movement of supplies,
troops and to take charge of the land area and divide the Confederacy.
Prior to Jan 1, 1863
Navy enlisted blacks and assigned them ranks fitting their skill level.
Unskilled men were rated as boys or landsmen according to their age and capabilities.
Many men enlisted from the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay
area (Del, MD and VA)
A large number of men from states located along
the Mississippi River helped to meet the Navy's manpower requirements.
Recruiting was done at Navy recruiting stations set up in cities and port
areas mostly on the east coast in the New England and Mid Atlantic areas.
The Navy offered inducements such as better pay, prize money, and regular
Recruits were promised and received, a fair justice system.
Better medical care in modern naval hospitals
was available to sailors.
After Jan. 1863
Secretary Of the Navy Gideon Wells stated that unskilled Contrabands
would be enlisted into the Navy with the rating of Boy.
Civilians were hired as civilian contractors for positions that would
otherwise require a officer or petty officer
such as pilots, etc. Some pilots were paid as much as Navy officers up to
$1500.00 per year or more.
women were enlisted into the Navy originally as cooks, bakers,
laundresses, etc. some of them served as nurses aboard the Red Rover, the
Navy’s first Hospital Ship and other vessels.
Treating of wounded was difficult aboard navy ships and gunboats due to
the limited number of medical personnel, lack of space and medical equipment.
It was very difficult to make a wounded man comfortable in a hammock.
Harriet Ruth, a black nurse, served onboard the U.S.S. Black Hawk.
Harriet Little served as a nurse along with her husband, also a nurse
aboard the U.S.S. Hartford.
Ann Stokes drew a Navy pension for her service as a nurse from Jan. 1,
1863 to October 25, 1864 aboard the hospital Ship Red Rover.
Ranks and positions held by Blacks
Boys and Landsmen
Experienced sailors: able Seaman and Seaman
Petty Officers, Petty Officers of the Staff & Petty Officers of the
There were no black Commissioned U.S. Naval Officers during the Civil War.
Free blacks hired on as civilian contractors, pilots, engineers,
Some pilots, engineers and mechanics were paid
salaries that equaled the pay of some Commissioned Officers.
served on nearly all Ships and in all areas of operation.
Docks and Yards
African Squadron. (interdicting the slave
Racial prejudice existed in the 19th Century U.S Navy as it
did in all other walks of life during that period.
Racism was a fact of life.
Navy policy treated blacks and whites the same according to regulations.
This sometimes depended on
attitudes of local Commanding Officer
Some blacks suffered under racist officers and shipmates (Irish sailors
seemed to be the
hostile towards blacks)
There had been trouble in Navy yards and dock areas in some cities.
Some unskilled white workers feared that free blacks would take their jobs
and work for lower wages. (the
that you hear even today but directed towards South American and Asian emigrants)
veteran black sailors sometimes held themselves apart from contrabands.
They felt that they were professional seaman and did not want to be
identified as contrabands.
Some recruits who had been classified as Contrabands took a lot of hazing from
some white sailors. Still Black sailors in most instances faired better in
the Union Navy as opposed to the Army.
Boy 3rd Class $8.00
Boy 2nd Class $9.00
Boy 1st Class
Ordinary Seaman $14.00
Seaman $16.00 - $18.00
Petty Officers $30.00 - $70.00
Stewards and cooks $30.00 - $55.00
Surgeons Assistants $30 - $55.00
Reenlistment bonus of three months pay if reenlisted within 30
days of discharge date.
Pay was posted to the books and paid to the sailor upon discharge.
Small amounts could be drawn for liberty.
The Navy unlike the Army had a pay allotment program where a portion of a
sailors pay could be sent to his family on a Monthly basis.
Uniform: There was no standard mandatory uniform until 1864.
The dress of enlisted men was left up to the local Commander.
winter blue wool
jumper and pair of trousers. One blue wool flat hat.
Tropical white cotton Mostly for dress or shore liberty.
( most sailors made their own extra uniforms or had them made by other
who had sewing
Shoes: brogans or marine boots
Sailors could decorate with embroidery (up to the discretion of
the Commanding Officer)
Weapons: Cutlass, 36 cal Navy Colt pistol, boarding Ax, boarding
were property of the ship and were kept locked in weapons lockers or chest.
They were issued when needed for battle stations during combat or for shore
the action was completed weapons were again secured under lock and key)
Grog rations (rum or whiskey mixed with water) was issued first thing in the morning and again with the
Men who did not drink could receive a credit of five cents per day on the pay
Grog rations were abolished on Aug. 31, 1862.
compensated its sailors with an additional five cents per day in pay.
Good medical care regardless of race.
black sailors won the Medal of Honor. (seven
soon special articles on Medal of Honor winners)
First African American Hero of the Civil War
(go to the Robert Smalls Page)
Black sailors played an important role in the Union
Navy. Many had a chance to
contribute their skills and expertise to the Union war effort.
Unskilled contrabands supplied the much-needed manpower during the
buildup of the Navy.
Life in the Union Navy offered several advantages to
black Americans. They were treated
fairly in most instances, faired much better under the navy’s judicial system
than soldiers in the army, had better medical care, better food and could look
forward to promotion as long as they developed skills and avoided disciplinary
problems. The US Navy was the first
armed service that offered blacks a chance to strike a blow for freedom by
contributing to the war effort as a fighting member of the armed forces.
transition from sail to steam powered vessels eliminated the need for large
numbers of seamen to crew both naval and merchant ships. Blacks were the
first to be effected by the cutbacks. Following reconstruction racism and
Jim Crow practices nearly eliminated blacks from naval service for a number of
years. It took a World War to open the doors of opportunity again.
by: Byron W. Childress
September 20, 2002
The Web Foot Flotilla
Americans in the Civil War Navy 1861-1865
September 20, 2002
men in Navy Blue During The Civil War…Dr. Joseph P. Reidy Prolog Magazine
Fall 2001, Vol. 33, No.3|
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War History Magazine, June 2001 “Frictions”: Shipboard Relations between
White and Contraband Sailors. Author/s Michael J. Bennett|
in Lincoln’s Navy By Dennis Ringle, U.S. Naval Institute Press|
Jacks by Dr. W. Jeffery Bolster Cambridge University Press, Copyright 1997|
American in the Navy All Hands 634 (Nov, 1969): 2631|
Leonard W. “Role of Black Sailors In the Major wars of America” All
Hands 679 (Aug. 1973): 5561|
Richard O. Racial Strife in the U.S. Military: Toward the Elimination of
Discrimination. New York:
Praeger, 1979. OCLC 5491621.|
Dennis D. The Integration of the Negro Into the Navy1776 – 1947. New York:
Benjamin A. The Negro in the
Making of America. 3d ed. New York: collier Books, 1996|
Landing Party, Integration in the U.S. Navy “Correcting a Misconception,
By C.L. Veit, Lt., USNLP|
Grand Army of Black Men By Edwin S. Redkey, Letters from African American
Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861 – 1865, Chapter 9, The Navy, Cambridge
University Press, 1992.|
Waters, The Naval History of the Civil War, Ivan Musicant, Castile Books
Sailors, Citizens, African Americans in the Union Navy, Steven J. Ramold,
Northern Illinois Press, 2002|
the Blue Pennant or Notes of a Naval Officer 1863-1865, by John W. Grattan,
Acting Ensign, U.S. Navy, Edited by Robert J. Schneller John Wiley &