Black Chaplains

Black Chaplains


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




The Act of 17 July 1862, among other provisions, authorized the employment of persons of African descent for labor on fortifications and for similar tasks at a monthly wage of $10. The army paymaster interpreted this to limit the pay of all Negroes to that amount.

Left to right: Henry V. Plummer and Allen Allensworth



Books on Blacks in the Military

Elevating The Race:  Theophilus G. Steward and The Making of An African-American  Civil Religion, 1865-1924

Up from Handymen  / Colored Regulars in the United States Army  / Chaplains of the United States Army

The Buffalo Soldier: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West / Voices of the Buffalo Soldier

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Life of Black Army Chaplains

Challenging the Paymaster

The Case of Benjamin Harrison


In his work Chaplains of the United States Army (1958), Roy J. Honeywell points out  a wrongly interpreted legal question  by a paymaster in South Carolina that concerned the pay of chaplains:


The organization of Negro troops led to the selection of colored ministers as chaplains of some of the regiments. Records which may not be complete show 139 chaplains assigned to some of the 158 Negro regiments. Only a few of these are known to have been Negroes, though others well may have been.

Among them were Henry M. Turner, William Hunter, James Underdue, and William Warring, of the first, Fourth, 39th and 102s United States Colored Troops, respectively, and Samuel Harrison of the 54th and William Jackson and John C. Bowles of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry. The Act of 17 July 1862, among other provisions, authorized the employment of persons of African descent for labor on fortifications and for similar tasks at a monthly wage of $10. The army paymaster interpreted this to limit the pay of all Negroes to that amount.

Chaplain [Samuel] Harrison was chosen in the usual manner and commissioned by the Governor of Massachusetts. outfitting himself at a cost of $300, he joined his regiment in South Carolina, but was allowed only $10 a month by the paymaster. he appealed to Governor Andrew, who forwarded the papers to the President, and he asked a ruling from the Attorney General. On 23 April 1864, Mr. Bates replied that no law prohibited the appointment of Negro soldiers or officers. Harrison had been commissioned and mustered the same as other chaplains and was entitled to the same pay. The wage limitation of $10 a month applied only to the type of laborers specified in the law and employed under its provision. [Left photo: Samuel Harrison]

He [Attorney General Bates] believed the president should order the pay department to conform to this decision. Sumner read this opinion to the Senate in support of legislation to define the rights of Negro troops. When the conference committees had adjusted the disagreements between the houses he thought the enactment had “dwindled down to the little end of nothing.’ Apparently, the ruling of the Attorney General was considered to have settled the question as it concerned chaplains, for some thought it unnecessary when Wilson offered an amendment to the pay bill of 1864, stating explicitly that colored chaplains should receive the same as others and he withdrew his motion (116-117).

Source: Roy John Honeywell. Chaplains of the United States Army. Washington: Office of the Chief of Chaplains, Department of the Army, 1958.

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History! Army Selects First Black Woman As Two Star General—October 3, 2011—Marcia Anderson, born 1958, became the first African-American woman given a second star as a general in the U.S. Army during a ceremony at Fort Knox. It’s a day, Anderson said, that black soldiers who fought during the Civil War or the Tuskegee Airmen could never have imagined. . . . Anderson, who will leave her post as deputy commanding general of the Human Resources Command at Fort Knox on Friday, received the promotion after a three-decade long military career. She is moving to the office of the chief of the U.S. Army Reserve in Washington, D.C.

Anderson’s father, Rudy Mahan of Beloit, Wis., served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, but never got to fulfill his dream of flying bombers. He drove trucks instead. It’s something Anderson attributes to the narrow options available to blacks at the time. . . . Her military career started almost by accident. When she was a student at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., Anderson signed up for ROTC after being told the “military science” course would fill her science requirement. . .  .

She stayed with the military, fulfilling her eight year commitment before deciding to re-enlist in the reserves. Anderson, an East St. Louis, Ill., native, said she was a captain, working on training soldiers “just off the street,” when it occurred to her it was a job she enjoyed and wanted to keep doing. . . . The military promoted Anderson periodically and, when she became a brigadier general, Anderson became the highest-ranking African-American woman in the Army. She arrived at Fort Knox about a year ago to work on combining the Army’s Human Resources Command under one roof from stations in Richmond, Va., St. Louis and Indianapolis.—


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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 29 July 2008 




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