ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Plummer . . . wanted to introduce “American civilization and Christianization . . .

and “form a nucleus for a colony of black Americans.” . . . under his command . . .

secure a slice of the African turkey, before it is gobbled up by foreign nations

 Left to right above: Henry V. Plummer



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

Plummer, Allensworth, Steward, et al


Black Chaplains

The federal legislation that authorized the position of regimental chaplain for black regiments was based primarily upon the soldiers’ need for an education. There seems to be no evidence that any thought was given to the black soldiers’ religious tradition or to the appointment of a black chaplain who understood that tradition. It was not until 1884, when Henry V. Plummer was appointed to the 9th Cavalry regiment, that a black clergyman was commissioned as a chaplain in the Regular Army.

Two of Plummer’s three predecessors were unable to provide an adequate ministry in either the educational or religious field, and the third resigned from the Army with a sense of failure. the first two, John C. Jacobi and Manuel J. Gonzales, were physically unfit to be chaplains; for two-thirds of their combined service, a total of 15 years, they were either sick or on disability leave. Charles C. Pierce, the ninth’s third chaplain, was a young, healthy Baptist who envisioned a ministry that would result in bettering moral behavior throughout the garrison. 

Whenever he saw evidence of prostitution, drunkenness, gambling, and usury, he attempted to make reforms, but believed that he accomplished “very little”; consequently, he became discouraged and resigned after serving only 18 months. The regimental commander admired his “earnest desire to do his duty” and “warn interest in the spiritual and temporal welfare of the enlisted men.” Yet, he said that Pierce–“lately appointed and coming from a quiet civilian community, unaccustomed to soldiers”–was inclined to consider “ordinary payday occurrences” as serious breeches of discipline and a “frolic as a gross outrage.”

When Chaplain Plummer reported to Fort Riley, the garrison was favorably impressed with his ministry and supported him. In one of his first monthly reports, Plummer said that his commander regularly attended services and encouraged the troops to “a higher state of morality and education.” His services, Sunday school, and choir were well attended. The post correspondent to the Army-Navy Journal praised him for his sermons and prayers and for “doing a good work among the soldiers; he also said Plummer could “discount any of the white Chaplain in the Service.” As time passed, Plummer continued to receive a favorable response to his ministry. While he was at Fort McKinney, Wyoming, in 1890, Major Guy V. Henry wrote that Plummer was a good preacher. 

Two years later, the Fort Robinson, Nebraska, post commander reported that he had never seen such large church attendance at a military post; he attributed it to the “efficient manner” in which Plummer carried out his work. In 1894 Mrs. Mary Garrard, an officer’s wife and the chapel organist, wrote that Plummer was “energetic, faithful & devoted to his duties,” that his influence over the enlisted men was “decidedly good,” and that she never saw a chaplain with “such large congregations.” She attributed his success to “his own untiring efforts.” Unfortunately, she added an ominous note that his success was “almost entirely without help or encouragement from the officers.

Though Chaplain Plummer was denied quarters he deemed suitable, he succeeded in convincing the Adjutant General of the Army to halt beer sales at Fort Robinson; in this he aroused the ire of his immediate military superiors. Some of the officers considered him as a “disturbing element.” Moreover, Plummer edited the Fort Robinson Weekly Bulletin and served as the resident manager of the Fort Robinson department of the Omaha Progress.  Both publications carried news of interest to blacks; the progress even printed letters about racial injustices. Suspicious of Plummer’s newspaper activities, the post commander wrote a confidential letter about his suspicions to the Commanding General of the Department of the Platte; he even confided to the general that the chaplain was the probable author of an “incendiary” circular someone had distributed on the post. He believed that Plummer was agitating the black troops against the white citizens of nearby Crawford, Nebraska.

Plummer also attempted to persuade the Adjutant General of the Army and the Secretary of War to send him to Central Africa with some black troops on an “exploring and missionary tour.” He wanted to introduce “American civilization and Christianization among some of the tribes” and “form a nucleus for a colony of black Americans.” He was confident that 50 to 100 men from the four black regiments would “gladly volunteer” to go under his command and “secure a slice of the African turkey, before it is gobbled up by foreign nations.”

Bishop Henry M. Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a leading black emigrationist, J.R. McMullen of the International Migration Society, and other black leaders petitioned the Secretary of War to send Plummer, but the Secretary of War declined, saying that there was “no law authorizing him to detail any officers of the Army for such an expedition.” Plummer’s efforts to lead the expedition undoubtedly exacerbated his relationships with the regimental officers.

Unfortunately, after espousing temperance for so many years, Chaplain Plummer made himself vulnerable to his enemies by drinking at a sergeant’s promotion party. One enemy was a black sergeant, who had worked under Plummer’s supervision at the Fort Riley bakery and, on one occasion, had been disciplined for failing to have the bread ready on time. Awaiting an opportunity for revenge, he finally found it in the chaplain’s party drinking and made an official complaint against him. The complaint was used by the post and regimental commanders to charge Plummer with conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman; Plummer, at the conclusion of an 11-day general court-martial, was found guilty and sentenced to dismissal from the Army. 

In addition to Allen Allensworth, who was so successful as an educator of black infantrymen, the other black chaplains of the period were Theophilus G. Steward, George W. Prioleau, and William T. Anderson. Prioleau, Plummer’s successor as chaplain of the Ninth, perceived that his function was to encourage enlisted men, separated from the “agreeable associations” of home amid “an atmosphere pregnated with evil and sin,” to a better life. He built a sizeable congregation and reported that the officers supported his program. In an article regarding the four-level social structure at Fort Robinson, he revealed his own perception of his place as chaplain and a black, in that structure:


1. Commissioned officers and families to themselves.

2. Chaplains and families to themselves, with a few exceptions.

3. Enlisted men and families to themselves, with a few exceptions.

4. White civilians employees and families to themselves

He also claimed that the white and black enlisted men drew “no social line of distinction.”

Theophilus G. Steward was initially apprehensive about becoming a chaplain, and he accepted his appointment only after receiving assurances that he would enjoy “perfect freedom in preaching the gospel.” He was also concerned about the reception he would receive, because someone had warned him that Army officers “were not generally kind to chaplains,” especially black chaplains. But when he arrived at Fort Missoula, Montana, in August 1891 to join the 25th Infantry regiment, he was welcomed by the regimental commander and his wife, Colonel and Mrs. George L. Andrews; in addition, they invited him to live in their home until his quarters were ready.

Pleasantly surprised, Steward told Mrs. Andrews that he had not hoped for such treatment and had merely expected to be shown to some quarters, but she replied, “well, that would not have been very Christ-like.” She also took him to Missoula and introduced him to the merchants as the regimental chaplain. When his quarters were ready and his family arrived, the Andrews invited them to dinner. other officers and their families also extended to him “all the civilities and courtesies” to which he was entitled.

Though some of the officers and their wives attended Sunday morning denominational services in Missoula, they supported Steward’s religious program. many, including Colonel and Mrs. Andrews, attended his Sunday evening services. Mrs. Andrews, whose father was hymn tune composer Henry K. Oliver, led the singing, directed the choir, and played the organ so that the services did not “drag at all.’ When colonel Andrews retired in 1892, Steward showed appreciation for his support by writing an article for Harper’s Weekly about the colonel’s Army career and retirement ceremony.

Chaplain Steward’s religious program resembled that of other chaplains, but he was reputed to be an accomplished speaker who handled his subjects in a masterly manner, and a “faithful preacher of the Old Gospel.” he was also noted as a scholar and author. As superintendent of the post schools, he once held special summer classes for selected students. When Chaplain Cephas C. Bateman visited Fort Missoula, Steward persuaded him to address the students. 

Once he invited a Missoula high school teacher to speak to the enlisted men on “The History of American Protective Policy.” When the ladies of the post invited him to address them, he presented three lectures about Queen Elizabeth, one on Empress Catherine II of Russia, and three about distinguished women in France during the Revolution. he also presented two lectures to the officers on “The Historical Importance of Queen Elizabeth’s Reign” and “the Siege of Savannah.”

Prior to the Spanish-American War, Steward’s most significant writings were Active Service: or Religious Work Among US Soldiers, and four articles “The Canteen in the Army”; “The Colored American as a Soldier”; “A Colored Crack Rifle Shot” and “Starving Laborers and the Hired Soldiers.” Active Service consisted of 16 articles, including one by major General Oliver O. Howard and 12 by chaplains; Steward edited and prefaced the volume. In his preface he described the chaplain’s work as that of an evangelist rather than a denominational pastor. One of his articles traced the history of the Army canteen and stated his hope that beer and wine sales be discontinued in the canteen. The others exalted the U.S. soldier, particularly the black soldier, and dealt quite candidly with both the achievements of black troops and discrimination against them within the Army. In one of them he envisioned a day “when there will be no more colored soldiers in the army of the United states, but . . . simply Americans–all.”

The other black chaplains, William T. Anderson, joined the 10th Calvary regiment in November 1897 at For Assinniboine, Montana, and enjoyed the “hearty cooperation of the commander and adjutant, and the people in general.” Aside from his religious program, which resembled that of other chaplains and was well attended, he organized a weekly Thursday evening lyceum for the “intellectual, moral and social improvement of the noncommissioned officers”; he reported that the attendance ranged from 53 to 66, and that “some very good papers” were “produced and discussed.” His ministry at Fort Assinniboine ended in April 1898, when the 10th departed for camp Chickamauga, Georgia, to prepare for the invasion of Cuba.

Source: Earl F. Stover. Up from Handymen. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Chaplains, department of the Army, 1977.

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Theophilus G. Steward (1843-1925), Chaplain of the Twenty-fifth Infantry. Steward described the Twenty-fourth’s service at Siboney Yellow Fever Hospital in his book, Colored Regulars in the United States Army (1904).

Steward became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1861 and served congregations in Macon, Georgia, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and Port-au-Prince. As a chaplain, he served not only in Missoula, Montana, but also in the Philippine Islands and Cuba.

In 1907 he joined the faculty of Wilberforce University, with which he was associated until his death, serving as vice-president, chaplain and professor of history, French and logic.

Theophilus Gould Steward was one of America’s leading black intellectuals during the half-century following Emancipation. He epitomized postbellum efforts to create an African American civil society through religious, educational, and social institutions integral to citizenship

See: A. G. Miller. Elevating The Race:  Theophilus G. Steward and The Making of An African-American  Civil Religion, 1865-1924. University of Tennessee Press, Spring, 2003.

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Allen Allensworth (1842-1914) escaped slavery and served with the Union Navy. After the war, he stayed in the military and became the second African-American to be commissioned a chaplain in the regular Army and was assigned with 24th Infantry in 1886. Aware of his gift as an educator, Allensworth instituted a grade curriculum for both enlisted men and children, sponsored a literary and debating society to stimulate intellectual activity, and advocated vocational programs for the men. In 1891, he presented a paper at the annual convention of the National Educational Association titled “The History and Progress of Education in the U.S. Army.”

Allensworth saw education in the army as a means for making soldiers more responsible and useful citizens. He championed the need to improve education to increase military efficiency and also pursued discreetly a better world of equality for blacks.

When Congress authorized the army in 1904 to promote chaplains of “exceptional efficiency” to the rank of major, Allensworth was one of those selected. In 1906, Allensworth became the first black officer to be promoted to lieutenant colonel. When he retired a few months later, having served twenty years with the 24th Infantry, he was the highest-ranking black officer in the army.

William T. Anderson, born a slave in 1859, his mother helped him to escape to Galveston, Texas to his father, who was a prominent merchant. He was good with the men and well-liked by both them and the officers. He was politically aware and knowledgeable of the proper governmental procedures to gain objectives. He retired January 10, 1910.

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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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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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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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updated 8 October 2011 




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