Author: Bruce A. Glasrud

a professor emeritus of history, at California State University, East Bay, and the retired dean of Arts and Sciences at Sul Ross State University. He is the author or co-editor of more than thirty books, including Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers (2011)

African American Militia Units in Virginia (1870–1899)

African American militia units served as part of the Virginia state militia, the Virginia Volunteers, from 1872 until 1899. Although the General Assembly had long prohibited the arming of both enslaved and free blacks, African Americans still fought in all American wars from the French and Indian War (1754–1763) to the American Civil War (1861–1865). The first black militia unit to form in Virginia after the Civil War was the Attucks Guard, in Richmond. Established in 1870, the group joined the Virginia Volunteers two years later. By 1884, there were nineteen black companies, composed mostly of laboring men who sought recreational opportunities and social advancement. Faced with the high cost of membership—men provided their own uniforms—and poor discipline, membership dwindled to just eight companies by 1895. Between 1886 and 1895, black companies were called up five times, including in 1887, when Governor Fitzhugh Lee became the only southern governor to activate an all-black militia unit to help suppress a violent longshoremen’s strike. During the Spanish-American War (1898), Virginia raised the all-black 6th Virginia Volunteers and contributed about a third of the men of the all-black 10th U.S. Volunteers, or so-called Immunes, a regiment of soldiers believed to be resistant to tropical diseases. The men of both regiments challenged the racist treatment they received while stationed in the Deep South, and the negative publicity that resulted led the governor to leave black companies out of the reconstituted Virginia Volunteers beginning in 1899.