Category: Military

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“Frivolous Reasons,” Richmond Planet (June 11, 1898)

In its editorial “Frivolous Reasons,” published on June 11, 1898, the Richmond Planet makes the case for African American officers leading African American soldiers in the militia and in the volunteer regiments called to duty during the Spanish-American War (1898). The paper’s editor, John Mitchell Jr., responds directly to arguments made in an editorial published by the Richmond Dispatch on June 5.

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“Griffin Men Did Their Duty in Checking Drunken Negroes,” Atlanta Constitution (March 10, 1899)

In “Griffin Men Did Their Duty Checking Drunken Negroes,” published on March 10, 1899, the Atlanta Constitution reports on an incident in which rowdy members of the all-black 10th U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiment—so-called Immunes for their supposed resistance to tropical diseases—clashed with town citizens and militia in Griffin, Georgia, shortly after mustering out of service. A white brakeman was killed. The article misstates the middle initial of the officer Charles Withrow. It should be “L.”

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“Hard Times in the Sixth Virginia,” Richmond Planet (December 24, 1898)

In “Hard Times in the Sixth Virginia,” published in the Richmond Planet on December 24, 1898, an anonymous soldier of the all-black 6th Virginia Volunteers tells of the regiment’s difficulties in stateside training camp with its white commander, Lieutenant Colonel Richard C. Croxton, during the Spanish-American War (1898). Croxton convened a board of review in October 1898 and called before it all of the officers in the regiment’s 2nd Battalion. Rather than appear, the officers resigned. When new, white officers took command, the regiment’s men refused to respond to their orders and were arrested.

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“Negro Officers,” Richmond Dispatch (June 5, 1898)

In its editorial “Negro Officers,” published on June 5, 1898, the Richmond Dispatch makes the case against African American officers leading African American soldiers in the militia and in the volunteer regiments called to duty during the Spanish-American War (1898).

PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“The Griffin Episode,” Atlanta Constitution (March 19, 1899)

In “The Griffin Episode,” published on March 19, 1899, the editors of the Atlanta Constitution argue that the “experiment of negro troops has been tried, and it has been a complete failure.” That conclusion came in the wake of an incident in which rowdy members of the all-black 10th U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiment—so-called Immunes for their supposed resistance to tropical diseases—clashed with town citizens and militia in Griffin, Georgia, shortly after mustering out of service. A white brakeman was killed.

ENTRY

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.

ENTRY

Ambler, James M. (1848–1881)

James M. Ambler was a Confederate cavalryman during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and, after the war, a United States Navy surgeon. Ambler graduated from medical school in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1870 and joined the Navy, serving on various ships and at the Norfolk Naval Hospital. In 1878, he reluctantly volunteered for service with an Arctic expedition aboard the Jeannette, a ship commanded by George W. De Long. The ship became imprisoned by ice late in 1879, and Ambler did well to keep the crew not only alive but relatively healthy. Still adrift in June 1881, the Jeannette struck ice, which crushed its wooden hull. While a few of the crew’s thirty-three men survived, many froze to death, drowned, or starved, including Ambler, who died with De Long sometime around October 30, 1881.

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