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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review - Men of Color to Arms

Time to catch up on backlog of book reviews...We begin with Elizabeth Leonard's Men of Color to Arms: Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality. But first an important disclaimer: I know very little regarding the post-Civil War United States Army, and even less concerning the black units serving in it. That said, covering the role of black soldiers from 1863 until the turn of the century is a pretty big undertaking, to say the least, so I was somewhat surprised at the book's size, with fewer than 250 pages of narrative text.

Professor Leonard begins with the Civil War career of Sgt Maj Christian Fleetwood of the 4th USCT, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions at New Market Heights on Sept. 29, 1864, and other black units of the Army of the James. Her subsequent examination of the debate over the composition of the post-war Army is of particular interest, as is the discussion of the use of black troops for occupation duty in the former Confederate states. Although I would have preferred more military detail rather than social commentary (in parts, this reads more like social history disguised as military history), Leonard recounts how the experience for the individual black soldier on the frontier varied depending on the attitudes of their company officers. In some of the instances she cites, some white officers treated their men cruelly - even one example of murder is presented - while others recognized and appreciated their fighting abilities, finding no reason to treat them any differently from white troops, and pushed for blacks to be eligible to serve as commissioned officers. Despite the lack of military detail, Men of Color to Arms is an interesting read.

Elizabeth D. Leonard
Men of Color to Arms!
ISBN 978-0-393-06039-3
W. W. Norton, 2010
315 pages, photographs, hard cover, dust jacket

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