March 27, 1864: Banks’ black troops

22nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops

Official Records:


HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF,
Alexandria, March 27, 1864
ADJUTANT-GENERAL OF THE ARMY,
Washington, D. C.:

SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 7th instant, relating to the organization of the negro troops in this department, under General Orders, No., 47, and to state in reply thereto that the order was issued while the army was on the march at Opelousas. Up to the date of the order, three regiments of negroes had been organized according to the provisions of the Army Regulations.

These regiments absorbed all the material that was available at that time. It became necessary during the campaign of last year to organize new regiments for instant service. The men, of course, were utterly unused to everything appertaining to military service, the negroes of Central and Northern Louisiana being perhaps less adapted to this service than those of any other State.
The officers, with few exceptions, were necessarily taken from the ranks. These regiments being required for immediate service, it was necessary that the number of men should be limited, so that inexperienced officers might render wholly uninstructed troops available in the shortest possible time. The number of each company was limited to 50, it being the intention as soon as more country opened to us to fill the regiments to the minimum or maximum number, and also to recruit from the plantations within the lines of the army, in accordance with the instructions which I had received from General Halleck. From these two sources the regiments we had formed could have been easily filled. A subsequent order from the Adjutant-General of the Army suspended the recruiting from the plantations within the line of the army, and the extended siege operations at Port Hudson prevented our covering as much territory and getting as many recruits as had at first been anticipated.

From the moment these regiments were organized they entered active service, and have been from that day constantly in the presence of the enemy, from Brashear to Port Hudson. Two brigades will participate in this campaign. I was conscious that there was a departure from the Regulations of the Army on this subject, but the necessities of the case seemed to justify it. These regiments did excellent service, and it is no more than just to say that the campaign of last year could hardly have been accomplished without their aid.

The restrictions as to numbers are in accordance with military experience in regard to the organization of recruits intended for immediate service. To one instance I may properly refer. In France, under Napoleon, when intended for immediate service the battalions were limited to 300 instead of 1,000 men. My experience in this department fully justifies this practice when the troops are required for instant service. Under other circumstances a departure from the Army Regulations would be inexcusable. It is my intention to fill these regiments to the minimum and maximum numbers as soon as possible, and I hope that this campaign may furnish the material for such purpose.

With much respect, your obedient servant,
N. P. BANKS,
Major-General, Commanding.

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