Sergeants in USCT regiments.

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Some USCT regiments were formed in areas where most of the recruits were ex slaves. I understand that these would have had white officers but where did the NCOs of the regiments come from? For a regiment to function properly a regiment would need sergeants who could read, write, and understand numbers. Although finding recruits with these skill might not be too difficult in areas where many of the recruits were free men of color, in areas where most or nearly all of the recruits were ex slaves, recruits who could read and write might be on the rare side. Some pre War Southern states did not allow teaching slaves to read and write. Some slave owners might teach their slaves to read and write despite the law. Still, I was wondering if USCT regiments recruited from former slaves could find enough educated former slaves to allow for the regiment to have sergeants who could read and write.

As you say, there were plenty of literate blacks in the North who could serve as NCOs in their regiments.

In the South, where the slaves had little or no education, they were often taught reading and writing while enlisted. It was very common for freed slaves to learn to read and write in the military, and continue their education after the war.

Presumably some of them learned quick enough to become NCOs, but I have no hard data on that. It is possible, but not certain from what I remember.
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Literacy programs were often organized by regimental chaplains and administered by them as well. Chaplains in USCT regiments were among the first officers of color commissioned by the Federal government. A lot of Christian ministries poured funds and volunteers into literacy programs for freedmen also. Soldiers themselves were very interested in becoming literate, understanding that this was the ticket to a new life; knowledge is power. Classes were often held in the evening when drill and duty was completed. It doesn´t really take very long to teach a motivated student (who already speaks the language) how to read. Possibly not the height of literature, but the Bible, the newspaper and army forms could be grasped in a few weeks.

Good point, that they already knew the language. I knew they studied long and hard, even in the trenches around Petersburg, but you make a good point that they could probably fill out army forms after not too long a time.
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2010
Location
Arlington, Virginia
As you say, there were plenty of literate blacks in the North who could serve as NCOs in their regiments.

In the South, where the slaves had little or no education, they were often taught reading and writing while enlisted. It was very common for freed slaves to learn to read and write in the military, and continue their education after the war.

Presumably some of them learned quick enough to become NCOs, but I have no hard data on that. It is possible, but not certain from what I remember
A few posts ago I gave a specific example of a man who learned enough to quickly become an NCO, and then to rise to regimental staff as the Quartermaster Sergeant. I hope as I continue to research the regiment to find more details on the school run within the 2nd USCI and more examples of the men who picked up new skills in the army. It's all part of a story that's been buried too long in this country.
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
A few posts ago I gave a specific example of a man who learned enough to quickly become an NCO, and then to rise to regimental staff as the Quartermaster Sergeant. I hope as I continue to research the regiment to find more details on the school run within the 2nd USCI and more examples of the men who picked up new skills in the army. It's all part of a story that's been buried too long in this country.

I agree about your last part. It seems the USCT are finding more attention these days, or at least I read more about them here than I have on other Civil War forums.

I wrote my Master's Thesis on the U.S.C.T. soldiers, or at least most of them, perhaps, from my mom's home county in PA, where I lived for a few years and studied history in grad school.
 
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