DRONES IN THE GREAT HIVE
By Christian A. Fleetwood
An African-American Medal of Honor-winner writes bitterly
of the way the Union army treats its black soldiers.
Christian A. Fleetwood was one of 13 African-American soldiers who won theMedal of Honor at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, Virginia, on September 29and 30, 1864. At one time he had considered making a career in the army,but in this letter to his former employer he explains his disillusionmentwith the army and its treatment of black troops. The original letter islocated in the Carter G. Woodson collection at the Manuscript Division ofthe Library of Congress.
Fleetwood’s letter appeared in the July 1977 issue of Civil War TimesIllustrated under the title “…To Benefit My Race.”Baltimore June 8th 1865Dr. James HallDear Sir:I much regret that you disapprove or rather do not approve of my leavingthe service at the expiration of my term of enlistment.Be assured that in this matter I am actuated by the same motives whichinduced me to leave your office, and light & agreeable employment and taketo the arduous & adventurous duties of the camp-some personal ambition tobe sure but mainly from a desire to benefit my race.From representations made by Col. [William] Birney and from the positionassumed by our friends in Congress, you remember we were induced to believeor hope that on evidence of merit and ability to do our duty we shouldreceive promotion, at least to the rank of company & regimentalofficers.-That I have well performed the duties of the office which I haveheld the past two years, it becomes me not to say, although I wear a medalconferred for some special acts as a soldier, yet am bold to say that noregiment has performed more active, arduous, & dangerous service than the4th U.S. Cold. Troops.Leaving Baltimore in September 1863 we reported at Yorktown Va. and in lessthan a week were ordered on a raid, making thirty (30) miles per day, withno stragglers. We remained at Yorktown until 1/64 engaging in similarexpeditions once or twice in every month.In April we were ordered to Point Lookout, Md. to guard the prisonersthere, and remained until the organization of the first division of coloredtroops in the U.S. service, viz. the 3d Division, 18th Army Corps.Leaving Fortress Monroe with the “James River Expedition” in May 64 we werethe first ashore at City Point, and built works, held them and madereconnaissances from then to June 15th when the first serious demonstrationwas made upon Petersburg, losing on that day about two hundred and fifty(250) out of less than six hundred (600) men. Assisted in the siege ofPetersburg until August when we were transferred to Dutch Gap working inthe canal under the shelling of the rebel batteries until the latter partof September when we were ordered to Deep Bottom and under Major Gen.Birney on the 29th September, at the taking of New Market Heights and FortHarrison, lost two thirds of our available force. Entrenching on the linesbefore Richmond, we remained until Gen. [Benjamin F.] Butler’s Expeditionto Fort Fisher, returned to our old camp and in a few days again embarkedunder Gen. [Alfred H.] Terry upon his successful expedition, and have takenpart in all of the marches and fighting encountered by “Terry’s Command”until the surrender of [General Joseph E.] Johnston’s Army in April last.Upon all our record there is not a single blot, and yet no member of thisregiment is considered deserving of a commission or if so cannot receiveone. I trust you will understand that I speak not of and for myselfindividually, or that the lack of the pay or honor of a commission inducesme to quit the service. Not so by any means, but I see no good that willresult to our people by continuing to serve, on the contrary it seems to methat our continuing to act in a subordinate capacity, with no hope ofadvancement or promotion is an absolute injury to our cause. It is a tacitbut telling acknowledgement on our part that we are not fit for promotion,& that we are satisfied to remain in a state of marked and acknowledgedsubserviency.A double purpose induced me and most others to enlist, to assist inabolishing slavery and to save the country from ruin. Something infurtherance of both objects we have certainly done, and now it strikes methat more could be done for our welfare in the pursuits of civil life. Ithink that a camp life would be decidedly an injury to our people. Nomatter how well and faithfully they may perform their duties they willshortly be considered as “lazy nigger sojers”-as drones in the great hive.I have trespassed upon your time to a much greater extent than I intendedbut I wished you correctly to appreciate my motives for leaving theservice.Very truly & respectfully YoursChristian A. FleetwoodSergt. Major 4th U.S. Cold. Troops