Black Sailors in the Civil War

A History of Fugitives, Freemen and Freedmen Aboard Union Vessels


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About the Book

Thousands of Black sailors served with valor during the Civil War. Yet few histories have highlighted their contributions to the Union’s impressive naval victories throughout the war, which prompted Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, to declare that if the army could not win the war, the navy would have to. Drawing on official naval records, personal letters and journals, and oral histories of formerly enslaved Americans, this volume documents the service of fugitive, freemen and freed Black sailors, 1861–1865.

About the Author(s)

During his 35-year federal and not-for-profit career, James H. Bruns has served as Director of the Department of the Navy’s Museum System, with administrative oversight of the Navy’s nine national Museums. He lives in Lorton, Virginia.

Bibliographic Details

James H. Bruns
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 246
Bibliographic Info: 65 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9054-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4839-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
Introduction 3
1. “That will do”: Towards Freedom 5
2. Runaways 19
3. Robert Smalls 40
4. Northern Black Mariners 44
5. Recruiting in Major Cities 47
6. Welcome to the Navy 57
7. The Need for Army Contrabands and Its Fleet 66
8. From Overseers to Boatswains Mates 76
9. Blue-Water Black Bluejackets 80
10. Brown-Water Black Bluejackets 88
11. The Great Exodus in 1862 and 1863 91
12. Seizing the Lower Mississippi: David Farragut, the Minority Flag Officer 104
13. Capturing the Upper Mississippi: Andrew Hull Foote, the Union’s Pious Sailor 118
14. Vicksburg: The Gibraltar of the Confederacy 133
15. Prizes and Problems Along the Red River 147
16. Coffee 174
17. The Safest Service 176
18. Marked Passing 183
19. Black Bluejacket Valor 186
20. The Union Navy’s War on Salt 193
21. Mobile Bay 199
22. The Union’s Starships 209
23. The Aftermath 215
Chapter Notes 221
Bibliography 227
Index 229

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Finally, there is a book that gives African-American sailors the credit they’re due for the winning the Union’s war on the waters.”—Claude Berube, PhD, director, United States Naval Academy Museum, author of On Wide Seas: The US Navy in the Jacksonian Era

• “In researching the history of the naval reserve which came into existence just before World War I, I discovered African-Americans proved to be the manpower reserve enabler to allow for the rapid expansion of the Union Navy to suppress the southern rebellion. James Bruns explains how cultural differences between the army and navy facilitated the recruitment and integration of colored sailors into the ranks and how they contributed to Union success on multiple fronts. Using artifact and manufacts as focal imagery, Bruns goes far to fill a critical void in Civil War naval historiography!”—David F. Winkler, Ph.D. Naval Historical Foundation, author of Ready Then, Ready Now, Ready Always: More Than a Century of Service By Citizen Sailors

• “Comprehensive, carefully researched and written by a leading scholar who knows how to connect us all with the past through the power of history, this is a must-read book on an often overlooked but critical aspect of Civil War naval history.”—James P. Delgado, Ph.D., author of War at Sea: A Shipwrecked History and co-author of Clotilda: The History and Archaeology of the Last Slave Ship

• “Jim Bruns brings a real passion to this meticulous work that examines the role of Black sailors in the Civil War Navy. Integrating fascinating individual stories with a superb collection of period photographs he creates a compelling narrative of Blacks from both the South and the North who entered naval service. His sentence, ‘The Navy accepted them from the start as warfighters on an equal footing to White sailors,’ reveals the essence of this book, a study of the struggle for real equality, which is sure to become a standard reference for the era.”—Henry Hendrix, PhD, former curator of the United States Navy and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command