Ringgold Barracks Texas Jany 4th 1866
Officers It is now more than two years since you became connected with the 62d United States Colored Infantry; now about to be consolidated on account of its reduced numbers, into a battalion of four companies.
You came together strangers, from many different regiments, and from states widely separated. It was at a time when rebellion was strongest and treason most defiant. In connecting yourself with the regiment, you did not merely re-enter the army; you embraced an unpopular cause amid the threats of the enemies of the Union, and the sneers of many of its professed friends. More than this, you espoused the side of the slave, making his cause your own, well knowing that all the infernal cruelty and fiendish hatred of rebellions revenge, was to be upon you in case of failure. The black man had as yet had scarcely an opportunity to assert his manhood. His capacity for becoming a soldier was doubted by even many of its best friends. The prejudices of the great mass of the North were against him, and against you because of him. It was therefore with the confidence of support of only a few that you entered the black army. Officers coming together under such circumstances, and in such a cause must surely be earnest men.
How well you have maintained that character, let the history of the regiment tell. By your exertions it has been made in point of discipline and instruction, second to few of the more than two thousand regiments that have served in the war for the destruction of slavery, and the preservation of the country. Not alone in the presence of the enemy has it been tried. Amid the malaria of a deadly climate, the daily routine of duty went on while Death held high carnival, day after day, for months. The four hundred graves, many of them nameless are witnesses of how much it endured, and how bravely and sternly it suffered. Always everywhere, upon the march, in the camp, in the trenches, on the picket line, and on the field of action it has done its whole duty. I am sure you will point with pride to the records of the morning reports; they show but few arrests. Is there any regiment that has had less desertion? In acquiring the rudiments of a common education, I think there has been on the part of some of the men, a progress under the circumstances truly wonderful. Out of four hundred and thirty one men, ninety nine have learned to read, write and cipher, and are studying geography; two hundred read and write understandingly; two hundred and eighty-four can read; three hundred and thirty seven can spell in words of two syllables, and are learning to read, not more than ten men have failed to learn the alphabet. Habits of economy have been cultivated, as is proved by the fact, that fifty-two men have each saved $200 or more, and one hundred and thirty nine have saved upwards of $10000 each from their past earnings, six months pay being still due in addition.
Officers it is your work; by your watchfulness, your zeal, your energy, and untiring labors, you have made soldiers out of slaves–men out of those to whom the prejudices and the avarice of the majority, had denied the capacity for manhood.
Do I say that it is the work of the officers? I should say, rather, that under their instruction and direction, and by their assistance, all this has been accomplished; for
Men of the Regiment It is you yourselves, that have made yourselves soldiers and men. The fortitude with which you have endured every hardship; the patience with which you have persevered in perfecting yourselves in every soldierly acquirement–your patriotism–your fidelity–your earnestness, your zeal for the acquirement of knowledge have won for you the respect and confidence of those who know you best, and given you a right to claim for yourselves, whatever is due to brave men and freemen.
To you the hardships have been greatest. It is your comrades that fill the coffinless graves. It was your families, that were, too often left defenceless to the cruel uncertainties of a war, in which your former masters were your enemies.
But as you had most to suffer, you had also most to gain. You and your families are no longer chattels. You left cabins and negro quarters; you can return if you choose to cottages and homes. For your children instead of the auction block there will be school houses; slave pens will be replaced by social gatherings; and your wives shall have hereafter, a husbands protection,–not a masters.
And now in closing my connection with you, as your fellow soldier & commanding officer, I wish to give you a few words of advice.
Some of you are about to leave the army, and the term of service of the remainder will expire within a year. When you return to your homes, you will find yourselves surrounded by circumstances entirely different from what they were when you entered the army. You will go home to freedom; with the freedom will come new responsibilities. It will devolve upon you to care for yourselves and your families. If you desire to have a home, you must provide one for yourself. Freedom does not mean idleness. You will therefore, like all others, find it necessary to labor. Save your money; every private soldier in the regiment should save at least $15000 during the next year; every non-commissioned officer should have a considerable larger sum. Avoid whisky drinking and grog-shops. Do not gamble, a gambler is fit for anything but an honest life. Every man should know how to read and write before the day comes for discharge. Learn all you can. Study arithmetic and geography when you shall have learned to read; take your books with you to the guard room; study at night–improve every leisure moment; you can all of you, if you choose, acquire enough education to be of great assistance to you.
When discharged I advise every one to get for himself a piece of land, for a home. Buy the land; you can all have from two hundred to five hundred dollars each, when you leave the service, if you will save your money:–and with the money you can buy a piece of land; upon the land build yourselves a home; your home need not cost you much–you can build it yourself, make it neat and comfortable not costly. If you have not a wife already, get one. Stay at home, raise your own grain and meat and make your own gardens. If your piece of land should be small–cultivate it the more:–it will not require many acres to support you and your family in comfort and plenty. I advise you to buy the land because it is a great deal better for you to live upon your land, than to hire land from another, or to work for another. Learn to calculate for yourselves, and to labor for yourselves. Do not go near the cities; keep away from steamboats and hotels: show to the world that you can be more and do better than be waiters.
Recollect that it is not the color which is hereafter to make the difference between men. You are to have an equal chance with the white man. You wish to be citizens? Show to the country then that you are capable of citizenship. Make yourselves better men than are those who would deny you what you have fought for. You who have been in the army must be instructors to those who have had no opportunity to emerge from the ignorance which the “barbarism of slavery” has put upon your race. Be industrious and frugal–be honest and faithful–be truthful–learn to wait. Obey every law, although for the time, the government for which your lives have been periled, may seem ungenerous and unjust. Do not dishonor yourselves and dishearten your friends, by any act of violence or unlawful conduct.
Your worst enemy could not inflict upon you a greater injury, than you would do yourselves, were you to act in any other way than as peacable and law abiding men. Depend upon it, if you shall deserve citizenship, you will in the end receive it, with every right and every privilege enjoyed by those who now deny these rights to you.
A little less than two years ago, you passed through one of the great cities of the Union on your way to the field. As you marched through the principal streets there was scarcely a word of welcome or encouragement. Some looked curiously on to see the black regiment pass by–some looked on sullenly. Crossing the river on the ice, your right rested on the Illinois side, while your left was still in Missouri and thus, uniting slave soil with free, you marched out of bondage, with muskets on your shoulders. What a bond of Union! Has not the black man been indeed a bond of Union everywhere? And do you think, that the two hundred thousand Slaves, who have served in the army to put down a slave masters rebellion, are always to be the subjects of opprobrium and oppression, because of the leprous influence of slavery?
Soldiers, I tell you, you can well afford to wait; for the time is coming, and is not far distant, when those who enslaved you, shall be forced to acknowledge, that to have been a colored soldier, is to be a citizen, and to have been an advocate of slavery, is but another name for traitor.–
Officers and men of the 62d U.S. Colored Infantry; for the kindness and courtesy uniformly extended to me, on all occasions, during the two years I have been connected with you in the regiment, I render you my sincere thanks.
I bid you all, “Farewell.”
T. H. Barrett
Colonel T. H. Barrett to the Officers & Men of the 62d U.S. Colored Infantry, 4 Jan. 1866, vol. 22/51 25AC, pp. 103–8, Letters Sent, series 7038, 2d Division. 25th Army Corps, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 2 No. 483, National Archives.
Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 782–85.