Massachusetts Black Corporal to the President

Morris Island [S.C.].  Sept 28th 1863.

Your Excelency will pardon the presumtion of an humble individual like myself, in addressing you. but the earnest Solicitation of my Comrades in Arms, besides the genuine interest felt by myself in the matter is my excuse, for placing before the Executive head of the Nation our Common Grievance:  On the 6th of the last Month, the Paymaster of the department, informed us, that if we would decide to recieve the sum of $10 (ten dollars) per month, he would come and pay us that sum, but, that, on the sitting of Congress, the Regt would, in his opinion, be allowed the other 3 (three.)  He did not give us any guarantee that this would be, as he hoped, certainly he had no authority for making any such guarantee, and we can not supose him acting in any way interested.  Now the main question is. Are we Soldiers, or are we LABOURERS.  We are fully armed, and equipped, have done all the various Duties, pertaining to a Soldiers life, have conducted ourselves, to the complete satisfaction of General Officers, who, were if any, prejudiced against us, but who now accord us all the encouragement, and honour due us: have shared the perils, and Labour, of Reducing the first stronghold, that flaunted a Traitor Flag: and more, Mr President.  Today, the Anglo Saxon Mother, Wife, or Sister, are not alone, in tears for departed Sons, Husbands, and Brothers.  The patient Trusting Decendants of Africs Clime, have dyed the ground with blood, in defense of the Union, and Democracy.  Men too your Excellency, who know in a measure, the cruelties of the Iron heel of oppression, which in years gone by, the very Power, their blood is now being spilled to maintain, ever ground them to the dust.  But When the war trumpet sounded o'er the land, when men knew not the Friend from the Traitor, the Black man laid his life at the Altar of the Nation,–and he was refused.  When the arms of the Union, were beaten, in the first year of the War, And the Executive called more food. for its ravaging maw, again the black man begged, the privelege of Aiding his Country in her need, to be again refused,  And now, he is in the War: and how has he conducted himself?  Let their dusky forms, rise up, out the mires of James Island, and give the answer.  Let the rich mould around Wagners parapets be upturned, and there will be found an Eloquent answer.  Obedient and patient, and Solid as a wall are they.  all we lack, is a paler hue, and a better acquaintance with the Alphabet.  Now Your Excellency, We have done a Soldiers Duty.  Why cant we have a Soldiers pay?  You caution the Rebel Chieftain, that the United States, knows, no distinction, in her Soldiers:  She insists on having all her Soldiers, of whatever, creed or Color, to be treated, according to the usages of War.  Now if the United States exacts uniformity of treatment of her Soldiers, from the Insurgents, would it not be well, and consistent, to set the example herself, by paying all her Soldiers alike?  We of this Regt. were not enlisted under any “contraband” act.  But we do not wish to be understood, as rating our Service, of more Value to the Government, than the service of the exslave,  Their Service is undoubtedly worth much to the Nation, but Congress made express, provision touching their case, as slaves freed by military necessity, and assuming the Government, to be their temporary Gaurdian:–  Not so with us–Freemen by birth, and consequently, having the advantage of thinking, and acting for ourselves, so far as the Laws would allow us.  We do not consider ourselves fit subjects for the Contraband act.  We appeal to You, Sir: as the Executive of the Nation, to have us Justly Dealt with.  The Regt, do pray, that they be assured their service will be fairly appreciated, by paying them as american SOLDIERS, not as menial hierlings.  Black men You may well know, are poor,  three dollars per month, for a year, will suply their needy Wives, and little ones, with fuel.  If you, as chief Magistrate of the Nation, will assure us, of our whole pay. We are content, our Patriotism, our enthusiasm will have a new impetus, to exert our energy more and more to aid Our Country.  Not that our hearts ever flagged, in Devotion, spite the evident apathy displayed in our behalf, but We feel as though, our Country spurned us, now we are sworn to serve her.

Please give this a moments attention

James Henry Gooding

Corporal James Henry Gooding to Abraham Lincoln, 28 Sept. 1863, enclosed in [Harper & Brothers] to [Abraham Lincoln], 12 Oct. 1863, H-133 1863, Letters Received, ser. 360, Colored Troops Division, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.

Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 385–86, in Free at Last, pp. 461–63, and in Freedom's Soldiers, pp. 114–16.