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An African-American Soldier Writes on Behalf of His Fellow Troops

John F. Shorter, an African-American solider writing on behalf of his fellow members of the Massachusetts 55th Regiment, addresses President Lincoln over the issue of unfair pay. Shorter charges that he and his fellow soldiers have received no pay after more than a year of service, that they have been offered only seven dollars a month (slightly more than half of the regular pay of a white enlisted man in the Union Army), and furthermore that these developments are not consistent with the terms of their enlistment. Shorter's letter is full of spelling mistakes and other errors, but is nonetheless an eloquent testimony to the determination of African-American soldiers to receive equal treatment in return for their willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country. In June of 1864 Congress finally authorized equal pay for black soldiers, making the payments retroactively an appropriate if belated tribute to the efforts of Shorter and his comrades.

Folly island South Carolina July 16th 1864

Sir We The Members of Co D of the 55th Massechusetts vols Call the attention of your Excellency to our case

1st First We wase enlisted under the act of Congress of July 1861 Placing the officers non Commissioned officers & Privates of the volunteer forces in all Regular Army 2nd We Have Been in the Field now thirteen months & a Great many yet longer We Have Received no Pay & Have Been offered only seven Dollars Pr month Which the Paymasters Has said was all He Had ever Been authorized to Pay Colored Troops this was not according to our enlistment Consequently We Refused the Money the Common wealth of Massechusetts then Passed an act to make up all Deficienceys which the general Government Refused To Pay But this We Could not Receive as The Troops in the general service are not Paid Partly by Government & Partly By State 3rd that to us money is no object we came to fight For Liberty justice & Equality. These are gifts we Prise more Highly than Gold For these We Left our Homes our Famileys Friends & Relatives most Dear to take as it ware our Lives in our Hands To Do Battle for God & Liberty

4th after the elaps of over thirteen month spent cheerfully & willingly Doing our Duty most faithfully in the Trenches Fatiegue Duty in camp and conspicious valor & endurence in Battle as our Past History will Show

P 5th therefore we Deem these sufficient Reasons for Demanding our Pay from the Date of our inlistment & our imediate Discharge having Been enlisted under False Pretence as the Past History of the Company will Prove

6th Be it further Resolved that if imediate steps are not taken to Relieve us we will Resort to more stringent mesures

We have the Honor to Remin your Obedint Servants The members of Co D

[74 signatures]

Source | Ira Berlin, ed., Freedom, A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 - Series II, The Black Military Experience (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 401.
Creator | John F. Shorter
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | John F. Shorter, “An African-American Soldier Writes on Behalf of His Fellow Troops,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 10, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/709.

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