The return of the festival of our national independence has called our attention to a matter which has been very carefully kept out of sight by orators and toast-drinkers. We allude to the participation of colored men in the great struggle for American freedom. It is not in accordance with our taste or our principles to eulogize the shedders of blood even in a cause of acknowledged justice; but when we see a whole nation doing honor to the memories of one class of its defenders to the total neglect of another class, who had the misfortune to be of darker complexion, we cannot forego the satisfaction of inviting notice to certain historical facts which for the last half century have been quietly elbowed aside, as no more deserving of a place in patriotic recollection than the descendants of the men to whom the facts in question relate have to a place in a Fourth of July procession.
Of the services and sufferings of the colored soldiers of the Revolution no attempt has, to our knowledge, been made to preserve a record. They have had no historian. With here and there an exception, they have all passed away; and only some faint tradition of their campaigns under Washington and Greene and Lafayette, and of their cruisings under Decatur and Barry, lingers among their, descendants. Yet enough is known to show that the free colored men of the United States bore their full proportion of the sacrifices and trials of the Revolutionary War.
The late Governor Eustis, of Massachusetts,–the pride and boast of the democracy of the East, himself an active participant in the war, and therefore a most competent witness,–Governor Morrill, of New Hampshire, Judge Hemphill, of Pennsylvania, and other members of Congress, in the debate on the question of admitting Missouri as a slave State into the Union, bore emphatic testimony to the efficiency and heroism of the black troops. Hon. Calvin Goddard, of Connecticut, states that in the little circle of his residence he was instrumental in securing, under the act of 1818, the pensions of nineteen colored soldiers. “I cannot,” he says, “refrain from mentioning one aged black man, Primus Babcock, who proudly presented to me an honorable discharge from service during the war, dated at the close of it, wholly in the handwriting of George Washington; nor can I forget the expression of his feelings when informed, after his discharge had been sent to the War Department, that it could not be returned. At his request it was written for, as he seemed inclined to spurn the pension and reclaim the discharge.” There is a touching anecdote related of Baron Stenben on the occasion of the disbandment of the American army. A black soldier, with his wounds unhealed, utterly destitute, stood on the wharf just as a vessel bound for his distant home was getting under way. The poor fellow gazed at the vessel with tears in his eyes, and gave himself up to despair. The warm-hearted foreigner witnessed his emotion, and, inquiring into the cause of it, took his last dollar from his purse and gave it to him, with tears of sympathy trickling down his cheeks. Overwhelmed with gratitude, the poor wounded soldier hailed the sloop and was received on board. As it moved out from the wharf, he cried back to his noble friend on shore, “God Almighty bless you, Master Baron!”
“In Rhode Island,” says Governor Eustis in his able speech against slavery in Missouri, 12th of twelfth month, 1820, “the blacks formed an entire regiment, and they discharged their duty with zeal and fidelity. The gallant defence of Red Bank, in which the black regiment bore a part, is among the proofs of their valor.” In this contest it will be recollected that four hundred men met and repulsed, after a terrible and sanguinary struggle, fifteen hundred Hessian troops, headed by Count Donop. The glory of the defence of Red Bank, which has been pronounced one of the most heroic actions of the war, belongs in reality to black men; yet who now hears them spoken of in connection with it? Among the traits which distinguished the black regiment was devotion to their officers. In the attack made upon the American lines near Croton River on the 13th of the fifth month, 1781, Colonel Greene, the commander of the regiment, was cut down and mortally wounded; but the sabres of the enemy only reached him through the bodies of his faithful guard of blacks, who hovered over him to protect him, every one of whom was killed. The late Dr. Harris, of Dunbarton, New Hampshire, a Revolutionary veteran, stated, in a speech at Francistown, New Hampshire, some years ago, that on one occasion the regiment to which he was attached was commanded to defend an important position, which the enemy thrice assailed, and from which they were as often repulsed. “There was,” said the venerable speaker, “a regiment of blacks in the same situation,–a regiment of negroes fighting for our liberty and independence, not a white man among them but the officers,–in the same dangerous and responsible position. Had they been unfaithful or given way before the enemy, all would have been lost. Three times in succession were they attacked with most desperate fury by well- disciplined and veteran troops; and three times did they successfully repel the assault, and thus preserve an army. They fought thus through the war. They were brave and hardy troops.”