by Michael A. Eggleston
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. Pp. xii, 198.
Illus., map, appends, notes., biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 0786472170
Lorenzo Thomas (1804-1875) saw considerable field service in the ante bellum period, but is best remembered for his services during the Civil War as Adjutant General of the Army and the principal recruiter of African-American troops.
Thomas graduated from West Point in 1823. He served in the 4th Infantry, in garrison, on campaign against the Seminole and in the Mexican War, where he earned a brevet for lieutenant colonel. Returning to regimental duty, in the late 1850s he passed to the staff of General-in-Chief Winfield Scott. On the eve of the Civil War Thomas was promoted Adjutant General of the Army, and served in that post until 1869, with a hiatus from 1863 until 1865, when was placed in charge of recruiting African-American personnel in the Mississippi Valley. In this short biography, retired army officer Eggleston, author of several earlier works on the war, concentrates on Thomas’ role in raising the “U.S. Colored Troops,” a difficult task that required wide travel and many bureaurcatic battles. Although Eggleston lends some credence to the “Black Confederate” myth, he nevertheless concedes that the overwhelming majority of African-Americans, free or slave, willingly served the Union. He gives us a concise overview of the decision to recruit black troops, the political, military, and social problems this engendered, the experiences of the troops from their poor pay, equipment, and training to their often stellar performance on the battlefield, and more. Several useful appendices include background material on early efforts to recruit black troops, their service in the war, and African-Americans who gained the Medal of Honor. In addition, Eggleston adds a discussion of Thomas’ role during the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in helping prevent the president’s Johnson’s removal from office .
A useful look at one of the forgotten men of the Civil War and at the U.S.C.T.