Officer in a Louisiana Black Regiment to the Commander of a Louisiana Black Brigade

Baton Rouge [La.]  May 29th /63.

General.  feeling deeply interested in the cause which you have espoused, I take the liberty to transmit the following, concerning the colored Troops engaged in the recent battles at Port Hudson.

I arrived here the evening of the 26th Inst, was mustered and reported to Maj. Tucker for duty–

During the night I heard heavy connonadeing at Port Hudson.  Early next morning I obtained permission and went to the front. But was so much detained, I did not reach our lines until the fighting for the day had nearly ceased–  There being no renewal of the engagement the following day–I engaged in removing and administering to the wounded, gathering meantime as much information as possible concerning the battle and the conduct of our Troops.  My anxiety was to learn all I could concerning the Bravery of the Colored Reg. engaged, for their good conduct and bravery would add to your undertakings and make more popular the movement.  Not that I am afraid to meet unpopular doctrins, for I am not. But that we may show our full strength. the cause should be one of general sanction.

I have ever believed, from my idea of those traits of character which I deemed necessary to make a good soldier, together with their history, that in them we should find those characteristics necessary, for an effictive army.  And I rejoice to learn, in the late engagements the fact is established beyond a doubt.

The following is (in substance) a statement personally made to me, by 1st Lt. Co. F. 1st R[egiment]. La. Native Guard who was wounded during the engagement.

“We went into action about 6. A.M. and was under fire most of the time until sunset.

The very first thing after forming line of battle we were ordered to charge–  My Co. was apparrently brave. Yet they are mostly contrabands,1 and I must say I entertained some fears as to their pluck.  But I have now none–  The moment the order was given, they entered upon its execution.  Valiantly did the heroic decendants of Africa move forward cool as if Marshaled for dress parade, under a most murderous fire from the enemies guns, until we reached the main ditch which surrounds the Fort.  finding it impassible we retreated under orders to the woods and deployed as skirmishers–  In the charge we lost our Capt. and Colored sergeant, the latter fell wraped in the flag he had so gallantly borne–  Alone we held our position until 12. o'clock when we were relieved–

At two o'clock P.M. we were again ordered to the front where we made two separate charges each in the face of a heavy fire from the enemies Battery of seven guns–whose destructive fire would have confuse and almost disorganized the bravest troops.  But these men did not swerve, or show cowardice.  I have been in several engagements, and I never before beheld such coolness and darring–

Their gallantry entitles them to a special praise.  And I already observe, the sneers of others are being tempered into eulogy–”

It is pleasant to learn these things, and it must be indeed gratifying to the General to know that his army will be composed of men of almost unequaled coolness & bravery–

The men of our Reg. are very ready in learning the drills, and the officers have every confidence in their becoming excellent soldiers.

Assureing you that I will always, both as an officer of the U.S. Army and as a man, endeavor to faithfully & fully discharge the duties of my office, I am happy to Subscribe Myself, Very Respectfully, Your Most Obt. Servt,

Elias D. Strunke

Capt. Elias D. Strunke to Brig. Genl. D. Ullman, 29 May 1863, D. Ullmann Papers, Generals' Papers & Books, series 159, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Strunke was an officer in the 5th Regiment U.S. Volunteers (later redesignated 82nd U.S. Colored Infantry), one of the black regiments under General Daniel Ullmann. Two decades later, when Ullmann wrote a report of his military service for the Adjutant General's Office, he recounted the battlefield performance of the three black regiments at Port Hudson on May 27, 1863: “They were on our extreme right where the ground was very broken and covered with an exceedingly tangled abattis. They made six or seven charges over this ground against the enemy's works. They were exposed to a terrible fire and were dreadfully slaughtered.” Acknowledging that “it may be doubted whether it was wise to so expose them,” Ullmann argued that “the conduct of these Regiments on this occasion wrought a marvellous change in the opinion of many former sneerers.” (Bt. Major General Daniel Ullmann to Gen. Richard C. Drum, 16 Apr. 1887, Generals' Reports of Service, series 160, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. General Nathaniel P. Banks, Union commander of the assault on Port Hudson, exemplified the transformation in attitudes toward black soldiers, asserting in his official battle report that “Whatever doubt may have existed heretofore as to the efficiency of organizations of this character, the history of this day proves conclusively . . . that the Government will find in this class of troops, effective supporters and defenders.” (M.G.C. N. P. Banks to Major General Halleck, 30 May 1863, vol. 26, Union Battle Reports, series 729, War Records Office, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.)

1. I.e, former slaves.

Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 528–30, in Free at Last, pp. 439–41, and in Freedom's Soldiers, pp. 94–96.