"A Gross Injustice"
Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1864, page 98 (Editorial)
There is one gross injustice to our soldiers which Congress should not lose a week in correcting, and that is the pay of the colored troops.  If colored men are apes, don't enlist them. If the prejudice of race and color is insuperable, yield to it. But why should the American people do an unpardonably mean thing? If we are ashamed to acknowledge the heroism of the colored troops at Milliken's Bend, at Port Hudson, at Fort Wagner -- upon every field, in fact, and in every battle where they have been tried -- let us at least be manly enough to say to them.  "We can not treat you honorably, so go home!"

Man for man, the colored troops at present enlisted are not inferior to any of our soldiers.  Whole regiments were recruited under the express statement from Washington that they were to be treated like all other soldiers. Whole regiments, finding that we did not keep our word, have declined to receive any pay whatever, and have respectfully preferred to wait until we were ready to fulfill our promises, meanwhile performing cheerfully the most incessant and onerous duties. How long would any regiment of white men, however brave and loyal, which had been enlisted like the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (colored), under the promise of thirteen dollars a month and three dollars and a half for clothing, remain quiet under a monthly payment of seven dollars and three additional for clothing? And who would blame them for demanding the fulfillment of the contract or a release from service?

Do we at this moment need all the stalwart arms we can gather to the national cause or not? Is this a time when we can wisely disband the fifty or sixty thousand colored soldiers already in the service? And is there one Senator or Representative in Congress, excepting Fernando Wood's men, who does not know that the people wish the colored troops to be paid equally with all others? "I suppose my body will stop a bullet as well as another," said a colored soldier with bitter sarcasm.

The prejudice from which this injustice springs is part of the foul fruit of slavery. What is called an instinctive antipathy is merely the feeling inevitably associated with the color of an enslaved race. If the Thracians had been of a blue complexion, the Romans would have declared that they had an instinctive antipathy to blue men.  For why should not a Frenchman or an Englishman have it toward the black race as well as we? "How did you feel," naïvely asked a gentleman, at a dinner-table in this city, of an Englishman who had been describing a visit to the West Indies, "when you found yourself sitting at table between two colored men?" "They were gentlemen," was the answer, "and I felt as I do at this moment."

But the point for every honest man to ponder is this: We invited the colored men to fight for us: they have shown themselves brave, clever, and obedient, and we refuse to pay them what we pay other soldiers. Not to speak again of the sheer breach of faith and wanton injustice of such conduct, a distinction like this, even if it were honorably made, tends to maintain a feeling of caste which would be fatal to the army.  All that we ask is fair play for every man who will risk his life for the country; and against foul play, whether with Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Irishmen, or Germans, whether with white, black, or red men, we shall not fail to protest as earnestly and persistently as we can.
Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1864, page 98 (Editorial)


In this editorial George William Curtis seeks to sway public opinion to support the equalization of wages for black and white servicemen. The editor also lobbied Congress on the issue. He was joined in that effort by his brother-in-law, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, until the latter’s death at Fort Wagner.


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