Joseph Glatthaar’s Forged in Battle is not the first excellent study of Black soldiers and their White officers in the Civil War, but it uses more soldiers’ letters and diaries—including rare material from Black soldiers—and concentrates more intensely on Black-White relations in Black regiments than do any of its predecessors. Glatthaar’s title expresses his thesis: loyalty, friendship, and respect among White officers and Black soldiers were fostered by the mutual dangers they faced in combat.
Glatthaar accurately describes the government’s discriminatory treatment of Black soldiers in pay, promotion, medical care, and job assignments, appropriately emphasizing the campaign by Black soldiers and their officers to get the opportunity to fight. That chance remained limited throughout the war by army policies that kept most Black units serving in rear-echelon assignments and working in labor battalions. Thus, while their combat death rate was only one-third that of White units, their mortality rate from disease, a major killer in his war, was twice as great. Despite these obstacles, the courage and effectiveness of several Black units in combat won increasing respect from initially skeptical or hostile White soldiers. As one White officer put it, “they have fought their way into the respect of all the army.” In trying to demonstrate the magnitude of this attitudinal change, however, Glatthaar seems to exaggerate the prewar racism of the White men who became officers in Black regiments. “Prior to the war,” he writes of these men, “virtually all of them held powerful racial prejudices.” While perhaps true of those officers who joined Black units for promotion or other self-serving motives, this statement misrepresents the attitudes of the many abolitionists who became officers in Black regiments. Having spent years fighting against the race prejudice endemic in American society, they participated eagerly in this military experiment, which they hoped would help African Americans achieve freedom and postwar civil equality. By current standards of racial egalitarianism, these men’s paternalism toward African Americans was racist. But to call their feelings “powerful racial prejudices” is to indulge in generational chauvinism—to judge past eras by present standards
Q. The passage as a whole can best be characterized as which of the following?