Black Soldier Writes Newspaper About Equal Pay for Colored Troops: Bait and Switch Recruiting. What Ought One to Think of a Nation That Would Do This?
On January 23, 1864, Louden S. Langley, an African American member of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and a member of a large farm family from Huntington, Vermont, wrote The Weekly Anglo-African in New York City about the failure of African American soldiers to be paid.
New York, Jan. 23, 1864
Mr. Editor: The members of the 54th Mass. (from Vt.), now stopping in one of the Park Barracks have received, and duly appreciate, the copies of your valuable paper. . . Nine-tenths of the boys had been informed by selectmen, who were anxious to fill their town quotas, that the colored recruits received from the U.S. the same pay and bounty as the white recruits. The writer had warned and told all those who had been thus informed, that such was not the case; but the boys preferred to believe the misrepresentations with which the officers (either from ignorance or a love of falsehood) had filled their ears.
They had confidently expected to receive the seventy-five dollars that the U.S. pays their white recruits until a couple hours before their departure, when they were ordered to “fall in,” after which we were informed by Lieut. Phillips, the officer in charge of us, the real facts of the case.
The intelligence, as might have been expected, was received with (I am sorry to state it) much cursing and swearing, accompanied with the declaration that they would never have enlisted had they been truly informed, and that they would not leave camp until they had been paid the seventy five dollars. The officers, apprehensive of more trouble, deemed it expedient to resort to more falsehood, so we were told that we would be paid as much as any recruits, and that our pay had been sent to our regimental headquarters, at which place we would be paid on our arrival.
This course, it was alleged, was necessary, because we were going to a regiment from another state. This falsehood the boys believed until to-day, when, with the aid of your paper, I have convinced them that what I had previously told them was true. . . . [B]ut for the reconciling remarks of Lieut. Phillips, the boys (although having no arms) would have shown a spirited resistance to marching. Not only Capt. J.F. Brannan, but Maj. W. Austin positively stated falsehoods with reference to our pay. But let the sin rest where it belongs on the U.S. government and not on its officers. The latter were between two fires, the honor of the state, and the requirements of the national government. . . .
The boys feel somewhat down-hearted, but hope for the best, and have some faith in the justice of Congress.
And now, Mr. Editor, I would ask what can, what ought to be thought of a government that asks, yea, even urges and forces men into its service, under a most horrid system of injustice, and thereby compelling it’s official agents to resort to falsehood, rather than be under the dire necessity of shedding the blood of its own soldiers, to enforce a compliance with its ungodly and cruel requirements? And, Mr. Editor, may we hope that congress, for the sake of the honor of the country, and for the sake of the families of its able and true defenders, will it soon remove this disgraceful distinction from the military statue of this great nation?
Louden S. Langley
A Colored Vermont Recruit
The Letters of Louden S. Langley, James Fuller, ed. Vermont History Vol. 67 (Fall 1999), 85-91.
The Social Scene in Washington, At the White House and Elsewhere; Mary Lincoln Resentful; Lincoln Gets a Good Laugh
“The winter  social calendar followed a prescribed order. The president’s receptions were on Tuesday evenings, the first lady’s matinees on Saturday afternoons, the soirees of the Speaker of the House on Friday nights. No cards of invitation were required for these events. Since the president and speaker held their offices at the will of the people, their homes were open to the public at large. In contrast, invitations were necessary, and highly coveted, for the elegant parties at the dwellings of cabinet officers. Access to the drawing rooms of [Secretary of State William] Seward and [Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P.] Chase were prized most of all.
“Social columnists attributed the legendary success of the parties held by the secretary of state to both his genial wit and the “grace and elegance” of his daughter-in-law, Anna, [the National Republican reported on January 26, 1864,]. . . For young belles, there was added mystique in the presence of the diplomatic corps, which held out the titillating prospect of attracting a titled foreigner. For those fascinated by fashion and etiquette, nothing compared to the impeccable manners and gorgeous dress of the diplomats, bespangled with ribbons and garters denoting different orders of knighthood. . . .
“The Washington elite preferred the fancy dinner parties at the Seward and Chase mansions to the public levees at the White House, where bonnets were crushed and cloaks occasionally stolen in the chaos. During the winter, Mary found it necessary to put durable brown coverings over her elegant French carpets to protect them from the muddy tramp of the ‘human tide’ that poured in to shake hands with the president. . . .The elegant furnishings that Mary had so lovingly and expensively put in place took a beating. . . .
“For Mary, who relished her position as first lady, it was galling to read in the papers that Seward, not she, would inaugurate ‘the fashionable “season'”. . . .
“Mary’s wounded pride increased her feelings of resentment toward Seward. She continued to begrudge the intimacy he shared with her husband, the many nights Lincoln chose to spend with Seward instead of her. Fred Seward records a pleasant evening that January when Lincoln walked over to Seward’s with John Hay [Lincoln’s private secretary and assistant, then twenty-five years old] to share a humorous language guidebook, English as She is Spoke [which is still in print in 2014, and still amusing]. ‘As John Hay read aloud its queer inverted sentences, Lincoln and Seward laughed heartily, their minds finding a brief but welcome relief from care.’ . . .”
Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin, pp. 598-600.
Editor’s note: These entries were submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council, executive director