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American Patriots is one of the great untold stories in American history. There have been books on individual black soldiers, but this is the first to tell the full story of the black American military experience, starting with the Revolution and culminating with Desert Storm.
The best histories are about more than facts and events — they capture the spirit that drives men to better their lives and to demand of themselves the highest form of sacrifice. That spirit permeates Gail Buckley’s dramatic, deeply moving, and inspiring book. You’ll meet the men who fought in the decisive engagements of the Revolution, the legendary Buffalo soldiers, and the heroic black regiments of the Civil War. You’ll meet some of America’s greatest patriots — men who fought in the First and Second World Wars when their country denied them access to equipment and training, segregated the ranks, and did all it could to keep them off the battlefield. You’ll meet the heroes of Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. And you’ll meet two families, the Lews and the Pierces, who have served in every American engagement since the Revolution.
FDR used to say that Americanism was a matter of the mind and heart, not of race and ancestry. With photographs throughout and dozens of original interviews with veterans, American Patriots is a tribute to the black American men and women who fought and gave their lives in the service of that ideal.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Slavery and Independence
I served in the Revolution, in General Washington’s army. . . . I have stood in battle, where balls, like hail, were flying all around me. The man standing next to me was shot by my side—his blood spouted upon my clothes, which I wore for weeks. My nearest blood, except that which runs in my veins, was shed for liberty. My only brother was shot dead instantly in the Revolution. Liberty is dear to my heart—I cannot endure the thought, that my countrymen should be slaves.
—“Dr. Harris,” a black Revolutionary veteran, in an address to the Congregational and Presbyterian Anti-Slavery Society of Francestown, New Hampshire, 1842.
Crispus Attucks: The First Martyr of the Revolution
"BLOODY MASSACRE,” screamed the March 12, 1770, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, Paul Revere’s four-color illustrated broadsheet, depicting redcoats with muskets firing into a crowd of well-dressed Boston citizens. Four victims lie bloodied on the ground. One, closest to the soldiers, the only one dressed in rough seaman clothes instead of a waistcoat and three-cornered hat, lies in the center foreground in a pool of blood. “The unhappy Sufferers,” Revere wrote, were “Sam’l Gray, Sam’l Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks Killed.” (Revere omitted Patrick Carr, an Irish leather worker, who was also killed.) Gray was a rope maker, Maverick an apprentice joiner, Caldwell a ship’s mate; the seaman Attucks, “killed on the Spot, two Balls entering his Breast,” was described as “born in Framingham, but lately belonging to New Providence [the Bahamas].” The victims would lie in state in Faneuil Hall. “All the Bells tolled a solemn Peal” when they were buried together in one vault “in the middle burying-ground.”
Calling himself Michael Johnson, Attucks, the son of an African father and a Massachusetts Natick Indian mother, had spent the past twenty years at sea, having run away to escape slavery. Ten pounds’ reward had been offered in 1750 by Deacon William Brown of Framingham for the return of “a Molatto Fellow, about 27 years of age, named Crispas, 6 Feet two Inches high, short, curl’d Hair, his Knees nearer together than common: had on a light colour’d Bearskin coat.” In port in Boston on the night of March 5, 1770, Attucks was in a King Street tavern when an alarm bell was heard from the street’s British sentry. When, leading a stick- and bat-wielding gang from the tavern, he discovered that the sentry was under “attack” only from snowball-throwing boys, he and his mob immediately took the side of the boys against the “Lobster Backs”—using heavy sticks instead of snowballs. Witnesses said that Attucks, striking the first blow, caused arriving British soldiers to open fire and hit eleven civilians—five of whom, including Attucks, were killed.
At the cost of public scorn (and to cover up his cousin Samuel Adams’s role in inciting riots), the Boston lawyer John Adams, a radical “Son of Liberty” who disapproved of violence, defended the British soldiers. Contradicting Paul Revere’s presentation of the dead as respectable Bostonians, Adams declared that Attucks had been the leader of a “motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs.” The merchant John Hancock also accused Attucks of provoking the so-called “Boston Massacre,” but from a different point of view. “Who set the example of guns?” Hancock asked later. “Who taught the British soldier that he might be defeated? Who dared look into his eyes? I place, therefore, this Crispus Attucks in the foremost rank of the men that dared.” The British soldiers were acquitted, but Americans won the propaganda battle. Attucks and his companions became the first popular martyrs of the Revolution.
“You will hear from Us with Astonishment,” read an anonymous letter to Governor Thomas Hutchinson in 1773, which John Adams copied in his diary. “You ought to hear from Us with Horror. You are chargeable before God and Man, with our Blood— The Soldiers were but passive Instruments. . . . You acted, cooly, deliberately, with all that premeditated Malice, not against Us in particular but against the People in general. . . . You will hear further from us hereafter.” It was signed “Crispus Attucks”—a new symbol of resistance.
O O O
On the eve of the Revolution, the black population of the British North American colonies was 500,000, out of a total population of 2,600,000. Only a fraction of that population went to war. Some five thousand blacks served under George Washington, and about a thousand, mostly Southern runaways, fought for George III. Although the percentage of the black population who served was small, by 1779 as many as one in seven members of Washington’s never very large army were black. According to the historian Thomas Fleming, the Continental Line was “more integrated than any American force except the armies that fought in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.”
The Great American “Fig Tree”
At the end of the French and Indian Wars, Britain controlled North America from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, as well as most of the West Indies. It had reached the zenith of its empire just as the colonies were beginning to have a sense of nationhood. “Cast your eyes with me a little over this globe to view the deplorable state of your fellow creatures in other countries,” wrote the Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson in 1768. “In Russia, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and many parts of Germany there is no such thing as free-holders. . . . But how different is the case amongst us. We enjoy an unprecarious property, and every man may freely taste the fruits of his own labors under his vine and under his fig tree.”
The debt Britain had incurred in the Seven Years’ War ensured taxation of the colonies and threatened life under the idyllic American fig tree. In British eyes, the American colonies existed only for the benefit of the mother country, but Americans saw any form of taxation as slavery. New England’s objections to the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and all the other unpopular acts fueled the fires of independence. John Adams and his failed businessman cousin Samuel, leading radicals in the Continental Congress, were outspoken “Sons of Liberty,” a term coined in the British Parliament in 1765 to describe American Stamp Act protestors. Samuel Adams created the Committees of Correspondence, an underground movement with branches springing up throughout New England, to encourage resistance against the British.
The fires of independence were fueled among blacks as well as whites. A Massachusetts petition of 1773 from “a Grate Number of Blacks . . . who . . . are held in a state of slavery within the bowels of a free and Christian Country” asked for freedom and “some part of the unimproved land, belonging to the province, for a settlement, that each of us may there sit down quietly under his own fig tree.”
Quaker Philadelphia was the heart of early eighteenth-century abolitionism. Massachusetts Puritans preached against slavery, but only Quakers argued for justice and equality for blacks on every level of life. In 1727, the twenty-one-year-old Philadelphia printer Benjamin Franklin started a discussion group, the Junto, in which antislavery ideals figured large. Two years later he printed, anonymously, the first of his many antislavery tracts. “A Caution and a Warning to Great Britain and Her Colonies,” a pamphlet published in 1766 by a Philadelphia Quaker named Anthony Benezet, was widely circulated. “How many of those who distinguish themselves as Advocates of Liberty remain insensible,” he wrote, “to the treatment of thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow men, who . . . are at this very time kept in the most deplorable state of slavery.” Meanwhile, Boston’s James Otis, another outspoken opponent of Britain’s “Intolerable Acts,” wrote: “The colonists are by the law of nature free born, as indeed are all men, white or black.”
The upper South seemed to agree with the North that slavery would eventually be abandoned, and in the meantime ameliorated. In 1762, George Washington told his new overseer to “take all necessary and proper care of the Negroes, using them with proper humanity and discretion.” Young Thomas Jefferson’s first legislative action in the 1769 Virginia House of Burgesses was an emancipation measure. With so many important advocates, many believed that the new American nation would be free.
Slavery was abolished in the British Isles in 1772. The decision resulted from the suit of one slave, James Somerset, who ran away from his American master in England. Somerset’s lawyer, the British abolitionist Granville Sharp, won the case by arguing that since no positive law creating slavery existed in England, it could not be practiced there. Three days after the judgment, a group of two hundred blacks “with their ladies” held a public entertainment in Westminster “to celebrate the triumph of their Brother Somerset.” British emancipation was a major propaganda coup, but it freed only the twenty thousand?odd slaves living in Britain itself, leaving American and West Indian slavery untouched. Benjamin Franklin wrote to Anthony Benezet about the “hypocrisy” of Britain “for promoting the Guinea trade, while it piqued itself on its virtue . . . in setting free a single Negro.”
By 1774, Boston—whose port was closed until the eighteen thousand pounds of tea dumped in the harbor the previous December was paid for—was the center of abolition as well as revolution. “No country can be called free when there is one slave,” wrote James Swan, a Boston merchant and Son of Liberty who had disguised himself as an Indian in the Boston Tea Party.“ It has always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me,” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, “to fight for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”
In November 1774, the thirty-seven-year-old Tom Paine arrived in Philadelphia with a letter of introduction to Benjamin Franklin. Paine, a former corsetmaker’s apprentice and low-level tax collector, was drawn to abolition as much by his sympathy for antigovernment politics as by his Quaker background. Franklin helped Paine become editor of The Pennsylvania Magazine, where his first published article, “African Slavery in America,” appeared on March 8, 1775. “With what consistency, or decency,” he wrote, could colonists “complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousand in slavery.” Paine advocated abolition, land redistribution, and economic opportunity. Two weeks later Patrick Henry, a slave owner who called slavery “repugnant to humanity,” raised the American battle cry with “Give me liberty or give me death!” America’s first antislavery society met in Philadelphia on April 14, 1775. Five days later, America was at war with Britain.
What People are Saying About This
A compulsive and humbling history of nobility in the face of American prejudice, and courage in the face of America's enemies. Buckley writes with grace and authority -- and an almost unearthly restraint.
A monumental work of love and scholarship. American Patriots fills a large
gap in the history of our country. Buckley documents, with great skill and
heart, the contribution of black American heroes in all of our nation's
(Joseph Galloway, author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young)
Gail Buckley has given us a powerful account of a long and shamefully overlooked part of American military historythe heroic efforts of African-Americans to serve honorably and courageously in the armed forces when they were subjected to the worst kinds of racism. The full story is at once uplifting and deeply disturbing. We should all be grateful to Gail for bringing us these storiesand to the people about whom she writes for their determined patriotism.
There is no more central thread in American history than the struggle of
African-Americans to achieve freedom, equality, and dignity, and nowhere has
it been more poignantly fought than in uniform. American Patriots gathers
in one place the record of black American soldiers and sailors who for
centuries heroically served a nation that despised them. With their
courage, they lifts is all up. Buckley has written a fascinating, stirring
and important book.
(Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down)
Gail Buckley's American Patriots unveils a forgotten but essential strand in the fabric of American history. This fine book recalls the bravery and sacrifice of black soldiers who believed in the ultimate promise of American lifeand fought and died for a nation that systematically denied them that promise. American Patriots is a noble work of recovered memory.
Gail Buckley tells a gripping story about an unsung group of American
heroes and the America for which they fought, from the time of the redcoats
to Saddam Hussein. In Korea and Vietnam I fought alongside the sort of
warriors who make up her story. They were America's best. At last their
story is told and told brilliantly. should be required
reading for soldier and civilian alike.
(Col. David H. Hackworth, author of About Face)
Reading Group Guide
1. Midway through the Revolutionary War, blacks comprised 15 percent of the Continental Army–yet many nineteenth-century abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and John Greenleaf Whittier refused to celebrate July 4 as Independence Day. Consider the reasons for their refusal. Why did they, at the same time, continue to look to the Revolution for inspiration and to call for a “second revolution”?
2. By the end of the Civil War, blacks made up 10 to 12 percent of the Union Army. Describe these black fighters. Whom did they fight under? And why, then, did Lincoln’s War Department insist on calling the Civil War a “white man’s war”? Contrast Lincoln’s description of the Civil War as a war about “union” with the South’s belief that it was about slavery. Which was it?
3. How did the former Confederacy bring about its own Reconstruction? Explain why General Carl Schurz’s 1865 report displeased President Andrew Johnson. Evaluate how the Reconstruction benefited poor whites as well as blacks, and how black military participation paved the way to change in political and civil rights.
4. Discuss the reasons behind Congress’s creation of the first permanent black units in a peacetime standing army. What did these units contribute to the “New Army”?
5. Describe how the slave system gave the military a particularly Southern mind-set. How did this affect the first blacks sent to West Point and Annapolis–particularly Henry O. Flipper and Johnson Whittaker? What lessons can we learn from Flipper’s story?
6. Buckley calls Southern revisionism the means by which the South“won” the peace. Examine how revisionism affected blacks in the First World War. Explain why black Americans fought under a French flag. How did their military experience affect their behavior back home?
7. World War II brought extraordinary changes in black military opportunities despite a total and enforced segregation in all branches of the service. How did civilians like Eleanor Roosevelt, Walter White of the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and members of the black press influence this change? What was FDR’s contribution to these changes? What inspired blacks to fight for freedoms abroad that they did not enjoy at home? Drawing on specific examples, examine how black members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines, and the 6888 explained their own decisions.
8. Analyze President Harry Truman’s decision to desegregate the military in the summer of 1948. Was he motivated by principle or by politics? How did the military respond?
9. At the start of the Korean War, the 24th Infantry was the last all-black unit in the Army. Trace its path from winning the first battle of the war, and the first Medal of Honor, to being deactivated for cowardice. Why was the 24th a scapegoat for both integrationists and segregationists? Explain how Korea-era McCarthyism affected the military career of Sergeant Edward Carter, World War II winner of the second highest military honor. How did President Clinton put Edward Carter back into history?
10. Why was the 1965 Army known as “the Kennedy Class”? Discuss Colin Powell’s belief in the early 1960s that the military offered the best career in America for an ambitious young black man. What happened between 1965 and 1968 that led to the “breakdown” of the U. S. Army? Examine how military changes reflected changes in American society.
11. Evaluate the all-volunteer army and the war in the Persian Gulf as antidotes to Vietnam. Compare Operation Desert Storm to the Spanish-American War. In what ways was the Gulf War historic and unique? What values and lessons instilled by the military are most applicable to civilian life? Discuss how the military, once one of the most racist institutions in America, became one of the greatest places of opportunity.