The Black Regulars Book Review

Abstract

This paper brings forth a review of the book The Black Regulars written by William A. Dobak and Thomson D. Philips. The review analyzes relevance of the literature source for a historian in the modern days regarding its methodology, content, style and uniqueness. In addition, the review focuses on weaknesses and strengths of the work as well as its thematic content. In reviewing the book, its role in wiping out traditional theories and beliefs associated with experiences of the first black soldiers is also discussed. The work begins with an introduction that gives the preview of the book’s content and function. Sections that follow the introduction divulge an in-depth analysis of the book.

Introduction

The Black Regulars is a well-packed historical volume of events that attempts to trace army activities, which followed the enactment of the thirteenth amendment and the civil war. Dobak and Phillips (2001) make use of multiple sources to provide the reader with a detailed account of significant happenings in the US Army between 1866 and 1889. The work traces reorganizations in the army that were triggered by the amendment and the need to attain stability following the civil war. The documentation provides an interesting chronology of events that is not only educative, but also entertaining to the reader. Dobak and Phillips (2001) propagate ideas and arguments that help dispel many myths and misconceptions associated with military reorganization after the civil war. This book presents a less subjective record of activities associated with the first black cadets in the regular American army. The authors cover multiple ideas and viewpoints absent in many other historical accounts that cover the period in question. The authors make use of both formal and informal sources to advance basic arguments in the book. The central themes in the piece of work are equality and racial segregation.

The Black Regulars was written to cover activities of enlisted men in the North plains and in Southwest where black officers served. The story narrates the experience of the army mainly concentrating on enlisted men and their superiors from time to time. Its content revolves around day to-day happenings in the lives of these men from enlistment into the army to their discharge and afterwards. It reveals their education, religious practices, disciplines, responsibilities, challenges, strengths, and political administration in the departments where they provided service.

Historical Context

The piece of work attempts to reconcile events taking place after the civil war and the recruitment of black men into the army. Prior to the civil war, American army procedures and rules prohibited recruitment of American black soldiers. Black men only participated in military functions during the revolution and the civil war. After the civil war, the need to create a brawny peacetime army to maintain peace along the borders and within states necessitated the inclusion of black soldiers. Other historical aspects traced by Dobak and Phillips include the recruitment process, recruitment consideration, survival of black soldiers against budget cuts, and congregational proceedings. It also depicts how enlisted black soldiers enhanced their literacy and spent their time.

Myths and Misconceptions

This piece of literature plays a significant role in dismissing various myths surrounding participation of black soldiers in the army. The writers manage to dispel these myths by narrating events that were contrary to the legends. Popular reports surrounding involvement of black soldiers in the four black ligaments associate the process with racial segregation, literacy, and names such as Buffalo Soldiers. However, Philips and Dobak demolish these misconceptions. The authors also dispel the conviction that black soldiers were weak and inefficient as argued by many writers. In addition, they contend theories suggesting that black soldiers received much attention from the media (“Buffalo soldiers of the American West,” n.d.).

Racial Segregation Vs Equal Recruitment

Dobak and Philips acknowledge that instances of racial isolation were present in some operations. However, they disagree with assumptions that discrimination was systematic and intentional. The documentation indicates that both white and black soldiers received quite similar equipment in terms of quality. This argument is supported by vivid descriptions of events that are often quoted out of context by various novelists (“Buffalo soldiers of the American West,” n.d.). They demonstrate that quality equipment was supplied to all groups of the military in equal measure. To remain relevant, the writers account for instances where discrimination took place. Black officers suffered from prejudice due to spite and personal perceptions of some of their seniors. The book singles out supervisors such as Captain Ambrose Hooker who segregated between black soldiers and supervisors. There were also other complaints by officers at different levels of the hierarchy.

The process of equal participation of different racial groups in the military began with the introduction of a bill that proposed to develop the military into a vast combat group. Senator Henry Wilson courageously introduced legislative changes, which saw activities of the army diversify on a day–to-day basis. Despite the uncertainty among lieutenants such as Ulysses Grant, recruitment of black officers kicked off in July 1866 after the passage of the bill into law. Factors that contributed to equal enlistment included the high rate of dissertation by whites and the manner in which black men conducted themselves in previous war activities.

Literacy

The book also discharges delusions associated with literacy levels. A fallacy that high enlistment of black soldiers was due to literacy is opposed. Black people had gone through a long period of discrimination that denied them excess to education. High illiteracy levels among the Blacks indicate that literacy was an unacceptable description of the Black during the period in question. Recruitment procedures used were mainly concerned with physical attributes rather than mental traits. Behavioral divergence between black and white recruits did not in any way suggest that one group had a better education than the other.

Buffalo Soldiers

This piece of work does not refer to black officers as Buffalo soldiers as is the case in many other articles. The term appears to be harmful with other writers suggesting that soldiers used the term themselves. According to Dobak and Philips, the term did not feature in their pension applications, court martial records, and in the letters to various media organizations. The authors are of the view that the term was abusive and disrespectful to soldiers. In the trial transcripts and court martial testimonies, the term amounted to an abuse and was used by senior officers in various occasions to humiliate black officers. At no time was the word used by soldiers as a nickname despite their racial awareness and pride. Modern articles and historical accounts attempt to display the usage of the term as a nickname as a myth that lacks basic grounding in actual historical events.

The Media

Contrary to popular notions, American newspapers and other media platforms paid little attention to army activities. The introduction of black men into the army did not change the situation. When volunteer recorders left the news organizations, stories surrounding army functions and activities disappeared from the pages of the articles. Most papers only acknowledged existence of black men in the military, but did not cover any details about their involvement. There was also little correspondence between the army and the news agents in the form of letters. Media coverage of army functions improved after the American-Spanish war, which raised awareness and cultivated patriotism.

Significance of the Book

This book plays an important role in telling the history of the black. It reveals events that have been swept under the carpet for a long time. Many authors have failed to capture actual events and ignorance has led to the conclusion that black Americans in the army had gained freedom without actually struggling for it.

The work also outlines the role of black officers in the army. Officers did not spend adventurous days in the army. Their work was complicated by the inadequacy of officers, equipment, and education. The years between 1866 and 1898 were characterized by changing roles. Their efforts were geared towards maintaining law and order. In the seventies, they maintained peace by chasing Indians from the reservations. In the 1880s, the responsibility changed to preventing white settlers from occupying the reservations and in the 1990s their duty was to guard property against theft and vandalism during the labor strikes. Other roles included building infrastructure, passing messages from one place to another, and escorting railroad surveyors.

Critique

Strengths

This literature source provides a chronological account of events taking place between the years in question. The record is detailed and descriptive, making it a reliable source of historical data. Chronology in the occurrence of historical events helps capture the mind of the reader and enhances concentration. Descriptive explanations also make it easy for the reader to conceptualize events, increasing his/ her level of understanding. Sequential order of events makes it easy for the reader to analyze themes such as equality and racism.

Absence of Bias

The authors narrate events as they took place without partiality. Dobak and Philips narrate both sides of major arguments, allowing the reader to make his/her own conclusions. A good example is narration of happenings associated with favoritism and malice. They simply point out instances where preferential treatment was evident. They also account for activities that are often misconstrued as instances of favoritism such as bigoted distribution of apparatus. The narration helps dispel misunderstandings that impartiality was systematic at all levels of management.

Diversity

The narrators rely on various sources to advance their arguments. This increases variety and makes the work authoritative. Reliance on different sources helps reduce bias, increase details, and make the work informative. Primary sources of information are court martial text, newspaper articles, letters to newspaper agents, and pension applications made by individual soldiers. These documents were drawn from a range of archives. From these records, a detailed story based on the wording of black soldiers is narrated. The records help identify soldiers, relate their recruitment, expose challenges faced in the military, describe the treatment accorded to them, and depict their life after leaving the military.

Methodology

The book is based on the analysis of primary data from different archives. Use of primary records helps increase reliability of the piece of work. Primary records are not manipulated and are hence good sources of information. Use of primary records to advance arguments and make conclusions increases trust among readers.

Authority

The authors are authorities in military history with renowned track records in education and leadership. Dobak and Philips combine intelligence with good research to come up with an interesting proof of arguments and assertions. Dobak has a doctorate degree in American studies from the University of Kansas. He also has several years of experience working in archives.

Weaknesses

The authors did not identify areas that lacked adequate information. They seem to propose that there was enough information to advance all their arguments. This leaves the reader dissatisfied with the rhetoric given. A story that is constructed from archival data is expected to exhibit incompleteness due to the lack of clarity in some records. It appears that the authors used their own arguments to fill certain knowledge gaps and did not necessarily rely on primary data. As a result, the work does not point to areas that may require further research.

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Conclusion

The story of the first black men to serve in the regular US army has often been told. However, it has seldom been covered in an honest, detailed, and non-subjective manner in which it is narrated by Dobak and Philips in The Black Regulars. Combining their knowledge of historical events with revelations contained in court martial and pension records, the writers narrate a chronological array of events not only about black militants, but about the entire army. The work dismisses various legends and myths that have previously mystified understanding of the original black militants in the United States who worked in the four regiments dedicated for black officers. Demystification of these assumptions and misconceptions is the central subject in the book.

Black officers did not use the term “Buffalo” to refer to themselves nor did they take pride in the name. Media houses and newspaper firms did not give any particular preference to black officers nor did they cover military activities in great detail. Racial prejudice was not systematic and isolated cases of malice were subject to the views of commanding officers. Equipment was distributed equally, making arguments about bias relating to distribution futile and counter-productive. Illiteracy, poor equipment, and shortage of officers contributed to the efficiency of the army in selected cases.

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