The Proposal

As instructed by Osborne, here is the proposal

Jason DeBlanco

Professor Osborne

HIST 204


Topic Proposal

Description: My topic is the comparison and examination of Quartermaster Sergeant John C. Brock’s letters compared to the letters of black soldiers who were less educated and/or held lower ranks.

Significance: By examining the difference between higher ranked black military officer’s writings and those of lesser rank/educated personnel, it will open up the viewpoints of differently tiered African Americans and their unique beliefs on the context of the war. This could answer such questions as did lower ranked black soldiers understand the greater good they were doing for their fellow soldiers and southern slaves, or were their motives for fighting purely selfish compared to those who had greater military command and foresight?

Context: Most of the letters will likely consist of soldiers writing from the battlefield and perhaps some before the war if available. Brock’s letters span from April 21, 1864 to March 9, 1865. Brock’s letters come from late in the war due to the fact that Black soldiers were not able to legally enlist until after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It was after this that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issued the enlistment of black soldiers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, places which received troops from the state of Pennsylvania. On May 22, 1863, The Bureau of Colored Troops was established to “recruit Union colored troops, commission white officers, form regiments, and coordinate their activity in the war.” Under appointment from Stanton, the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments was advised to raise three black regiments and oversee their transportation and subsistence while at Camp William in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania. It was here that Brock was mustered in on April 5, 1864 as a private in Company F of the 43rd Regiment.

Evidence: My primary source of evidence is Brock’s collection of letters compiled in Making and Remaking Pennsylvania’s Civil War. In the preface to the letters, the editor notes that many other soldiers wrote into such newspapers as the Christian Recorder, Weekly Anglo-African, Pine and Palm, and the Liberator. I have been able to find letters in the Liberator and another newspaper not mentioned, the North American printed out of Philadelphia which has included some letters from soldiers of the 54th regiment. These newspapers were all found relatively easily using the 19th Century U.S Newspaper Database on the library website. The article also lists another book, Documentary of the Negro People in the United States written by Herbert Aptheker. This book includes letters written by three black soldiers which adds to the amount of primary source evidence to compare and contrast letters. They also list other authors who’ve written books on similar subjects including James M. McPherson, Edwin S. Redkey and Noah Andre Trudeau. Other publications and studies recently released include the black military experience and the letters of Corporal James Gooding of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer infantry.


Aptheker, Herbert.  Documentary of the Negro People in the United States. Kingston Publishing, 1994.

“Flag Raising at Camp William Penn.” Liberator. 14 October, 1864

McPhereson, M. James. The Negro’s Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted during the War for the Union. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

Smith, Ledell Eric ed. “The Civil War Letters of Quartermaster Sergeant John C. Brock, 43rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops.” Making and Remaking Pennsylvania’s Civil War. University Park, PA: Pennylvania State University Press, 2001.


Week of October 11th – Gather books and secondary source articles on black soldier life and level of education

Week of October 18th – Look for primary sources such as letters, diaries, newspaper articles.

Week of October 25th – Analyze letters from different ranking officers of color.

Week of November 1st – Begin writing first draft of paper, including preliminary analysis of the writings.

November 8th to 29th – Revise and complete final draft of paper with correct bibliography.

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