The Long Road To Victory
Writing to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs on the 30th May 1864, the adjutant general of the army, Lorenzo Thomas, further aided the fight for equal pay. Regarding black men as having been “fully tested as soldiers,” Thomas suggests that the time had come to raise their pay to that of white soldiers.
Thanks to the efforts of others on their behalf – such as Secretary of War Stanton, who in his annual report in December 1863 recommended that Congress begin paying black soldiers in line with white soldiers – Congress had the previous month equated both white and black privates pay, both of whom were now paid $13 per month. The same measure was implemented for higher-ranking black soldiers, who too received the same pay as their white counterparts.
Attorney General Edward Bates’ ruling in July 1864 saw an end to black soldiers’ pay being determined by the terms of the Militia Act, and the fact that the Second Confiscation Act did not include any pay restrictions, allowed black soldiers finally to receive equal pay with white soldiers.
However, even at this stage, Congress saw fit to discriminate between those black men who were free and those who were not before the Civil War. Those who were free prior to the war would have their pay backdated to the time of their enlistment, while those who were not, would only have their pay backdated to the 1st of January 1864. The following month, the War Department ordered regimental commanders to ascertain which of their soldiers were free or not at the outset of the Civil War.
black soldiers had to take the “Quaker’s Oath,” devised by Colonel Hallowell of the 54th Massachusetts, swearing that at the start of the war that “no man had the right to demand unrequited labor of you,'” and their pay would be backdated to the time of their enlistment. While black regiments consisting of Northern freemen rejoiced at the victory after their long and arduous struggle, the black regiments of South Carolina despaired. Their struggle would continue for another nine months. Victory for them would eventually come in March 1865 with the passing of the Enrollment Act, where Congress finally acknowledged as legally binding, the order which Stanton had issued to Saxton in August 1862.