Black Civil War US Navy Veterans
When the Civil War began, the US Navy was already somewhat racially integrated. Black men had served in the US Navy from as early as the War of 1812. The most recent scholarship has determined that nearly 18,000 men of African descent (and eleven women) served in the US Navy during the Civil War. They comprised about 20 percent of the Navy's total enlisted force.
Black men escaping from slavery in the Southern United States made up a large portion of these new sailors and accounted for 1/3 of all sailors in the Mississippi Squadron by the end of the War. By September 1861, the volume of requests from commanders of US naval vessels regarding authorization to enlist fugitive slaves reached such proportions that Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles felt obliged to act. Welles permitted the enlistment of former slaves whose "services can be useful," stipulating that the "contrabands" be classified as "Boys," the lowest rung on the rating and pay scales and one traditionally reserved for young men under the age of eighteen.
During the American Civil War, at least 15 Black men from Williamson County enlisted in the US Navy. Primarily, they served in the Mississippi River Squadron of the US Navy.