To Enlist and Employ: African American and Native American Soldiers in the United States Army, 186697

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
David Krueger, Harvard University
This poster will be a visual introduction to my dissertation studying the enlistment and service of African American and Native American soldiers in the Regular Army from 1866-1897. These soldiers were at the center of the projects of national reconstruction and continental expansion, serving simultaneously as agents of, and objects for, transformation. They were an essential component of the armed forces used to expand the United States’ territorial control, infrastructural development, and political subjugation of the American West in the late 19th Century, a process that was imperial in both scope and vision. At the same time, the terms of their service reflected both tensions and harmonies between imperial and national logics. Would they serve separately as soldiers who were distinctly Black or Indian, organized into separate units that preserved their racially or culturally based martial skills? Or should the army of a modern nation consist only of citizens, requiring Americanization or exclusion to create an Army composed solely of “Americans?”

I contend that in the three decades after the Civil War, both of these logics succeeded simultaneously and reinforced one another, perpetuating the segregation of Black soldiers into all-Black units and the erasure of difference for Indian soldiers as a separate category. My specific argument is that although both groups’ initial terms of service had many similarities, beginning in the late 1870’s the trajectories of assimilation and exclusion for Black and Indian soldiers began to diverge as Black enlistees found the barriers to integration and equality insurmountable, while Indians discovered that the goals of reform and assimilation threatened to separate them from their specific identities rooted in history, community, and culture. This divergence is a product of the gradual harmonizing of imperial and national logics, where reformers, politicians, and Army officers found that the policy of governing different people differently could satisfy contemporary imperatives for inventing or preserving racialized social hierarchies while at the same time pursuing an aspirant vision of the United States that was politically unified, culturally homogeneous, and globally respected.

This poster will feature photographs from Black and Native American boarding and industrial schools as well as segregated Black Regiments and all-Indian companies, highlighting the desire of reformers to visually depict their civilizing transformations. It will also include selections from letters, poetry, drawings, and petitions of the soldiers and students responding to these reform efforts, as well as contemporary political cartoons comparing visions of Blacks and Native Americans within national reconstruction. I will also include newly constructed maps that chart the locations and movements of Black Regiments and All-Indian Companies and their relative proximities to civilian communities, federal projects, and Indian Reservations as they garrisoned, drilled, marched, and fought in the uniform of the United States Army. These maps are constructed from detailed contemporary reports of surveying expeditions, training marches, and campaigns, supplemented by officer’s pen and ink terrain sketches and ethnographic drawings comparing Native American soldiers with Reservation communities.

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