Discrimination Toward the Soldiers
Army recruiters faced many obstacles when persuading blacks to enlist. The war had already been long and brutal, by June 1863; the War Department decided not to give commissions to black soldiers, which created the problem of unequal pay. Privates who were white made at least thirteen dollars per month, while blacks only received ten. This ten-dollar salary also included a three-dollar deduction for the cost of clothing, which meant colored troops really just earned seven dollars(#5, p. 260). Justification of this policy was based on the Militia Act of 1862, which gave power to the president to enlist black troops at the set pay of ten dollars. Promises by recruiters to pay black troops equal was quickly overridden. Frederick Douglass even made the mistake of telling recruits they would receive, "the same wages, the same rations, the same equipment, the same protection, the same treatment, and the secured by the white soldiers." (#1, p. 161) Douglass had no idea that this sort of racial discrimination would be put into practice.
Protests of unequal pay began to ensue as army recruitment moved southward. It soon became common to see entire black regiments go as far as to refuse pay, such as the 54th and 55th regiments, who were promised equal pay. The problem of unequal pay was an obvious problem for many families. Most families started to starve as their men went to war. Sympathy grew throughout the army for these colored soldiers. Un-commissioned white officers were disheartened when they learned the highest-ranking black sergeant earned less then them. Washington would soon receive thousands of letters of protest. A wife of a black soldier questioned the War Department by stating, "Why is it that you still insist upon them (black Soldiers) taking seven dollars a month when you give the poorest white regiment that has went out sixteen dollars." (#1, p. 162) By 1863 entire regiments threatened mutiny if something was not done quickly.
The 3rd South Carolina Volunteers decided to quit fighting until the government granted equal pay. The sergeant of this regiment was charged with mutiny and eventually executed by a firing squad. In response to these persistent protests Congress finally passed a bill in June 1864 that guaranteed equal pay for all troops. This bill gave the black community a sense of dignity and justice served.