During Black History month we honor the black sailors in the Union navy.
Between October 1, 1863 and September 30, 1864, 23 percent of the Union navy was black. That compared to about ten percent of the Union army. The highest percentage of black sailors were found in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and the Mississippi River Squadron.
Whereas the Union army was segregated and all Union officers of the U.S. Colored Troops early on were white officers, the Union navy was integrated.
It is believed that over 17,000 black men and 11 black women served in the Union navy. While about 10 percent of the Union army was black, double that amount or around 20 percent of the Union navy was black.
More than 2,800 were from Virginia. About 35% of all black sailors were from the region surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. About 11,000 had been from slave state with the minority coming from free states. Three in four who served had been slaves.
Sometimes the duties of the ship itself determined its racial makeup. The supply ship, the U.S.S. Vermont reportedly had a 100% black crew.
Black sailors mostly were rated at the lowest levels on board the ships. Eighty-two percent in fact were rated at the bottom of the pay scale as “boys” or “landsmen”. About eight percent were rated as “cooks” or “stewards”. And they often had trouble rising up from those prejudicial roles regardless of their capabilities.
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