A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 is Featured Book for June 2011

Cover detail from A history of the Negro troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.

The Binghamton University Libraries’ Special Collections department is home to many fascinating historical works.  One of our more compelling books is George Washington Williams’ A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.   

The Special Collections copy of A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865 is a first edition.  The book has its original orange/tan cloth binding.  The front cover has a pictorial of an African American Civil War infantry soldier alongside a gilt decorated scroll of the Emancipation Proclamation.  The spine is also decorated with a gilt sabre and has the title and author’s name stamped in gilt.  The book has brown coated endpapers. 

Williams was a prominent African American historian, clergyman, politician, soldier, and lawyer. He was the embodiment of a self-made man and had many firsts next to his name. He was the first African American to graduate from the Newton Theological Institution; he was the first African American to be elected to the Ohio State Legislature; and he was the first person to write an objective and scientifically researched history of African Americans in the United States.

George W. Williams was born in 1849 in Bedford Springs, PA. At the age of fourteen while using another name to conceal his young age, Williams enlisted in the Grand Army of the Republic and fought in the last battles of the Civil War. After the war, he continued down in Mexico, where he joined the Republican army. He returned to the United States in 1867 as a commissioned officer and then promptly enlisted in the U.S. Army where he was posted out west to the Indian Territories. Williams was wounded and returned home in 1868 to enroll in college. He changed schools and graduated from the Newton Theological Institution. After graduation, he was ordained a Baptist minister, and led several church congregations. He left the ministry in the late 1870s to study law in Ohio. Williams was then elected as a State Representative to the Ohio State Legislature where he served one term from 1880-1881.

In the latter half of the 1880s, Williams moved into sphere of international politics when President Garfield named him as Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti, a position in which that he never served. In 1889, Williams traveled first to Belgium to meet with King Leopold II of Belgium to discuss the conditions of the Congo Free State, the latter’s personal colony. Williams then traveled to Africa to observe the living and working conditions of the Congo Free State. Williams wrote of the colony’s deplorable conditions in an open published letter to the King, and of the trickery of Henry M. Stanley, of the colonial government and its power and mistreatments of the people. Unfortunately, Williams was not able to continue his work as he died in 1891 in Blackpool, England while on his return trip to the United States.

Prior to his trip to Belgium and African, Williams wrote A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. This book is considered to be a definitive military classic of the history of African Americans and their service during the Civil War. Williams was again the first historian to conduct original historical research by recording oral histories of African American Civil War veterans and collecting newspaper accounts. Williams’ research techniques of gathering primary data such as oral histories and the use of original newspaper accounts to write of historical events established the basic procedures that succeeding American historians have since followed.

Text by Beth Kilmarx, Curator of Rare Books.

A  History of the Negro Troops in the War of the
Rebellion, 1861-1865: Preceded by a Review of the Military Services of Negroes
in Ancient and Modern Times.
George W. Williams. New York: Harper and
Brothers. 1888. Special Collections Stacks — E540.N3 W7 1888