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African Americans in the U.S. Army
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Free Men of Colour and Choctaw Indian Volunteers at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1814

While peace negotiations to end the War of 1812 were taking place at Ghent in late 1814, the British decided to continue an operation that had been planned earlier. This was to be a raid upon the Gulf Coast to capture New Orleans and possibly separate Louisiana from the United States. The Americans, having received early word of the British intentions, placed their southern defenses under the command of Major General Andrew Jackson. Jackson arrived at New Orleans on 2 December and began making preparations to meet the British expedition.

The British force, under Major General Keane, made good progress. Arriving at the mouth of Lake Borgne on 10 December, they met and captured the American gunboat flotilla on that lake four days later. After that they conducted an undetected reconnaissance to within six miles of New Orleans.

News of the gunboat's capture caused consternation. Jackson placed the city under martial law and concentrated his scattered troop detachments nearby. General Coffee with his mounted riflemen arrived on 19 December, and Tennessee and Mississippi volunteers, unde General Carroll, arrived a few days later. In and around the city itself Jackson had two regular regiments, the 7th and 44th; a thousand state militia; a battalion of three hundred city volunteers; a rifle company of about sixty; a battalion of free blacks, mostly refugees from Santo Domingo; and twenty-eight Choctaw Indians. It was fortunate that Jackson's men had concentrated quickly, for at noon on 23 December the British advance force, a light brigade of about nineteen hundred men under Lieutenant Colonel Thornton, appeared on the banks of the Mississippi at the Villere plantation about nine miles from New Orleans, where they were to camp for the night. Jackson was told of the British arrival and decided to attack that evening. The main body of about thirteen hundred led by him would make a frontal attack, and Coffee with approximately seven hundred would hit from the flank while the arme schooner Carolina in the river would sweep the British with its guns. The action began well. The Carolina commenced her bombardment at 7:00 pm and soon after, Jackson and Coffee engaged the surprised British. But the early winter night had fallen and with night came fog. Men became separated from their units and soon the action became a melee with squads and individuals meeting, often fighting hand-to-hand with little overall control. At first the Americans were successful, but the British steadied with the arriva of reinforcements. After about an hour and a half of this confusion. Jackson broke off the action and withdrew his troops. He was followed by Coffee an hour later. The Americans lost 213 killed and wounded. British casualties totaled 267.

The painting shows the Choctaws and a mixed group of Major Daquin's Battalion of Free Men of Colour. The latter were mostly attired in civilian clothes because they had been organized only for a few weeks. They are led by an officer distinguishable by his sword and red sash. Facing them are members of the British 85th Regiment in red coats with yellow facings and white lace, and members of the British 95th Regiment in green uniforms with black facings and white lace.

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An Ordered and Disciplined Camp
Virginia, 1781

During the Revolutionary War, quartermaster sergeants prepared camp for General George Washington's army at the end of the day's march. The technical proficiency of these NCOs contributed directly to the speed with which Washington could move his regiments. This specialty, for example, enabled the continentals to march 350 miles so rapidly that they surprised the British at Yorktown in the battle that decided American independence. Here the quartermaster sergeant directs a private on the duty detail setting up tents, preparing fires, and otherwise readying a new bivouac for the night.

After several false starts, the Continental Army in 1779 finally adopted a plan for a national uniform of modified European style, using clothing imported from our French allies. The basic color for the coat was blue, with white for the waistcoat and breeches or overalls. Facings (cuffs, lapels, and collars) came in only four colors and were used to identify the regional grouping of states from which the regiment was raised. The red facing shown identifies this unit as coming from the Middle Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.

The quartermaster sergeant wears two white epaulets (a corporal would wear only one) and a sword to indicate his NCO status. His garments were of better quality than those issued to privates. Senior noncominissioned officers might further display their status by wearing elements common to officers' uniforms, such as silk epaulets. The private is wearing a heavy civilian-style linen

smock to protect his issued uniform while on a duty detail. The hats are trimmed with white lace and with the symbol of Franco-American friendship, the "alliance" cockade, which combined the Continental Army's earlier, black version with the French Army's white. The French regiments in the Yorktown campaign also wore the cockade, but with the color arrangement reversed.

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"Hell Fighters" From Harlem

Meuse-Argonne, September 26-October 1, 1918. The 369th Infantry fought valiantly in the Allied (Champagne) Offensive as part of the French 161st Division. Attacking behind a fiery barrage, the 369th Infantry assaulted successive German trenchlines and captured th town of Ripont. Against determined resistance, the 369th advanced up the heights norths of the Dormoise River and spearheaded the attack toward the town of Sechault. On 29 September, the Regiment ". . . stormed powerful enemy positions, . . . took, after heavy fighting, the town of Sechault; captured prisoners and brought back six cannons and a great number of machine guns." Despite heavy casualties, the 369th, called "Hell Fighters" by the French and Germans, relentlessly continued the attack at dawn. Raked by enemy machine guns, they assaulted into the woods northeast of Sechault, flanking and overwhelming enemy machine gun positions. The "Le's Go!" elan and indomitable fighting spirit of the 369th Infantry was illustrated throughout the battle action. Their initiative, leadership and gallantry won for their entire Regiment the French Croix de Guerre.

The citation for the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star was published in War Department General Orders 11, 1924, and reads as follows:

369th Infantry

Under the command of Colonel Hayward, who although wounded, insisted on leading his regiment into combat; of Lieutenant Colonel Pickering, admirably cool and courageous; of Captain Cobb (killed); of Major Spencer (severely wounded); and of Major Little, a real leader of men, the 369th Regiment of American Infantry, under fire for the first time, captured some powerful and energetically defended enemy positions, took the village of Sechault by main force, and brought back six cannon, many machine guns, and a number of prisoners.

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Guardians of Standards
Missouri, 1820s

Barracks inspection, always a major NCO duty, was especially important in the early nineteenth century. Strict discipline and standards were vital for a small Army trying to preserve a sense of professionalism despite being scattered across a vast frontier. In spartan barracks the NCOs had to enforce the clearly defined rules issued by the War Department. Here the regimental sergeant major and the first sergeant inspect the furniture and equipment in a typical small frontier post.

During the early 1820s the Army's regular regiments were scattered in small detachments across the frontier or in coastal fortifications, living in austere barracks. Four men slept in a double-tier bunk, two men on each level, sharing the straw-filled bedsack and blankets. The soldier had to use his knapsack to store all his possessions.

Regulations issued in 1821 provided a clearly defined set of standards for uniform dress which the NCOs used in evaluating their men. European styles still influenced the design of American uniforms, as seen in the high collar trimmed in worsted lace. The regulation specified a different color trim for each branch, including the buttons. The infantry, for example, wore white; the yellow seen here indicates artillery.

Because the "Bell Crown" leather cap could be an agony on hot days, a workman's style forage cap would be introduced in 1828.

By 1820, the wearing of a sash and a sword (here, an 1819 Starr Contract model) served as badges of rank only for first sergeants and above. The 1821 regulations

introduced to the uniform shoulder wings causing chevrons, rather than the traditional epaulets, to mark the uniform as that of a regimental sergeant major shown at the left. The summer fatigue dress worn by the company first sergeant on the right had no additional insignia.

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Dress on the Colors
Virginia, 1864

During the Civil War, sergeants and corporals preserved order when troops massed in line and assisted the officers by leading small units deployed for skirmishing. The color sergeant, performing what had once been an officer's duty, became the pivotal point in battle around which the regiments advanced and wheeled. Visible through the smoke and dust of battle, the sergeant's colors attracted the heaviest enemy fire and became the center of hand-to-hand combat. Here a regiment advances during the siege of Petersburg by aligning itself on the color sergeant.

Each infantry regiment had two colors, the Stars and Stripes and a second with a solid field bearing the national arms. Both flags were large, 6 by 61/2 feet, mounted on 91/2 foot pikes. The national colors, shown here, bore the regimental designation on the central stripe. It became the battle flag, the one usually carried into combat. The practice of inscrib-ing honors on the other stripes during the Civil War led to the modern custom of streamers. Each flag was borne by a color sergeant, a special duty position distinct from the company-level NCO. He was protected by the six corporals of the color party.

Sergeants in the Civil War were distinguished by their chevrons and trouser stripes and by their right to carry a sword, in this instance, a model 1840 NCO sword suspended from a shoulder belt and waist belt with distinctive eagle plates. Branch insignia included devices (for infantry, the light infantry horn) as well as the distinctive color of the uniform trim. Each foot soldier carried his possessions in a painted canvas folding knapsack with blanket roll strapped above. The knapsack was the first thing dropped before going into action. The soldier, however, was rarely separated from his haversack, which contained his rations, and from his tin canteen.