Lorenzo Thomas at Fort Curtis
Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas spoke in Helena on
April 6, 1863. About 4,000 soldiers stood in formation in
Fort Curtis. They heard Thomas, their commanding
officer, the district commander, a congressman, and
several colonels endorse the new government policy of
recruiting former slaves into the army.
Thomas told the men about the shortage of soldiers and
the need to recruit as many black men as possible. He
spoke to them as a fellow soldier, as one who understood
the hardships of war. He told them of his Southern
upbringing and prejudice. With this new policy, he told
them, President Lincoln meant to arm former slaves and
use them to help crush the rebellion.
Thomas declared, "I am here this day to say that I am
authorized to raise as many regiments of Blacks as can be
possibly collected. I am authorized to give commissions
from the highest to the lowest. I want those persons who
are earnest in this work to take hold of it. I want only those
whose hearts are in the work. I don't care who they are."
The Men Approve Wholeheartedly
"General Prentiss got up and told the boys that he wanted
them to give some demonstration in favor of the policy
for Gen. Thomas to carry back to President Lincoln[:]
told them that was in favor of arming the negroes to pull
off their hats and in a second every head... was barel:
he then told them to give three cheers and such yelling you
Minos Miller, an lowa soldier who later became an officer in the
2nd Arkansas of African Decent (54th U.S. Colored Infantry)
Middle left: Abraham Seachrist, 33rd Iowa
became a lieutenant in the 2nd
Arkansas Infantry of African
Descent (later designated the
54th U.S. Colored Infantry).
Bottom: The troops standing in formation at
Fort Curtis to hear Thomas must have
looked much like this Union regiment.