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Richmond’s Martin Divers, Union veteran

The future Ray County resident was among 8,400 black Missourians to fight

Civil War battles in Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama

 

By Emily List/Richmond News Staff

St. Louis – Dec. 3, 1863. A man walks up to the stand to enlist. The recruiter looks long and hard at him. The young man is very dark but has the most striking hazel eyes. The man says he’s from Warrensburg, but the recruiter wants to know more. The man hesitates. He doesn’t want to say he’s a slave, and he’s not exactly sure how old he is. The recruiter is annoyed and writes down that the 5-foot-4 colored man in front of him is an 18-year-old farmer.

Martin Divers, suddenly went from slave to private in the First Regiment of Missouri Colored Infantry, which later became the 62nd U.S. Regiment of Colored Infantry. Martin, along with nearly 8,400 black Missourian soldiers, fought in battles in Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama. His life would later become part of Richmond’s history.

But just because he was a soldier now, Martin was far from equal from his fellow white soldiers. He was treated differently, and his weapons were poor quality and uniform was in bad shape. Martin looked at it thinking that at least two other men had died in that suit before it got to him. By the end of the war, nearly 40,000 black soldiers died in battle or from infection or disease. Divers considered himself lucky. Not only did he survive the war, but only suffered a few days of diarrhea in 1864.

But why did Martin, along with thousands of other African Americans, enlist two years after the war had already begun?

When the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln had trouble deciding whether to recruit black soldiers. Eleven slave states had already seceded from the United States. There were four more “border” states that allowed slavery: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Lincoln was afraid that if he allowed black men to fight – thus emancipating them – those last four border slave states would secede too. He hoped that the war could be won quickly without using African American soldiers.

What Lincoln didn’t realize was how hard the Confederate Army would fight. Hundreds of soldiers from both sides were killed and wounded, but African Americans were still not allowed to fight. Union officers were even trying to form regiments of black volunteers, but the War Department forced a stop to it.

Read the complete story in the Sept. 29 Richmond News.

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