Back to top

U.S. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles authorizes the enlistment of runaway slaves into the naval service

Gideon Welles, detail
African-Americans had been enlisted in limited numbers into the pre-Civil War navy and this continued as the war began.  With the publicity surrounding the "contrabands" congregating around Union installations during the first six months of the war, the Secretary of the Navy authorized the enlistment of runaway slaves into the United States Naval on a restricted basis of rank and pay. Such enlistment grew and by the end of the war the Navy had more than 23,000 black sailors, around twenty percent of all naval enlisted men.  (By John Osborne) 
Source Citation: 
Dennis J. Ringle, Life in Mr Lincoln's Navy (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Navy Institute Press, 1998), 12-14.