Monday, June 6, 2022

Booknotes: W.G.

New Arrival:
W.G.: The Opium-addicted Pistol Toting Preacher Who Raised the First Federal African American Union Troops by Donna Burtch & William Burtch (Sunbury Press, 2022).

From the description: William Gould Raymond (the 'W.G.' of the book's title) "was as complicated as the times. His life a mosaic of faith, addiction, health setbacks, his sprawling family, service as a Union Army officer, and then as a Lincoln-appointed hospital chaplain."

In October 1861, Raymond formally mustered into U.S. Army service as a lieutenant in Company H/86th New York V.I. A preacher pre-war, he was later appointed chaplain of the Trinity General Hospital in Washington. After his April 1863 discharge from those duties, Raymond and another veteran chaplain, J.D. Turner, lobbied the Lincoln administration for authorization to raise black troops in the capital, which led to his appointment as Lt. Col. of the First District of Columbia Colored Volunteers. According to Donna and William Burch, co-authors of W.G.: The Opium-addicted Pistol Toting Preacher Who Raised the First Federal African American Union Troops, it was Raymond's status as "the initial commanding officer responsible for raising what would become the 1st United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) of the District of Columbia" that should solidify his place in history.

More from the description: "This initiative was directly authorized by President Abraham Lincoln, with the goal of establishing the first federal regiments of African American Union soldiers." According to the Burtches, however, political events conspired to push Raymond's pioneering efforts into the shadows. "A political turf struggle erased W.G. Raymond’s spirited troop-recruiting campaign from official military records, distorting history to this day."

At around 90 pages of text, many of which are filled by illustrations, W.G. is a brisk narrative that can be read in a single sitting. The authors mention that their work is heavily based on Raymond's 1891 autobiography Life Sketches and Faith Work, and indeed the vast majority of the endnotes reference that foundational source. The Burtches firmly believe that "the few weeks of recruiting African American federal troops prior to the establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops" (pg. 88) are worthy of greater recognition. It is their hope that, through this volume, Raymond's life and Civil War service will receive just that.

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