Civil War Institute
When the Civil War began, the United States Navy’s Atlantic Squadron, commanded by Commodore Silas H. Stringham, sought to blockade the entire Eastern Seaboard of the Confederacy. It faced two major problems: a shortage of manpower and an abundance of fugitive slaves flocking to the Union fleet. The commander of one vessel, Commander O.S. Glisson, had fifteen refugees on his ship, none of whom he intended to return to their owners. Glisson wrote to Commodore Stringham asking for advice, and Stringham wrote to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles with an idea. Arguing that “if Negroes are to be used in this contest . . . they should be used to preserve the Government,” Stringham asked permission to recruit these fugitive slaves. Secretary Welles knew the Navy needed men, so he approved the request.
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Christensen, Hannah M., "Black Servicemen on the Seas: African Americans in the Union Navy" (2017). The Gettysburg Compiler: On the Front Lines of History. 227.