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24th Infantry - The Last Segregated Regiment

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Historian William Hammond was interviewed by Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith in Washington, D.C. in February, 2003.

Stephen Smith: Tell me your name and your title and what you do for living?

William Hammond: William Hammond, historian, United States Army Center of Military History. I write books about the history of the Army.

Kate Ellis: Can you tell us about the 24th Infantry and the controversy that surrounds it, give us more details about its reputation?

Hammond: Within the Army, they had the reputation of being a bug-out unit. When the going gets rough - so opinion was - the 24th got going in the opposite direction. Well, this inevitably appeared in the histories, particularly in one history by Roy Appleman. Appleman was not a man of any kind of racial prejudice that we're aware of. He was simply angry; he was a veteran of that war and he was angry that things had gotten to that point. And his anger got into the pages of his book.

Ellis: Was he angry because he was on a hill when people who were fighting alongside, abandoned him?

Hammond: He was just angry at what he had heard and what he had read and so on. There was a lot of documentary evidence and so on, but much went onto paper at the hands of people who didn't have high expectations for blacks. So they would see something happen and they would just assume it was the blackness of this person that was at fault - and that black people were incapable of doing anything really important that required real thought. Well, we had to go back and deal with this.

We found that Appleman was pretty much correct in terms of the facts as far as he went. But he never went under them. And we also felt the tone of his writing left something to be desired when he dealt with the 24th, that his writing should have been far more dispassionate than it was. We write for all American people, not just for a few. We don't write bestsellers. What we write will be in print or available 2 and 300 years from now. And soldiers will read it just as they study the Mexican War and Civil War right now to find out how to fight in Iraq and those places. War doesn't change that much.

Next: Early History of the Black Soldier - The American Revolution and the Civil War

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