May 18, 1863
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF, NINETEENTH ARMY CORPS,
GENERAL ORDERS No. 40. -- The Major-General commanding the Department proposes the organization of a Corps d'Armee of colored troops, to be designated as the "Corps d'Afrique." It will consist ultimately of eighteen regiments, representing all arms -- infantry, artillery, cavalry -- making nine brigades of two regiments each, and three divisions of three brigades each, with appropriate corps of engineers, and flying hospitals for each division. Appropriate uniforms, and the graduation of pay to correspond with the value of services, will be hereafter awarded.
In the field the efficiency of every corps depends upon the influence of its officers upon the troops engaged, and the practical limits of one direct command is generally estimated at 1,000 men. The most eminent military historians and commanders, among others THIERS and CHAMBRAY, express the opinion upon a full review of the elements of military power, that the valor of the soldier is rather acquired than natural. Nations whose individual heroism is undisputed, have failed as soldiers in the field. The European and American continents exhibit instances of this character, and the military prowess of every nation may be estimated by the centuries it has devoted to military contest, or the traditional passion of its people for military glory. With a race unaccustomed to military service, much more depends on the immediate influence of officers upon individual members, than with those that have acquired more or less of warlike habits and spirit by centuries of contest. It is deemed best, therefore, in the organization of the Corps d'Afrique, to limit the regiment to the smallest number of men consistent with efficient service in the field, in order to secure the most thorough instruction and discipline, and the largest influence of the officers over the troops. At first they will be limited to five hundred men. The average of American regiments is less than that number.
The Commanding General desires to detail for temporary or permanent duty the best officers of the army for the organization, instruction and discipline of this corps. With their aid he is confident that the corps will render important service to the Government. It is not established upon any dogma of equality or other theory, but as a practical and sensible matter of business. The Government makes use of mules, horses, uneducated and educated white men in the defence of its institutions. Why should not the negro contribute whatever is in his power for the cause in which he is as deeply interested as other men? We may properly demand from him whatever service he can render. The chief defect in organizations of this character has arisen from incorrect ideas of the officers in command. Their discipline has been lax, and in some cases the conduct of their regiments unsatisfactory and discreditable. Controversies unnecessary and injurious to the service have arisen between them and other troops. The organization proposed will reconcile and avoid many of these troubles.
Officers and soldiers will consider the exigencies of the service in this Department, and the absolute necessity of appropriating every element of power to the support of the Government. The prejudices or opinions of men are in no wise involved. The cooperation and active support of all officers and men, and the nomination of fit men from the ranks, and from the lists of non-commissioned and commissioned officers, are respectfully solicited from the Generals commanding the respective divisions.
By command of Maj.-Gen. BANKS.
RICHARD B. IRWIN, A.A. General.