My latest Civil War News “Faces of War” column is now available. 1st Sgt. Octavius McFarland was born a slave in Missouri, and he was illiterate like most of his comrades. The senior officers of his regiment, the Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry, published a series of orders to teach McFarland and the rest of the rank and file to read and write.
The senior commanders of the Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry issued a variety of general orders to the rank and file during its 27 months as an organized force. Perhaps the most unique of all is General Order No. 4. Enacted on Jan. 25, 1865, it announced a contest to recognize the best writers in the ranks.
A committee of officers was appointed to judge the entries and pick thirty winners—a sergeant, corporal and private from each of the regiment’s ten companies. The standard 100-man company included one first sergeant, four sergeants, eight corporals and eighty-two privates.
Results would be announced on Independence Day 1865. Winning corporals and sergeants would each receive a gold pen, and privates a good book.