Two days earlier a committee called on President Lincoln, urging him to authorize the recruitment of 10,000 black soldiers with General John C. Fremont in command.
The New York Tribune reported Lincoln’s reaction:
The President declared that he would gladly receive into the service not ten thousand but ten times ten thousand colored troops; expressed his determination to protect all who enlisted, and said that he looked to them for essential service in finishing the war. He believed that the command of them afforded scope for the highest ambition, and he would with all his heart offer it to Gen. Fremont.
Senator Charles Sumner favored the plan and called on the president to discuss the matter in greater detail, prompting Lincoln to put his position in writing, dated June 1, 1863 (Collected Works, 6:242-243):
In relation to the matter spoken of Saturday morning, and this morning, towit, the raising of colored troops in the North, with the understanding that they shall be commanded by Gen. Fremont, I have to say
That while it is very objectionable, as a general rule, to have troops raised on any special terms, such as to serve only under a particular commander, or only at a particular place or places, yet I would forego the objection in this case, upon a fair prospect that a large force of this sort could thereby be the more rapidly raised
That being raised, say to the number of ten thousand, I would very cheerfully send them to the field under Gen. Fremont, assigning him a Department, made or to be made, with such white force also as I might be able to put in.
That with the best wishes towards Gen. Fremont, I can not now give him a Department, because I have not spare troops to furnish a new Department; and I have not, as I think, justifiable ground to relieve the present commander of any old one.
In the raising of the colored troops, the same consent of Governors would have to be obtained as in case of white troops, and the government would make the same provision for them during organization, as for white troops.
It would not be a point with me whether Gen. Fremont should take charge of the organization, or take charge of the force only after the organization.
If you think fit to communicate this to Gen. Fremont you are at liberty to do so. Yours truly A. LINCOLN
By war’s end, nearly 180,000 black soldiers served in the Union army.