United States Colored Troops in the Civil War
17 artifacts in this set
"The Union Defenders Certificate in Support and Defence of the Government, the Union, and the Constitution," circa 1863
Abraham Lincoln justified his war message to Congress in April 1861 on the basis of protecting the indissoluble Union of States. White Americans viewed blacks as observers to the war, as this broadside implies. African Americans, however, sought an active role in furthering a larger war goal--freedom--and they lobbied for greater participation from the beginning.
In May 1862, men of African descent living in and around Hilton Head, South Carolina, an area occupied by Union troops, were impressed into service as the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry under the command of General David Hunter. This sparked controversy about whether refugees in areas occupied by the U.S. troops could, or should, serve in the military.
"Dress Parade of the First South Carolina Regiment (Colored) near Beaufort, South Carolina," 1861-1865
The Militia Act (July 1862) authorized military duty and pay for “persons of African descent.” Union officers reorganized the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry in November 1862. Company A, under command of Charles T. Trowbridge, became the first official U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) regiment on January 1, 1863, the same day that the Emancipation Proclamation was read for the first time, in Beaufort, South Carolina.
The Emancipation Proclamation declared the enslaved in Confederate territory, but not in Union-occupied territory, or in border states, free as of January 1, 1863. Lincoln's executive order also declared freedmen eligible for duty in the armed service of the United States, specifically, "such persons of suitable condition" could enlist "to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service."
The U.S. Army used colorful broadsides to recruit black troops. This poster hints at the benefits that African-American soldiers would accrue from Union victory: freedom from bondage and access to education and public schools. The graphics also reinforced white paternalism, with a white male standard-bearer armed with a sword and the banner, "Freedom to the Slave."
Frederick Douglass pressured politicians to enlist African Americans into the Union forces. In August 1863, the War Department directed Douglass to recruit black troops. Two of Douglass' sons enlisted with the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry (USCT). His eldest, Charles R. Douglass, saw little action due to illness, but his son, Lewis Hayden Douglass, fought at the Battle of Fort Wagner.
Sojourner Truth's grandson, James Caldwell, served with the 54th Massachusetts. He fought at the battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. For a time, Truth did not know if her grandson was drowned, or taken prisoner after the battle. Truth supported U.S. Colored Troops by collecting donations and working with relief societies and hospitals for freedmen.
The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry organized in March 1863, left Boston in May, and saw its fiercest action at Fort Wagner in July. This famous African-American regiment lost 116 men plus commanding officer Robert Gould Shaw, with 156 wounded or captured. The survivors saw more action in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida until the regiment was mustered out in September 1865.
Morris Robertson, an enslaved carpenter on Susquehanna Plantation, enlisted in the 9th USCT, Company C, on October 25, 1863. The 9th fought in South Carolina and in Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. The regiment was later deployed to Brownsville, Texas, and remained there until September 1866. Morris Robertson died of cholera in Brownsville on August 25, 1866, near the end of his three-year enlistment.
J.D. Brooker apparently enlisted in the 7th Corps d'Afrique, one of 26 regiments organized for service in the Department of the Gulf between May 1863 and April 1864. After these corps regiments were re-organized into the USCT, Brooker's regiment became the 79th Regiment USCT Infantry. The regiment was assigned post and garrison duty at Port Hudson as well as at other Louisiana forts and New Orleans defenses.
Army regulations required all U.S. regiments to carry national colors (the U.S. flag fringed in gold) and a regimental flag. J.D. Brooker likely pasted faded red, white and blue scraps of cotton and linen fabric from “our flag” into a star pattern on the back of his portrait. “Our flag” likely referred to the regimental flag of the Corps d'Afrique, 79th Regiment USCT Infantry, used between April and July 1864.
This 1865 roll confirmed enlistment (April 1863) and muster (May 1863) dates for men serving in Company E, 46th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry. Their service began with the 1st Regiment Arkansas Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) in Helena, Arkansas. Their designation changed to the 46th USCT in May 1864. By April 1865, the 46th was stationed in Brownsville, Texas. Notations document 15 prisoners of war and other men discharged and deceased.
Letter Written by Union Army Private Albert Manning from "Camp Foster," Roanoke Island, North Carolina, February 17, 1862
The U.S. Army chose white officers to lead USCT regiments. Neither officers nor soldiers had prior experience in their station. They had to learn on the job. Albert Manning began military life as a private. He wrote this letter about the 1862 battle of Roanoke Island. He served in coastal areas with large enslaved populations, and later was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant with the 90th Massachusetts Infantry, USCT, a regiment from his home state.
Union Army Colonel Bernard Gains Farrar assisted in the siege of Vicksburg. After the city fell, he recruited African-American troops. Farrar, commissioned a colonel in January 1864, commanded the 6th Heavy Artillery USCT. This regiment included soldiers from the 2nd Mississippi Heavy Artillery (African descent) and survivors from other regiments; all consolidated into the 5th Heavy Artillery, and then into the 6th Heavy Artillery in April 1864.
Andrew Coats enlisted in the 5th Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry (Duryee Zouaves) in 1861, and was wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run. In September 1863, 1st Lieutenant Coats assumed command of Company A, 7th U.S. Colored Infantry. In early 1864 that regiment was sent to the coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida (the Department of the South).
African-American soldiers symbolized the key issue of the Civil War--freedom--and the potential of a Union victory--equality. A print from the 1864 presidential election implied that if Democratic candidate George McClellan won, then Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, would face no opposition in his intent to harm U.S. Colored Troops. If President Lincoln won--with support of USCT soldiers--slavery and the rebellion would end.
Muster Roll of 13 Soldiers in Company G, 25th Regiment of United States Colored Infantry, April 12, 1865
This muster roll lists 13 men who joined the USCT near the end of the Civil War. They served in Company G, 25th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry, starting April 12, 1865, days after Grant accepted Lee's surrender. The Army Reorganization Act of 1866 instituted "colored" units, and separate black troops remained a fixture for years. President Truman's 1949 Executive Order No. 9981 called for an end to racial discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces.