Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Impact of the US Colored Troops on the Civilian Population

The 20th US Colored Infantry was presented with colors.
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper March 26, 1864

One of the stories not often told is the effect on the local community when seeing black Union Soldiers for the first time. Many of the soldiers, particularly those that enlisted in the south, had been slaves themselves.  They had spent most of their lifetime laboring for others.  Many suffered not only the indignities of forced labor, but also suffered from neglect, in personal care, health, and even clothing.  Many men, when they enlisted in the army, received well made clothing for the first time. The uniform transformed the man from a slave, considered property of another, to that of a man, will dignity.

Hubbard Pryor an ex slave who later joined the 44th  US Colored Infantry

Private Hubbard Pryor 44th US Colored Infantry
(This photograph was enclosed in a letter. Original caption: Private Hubbard Pryor After Enlistment in 44th USCT.)
This is the NARA Internal Exhibit Tracking Number. Agency-Assigned Identifier: M750 CT 1864,  ARC Identifier: 849136 

The secondary impact of these men enlisting, was the effect of seeing these men for the first time. This had to make an impression on their wives and families, and it had to have an effect on the entire community from which these once enslaved men had come.

The image of the 20th US Colored Infantry (see above) receiving their colors, is impressive, and the illustration that was captured in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine, in 1864, reveals the joy that this event had on the community.

Townspeople reacted with enthusiasm as the local Colored Troops assembled.

As simple as it may seem, the aspect of having decent clothing, added to a sense of pride and dignity for not only the man, for those who saw the  man, but also for those who knew the man, and who loved the man.

The fact that most of the regiments that formed the US  Colored troops were from the south and the vast majority were at one time, slaves, suggests that the empowerment of these men had effects beyond the shooting range of their muskets.  

The dignity finally given to the men, also poured into the once enslaved population, a new level of self respect and dignity, along with the promise of what could someday be for all.


  1. Amazing photos of Private Pryor. His service record shows him captured at Dalton, Georgia in October 1864. He was administratively discharged on May 1, 1865, as a result of the end of the war, with no resolution of his PoW status. Not sure what became of him, and that's troublesome.

  2. Just looked up the image in ARC -- it's dated October 10, 1864. He was captured three days later, on October 13.

  3. Spoke too soon. The rest of the story:

  4. Hello Tigone,

    Yes, it is a bit distressing to learn that he was captured, so soon after enlistment. One can only hope that he did survive the war---but the lack of formal discharge suggests that he might not have survived. I do hope that he did, though.

  5. He did survive, married, raised a family and died in Texas in 1890 (link above).

  6. My great-great grandfather served in the 20th infantry from Oyster Bay New York. He was 23 years old and survived the war. I have never seen this photo before. Thank you for this post. It made me choke up.