Sunday, January 1, 2012

Continuing the Story--Soldiers, Contrabands and Their Freedom

20th US Colored Infantry Presentation of Colors

The celebrations continue.

Last year marked the beginning of a five year campaign to commemorate the story of America's Civil War. For many Americans the Civil War stirs up emotions of another time. For some that was a time that has been romanticized. For others it is a time that was long awaited and the beginning of a transition from enslavement toa new journey of freedom.

I launched this blog a year ago today, and my goal was to simply tell a few of those stories long ignored, long forgotten, and simply buried. I was not sure if I could, but I managed to sustain it, and I dared to venture into an arena long considered a subject area for males only. In addition, the Civil War is a subject  that few of people of color have as a topic of interest. But this incredible conflict which divided a nation, involved people of color--men, and women alike. This national conflict also included persons who were enslaved, and those who were anxious to be free.

Thankfully their stories are emerging more even though the circle of people who tell those stories is a small circle. In fact, although there are many websites and blogs pertaining to the Civil war but how many persons of color are telling those stories?  I know of less than 20, I know of less than 10, in fact I cannot name 5.

I understand how and why there are so few Civil War blogs written by people of color. Many of us simply feel that we simply do not know enough about the Civil War to actually create and sustain a blog about it.

After all----how many us can recall the moments in high school sitting through US History dreading the time period of the Civil war and simply praying that we would get through that time period quickly?

I remember it quite well. Oh the true sense of dread!  The sense of detachment, and the very real sense of shame.  The shame came because there were no stories in our textbooks of heroes from the enslaved population. Our textbooks offered no stories of resistance, no stories of courage, and no stories of any efforts to win freedom. There was no one for me to embrace from the story of that conflict. The Civil War story as it was taught did not reflect me.

But little did I know that there WERE such stories! What I missed such amazing stories. A favorite for me is the story Robert Smalls who took over a confederate gunboat, and steered his way into freedom!

Robert Smalls

The Planter - Gunboat Steered by Robert Smalls

And the soldiers--there were thousands of them! And these men were fighting for their freedom!!!

What a surprise to learn that the 11th US Colored Troops were organized in my own hometown!

Image from Service Record of Soldier in the 11th US Colored Infantry

And in the local national cemetery nearby, over 100 Civil War soldiers of color are buried.

Entrance to Ft. Smith National Cemetery

All were Union Army, from multiple regiments, yet  I was never taught this. (I wonder if they are taught this today--somehow I have my doubts.)

The greatest surprise, is that some of the most amazing Civil War stories come from my own family history! It would be 3 decades after that US history high school class, before I would learn their names and learn about the amazing events in their lives. And what stories they were! Some of my readers on my family history blog, followed my story about how I found Uncle Sephus Bass who served in the 111th US Colored Infantry.

But Uncle Sephus was only one ancestor. There was Braxton Bass, (another uncle) and Henry and Emanuel Bass--both brothers who were sons of Uncle Sephus, and Thomas Bass, from the same community. On another family line there was Berry Young, there was John Talkington, and there were the Ordway brotheres, who enlisted as William Oddaway and James Oddaway.

William and James Oddaway were also names of ancestors in the US Colored Troops

There were the contrabands as well---women and children were not to be left behind when the Union soldiers came through. They followed their men. Once separated--they continued their trek to freedom! What joy--freedom!

So as this second year of this blog begins, I plan to highlight people the unknown men, and women who won their freedom.

No one should ever feel shame for those untold stories again!

I hope that others from the larger family will begin to tell their family stories of freedom. I hope that other African Americans will join the small family of writers and bloggers who dare to write about the Civil war.

What a travesty that there are less than 5 blogs honoring US Colored Soldiers and Sailors. There are many of us who descend from these thousands of men and women---and I hope that others will join me


  1. Thank you for a wonderful Civil War site! I have throughly enjoyed learning about the African-American contribution to the Civil War. It motivates me to dig dipper into my own family tree to find a Civil War connection. I look forward to your posts for the coming year.

  2. Thank you Joyce for visiting the page! I hope you find many articles and stories that will be of interest to you.