Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections of a Sesquicentennial Year

On January 1st, 2012 it will be exactly one year since I will have launched this blog. My interest in Civil War and it's history began with my own discovery of brave men and women who were freedom seekers in my own family.

Some became soldiers.....

Some escaped as freedom seekers, to the contraband camps......

And yet others were held captive where they were enslaved, until their circumstances were changed by the war's outcome.

However, my discovery of these acts of resistance among my own ancestors and their stories needed to be told and they inspired me to create this blog.

A year ago, I was not certain if I had a year's worth of information to share. But somehow the stories came, new ideas formed and more stories emerged. I did fill up the blog each month with something to share. And I was not sure if I had many or any friends or associates who would follow my posts about the Civil War.  But now--as the year ends, and I have had over 8700 visits to the page, I have been so humbled. I have had followers from authors to fellow genealogists, to re-enactors who visit the blog.

But most importantly truly I have learned so much!

I have learned the value of telling both the story of ancestors who were freedom seekers, as well as speaking about those who remained. I have learned because I have seen empowerment in the eyes of those who listened.

At events where I spoke about Uncle Sephus and his escape from Nathan Bedford Forrest, I saw the eyes lighten up from  young cousins amazed at such courage of an ancestor so distant in time, but yet so close in our line.

At conferences when I shared methods of researching the history of US Colored Troops, I saw approving nods from my colleagues when they realized that they too, could explore this same chapter in their family history and embark upon their own Civil War research journey.

Now a year later, I look back at this blog which was created to honor the Sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War.  I know however, that as each year of the Civil War went by in the past, each year in the present will mark a new landmark year with more to commemorate.

And there is so much more to tell. I am honored therefore to tell some of their stories, and I am grateful to the Ancestors that there is such a story to tell.

So as 2012 begins, new stories emerge as well.  I am humbled and I am honored to research them, to find what I can, and to pass them on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Will We Come When They Tell Our Story?

There has been much discussion in recent days about the lack of interest in Civil War from the African American community. 

To me, the lack of interest is merely a symptom of a larger problem. Much of it stems from a lack of knowledge, and from minimal efforts to teach, grow and learn from a rich history. But when that rich history is ignored and not taught by the very community itself, the end result can only be a misunderstanding of one's own past and this leads to blatantly low self esteem.   

The Civil War---for many people of color is a story about places. There were the major battles in places like Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Bull Run. There were other incidents in places such as Pea Ridge,  Jenkins Ferry, Chapin's Farm, Petersburg. Yet these are place names that mean very little to the average person of color. There are fleeting images that might come to mind (if at all)  when these battles are celebrated or commemorated with flags, ammunition and fanfare.

In today's life, few African American children experience vacation trips to visit battlegrounds such as Petersburg, and should they go there on a school field trip, do they see their own faces reflected?

When the local community honors a civil war incident, there are ladies in hooped skirts, men in uniform--blue and gray, lots of flags---usually more Confederate flags---and that---to most people of color is a sign---stay away and protect the children! There is usually some period music being played at these events by a small drum and fife corps, and frankly few black parents take their children to such events. But why?

The discussion about the Civil War frequently has two arenas---one in the classroom and the other in the general public.  The recent comments in the press---those questions are being asked by scholars---who don't speak to the public--in many cases they speak to their colleagues--other historians.  

The other arena is the public arena. And it is from the public arena where one finds many Civil war enthusiasts---re-enactors, living historians, local preservationists. But---most of those faces are not faces of color. At many public events where local celebration occur--there is a lot of fanfare. Guns, cannons, and flags. Especially the one flag that represents terror to many people. It brings back 20th century horror, and terror, and its very origins from the Civil War are enough to just say stay away and let folks have their 19th century party.  

But then in 1989, came the movie Glory, a film which told a story of some brave men from Massachusetts, who became soldiers. But a child from Arkansas, or Mississippi, or Louisiana, or Alabama, the film has no connection to those men. 

In Arkansas as Civil War celebrations emerge, from Pea Ridge to Jenkins Ferry, yet when the story of Jenkins Ferry is told, quite often but it is often told without mention of the Kansas Colored Infantry---later known as the 83 US Colored Infantry that fought at that battle. 

Do the children of Louisiana learn about the 39 regiments of US Colored Troops that were organized there? All children should know this--no other state in the union produced so many regiments!!

Historical Illustration of Black Soldiers at  the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana

How many children in Mississippi know about the amazing contributions of black Union soldiers in the Vicksbug Campaign? Several thousand black men were involved---but are the children both white and black, that live along the Delta taught this?

Historical Marker Denoting the Seige of Vicksburg

A Rare Battle Monument Honoring Black Soldiers at Vicksburg

The stories go on and on. But for the average person, and the effects of the war are still told from side only. 

There are countless stories told about Union armies raiding small southern towns. One reads about the effects upon the town--good folks who lost property. Yet---some of the property lost consisted of human property. And their ownership of human beings as property has yet to be addressed---and this is what keeps so many who descend from that human property so silent. There has been no mention of the wrongness of it all. But these things did happen and yes, slaves were part of the property of the good folks. Their enslavement was morally wrong and their freedom was never celebrated. It was hushed, not mentioned and buried.

And even less known are the stories of the contrabands the ones who seized their freedom. And truly, the heart of the story of liberation was the story of the thousands who made it to the Union lines---on foot, by wagon, horses, mules and in some cases later taken by train to settlement camps----because they had the courage to free themselves.

But the story told that prevails is a romantic story of Tara and Gone With the Wind. For most people of color, Gone With the Wind is a horrible story--and nothing more than a slave owner's love story. Even decades after World War II ended, Hollywood would never make a movie of a Nazi love story--yet America and so many Americans dream of life in the good ole days and often see themselves as Scarlett, and long for Rhett Butler and love that movie! The people who were victims of Scarlet and her social class are depicted as caricatures, merely presented for laughter. The pains suffered of the people enslaved by Scarlett, are not visible, not shown and their personalities are shallow at best. 

Until the larger story of human beings who resisted, are told, until the stories of those who eventually succeeded are told,  and until they are presented as people with a history worth telling, the lack of interest in this Civil War story will continue.

Library of Congress Image of Contrabands Arriving at Union Lines

How can this be taught well?  Has a curriculum been established to teach this portion of Civil War history? 
Not as yet. Therefore, as the sesquicentennial celebrations continue---and they will continue till 2015---the silence of many will continue.  This silence is rooted in the burying of the story of what happened to so many. 

My question is, will we come when they tell our story?

At least some are beginning to ask the right questions, and I have hope that things might change.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remembering Andrew Jackson Smith - Medal of Honor Winner At Honey Hill

In 1863 when the call went out to form black regiments, the call was so great in New England that enough recruits were present to form two black regiments from Massachusetts. Thus the 55th US Colored Infantry was formed. This would be sometimes called the sister regiment to the famous 54 Massachusetts Colored Infantry depicted in the movie Glory! 

The men came from everywhere. From Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York they enlisted eagerly. After being drilled and trained, they were sent to North Carolina, then Morris Island where they would work for many weeks in the trenches. 

On his massive website Lest We Forget, historical researcher Bennie McRae describes how this regiment became quickly demoralized when it was learned that they were not to be paid the same as white soldiers. The typical pay was $13 per month for volunteers. Black soldiers, it was decided would be  paid $10.00 per month. When they learned of this, they were immediately upset that their lives were valued less that the lives of white soldiers. They refused the pay of $10 and demanded to be treated equally as they had been guaranteed.

Mr. McRae reported:

For months, the government refused to settle the pay issue, and morale among the soldiers of the 55th began to detiorate, meanwhile---they continued to serve as soldiers. Their service on Folly's Island and other detachments was still going on though the issue of equal payment continued. Finally word came in August of 1864 that it was finally decided that all colored troops were to receive equal pay from January 1, 1864 forward.

Again, Mr. McRae succinctly describes the time when the soldiers received all of their back pay:

The morale was boosted among all of the men after payment and the following month, they would all find themselves to be tested in a major battle--the Battle of Honey Hill. Among the hundreds of men in the 55th, was a young Kentucky born man Andrew Jackson Smith. He was a slave of Elijah Smith of Kentucky and when the war broke out, Elijah Smith had planned to take Andrew and other male slaves into battle with him into the Confederate war front. But Andrew had no desire to follow his master to the confederate battle front and so he and another slave took flight on foot. They made their way 25 miles on foot, till they reached  the Union line and presented themselves to the Union soldiers encamped there. He connected with an Illinois regiment where he was wounded near Shiloh. After recovering, he was still determined to enlist in the Union Army as a soldier.

He was mustered into the 55th Massachusetts and was serving in the regiment when they were ordered to Honey Hill, SC.  While crossing a swamp the unit came under very heavy fire from the enemy.  The color barrier was hit and mortally wounded. 

Smith rushed to the side of the color barrier, took up the colors and carried them throughout the rest of the battle. He was exposed to the enemy but never lost the colors and never let them fall. In spite of the heavy fire under which he found himself, the colors of the 55th Massachusetts did not fall, thanks to the actions of Corporal Smith.  He was later promoted to Color Sergeant two months later.

After the war, Andrew Jackson Smith returned to Kentucky, purchased land there and remained.  In 1916, many year after the famous battle, he was nominated for the Medal of Honor but it was denied. 

However, in 2001 a mere 137 years after the battle of Honey Hill where he earned the medal it was finally awarded to him posthumously by President Bill Clinton, in 2001. 

His descendants received it at a White House ceremony. A marker has also been erected reflecting this honor and it is placed on the road near the cemetery where he is buried.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November Reflections of US Colored Troops

A Montage November Engagements of US Colored Troops

I am continually amazed at how much the US Colored Troops were engaged in battle during each month after they were mustered into service.

As November comes to a close, I was looking over a list of military engagements that involved black soldiers and the geographic as well as military diversity was interesting to note and I decided to share my observations on this blog.

The Bureau of US Colored Troop was organized in 1863 and the recruitment of black men into the Union Army was rapid. The month of November was a busy month in both 1863 and still in 1864 as well.  However, as early as November of 1862, the organization of black Union regiments had begun.

Black Union Army Regiments organized in the month of November 
-Battery C -  Louisiana  (November 6, 1863)
-Battery F - Tennessee (November 23, 1863)
-6th US Colored Cavaly - Kentucky (November 1, 1864)
-9th US Colored Infantry - Maryland (November 11, 1863)
-10thUS Colored Heavy Artillery -  Louisiana (Novermber 29, 1862)
-10th US Colored Infantry - Virginia (November, 18, 1863)
-13th US Colored Infantry - Tennessee (November 19, 1863)
-14th US Colored Infantry - Tennessee (November 16, 1863)
-23rd US Colored Infantry - Virginia (November 23, 1863)
-75th US Colored Infantry -  Louisiana (November 24, 1863)
-87th US Colored Infantry - Louisiana (November 26, 1863)
-93rd US Colored Infantry - Louisiana (November 23, 1863)
-110th US Colored Infantry - Alabama (November 20th, 1863)
-120th US Colored Infantry - Kentucky (November 1864)

The month of November would also prove to be a month in which many black soldiers were to become engaged in battles and skirmishes. Some were small skirmishes involving as few as one company and otheres were  much larger such as Honey Hill and Bermuda Hundred that would involve hundreds of soldiers. But from the Gulf of Mexico, to Virginia, the battle for freedom continued.

Battles Involving USCTs in November
November  1, 1864  - Black River Louisiana,  6th USC Heavy Artillery
November  4, 1864 - Chapin's Farm, Virginia, 22nd USC Infantry
November  9, 1864 - Bayou Tunica Louisiana,  73rd US Infantry
November 11, 1864 - Natchez Mississippi, 58th USC Infantry
November 14, 1864 - Cow Creek, Cherkoee Nation, 54th USC Infantry
November 17, 1864 - Bayou St. Louis, Mississippi, 91st USC Infantry
November 17, 1864 - Dutch Gap, Virginia, 36th USC  Infantry
November 19, 1864 -  Ash Bayou, Louisiana, 93rd USC Infantry
November 19, 1864 - Timber Hill, Cherokee Nation, 79th USC Infantry (New)
November 22, 1864 - Rolling Ford, Mississippi,  3rd US Cavalry
November 23, 1864 - Morganza Louisiana,  84th USC Infantry
November 24, 1864 - Hall Island South Carolina  33rd USC Infantry
November 26, 1864 - Plymouth NC, 10th USC Infantry
November 26, 1864 - Madison Sta. Alabama 101st USC Infantry
November 30, 1864 - Bermuda Hundred, Virginia  19th USC Infantry
November 30, 1864 - Honey Hill, South Carolina  32nd, 35th, 54th & 55th USC Infantries


"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States."         
 ~Frederick Douglass  1863~

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spirit of Freedom and Other Monuments to US Colored Troops

This video tells the story of the Spirit of Freedom - the National Monument Honoring Black Civil War Soldiers

I attended the dedication of that monument in the summer of 1998 and was honored to witness the outpour of support from descendants of those 209,000 men whose names are inscribed on that monument as well. 

The following summer, I got to see another monument honoring black Civil War soldiers. I was attending a Civil War re-enactment of the Honey Springs Battle in Rentiesville Oklahoma and was delighted to see that among the monuments erected honoring the soldiers in that battle--the 1st Kansas Colored were depicted among those who fought nobly in that battle.

Of course, I have often pointed out that many who research the history of the US Colored Troops will frequently encounter other African Americans who have no knowledge of the ties that their own families have to the thousands of Black soldiers who fought and died for their freedom. In a recent discussion about this, it was mentioned again, that this occurs possibly because there are so few images or monuments devoted to the contribution made by more than 200,000 African Americans who served in the War.

Ironically in most southern towns somewhere in or near the town square is a monument devoted to confederate dead, and ironically there are so few monuments to the Black men who lived in the same communities who fought for their freedom.

Although there are less than two dozen, the list slowly growing. I did find a site devoted to Black Civil War monuments, and have written to have the inclusion of the Honey Springs battlefield monument to the 1st Kansas Colored (that later became the 79th US Colored Infantry), however, the change has yet to be made to reflect that monument.

Yet, the site deserves to be visited, again, because so few of us are aware of these soldiers and of their history. I am including a list of the monuments that are mentioned on the Jubilo site, with a link to the sites that contain more information about the monuments honoring these soldiers.

Connecticut 29th  Colored Regiment - Fair Haven Connecticut

North Carolina Colored Union Soldiers - Hertford North Carolina

USCT National Cemetery Monument - Nashville Tennessee

West Point Monument - Norfolk Virginia

As happy as I am to see these monuments---there are so many more untold stories. Perhaps when and if they are constructed, in the future we may see monuments honoring the fallen men as well, for their price was the ultimate price for freedom. Their bravery is still unsung.

Let us not forget to 

And as I have an ancestors who was ambushed in battle, I hope someday in central Arkansas that some will also Remember Jenkin's Ferry.

All brave men deserve to be so honored and remembered.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Honoring US Colored Troops from Missouri

By 1863, the recruitment of black men to join the Union Army was fervent. The Emancipation Proclamation issued in January 1863, was directed exclusively to the states that had seceded from the Union. Therefore border states like Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri were not included.  So technically, slaves  in Missouri were not affected by the proclamation. Prior to the official establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops, fugitive slaves were not officially recruited in Missouri into the Union Army. 

However, once Union Army recruitment of black soldiers had begun in earnest, slaves were no longer returned to their owners, if runaways had been found. So therefore, in Missouri as Federal forces had advanced, slaves in Missouri, like their brethren in the deep south, fled to the Union lines, and when opportunity came, they eagerly enlisted. Some were possibly inspired by the presence of black Union men as early as 1862, when the 1st Kansas Colored became involved in the Battle of Island Mound. They would become the first black soldiers to engage the enemy. 

18th US Colored Infantry
Organized in Missouri at large February 1 to September 28, 1864. Attached to District of St. Louis, Mo., Dept. of Missouri, to December, 1864. Unassigned, District of the Etowah, Dept. of the Cumberland, December, 1864. 1st Colored Brigade, District of the Etowa, Dept. of the Cumberland, to January, 1865. Unassigned, District of the Etowah, Dept. of the Cumberland, March, 1865. 1st Colored Brigade, Dept. of the Cumberland, to July, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, District of East Tennessee and Dept. of the Tennessee, to February, 1866.
Service--Duty in District of St. Louis, Mo., and at St. Louis until November, 1864. Ordered to Nashville, Tenn., November 7. Moved to Paducah, Ky., November 7-11, thence to Nashville, Tenn. Occupation of Nashville during Hood's investment December 1-15. Battles of Nashville December 15-16. Pursuit of Hood to the Tennessee River December 17-28. At Bridgeport, Ala., guarding railroad until February, 1865. Action at Elrod's Tan Yard January 27. At Chattanooga, Tenn., and in District of East Tennessee until February, 1866. Mustered out February 21, 1866.

62nd US Colored Infantry
Organized March 11, 1864, from 1st Missouri Colored Infantry. Attached to District of St. Louis, Dept. of Missouri, to March, 1864. District of Baton Rouge, La., Dept. of the Gulf, to June, 1864. Provisional Brigade, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to September, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to September, 1864. Port Hudson, La., Dept. of the Gulf, to September, 1864. Brazos Santiago, Texas, to October, 1864. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, United States Colored Troops, Dept. of the Gulf, to December, 1864. Brazos Santiago, Texas, to June, 1865. Dept. of Texas to March, 1866.
Service--Ordered to Baton Rouge, La., March 23, 1864, and duty there until June. Ordered to Morganza, La., and duty there until September. Expedition from Morganza to Bayou Sara September 6-7. Ordered to Brazos Santiago, Texas, September, and duty there until May, 1865. Expedition from Brazos Santiago May 11-14. Action at Palmetto Ranch May 12-13, 1865. White's Ranch May 13. Last action of the war. Duty at various points in Texas until March, 1866. Ordered to St. Louis via New Orleans, La. Mustered out March 31, 1866.

65th US Colored Infantry
Organized March 11, 1864, from 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry. Attached to Dept. of Missouri to June, 1864. Provisional Brigade, District of Morganza, La., Dept. of the Gulf, to September, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to February, 1865. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, La., Dept. of the Gulf, to May, 1865. Northern District of Louisiana and Dept. of the Gulf to January, 1867.
Service--Garrison duty at Morganza, La., until May, 1865. Ordered to Port Hudson, La. Garrison duty there and at Baton Rouge and in Northern District of Louisiana until January, 1867. Mustered out January 8, 1867.Regiment lost during service 6 Officers and 749 Enlisted men by disease.

67th US Colored Infantry
Organized March 11, 1864, from 3rd Missouri Colored Infantry. Attached to Dept. of Missouri to March, 1864. District of Port Hudson, La., Dept. of the Gulf, to June, 1864. Provisional Brigade, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to September, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to February, 1865. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of Morganza, Dept. of the Gulf, to May, 1865. Northern District of Louisiana, Dept. of the Gulf, to July, 1865.
Service--Moved from Benton Barracks, Mo., to Port Hudson, La., arriving March 19, 1864, and duty there until June. Moved to Morganza, La., and duty there until June, 1865. Action at Mt. Pleasant Landing, La., May 15, 1864 (Detachment). Expedition from Morganza to Bayou Sara September 6-7, 1864. Moved to Port Hudson June 1, 1865. Consolidated with 65th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, July 12, 1865.

68th US Colored Infantry
Organized March 11, 1864, from 4th. Missouri Colored Infantry. Attached to District of Memphis, Tenn., 16th Corps, Dept. of the Tennessee, to June, 1864. 1st Colored Brigade, Memphis, Tenn., District of West Tennessee, to December, 1864. Fort Pickering, Defenses of Memphis, Tenn., District of West Tennessee, to February, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, Military Division West Mississippi, to May, 1865. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, United States Colored Troops, District of West Florida, to June, 1865. Dept. of Texas to February, 1866.
SERVICE--At St. Louis, Mo., until April 27, 1864. Ordered to Memphis, Tenn., and duty in the Defenses of that city until February, 1865. Smith's Expedition to Tupelo, Miss., July 5-21, 1864. Camargo's Cross Roads, near Harrisburg, July 13. Tupelo July 14-15. Old Town Creek July 15. At Fort Pickering, Defenses of Memphis, Tenn., until February, 1865. Ordered to New Orleans, La., thence to Barrancas, Fla. March from Pensacola, Fla., to Blakely, Ala., March 20-April 1. Siege of Fort Blakely April 1-9. Assault and capture of Fort Blakely April 9. Occupation of Mobile April 12. March to Montgomery April 13-25. Duty there and at Mobile until June. Moved to New Orleans, La., thence to Texas. Duty on the Rio Grande and at various points in Texas until February, 1866. Mustered out February 5, 1866.

Battles Fought in Missouri Involving US Colored Troops

There were not many battles involving black soldiers fought in Missouri.  Most of the regiments organized in the state were sent to other places such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.  The two most significant battles in which black  Union Soldiers, were Island Mound and Glascow Missouri. Those battles would involve soldiers from other states, with exception of Glascow.

Missouri Civil War Battles involving black soldiers
Glascow, Missouri October 15, 1864 involving the 62nd US Colored Infantry
Island Mound, Missouri 1962 involving the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry (re-designated as 79th US Colored)
Sherwood, Missouri May 18, 1863 involving the 79th US Colored Infantry (formerly 1st Kansas Colored)

Military Service Muster In Document of US Colored soldier of Missouri

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Honoring Black Civil War Soldiers Organized in Kentucky

File:Colored Soldiers Monument in Frankfort 1.jpg

frankfort.JPG (13819 bytes)
Monument erected in 1924 honoring the US Colored Soldiers from Kentucky

In 1924, The Colored Women's Relief Corps, No. 8 of the Grand Army of the Republic, erected a monument honoring the actions and service of the US Colored Troops, particularly those from Kentucky. It was placed in Greenhill Cemetery in Frankfurt Kentucky. In April of this year another an historical marker honoring black Civil War soldiers of Kentucky was erected.  This marker stands in Simpsonville Kentucky near the site where soldiers were killed. I have also been impressed to see that over the years there have been more efforts to honor black soldiers from Kentucky.
There were many black men from Kentucky who served in the Union Army, and many served in regiments outside of Kentucky. It is said that more than 20,000 black men of Kentucky served in the Union Army from multiple states. Kentucky is an interesting state with rich African American history. The Civil War was also a time in which there was much activity involving African Americans. Black Union regiments were organized, and the slaves---many freed themselves and found refuge at contraband camps like Camp Nelson.

Contraband Camp at Camp Nelson, KY

I have learned also about the various units of Black Union soldiers that came out of Kentucky and have also been impressed to see the list of battles and skirmishes in which they were engaged.  The Kentucky story has to be a rich one, indeed!  I wonder how many of those soldiers had wives and children living in Camp Nelson.
I wonder too, how many Kentucky residents are aware of this unique and wonderfully rich history.  

Kentucky is one of those states that gets overshadowed when USCT history is mentioned.  The mention of Civil War for many brings discussion of the moving Glory, which ironically did not feature a USCT regiment, since the 54th Massachusetts Colored was part of the regular army, and USCTs were volunteers.

Nevertheless, these men of Kentucky's soil deserve to be mentioned and singled out for their bravery.

Black Union Regiments Organized in Kentucky
5th US Colored Cavalry, October 1864
6th US Colored Cavalry, November 1864
8th US Colored Heavy Artillery April 1864
12th US Colored Heavy Artillery July 1864
13th US Colore Heavy Artillery June, 1865
72nd US Colored Infantry April 1865
100th US Colored Infantry, May 1864
107th US Colored Infantry May 1864
108th US Colored Infantry, June 1864
109th US Colored Infantry, July 1864
114th US Colored Infantry,  July 1864
115th US Colored Infantry, July 1864
116th US Colored Infantry, June 1864
117th US Colored Infantry, July 1864
118th US Colored Infantry, Oct 1864
119th US Colored Infantry, January 1865
120th  US Colored Infantry, November 1865
121st US Colored Infantry October 1865
122nd US Colored Infantry  December 1864
123rd US Colored Infantry December 1864
124th US Colored Infantry January 1865
125th  US Colored Infantry February 1865

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

USCT's on Parade and On Film

I was delighted to see some film footage of the US Colored Troops as they marched in a Civil War Veteran's page.  There are not many veterans who were enlisted men with the US Colored troops to be found whose images are captured on film. But thanks to some footage depicting a post Civil War parade, one proud group of men were shown in this 1898 piece. They are the soldiers at the beginning of the video and at the very end. Thanks to the work of a YouTube user called RMoreCook, who produces small videos with military marches, parades and music--he created a video honoring the US Colored Troops. I share it here on this post.

After the  Civil War, many former soldiers were active in the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans. These former soldiers marched in many parades during the late 1800s into the 1900s.  I was delighted to see that some were truly captured on film.

Theirs was a war for freedom---God was on their side and their freedom was won.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Butler Medal - The Only Medal Awarded to Black Soldiers in the Civil War

The Butler Medal - Medal of the James

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Recently I had  a conversation with a colleague about Civil War and the medals awarded during the war.  I was surprised  that so few people had heard about the Butler Medal, and it's history.  This was a medal awarded to black soldiers who fought in the Battle of New Market Heights.  Many men in that battle also received the Medal of Honor.

But the Medal of the James has its own history as well. Several years ago, I was delighted to have the opportunity to see one of the few (less than five) known Butler Medals.  A good friend, mentor and colleague, Dr. Agnes K. Callum allowed me to see this medal that she has, which was given to one of the soldiers who distinguished themselves in battle. The grandson of the soldier wanted his grandfather's legacy to
be remembered.

The medal has an interesting history. After distinguishing themselves in the Battle of New Market Heights, General Benjamin Butler commissioned a medal to be made to give to the black men who fought so hard in that battle. This silver medal was struck at Tiffany's, and the medal is inscribed with the words "Distinguished Courage Campaign Before Richmond 1864" Approximately 200 medals were made, only the names of 16 recipients of the Butler Medal are known to this day. Some had their names inscribed along the edge of the medal.

Several weeks after the men received their medals, General Butler was relieved of his command and the black soldiers were forbidden to wear the medal. The government refused to honor the medal as "official". After more than a century after the war ended, two attempts were made to have the medal recognized officially, but they were still denied. 

I decided to share the fact that this medal exists and that there is an interesting history attached to it.

General Benjamin F. Butler had the Medal of the James created

"I had the fullest reports made to me of the acts of individual bravery of colored men on that occasion, and I had done for the negro soldiers, by my own order, what the government has never done for its white soldiers – I had a medal struck of like size, weight, quality, fabrication, and intrinsic value with those which Queen Victoria gave with her own hand to her distinguished private soldiers of the Crimea…These I gave with my own hand, save where the recipient was in a distant hospital wounded, and by the commander of the colored corps after it was removed from my command, and I record with pride that in that single action there were so many deserving that it called for a presentation of nearly two hundred.”.–"  -  Benjamin Franklin Butler

In 2001, Historian Agnes Callum of Baltimore Maryland,  was photographed with the Civil War Medal The medal belonged to Gilbert Harris a former slave from Edgecombe County North Carolina. He escaped and joined the 2nd US Colored Cavalry. His medal is the only medal known with the name of the soldier engraved on the side.  In 2001 Mrs. Callum was photographed by the Baltimore Sun and discussed the history of the men who fought and also the history of the soldier to whom the medal was awarded.

Historian Agnes K. Callum holding Butler Medal Given to Gilbert Harris
Source: Baltimore Sun, August 2, 2001, Section E, page 1
Photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor, Sun Staff

Page from  Service Record of Sgt. Gilbert Harris. Sept 1864
Three weeks after this was collected he was in the battle of New Market Heights
Source:  NARA Publication M1817  Service Record
Footnote Image:|261449152

I recently learned that replicas of the Butler Medal have been made. I hope that the history of this medal will be explored by more civil war enthusiasts.

Replica of the Butler Medal

Although never recognized as official, the medal has its place in history, and hopefully others will become aware of story behind the medal, as more strive to tell the history of the US Colored Troops.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Remembering Ft. Wagner on This Day

54th Massachusetts Colored at Ft. Wagner
Image: Library of Congress

Today is a special day. It is the anniversary of the assault on Ft. Wagner. Much has been written on the Assault of Ft. Wagner and the valor shown by the men of the 54th US Colored, on this day. For many years the mass grave of the soldiers were ignored. Today they are thankfully remembered for the brave men that  they were. These men who served in the regular US Army have a history as noble as that of the 178,000 men of the US Colored Troops, who served as volunteers in the Civil War.  
Today is also special for another reason as well---the official ribbon cutting of the African American Civil War Museum and Memorial took place as well. How fitting that the new home of this Civil War museum would officially open to the public on the anniversary of Ft. Wagner.

The historic significance of this day cannot be ignored.  For the men of the 54th, it was their "Baptism of Glory".  Though a day after the western victory at Honey Springs, I honor the men of the 54th for their courage and conviction to Freedom!!

This video posted by a Civil War enthusiast called 55th Massachusetts, tells the story eloquently of the 54th Massachusetts and their bravery.

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 1863--Honey Springs: A Victory for the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry

Image from Harper's Weekly depicting the Battle of Honey Springs - July 17,  1864

In mid July of 1863,  a critical battle occurred in the western theater of the Civil War. And in a few days, many Civil War enthusiasts will be commemorating the assault on Ft. Wagner, however, attention should be given to a major battle that occurred in the west---the day before. I am referring to the Battle of Honey Springs.

In Indian Territory in the heart of the Creek Nation, the 1st Kansas Colored comprised of former slaves from Arkansas, Indian Territory, and Missouri, engaged the enemy at Honey Springs. This battle is significant, because these black soldiers found themselves in an historic situation---they were in open confrontation with American Indian Confederate Units. Some of these soldiers had been slaves in the same tribe---their parents haven been taken west on the Trail of Tears.

Black soldiers in this battle were the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, in addition to black soldiers of the Indian Home Guards.

The actions of the 1st Kansas Colored helped to secure Ft. Gibson as a Union fort and to drive confederate forces, including many of their former Indian slave holders farther south.

In the 1930s a former slave, Lucinda Davis described her memories of the Battle. She was a slave in the Creek Nation not far from the battle field. Many of the male slaves had already left for Kansas to join the Union Army. She was a mere child, tending to one of the children. She described how she saw Indian warriors riding quickly to the battlefield, with their gray uniforms and the "cris-cross" on their flag:

    I never forgit de day dat battle of de Civil War happen at Honey Springs! Old Master jest had de green corn all in, and us had been having a time gitting it in, too. Jest de women was all dat was left, 'cause de men slaves had all slipped off and left out. 
   My uncle Abe done got up a bunch and gone to de North wid dem to fight, but I didn't know den whar he went. He was in dat same battle, and after de War dey called him Abe Colonel. Most all de slaves 'round dat place done gone off a long time before dat wid dey masters when dey go wid old man Gouge and a man named McDaniel.
  We had a big tree in de yard, and a grape vine swing in it for de little baby "Istidji", and I was swinging him real early in de morning befo' de sun up..... I was swinging de baby, and all at once I seen somebody riding dis way 'cross dat prairie ___ jest coming a_kiting and a_laying flat out on his hoss. When he see de house he begin to give de war whoop. "Eya_a_a_a_he_ah!" When he git close to de house he holler to git out de way 'cause dey gwine be a big fight, and old Master start rapping wid his cane and yelling to git some grub and blankets in de wagon right now!
    ....Den jest as we starting to leave here come something across dat little prairie sho' nuff! We know dey is Indians de way dey is riding, and de way dey is all strung out. Dey had a flag, and it was all red and had a big criss_cross on it dat look lak a saw horse. De man carry it and rear back on it when de wind whip it, but it flap all 'round de horse's head and de horse pitch and rear lak he know something going happen, sho!

   After the Indian soldiers came, later came white confederate soldiers as well. She saw light and heavy artillery roll by.

   'Bout dat time it turn kind of dark and begin to rain a little, and we git out to de big road and de rain come down hard. It rain so hard for a little while dat we jest have to stop de wagon and set dar, and den long come more soldiers dan I ever see befo'. Dey all white men, I think, and dey have on dat brown clothes dyed wid walnut and butternut, and old Master say dey de Confederate soldiers. Dey dragging some big guns on wheels and most de men slopping 'long in de rain on foot.

When the old master orders them to take refuge they go into the country side as their home was not far fro Honey Springs. She then describes the retreat and the Union army in pursuit:

     We git in a big cave in dat cliff, and spend de whole day and dat night in dar, and listen to de battle going on. Dat place was about half_a_mile from de wagon depot at Honey Springs, and a little east of it. 
     We can hear de guns going all day, and along in de evening here come de South side making for a getaway. Dey come riding and running by whar we is, and it don't make no difference how much de head men hollers at 'em dey can't make dat bunch slow up and stop.
     After while here come de Yankees, right after 'em, and dey goes on into Honey Springs and pretty soon we see de blaze whar dey is burning de wagon depot and de houses.
     ......Den long come lots of de Yankee soldiers going back to de North, and dey looks purty wore out, but dey is laughing and joshing and going on.
 She goes on to describe how she and other slaves were taken farther south farther away from Union lines.  Her testimony is included here, because it is one of the very few (if not the only) account of a battle from the perspective of a civilian. In her case---from the perspective of a young black girl, held in bondage by Creek Indians.  She was an eye witness to some of these events because the lived on the Texas road---the main road to Honey Springs.  (She was interviewed in the 1937s as part of the WPA Slave Narratives. )

Thanks to Lucinda Davis, and her memories of life as a slave in the Creek Nation, this witness to a critical Civil War battle and her memories of it having lived so close by, this small portion of what became a major Union victory is known.

Lucinda Davis, Creek Freedwoman
Photo: Oklahoma Historical Society

More on the Battle of Honey Springs can be found at Civil War Today.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Recruiting Soldiers for the US Colored Troops

Image Used as Recruitment Flyer for Black Union Soldiers

Recently, I came across a document of a soldier who enlisted in the 11th US, Colored Infantry which was organized in Ft. Smith Arkansas.  Unlike many other soldiers of African Ancestry, this man enlisted in Illinois and was then sent directly to Arkansas for service with the 11th US Colored Infantry.

Source: Image: #33|113385616

He was recruited late in the Civil War and was expected to serve only for 1 year instead of the 3  year enlistment of others serving with the US Colored Troops.

Close Up of Muster Roll image from Service Record of James Aiken, 11th US Colored Infantry
Source: Image: #33|113385620

Apparently this soldier was part of a detachment of US Volunteers that were recruited out of the south, but they were destined for units serving in the south.

Portion of Image from Service Record of James Aiken, 11th US Colored Infantry
 with  Source: Image: #33|113385616

I thought the procedure was interesting, and was mostly likely something unique, but then, I had a conversation with another fellow researcher. She shared with me about her surprise to see a soldier from Canada who served in the 1st US Colored Cavalry that she was researching. This is a regiment organized in Virginia. The soldier she mentioned, Moses Smith, was born in Canada, and enlisted in the Union Army in Buffalo New Year.  Like the soldier, whose name appears above, her soldier also enlisted in a regiment organized in the south, but he enlisted in Buffalo, NY.

Document Reflects the Enlistment of a Canadian Born Man Who Enlisted in Buffalo NY
Source: Footnote Image: #33|261413536

In this case Moses Smith entered the war in 1864 in Buffalo NY and was sent to be a part of the 1st US Colored Cavalry, which was organized at Camp Hamilton VA.

Another document reflecting detachment of US Volunteer Recruits
Source: Footnote Image #33|261413537

Trying to understand this I became more interested in the recruitment efforts for black soldiers. How did the word get to places far and near Union lines for able bodied men to join?

I learned that once approval was given to form the US Colored Troops, it was not uncommon to find flyers especially in northern cities, encouraging men of African descent to join the Union Army. I have found so far, 9 different recruitment flyers.

Some of the flyers were regiment specific:

Others directed men to a specific place to be trained:

Some flyers were very broad, simply appealing to men of color to join the fight for the Union:

But then I saw another flyer----that was clear---the enlisting soldiers would be sent to specific places in the south and west. When I saw it, I wondered if men such as James Aiken of the 11th and Moses Smith, the Canadian born man of color, were inspired to join the battle of liberation.

The words were clear----soldiers were needed in the south and west.

I have found nine different images directed at enlisting black soldiers and found them all enlightening, and eye opening.  The Civil War was truly complex, and the efforts to find men to fight was a mighty one as well.  

Thankfully some of those stories can still be told by the artifacts that remain behind.