Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reflections on the Recruitment of US Colored Troops

Recruitment Poster for Black Soldiers to Join the Fight for Freedom



On this day in history three regiments of black Union soldiers were organized at the same time in different parts of the country. At the same time, with two of those three regiments, there is a tie to my own family history, or interest.  

The 1st Kansas Colored, was organized in Kansas but consisted mostly of men from Creek and Cherokee Nations, and a few from nearby NW Arkansas.  This would later be the unit that would be involved in the famous Battle of Honey Springs, and the Kansas Colored would be the unit that would ultimately save the day for the Federal soldiers.  My own family ties to Indian Territory, and the community around the historic Honey Springs battlefield makes this day significant for me.

The 3rd Alabama Regiment was African Descent was organized on this day. The unit would later be redesignated as the 111th US Colored Infantry.  This unit interests me, because my 2nd Great Uncle Sephus Bass, and another uncle, Braxton Bass, plus Sephus's 2 sons Henry and Emmanuel all enlisted in this regiment.  I wrote about Sephus Bass's story and the capture of the 111th at Sulphur Branch Trestle in north Alabama. They were natives of  Giles County Tennessee and were part of a large contingent of black men that enlisted in the Union Army from Tennessee.  I was most amazed as Sephus Bass described his being captured by NB Forrest and then later his escape from Nathan Bedford Forrest!  I realized that the reason for this incident had to do with the fact that they were recognized by Forrest and knew their origins in Giles County, which was also the home of Gen. Forrest.

I think of the transition in their lives that the slaves had to have made from living their entire lives as slaves to life suddenly free---but with a new lifestyle of regiment, and discipline required by being in the US Army.  The departure of those men from the farms, and estates where they once lived, to one where they were now being trained in the use of arms, and weapons and treated for the first time as men.  How amazing these times must have been. At the same time, how unusual this had to have been for those left behind---the women, the children who knew their loved one---their husband, their father, their brother left with no permission from the slaveholders---their hopes and fears and thoughts as a new kind of danger emerged for them.

These are among the many untold stories that may not ever be found, from our families---but we must still appreciate the incredible times in which they lived, the bravery they showed, and thankfully the success of their fight for freedom!  We must also think about what their actions brought to the communities where they lived.

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