Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Soldier of the 110th US Colored Infantry

The 110th US Colored Infantry was organized from the 2nd Alabama Colorerd Infantry.  Originally attached to garrison duty in Pulaski Tennessee, they were involved in the defences of Nashville, and the Northwesttern Rialroad, in the Department of the Cumberland.  They were also a part of the Department of the Tennessee throughout the war.

According to historian William Gladstone, the 110th was also involved in the Battle of Dallas Georgia in May of 1864.  

General Logan at the Battle of Dallas, May 1864.jpg
Battle of Dallas under command of Gen. Logan was captured by Civil War illustrators. 

I was interested in learning more about the role of the 110th, but had little success.  The description of the 110th in the Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick Dyer did confirm that they were part of the Tennessee Army and it is known that the Tennessee Army was involved in the battle in Dallas Georgia. However, I found nothing in the official records describing their involvement in that battle. While seeking more information on the movement of the 110th,  I was surprised to run into the story of a soldier who did join the 110th and he enlisted with them, in Georgia. It was a simple story of a former slave who enlisted with the US Colored Troops.  I became intrigued as I read the story/ because just as interesting as his story was--for me the language used to tell his story also made me take note.

The soldier's name was Charles Page and later Charles Hicks. He was originally from Johnson County Georgia and in later life, from Toombs County Georgia. He was a slave who it is said, was sold from a brutal master ( Page) to another man Major Hicks, in the US Army. When the war began in 1861, the soldier professed allegiance to the south, and Major Hick's son enlisted in the Confederate Army. Having no choice, for he was enslaved, Charles the slave accompanied the young master as a body servant to the war. 

The young master was wounded and returned for some time to Georgia and later the young master left Charles behind in Georgia. The story indicates that though the young master left Charles in Georgia, that Charles the slave was possibly trying to "rejoin his master" when he ran into Sherman's forces and the Union army. 

It is clear, if that if one takes the mindset, even briefly of one who was enslaved, that once the opportunity to escape to freedom that he would take it. For Charles, when the chance came to him and he seized it.  

However, the article suggests that he was "forced"  to enlist and to work as a cook in the Union Army. The suggestion of his being "forced" to enlist was written in an obituary in 1941. But the records however, reveal that  the man enlisted of his own choice. 

Of course,  the article fails to point out  that he served with several hundred other black men who volunteered to fight for freedom in Company C of the 110th.  His relationship with other men, born enslaved like he was, who too had defied their circumstances and chosen freedom as men, was not mentioned nor referenced. 

The suggestion that his being a part of the Union Army, choosing to be enslaved by the young master is an unsual thing to read.

The piece said that he "ran into" Union soldiers who were part of the Georgia campaign with Sherman's march. Although thousands of enslaved people were "running to" and not "running into" the Union line is a subtle yet significant term. One term suggests that the slaves were people making a deliberate choice for freedom and the other term suggests that the natural human desire for freedom was accidental and not truly a goal burning inside of them. 

Private Charles Page served honorably with the 110th US Colored Infantry, where he served till 1866 when he was mustered out of service.

I did take note that a pension was filed for, and granted to Charles Hicks (aka Charles Page).
Index card reflecting pension application of Charles Hicks (aka Page)
Source: Ancestry.com  National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.

Charles Hicks was a slave when the Civil War started. When it was over, he was a free man, and a veteran of borth armies.
Image of Charles Page Hicks 

For the time in which he was through no choice of his own, a body servant while he was a slave, he is said by some to be a "confederate veteran" ---though he was never a soldier while he was enslaved and serving his enslaver. Yet his story sadly gets distorted when he is called a veteran in one army where he was never a soldier, and meanwhile his service in the other army where he voluntarily enlisted, was presented as his having been coerced against his will.

After the war, he returned to the area he had ever  known as home. But the article about his life presents his story as one who wanted to live near his old master.  Again---as if Charles never had loved ones---he is not presented as choosing to return to family---but to return to the old master. 

I could not help but wonder if this was written with a wishful thinking for faithful slaves---instead of the story of a man in his own right now making decisions about his own freedom. His having been considered a veteran in an army where he never served, and his service in the army where he did serve was written as if his did so against his well. His enslavement, of course was not depicted as having been against his will.

While reading the brief article, I became interested in learning more of his life. I was happy to read, that his descendants did share information about his history with the African American Civil War Memorial and it is assumed that they also received the honorary certificates given to those families on the day of the dedication.  (It should be noted however, that the names of the soldiers on the memorial came from official muster in records, and descendants were not required to submit proof of their ancestor's service, for the name to be placed on the wall. The names, if found among the official records were put there whether the family knew of their ancestor's history or not.)

In my effort to learn more about he service of a man from the 110th in a battle near Dallas Georgia, I found the story of a man whose story was written with clear biases towards who he was as a man. He like all men, yearned to be free, and to live with his loved ones.

My hope is that the honest story of men who resisted and who chose another avenue when it was  presented to them, will be told.

Hicks was made an "honorary" member of the Confederate "veterans" attended the confederate reunion in 1913, and he attended the 75th anniversary of Gettysburg as a Union soldier and member of the GAR. His name, like 178,000 other Black Union soldiers, is inscribed on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington DC.

His story, though interesting, indeed, is not unique. Like many, he saw battle on both sides, but when it came time to fight----he fought for freedom!

My goal is to learn more, about Private Page, the soldier and the man, and I plan to obtain his pension file in the near future, to learn more about the man

Rest in peace Private Charles Page, your service in the Union Army with the 110th US Colored Infantry is appreciated by the many who honor you and your comrades, for you are a true Freedom Fighter.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Gallant Colored Soldiers Who fought for Uncle Sam

Headstone of Joshua Dunbar, father of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar
Source: Find a Grave Image provided by Mike Zander

In 1906 the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a moving poem honoring black Union soldiers from the American Civil War. He was the son of such a man, for his own father Joshua Dunbar had a strong influence on his son, sharing stories of his battles from Ft. Wagner to Olustee Florida and beyond. Two major poems emerged from the pen, honoring his father and others like him, who had fought for freedom and won.

His poem, When Dey 'Listed Colored Soldiers" was published in 1901 and I shared that poem in an earlier blog post. But in 1906, Dunbar chose to honor all of the brave men who were engaged in the battle for freedom.  He wrote a beautiful poem almost as a ode to his own father's legacy.  Simply called, "The Colored Soldier"

In honor of Memorial Day, I share this poem with my readers.  May the legacy of these men, forever be remembered.

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

If the muse were mine to tempt it 
And my feeble voice were strong,
If my tongue were trained to measures,
I would sing a stirring song.
I would sing a song heroic
Of those noble sons of Ham,
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam! 

In the early days you scorned them, 
And with many a flip and flout 
Said "These battles are the white man's, 
And the whites will fight them out." 
Up the hills you fought and faltered, 
In the vales you strove and bled, 
While your ears still heard the thunder
Of the foes' advancing tread. 

Then distress fell on the nation, 
And the flag was drooping low; 
Should the dust pollute your banner? 
No! the nation shouted, No! 
So when War, in savage triumph, 
Spread abroad his funeral pall -- 
Then you called the colored soldiers, 
And they answered to your call.

And like hounds unleashed and eager 
For the life blood of the prey, 
Spring they forth and bore them bravely 
In the thickest of the fray. 
And where'er the fight was hottest, 
Where the bullets fastest fell, 
There they pressed unblanched and fearless 
At the very mouth of hell.

Ah, they rallied to the standard 
To uphold it by their might; 
None were stronger in the labors, 
None were braver in the fight. 
From the blazing breach of Wagner 
To the plains of Olustee, 
They were foremost in the fight 
Of the battles of the free. 

And at Pillow! God have mercy 
On the deeds committed there, 
And the souls of those poor victims 
Sent to Thee without a prayer. 
Let the fullness of Thy pity 
O'er the hot wrought spirits sway 
Of the gallant colored soldiers 
Who fell fighting on that day! 

Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom, 
And they won it dearly, too; 
For the life blood of their thousands 
Did the southern fields bedew. 
In the darkness of their bondage, 
In the depths of slavery's night, 
Their muskets flashed the dawning, 
And they fought their way to light. 

They were comrades then and brothers. 
Are they more or less to-day? 
They were good to stop a bullet 
And to front the fearful fray. 
They were citizens and soldiers, 
When rebellion raised its head; 
And the traits that made them worthy,-- 
Ah! those virtues are not dead. 

They have shared your nightly vigils, 
They have shared your daily toil; 
And their blood with yours commingling 
Has enriched the Southern soil. 
They have slept and marched and suffered 
'Neath the same dark skies as you, 
They have met as fierce a foeman, 
And have been as brave and true. 

And their deeds shall find a record 
In the registry of Fame; 
For their blood has cleansed completely 
Every blot of Slavery's shame. 
So all honor and all glory 
To those noble sons of Ham -- 
The gallant colored soldiers 
Who fought for Uncle Sam! 

"Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One Small Step for Men, and a Giant Leap for Freedom!

Library of Congress Image

Spring of 2011 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Dismantling of Slavery.  I refer to the 3 men--who were the Rosa Parks of their day. Frank Baker, Shephard Mallory and James Townsend. These men who are not widely known---made a simple mark in history. They walked onto Ft. Monroe and asked for refuge., refusing further enslavement.

One small step for men.........and a giant leap for Freedom!

This video is shared in honor of those three men--Baker, Townsend and Mallory!

Ft. Monroe: Freedom's Fortress
Source: The Richmond Times Dispatch May 22, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Alabama Battlegrounds of US Colored Troops

   On January 17th,  I listed Arkansas sites where men fought, resisted slavery and died.  I have become interested also on the legacy of the US Colored Troops in other states.  In this blog post, I wish to acknowledge the battles fought in the state of Alabama.

One of the larger battles sites, I learned was fought at Ft. Blakely Alabama, and nine black regiments fought at that battle, between March 31st to April 9th, 1865. This was the towards the very end of the war, and for the men in these regiments----their goal was critical. They had freedom to gain! The battle of Ft. Blakely was also captured by Civil War illustrators.

Ft. Blakely

"Storming of Fort Blakely"

From Harper's Weekly, May 27, 1865

This Library of Congress map of the Ft. Blakely battle, also shows where many of the soldiers from the US Colored Troops were positioned.

Ft. Gaines
Ft. Gaines would be another site that would involve black soldiers.  The events in Ft. Gaines were part of the effort to control Mobile Bay.

This unusual image from Harper's Weekly, (1862) reflects Mobile Bay and the inclusion of cotton pickers watched closely by overseers, reflects the intention of preserving life as it was, in Alabama, at the time. 

Madison Station

Madison Station involved the 101st US Colored Infantry

Sulphur Branch Trestle

Soldiers of the 111th US Colored Infantry were captured at Sulphur Trestle in 1864.

Battles Fought in Alabama Involving US Colored Troops

Boyd's Station, Alabama  March 18, 1865, 101st US Colored Infantry
Decatur Alabama  October 29-29th 1864  14th US Colored Infantry
Decatur Alabama  December 27-28th 1864  17th US Colored Infantry
Ft. Blakely Ala.  Mar. 31-Apr 9th, 1865  47th, 48th, 50th, 51st, 68th, 73rd, 76th, 82nd, 86th  US Colored Infantries
Ft. Gaines Alabama  August 2-8th 1864, 96th US Colored Infantry
Madison Station, Alabama  November 26th 1864  101st US Colored Infantry
Mud Creek, Alabama  January 5, 18th 1865,  106th US Colored Infantry
Pine Barren Creek Alabama  December 17-19th 1864  82nd US Colored Infantry
Scottsboro, Alabama January 8, 1865  101st US Colored Infantry
Spanish Fort, Alabama  March 27-April 8, 1865 68th US Colored Infantry
Sulphur Branch Trestle, Alabama   September 25, 1864, 111th US Colored Infantries.

May those who study Alabama Civil War history, include the stories of the US Colored Troops that fought and died upon Alabama soil.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Remembering the Corps d'Afrique in the American Civil War

Among the several hundred men who served in the Union Army and who enlisted in regiments west of the Mississippi, were some of the black soldiers whose service began prior to to the establishment of the United States Colored Troops. Men in a number of state organizations had formed throughout the south, from the Carolina's to Louisiana, and even men from Indian Territory, who had fled the slave holding tribes in Indian Territory, had joined the Union Army in slave free, Kansas.

But, the one state that held the record however, for having produced the largest number of black Union soldiers was Louisiana, and most of the black men in these regiments served prior to the establishment of the US Colored Troops which took place in 1863. Among them were the men who formed the Corps D'Afrique.

This was a large body of African American men joining the Union Army. Most were newly free slaves, who enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. Some of the first regiments  that were designated as the Corps d'Afrique were originally part of the Louisiana Native Guards. However, the majority were ordinary men who enlisted in New Orleans, Post Hudson, Madisonville, Ft. Pike, Camp Parapet, and New Iberia Louisiana.  All were however, officially part of the Union Army.

Although it is stated that many of the men were not treated in a manner equal to white union soldiers, the army did officially have Corps d'Afrique posts, hospitals, and a cadre of officers  and a large number of regiments were formed by these former slaves, eager to fight for their freedom. There were 26 Corps d'Afrique regiments and they were all later re-designated as Infantry regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops.

Documents from some of the Corps D'Afrique occasionally appear for sale by Civil War collectors even today.

Civil War Document from a Corps D'Afrique hospital recently placed for auction on Ebay

When looking more closely at the establishment of the Corps D'Afrique, it is worthwhile to read the words that brought about the official order to create the regiments of black soldiers. An order came from Washington to establish a cadre of black soldiers and it was sent and presented through General Field Order Number 40:

General Field Order No. 40
May, 1863

GENERAL ORDERS No. 40. -- The Major-General com manding the Department proposes the organization of a Corps d'Armee of colored troops, to be designated as the "Corps d'Afrique." It will consist ultimately of eighteen regiments, representing all arms -- infantry, artillery, cavalry -- making nine brigades of two regiments each, and three divisions of three brigades each, with appropriate corps of engineers, and flying hospitals for each division. Appropriate uniforms, and the graduation of pay to correspond with the value of services, will be hereafter awarded.
(More from this official order can be read here.)

Image of soldiers of the Corps D'Afrique

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1st Regiment Corps d'Afrique organized from 1st Louisiana Native Guards became 73rd USCT
2nd Regiment, Corps d'Afrique organized from 2nd Louisana Native  Guards became 74th USCT
3rd Regiment Corps d'Afrique organized from 3rd Louisiana Native Guards became 75th USCT
4th Regiment Corps d'Afrique organized from 4th Louisiana Native Guards became 76th USCT
5th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 77th USCT
6th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 78th USCT
7th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 79th USCT (old)
8th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 80th USCT
9th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 81st USCT
10th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 82nd USCT
11th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 83rd USCT (old)
12th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 84th USCT
13th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 85th USCT
14th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 86th USCT
15th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 5th Regiment Engineers Corps d'Afrique
16th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 87th USCT
17th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 88th USCT
18th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 89th USCT
19th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 90th USCT
20th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 91st USCT
22nd Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 92nd USCT
25th Regiment Corps d'Afrique became the 93 USCT
1st Regiment Engineers Corps d'Afrique became the 95th USCT
2nd Regiment Engineers Corps d'Afrique became the 96th USCT
3rd Regiment Engineers Corps d'Afrique became the 97th USCT
4th Regiment Engineers Corps d'Afrique became the 98th USCT
5th Regiment Engineers Corps d'Afrique became the 99th USCT

Source of Information: 
3 Volumes. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959.

As the history of the US Colored Troops are studied, the history of the Corps D'Afrique should be a part of that effort to tell the entire story of the men who fought for freedom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Basic Facts - US Colored Troops

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US Colored Troops at Dutch Gap VA

Several weeks ago I shared my thoughts about why so little is known about the Civil War.

Of course very few people can go into major detail about every battle or skirmish, or recite facts about every regiment.  However, because so many people of African Ancestry have ancestors who served with the US Colored Troops, I do consider Civil War research to be an integral part of the quest to learn more about one's ancestors. My hope is at least that basic facts are understood about US Colored Troops and the one fact is that these were Union soldiers!!!

One of the things I have found out about the Civil War, is that many people just have no idea of even some general basic facts about the war---- when it started, how it started and who was involved. And I have found out also, that even less is known when people mention the involvement of black soldiers in the Civil War. And sometimes, those lacking the most information are members of the African American community. This saddens me, because one might find their ancestors and learn so much more, if they learn basic facts about the war.

Recently on a genealogy list serve, to which I subscribe, a noted leader in the genealogy community looked at a photograph of  Contrabands ---slave refugees and declared them to be confederate soldiers.  The Library of Congress that owns the photos has identified them as contrabands of war---but this genealogy "leader" explained that of course these men were clearly ready to defend themselves when being shot at---and since the men in the photo had on what appeared to be something "gray" they had to be confederate soldiers. The image appears below.

African-Americans nicknamed contrabands before a signal tower in 1864.
Contrabands of War 
Source:  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-B8171-2594

In a recent online chat another seasoned researcher was trying to understand the history of US Colored Troops and wondered how so many of the 179,000 men managed to "escape to the north, and then come back south to fight."  He had no idea that most of the 179,000 men who became part of the Union Army and Navy, who were from the south, enlisted in the south, often, in the communities where they lived as slaves. They enlisted, as soon as opportunity came.    

And recently another genealogist was looking at the work of researcher Bennie McRae, well known for his work on US Colored Troops, and his massive website devoted to the US Colored Trops. and was this person was reading information from his list of black regiments.  On a site where he had mentioned regiments from the state of Mississippi, and mentioned the original name of the unit, as well as the later re-designated name that the unit had.  It was concluded by this one visitor to his site---that that the soldiers were confederates and the visitor exclaimed with amazement, so black soldiers DID fight for the confederacy. But hold it---------this site was a site pertaining to Union Army black soldiers!

It was later explained that the information wasconfusing because the unit represented was from Mississippi, and therefore, it was assumed that with Mississippi being a southern state, that these men were confederate soldiers, because they were organized in the South. So, even tough this was a site honoring Union soldiers who were black---since it was Mississippi---which is in the south---the soldiers had to be confederates.

I realized that with all of the information that researchers like Mr. McRae have done over the years--the basic information has not been understood.  All of the discussion about  179 regiments of black Union Army soldiers organzied throughout the south---the message has been missed---that these regiments of black soldiers organized throughout the south and a few states in the north---were Union regiments.

Perhaps the movie Glory confused some folks, since the unit in that movie was not from the South. But folks---the war was fought in the south.  A majority of black men recruited into the Union Army were from the South and they were recruited in the south!!

So, here are some basic facts:
1) Approximately 178,000 black men served in  the Union Army and Navy.

2) They served as part of the Union Army's United States Colored Troops (USCTs)

3) Some of the USCTs were organized from other regiments in their local area, and then were later all re-designated as US Colored Troops.

4) Most USCTs were recruited and enlisted in Southern States

5) Some of the early designations of US Colored Troops had a variety of names:
Corps D'Afrique, Troops of African Descent, Colored Infantry, Colored Cavalry, Colored Heavy Artillery, Colored Light Artillery.

I keep asking myself if the confusion over the history of these freedom fighters is that the movie GLORY! gave folks the impression that black Union soldiers were only from northern states.  And is there the possibility that it is just not understood that black regiments were MOSTLY southern organized men?

So, as much as I am amazed at what some will say things that are not accurate, I must also appreciate that it is an opportunity to teach. The lesson for me, is that some points will have to be broken down even more so than before---and the details spelled out clearly and often:

Black soldiers had to travel north to join the Union Army. Incorrect, the soldiers were organized in the communities where they lived.

The Black regiments organized in the South were confederates.  Incorrect.  Most Colored soldiers were recruited when the Yankees raided the community and the able bodied men enlisted in the Union Army right then.  It must be understood that no slave owners nor overseers were around to retain them, and therefore---they joined by the thousands.

So for the record here is a breakdown by state of the various regiments:

USCT Regiments by State:                                                                                                     
Alabama - 4 regiments
Arkansas – 7 regiments
Connecticut – 1 regiment*
District of Columbia – 1
Georgia - 4 regiments
Iowa -1 regiment
Illinois - 1 regiment
Indiana - 1 regiment
Kansas - 3 regiments
Kentucky - 22 regiments
Lousiana – 39 regiments
Massachusetts – 3 regiments **
Maryland - 6 regiments
Michigan - 1 regiment
Missouri - 5 regiments
Mississippi-11 regiments
No. Carolina – 5 regiments
New York – 3 regiments
Ohio - 2 regiments
Pennsylvania - 8 regiments
Rhode Island - 1 regiment
So. Carolina – 7 regiments
Tennessee - 18 regiments
Virginia – 7 regiments
* Note that  the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry was considered to  be part of the regular army and the soldiers in this unit were not volunteers.

** Two of the three regiments from Massachusetts were technically not US Colored Troops. The 54th and 55th USCTs  were considered to be in the regular army. The US Colored Troops were considered volunteers. But the 54th and 55th are listed here because they were fighting alongside many USCTs in the same battles.  Also historically they are still considered to be “technically” colored soldiers.

My hope is that these basic facts will be understood. Let us continue to share this information. I hope that eventually teachers will also incorporate this data into their own lesson plans and educate the next generation correctly.