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.