17 Feb 2017

The Legacy of U.S. Colored Troops

The Legacy of U.S. Colored Troops

Just five days after President Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, the 1st Louisiana Native Guards mustered into U.S. service as the first African-descent regiment of the Civil War. In admiration, Union General Benjamin Butler said, “Better soldiers never shouldered a musket."

All too often, it is forgotten that some 180,000 African Americans served in 163 units in the Union Army, mostly as part of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Tens of thousands more served in the Union Navy.

Black soldiers made their mark on Civil War battlefields east and west. African-American soldiers first proved their mettle in the Union victory at Island Mound in October 1862.

The most famous event in popular culture today is that of the 54th Massachusetts’s assault on Fort Wagner on the South Carolina coast, as portrayed in the movie Glory. Losses were severe, and the 54th’s colonel Robert Gould Shaw was killed. But the furious assault of these men of color proved to the watching world that these troops possessed all the bravery needed for combat and more.

President Lincoln wrote in a public letter, “there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.”

In honor of their legacy of service and sacrifice, we work to preserve the history of these American soldiers, from the plains of Oklahoma to the shores of South Carolina. Learn about the land saved by the Civil War Trust where USCT members fought.

Freedmen In4

Join historian Caitlin Verboon, as she discusses the transition from slavery to freedom that former slaves faced during and after the Civil War. Filmed at the slave quarters of Arlington House, Virginia, this video delves into the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the effects of Reconstruction on African Americans in the United States.


American Battlefield Trust

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