US Colored Troops at the Battle of Nashville


The Battle of Nashville, by Kurz & Allison, created/published circa 1891
An artistic rendering of the US Colored Troops at this key Civil War Battle
Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-pga-01886,LC-USZC4-506, LC-USZ62-1289

The Battle of Nashville was a two-day battle fought on December 15–16, 1864. It is considered a major success by the Union army over Confederate forces in the Western Theater of the Civil War. (Western Theater = west of the Appalachian Mountains, but east of the Mississippi River.) African Americans, who as laborers helped to build fortifications for the city, fought as soldiers to protect it in that decisive battle. They, and the Union, won.

The Union entered the battle with a contingent of some 55,000 men, and ended the battle with just over 3000 casualties, including 400 dead and 2,558 wounded. Confederates, from a contingent of 30,000 men, had an estimated 6,000 casualties, with 1,500 killed/wounded and 4,500 missing/captured, although some casualty estimates are higher. The Confederate forces in the battle, called the Army of Tennessee, were effectively decimated. Among other consequences, the Confederate defeat meant that Confederate general Robert E. Lee would have little help from the Western Theater in defending Virginia and the Confederate capital in Richmond. Four months after the Battle of Nashville, Lee would surrender to Union general Ulysses Grant at Appomattox.

The United States Colored Troops, the black/segregated portion of the Union army, had eight regiments with a combined 5,000+ men at the Battle of Nashville:
• 12th US Colored Infantry – organized in Tennessee at large
• 13th US Colored Infantry – organized in Nashville, TN
• 14th US Colored Infantry – organized in Gallatin, TN
• 16th US Colored Infantry – organized in Nashville, TN
• 17th US Colored Infantry – organized in Nashville, TN
• 18th US Colored Infantry – organized in Missouri at large
• 44th US Colored Infantry – organized in Chattanooga, TN
• 100th US Colored Infantry – organized in Kentucky at large

(A regiment is a unit of at most a thousand men, although deaths, injuries, desertions, etc, can lessen a regiment’s numbers. Infantry regiments – containing foot soldiers – were designated by number. Hence, for example, the 10th US Colored Infantry, or 10th USCI for short. A regiment that was organized in a particular location might have enlisted men who lived elsewhere, but came to that enlistment cite to join the army.)

Most of these black soldiers were from Tennessee, and a plurality had enlisted in Nashville. So, many of them were fighting for their homes, to protect the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee from Confederate occupation and all that meant for the African American population that lived there. The Battle is easily one of the most important, and decisive, battles that black troops were involved in during the war, yet it is not as well known as, for example, the failed attack on Battery Wagner in South Carolina by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry regiment (which was made famous by the movie Glory).

The role of African Americans in the battle is discussed in the following two videos. The videos are from a 2012 discussion between Dr. James Haney, a Professor of History at Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN, and Kwame Leo Lillard, president of the Nashville based President of the African American Cultural Alliance.

Portion of a 2012 discussion with Dr. James Haney and Mr. Kwame Leo Lillard about African Americans and the Civil War’s Battle of Nashville, December, 1864. This focuses on the importance of Nashville in the Civil War; the construction of Ft , the largest stone fort built during the Civil War – and built by black laborers, and the recruitment of Tennessee black men into the Union army. There is also a discussion of the monument built to Tennessee African descent soldiers which is seen at the top of this blog post.

Continuation of a 2012 idiscussion with Dr. James Haney and Mr. Kwame Leo Lillard about African Americans and the Civil War’s Battle of Nashville, December, 1864. This portion focuses on the role of African Americans in the battle.

The following is from a ceremony commemorating the US Colored Troops in the Battle of Nashville, from late November 2012.

Video: Battle of Nashville, Hymns and Songs of Civil War, Cpl. Gary Burke. Introduction by Kwame Leo Lillard


United States Colored Troops National Monument, Nashville National Cemetery
The inscription reads, “In Memory of the 20,133 who served as United States Colored Troops in the Union Army Dedicated 2003.” This refers to the 20,000+ African American men from Tennessee who served in the Union Army; only Louisiana and Kentucky provided more black troops to the Union war effort. As many as 2,000 black Union soldiers are interred at the cemetery, including men who were at the Battle of Nashville.
Photo Source: of Battlefields and Bibliophiles blog

The Loyal Colored People of Baltimore Give Lincoln a Bible


Bible given to Abraham Lincoln by freemen of Baltimore, Maryland in September, 1864; the “Lincoln Bible” is in the collection of the Fisk University Library
From the New York Times, September 11, 1864: The book in size is imperial quarto, bound in royal purple velvet. On the upper side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, nine and a half inches in circumference, bearing a design representing the President in the act of removing the shackles from a slave. On the lower side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, four inches long and two inches wide, bearing the following inscription:
“To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, from the loyal colored people of Baltimore, as a token of respect and gratitude. Baltimore, 4th July, 1864.”
Accompanying the Bible is a solid black walnut case with a silver plate on the lid, on which is engraved a picture or the Capitol and the words “Holy Bible.”
Photo Source: Historically Black Colleges and Universities Libraries Alliance website

In September 1864, late in the American Civil War, an event occurred that was unthinkable just four years earlier: a group of men of African descent – “colored men” in the parlance of the day – presented Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States, with the gift of the Bible. After the event, Lincoln shook hands with each of those men. With each shake of the hand, history was being made: prior to the War, US presidents did not meet and receive African Americans, much less shake their hands as equals. But by 1864, the world had changed, and this previously unlikely meeting was the result.

The black men who met Lincoln that day were freemen – free men of color – from Baltimore, MD. The event was reported by the New York Times, the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle, and other newspapers. Per the Times:

Yesterday afternoon a Bible was presented, on behalf of the loyal colored residents of Baltimore, by Revs. A. W. Wayman, S. W. Chase, and W. H. Brown, and Mr. William H. Francis, to President Lincoln. The members of the committee were introduced by Mr. S. Mathews, of Maryland, and individually welcomed by the President. This ceremony having been concluded, Rev. S. W. Chase addressed the President as follows:

“MR. PRESIDENT: The loyal colored people of Baltimore have entrusted us with authority to present this Bible as a testimonial of their appreciation of your humane conduct towards the people of our race. While all others of this nation are offering their tribute of respect to you, we cannot omit suitable manifestation of ours. Since our incorporation into the American family we have been true and loyal, and we are now ready to aid in defending the country, to be armed and trained in military matters, in order to assist in protecting and defending the star-spangled banner.

“Towards you, sir, our hearts will ever be warm with gratitude. We come to present to you this copy of the Holy Scriptures, as a token of respect for your active participation in furtherance of the cause of the emancipation of our race. This great event will be a matter of history. Hereafter, when our children shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your worthy deeds, and will rise up and call you blessed.

“The loyal colored people of this country everywhere will remember you at the Throne of Divine Grace. May the King Eternal, an all-wise. Providence protect and keep you, and when you pass from this world to that of eternity, may you be borne to the bosom of your Saviour and your God.”

Upon receiving the Bible, Lincoln stated:

This occasion would seem fitting for a lengthy response to the address which you have just made. I would make one, if prepared; but I am not. I would promise to respond in writing, had not experience taught me that business will not allow me to do so. I can only now say, as I have often before said, it has always been a sentiment with me that all mankind should be free. So far as able, within my sphere, I have always acted as I believed to be right and just; and I have done all I could for the good of mankind generally. In letters and documents sent from this office I have expressed myself better than I now can. In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man.

All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it. To you I return my most sincere thanks for the very elegant copy of the great Book of God which you present.

The whole event would have been impossible just several years prior. For one, US presidents were not in the habit of meeting black men or women in the White House. Ten of the presidents who preceded Lincoln were slave owners. Nine out of ten African Americans in 1860 were enslaved, and most whites believed that all African Americans, enslaved or free, were their inferiors. People of African descent had no political power; blacks could vote in only five states, and the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision declared that negroes were not citizens of the United States. Simply put, African Americans had no business being in the White House, except as servants.

Meanwhile, the onset of the Civil War had forced the United States government to take a stand, one way or the other, about the issue of slavery; slavery was, after all, the reason that secessionists claimed disunion was necessary. Seeking to preserve the Union without resorting to war, Lincoln said in his 1860 inauguration speech that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Lincoln hoped that this would gain the loyalty of slave owners in the Union slave states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri), and perhaps even cool off secession fever. But many African Americans saw it as an unwillingness to stand-up for the freedom of the enslaved.

And finally, Baltimore had not been a wholly hospitable place for Unionist sentiment. The city, which had gained some infamy for its riotous behavior – hence its nickname “Motown” – earned its reputation with an attack on Union soldiers who had come from the North to go South and fight Confederates. Many of the city’s residents were secessionist sympathizers or anti-war men who did not appreciate northerners coming into their city on their way to fighting against the South. The incident, called the Baltimore riot of 1861 (also called the Pratt Street Riot and the Pratt Street Massacre) left four Union soldiers and a dozen civilians dead. In response, Union military forces entered the city and state to prevent domestic disturbances.


Not so loyal citizens in Baltimore, Maryland, attack Union soldiers during the April 19, 1861 Baltimore riot. The riot, less than two weeks from the attack on Fort Sumter, left over a dozen people dead.
Source: Painting “Massachusetts Militia Passing Through Baltimore (Baltimore Riot of 1861) engraving of F.F. Walker (1861)”, from Wikipedia Commons

One of the military leaders in charge of this seeming occupation of the state was Union general and political appointee Benjamin Butler. Butler threatened “to arrest the state’s legislators if they voted to secede.” But he also told Maryland Governor Thomas Hicks “I have understood within the last hour that some apprehensions were entertained of an insurrection of the negro population of this neighborhood. I am anxious to convince all classes of persons that the forces under my command are not here in any way to interfere with or countenance any interference with the laws of the State. I am therefore ready to co-operate with your excellency in suppressing most promptly and effectively any insurrection against the laws of Maryland.” Ironically, Butler would later become famous for giving asylum to runaway or “contraband” slaves in Virginia and for enlisting black men into the army in Louisiana.

So, the state of war, race relations, and slavery did not portend well for a meeting of colored men and the US president in early 1861. But in that year, Lincoln and many Union men had anticipated the Civil War would last but 6-12 months, with a Union victory the inevitable result. Instead, the war lasted over four years, with deaths on both sides amounting to over 620,000. Faced with the staggering loss of life, and home front morale that rose and fell like the sea tides, the Union established a policy of emancipation and black enlistment. The Union’s black enlistees included the 4th Infantry of the United State Colored Troops, an African descent regiment that was raised in Maryland. One member of that regiment was Christian Fleetwood. He was one of over a dozen black men who was awarded the US Medal of Honor for his bravery during the war.


Medal of Honor awardee Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood, 4th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops Continue reading

On Their High Horses: Black Cavalry Soldiers in Mississippi

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“The War in Mississippi—The 1st Mississippi Negro Cavalry Bringing into Vicksburg Rebel Prisoners Captured at Haines Bluff. –From a Sketch by our Special Artist, Fred B. Schell”
From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, December 19, 1863; see here and here

When the Civil War began, Mississippi was one of two states in which over half the population was of African descent. Enslaved Mississippians outnumbered free Mississippians by a count of 437,000 to 354,000. Given those numbers, the subjugation and control of slaves was an essential part of the social, legal, and security fabric of the state’s white-only polity and government.

The Union army unraveled white control of the slave population. Although the Union military suffered serious and numerous military setbacks in the East during the first half of the war, especially in Virginia, it was able to gain ground steadily along the Mississippi River and its adjacent states. A key event in the conquest of the River and its environs was the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. With that and previous victories, the Union was able to solidify its control and occupation of Confederate territory in Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

From those occupied areas, the Union army garnered its most African American recruits. These four states provided the most black soldiers to the Union army:
o Louisiana 24,052
o Kentucky 23,703
o Tennessee 20,133
o Mississippi 17,869

The above image illustrates the momentous changes in the status of African Americans during the war. This sketch, from the December 19, 1863 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, shows black men transporting Confederate prisoners in the face of a mostly white crowd. A description of the image by the University of Michigan’s Clements Library website notes that “Black soldiers now guard white prisoners and tower over onlookers.”

Also of interest is the way the soldiers are drawn. Many period renderings of African Americans depict them as caricatures, with huge lips and ape-like features. This image depicts black men as, well, men. It is a humane and dignified portrayal, befitting their new status as freemen and soldiers.

The army regiment in the picture was actually named the First Mississippi Cavalry (African Descent). In its discussion of Mississippi’s black Union soldiers, Bernie McBride’s website bjmjr.net points out that

The National Park Services lists 10 black Union regiments organized in Mississippi. These are the First Regiment Cavalry; the First Regiment Mounted Rifles; the First, and Second heavy Artillery; the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Regiment Infantry, all officially designated “African Descent.”

Lest We Forget Website master Bennie McRae expands that list to 16 regiments under the official designation “United States Colored Troops.” The First Mississippi Cavalry (African Descent), for example, became the 3rd U.S. Colored Cavalry Regiment after the change to the USCT system. Ten infantry regiments, rather than the six listed above, were established at Vicksburg and Natchez. Two additional heavy artillery regiments and one of light artillery were established under Grant’s command by January 1864.

A discussion of the African American Monument in Vicksburg National Military Park is here.

More Photos from the New Market Heights Reenactment on Civilwartalk.com

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United States Colored Troops (USCT) reenactor/living historian Marcellus Williams of Washington, DC at the commemoration of the Battle of New Market Heights. All photos by Neil Hamilton.

As mentioned in a previous post, the 150th anniversary of the US Civil War’s Battle of New Market Heights was commemorated during the weekend of September 27, 2014 in Henrico County, Virginia. The commemoration included a number of events, the highlight being a staging of the battle by a large group of Confederate and Union soldier reenactors.

The web forum Civilwartalk.com has a discussion thread which contains a bunch of wonderful photographs from the reenactment events. The photographs appear starting on page three of the discussion thread. A handful of the pictures are displayed below.

I do have a request. If you can identify any of the people or units in the pictures, it would be greatly appreciated. For the photos here, you can leave a comment below. For the photos on Civilwartalk.com, you can join the forum (membership is free) and make a post with your information. Having these details will enhance the record of the event. Thanks!

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USCT in camp, preparing for the day’s events.

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USCT and Confederate reenactors after their staging of the Battle of New Market Heights. The USCT soldier at the far right, holding a sword with a Confdederate soldier, is Bill Radcliffe. Radcliffe was the model for the monument to United States Colored Troops National Monument in the Nashville National Cemetery.

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More reenactors/living historians who were at the event. The woman at the far right is Yulanda Burgess, whose history specialty is the American Missionary Association.

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Another scene from the commemoration events.

Two Views of Emancipation – Which is Right?

Which of these two monuments offers the best depiction of the relationship between African Americans and Abraham Lincoln, and the role each played in ending slavery? This one…

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The Emancipation Memorial, AKA the Freedman’s Memorial, in Washington, DC
Source: Wikipedia

…or this one?

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Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Cleveland, OH
Image © Dave Wiegers Photography, see here and here. Wiegers has done a number of photos of monuments to Abraham Lincoln. 

My thoughts are below the fold. Continue reading

Will you join us, to remember Fort Pillow?

This is an open invitation to attend commemorative activites at Fort Pillow State Park to mark the 150th annivesary of the Battle at Fort Pillow. It is sent from the descendants of two soldiers who served at the Fort:


Depiction of the Battle of Fort Pillow AKA the Fort Pillow Massacre

This print causes one with a conscious and awareness of sanctity of life to pause. The artist was not there to witness this horror, but there were congressional hearings and reports and eyewitness accounts from which he/she used and poured into this portrayal of the events that occurred on April 12, 1864. We can pause and reflect when looking at this print, however, we must actively become involve in Remembering Fort Pillow in the mix of the celebratory mid-point observations of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Will you join us at Fort Pillow on April 12, 2014, to honor and pay tribute to the men, women and children who were massacred 150 years go? It’s a time to commemorate what one historian called a battle that went terribly wrong. It’s time to reflect. It’s a time to make the journey to banks of the Mississippi River where its water turned red with the blood of these men, women and children. They made the ultimate sacrifice. Will you make a sacrifice to travel to Henning, Tennessee in a few months?

The descendants of two USCT soldiers garrisoned at Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864, will be there. Will you join us?

Our great grandfathers, Private Peter Williams (6th USCHA, Co. A) and Private Armstead Burgess (6th USCHA Co. B), were among the 262 African American artillerymen garrisoned at Fort Pillow during the massacre that occurred on April 12, 1864.* Unlike many of their comrades in arms, they survived the horrors of that day and lived well into the twentieth century. We are here today because they survived. We realize our families are blessed, but we can’t forget the families who suffered the loss of their loved ones. We are humble and thankful. We remain prayerful about our own legacy. We continue to remember and hope that others will also remember the men, women and children who perished that day.

The Tennessee State Parks will commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Fort Pillow on April 12-13, 2014. Jeff Wells (Director of Interpretive Programming and Education, Tennessee State Parks) stated, “The focus of this program will be to recognize and honor the sacrifices of the African Americans garrisoned at Fort Pillow during the tragic events of April 12th, 1864.”

The tentative program includes living history presentations, public displays, lectures, and guided tours. There is a program tentatively scheduled in the afternoon to pay tribute to the Union soldiers who were garrisoned at Fort Pillow on the terrible day.

Will you join the families or Private Williams and Private Burgess?

For more information, please contact:
Fort Pillow State Park
731-738-5581
3122 Park Road
Henning, Tennessee 38041

All USCT organizations and commemorative units received a personal invitation from Mr. Wells. Please follow up.

Finally, the University of Memphis is planning a lecture on Fort Pillow and USCTs on April 10, 2014. That information is pending and will be posted as soon as received.

Best Regards,

Joe Williams, Retired Army
Great Grandson of Private Peter Williams
Member, 12th USCHA (Commemorative Unit)

Yulanda Burgess
Great Granddaughter of Private Armstead Burgess
Member, 5th USCI, Co. C (Commemorative unit)

Remembering Fort Pillow: 150th Anniversary Activities at Fort Pillow State Park


Depiction of the Fort Pillow Massacre, Harper’s Weekly, 1864

The American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia bills itself as “the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.” In doing so, it recognizes that there were indeed three very different vantage-points from which the Civil War was viewed and interpreted at the time. None of these perspectives is “better than” or “superior to” the others; they’re different, but all valid. Perhaps implied by the Museum, but not stated, is that throughout the post-war era, the African American Civil War experience has often been overlooked and even ignored. But it’s never too late to catch up with the past.

In that light, I am heartened to see the list of events and activities planned for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the so-called Fort Pillow Massacre, to be held at Fort Pillow State Park on April 12 and 13. The list of events is at the bottom of this blog entry.

As many people who study the Civil War know, the Fort Pillow Massacre is one of the most infamous and controversial events of the American Civil War. Fort Pillow was a Union-held fort located 40 miles northeast of Memphis, Tennessee. The garrison at the Fort included a number of men from the US Colored Troops, perhaps half of the men there. The Fort was attacked on April 12, 1864, by Confederate forces under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Confederates overran the fort, suffering moderate casualties. In the wake of the attack, around 300 Union soldiers were killed, most of them Colored Troops. The Union – the US military, members of the US government, the US press, and very important, many African Americans – considered Fort Pillow a race-based massacre, during which black soldiers were killed even after they surrendered. Confederates, most notably General Forrest himself, denied that a massacre occurred; they would call it the Battle of Fort Pillow.

The Massacre was a cause célèbre at the time, and remains controversial to this very day. Fort Pillow State Park, the preserved site of the Fort, is holding a series of activities and lectures to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Fort Pillow which, on the face of it at least, focus on the African American experience during this time of war and change, and, which highlight the issues of war, race, and slavery that have inflamed passions about the event to this very day. This focus will be seen especially in lectures scheduled on April 12, which will complement other activities such as living history programs and Union and Confederate encampments.

I say that I am heartened because, from a perusal of internet sources, there are many who feel that the more controversial issues surrounding Fort Pillow have been ignored in earlier commemorative events. Some might add that a single week-end of such focus is not enough; it’s catch-up ball, and more needs to be done in the long run. But clearly, events like this are a good way to start, and one hopes that there will be more to come.

So, for those in the vicinity of Fort Pillow State Park outside of Memphis, I recommend giving the place a visit to view the activities, which will take place during the coming week-end (April 12-13). Cost and distance will keep me from attending… sigh.

Note: I have an earlier blog entry related to Fort Pillow here.
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Fort Pillow – 150th Anniversary and Memorial Service
Fort Pillow State Park

Schedule of Activities:

Saturday Schedule (April 12, 1984)

Continue reading