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 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

New Book: “African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album”


Cover for the book African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album by Ronald Coddington. Book published by John Hopkins University Press.

Ronald Coddington has produced the third book in his “Faces of the Civil War” series. His books feature photographs of civil war soldiers, and provide an annotation about them – for example, soldier name, background, war experience, and post-war experience. His latest work is African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. 

African American Faces is notable for its exhibition of a large photographic record of “colored” Civil War participants. Over 75 African Americans are pictured and discussed. Most are Union soldiers, such as Sargent Major Lewis Henry Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass, who served in the famous Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry; and Major Martin Delaney, the black activist, newspaper publisher, and soldier recruiter who was the highest ranking African descent field officer in the Union at the end of the War. But several non-Union soldiers are included, such as Confederate slave Silas Chandler; Robert Holloway, the personal servant of Union Colonel Ambrose Burnside who was captured at the First Battle of Bull Run; South Carolinian Robert Smalls, who became famous for leading a group of slaves out of Charleston harbor and into freedom on a stolen steamboat; and Navy seamen.

The brief biography that accompanies each photograph serves to “flesh out” each of these men, and helps us understand that for African Americans, this was not merely a war for Union or Southern independence, but rather, was a struggle for freedom, equality and dignity.

And this is a book about men; all the subjects noted are male. If I could have given one suggestion to the author it would have been to include Harriet Tubman in the book. Tubman, a noted conductor of the Underground Railroad helped to lead a union raid in South Carolina to disrupt Southern supply lines and free local area slaves. This story would have made for an interesting complement to the others in the book.

African American Faces is written to be accessible to a large group of readers, and would be a welcome addition to middle school libraries and above, as well as being a fine addition to any personal library. As an elementary and high school student in the 1960s and early 1970s, I never saw an image of a black civil war soldier, nor did I hear anything mentioned about them. Coddington’s book further illustrates that there is a rich record from which to draw concerning this previously (and some say currently) neglected aspect of the Civil War.

Ground Breaking for US Colored Troop Memorial Monument, March 4, 2012, in Lexington Park, Maryland

The Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions is inviting one and all to the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the United States Colored Troops (USCT) Memorial Monument to be installed in Lexington Park, Maryland. Lexington Park is in St Mary’s County, MD, and is 90 miles south of Baltimore, MD, and 65 miles south of Washington, DC.

The event will be held on Sunday, March 4, 2012, at 2:00 pm at John G. Lancaster Park, 21550 Willows Road, Lexington Park, Maryland. For information contact:
• Idolia Shubrooks – 301.863.2150
• Nathaniel Scroggins, President (UCAC) – 301.862.9635
• Shell Jackson – 240.431.8880

The USCT Memorial Monument will be dedicated and unveiled at 10:00 am on June 16, 2012 at the 2012 Juneteenth Celebration. Some prospective images of the monument are here and here.

The website for the Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions has more details about the Monument. This is an excerpt:

The Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC) Monument Committee has initiated an historical project to educate the citizenry and preserve local, state and national history by erecting a memorial monument to honor United States Colored Troops. It will recognize Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and all Union soldiers and sailors from St. Mary’s County who served during the Civil War. UCAC is working in partnership with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). Together we will bring the lives of these American heroes to the attention of the public, so that their sacrifices will never be forgotten.

The United States Colored Troops were regiments of the United States Army and Navy during the Civil War that were composed of African American soldiers and sailors.  Recruiting stations were set up at various places by the Union.  This action was taken despite the complaints of plantation owners who depended on slave labor for local agricultural needs.  In St. Mary’s County during the 1800s there were more than 6,500 slaves and over 600 were recruited as USCT to fight with the Union to end slavery in the United States. This history is a vital part of our local heritage, and this project will create a legacy which will serve to educate the community and preserve our history for future generations.

We are proud that St. Mary’s County produced two USCT recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, Pvt. William H. Barnes and Sgt. James H. Harris. These sons of St. Mary’s County were awarded the Medal of Honor for their gallantry in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm also known as the Battle of New Market Heights (Sept. 1864) in Varina, Henrico County, Virginia.

Nationally recognized sculptor Gary Casteel will build the monument.  Mr. Casteel’s work is highly regarded and may be seen in collections of the National Park Service, state and local governments, corporations and private enterprises.  Visit Mr. Casteel’s website for more information regarding this talented artist:www.garycasteel.com.  The site for the monument has been donated by St. Mary’s County in John G. Lancaster Park in Lexington Park, Maryland.

Hat tip to Yulanda Burgess at usctbrigade@yahoogroups.com for the info.