Scenes from the commemoration of the Battle of Forks Road, Wilmington, NC

Soldiers at Battle of Forks Road
US Colored Troops reenactors/living Historians at the 10th Annual Civil War Living History Weekend in Wilmington, NC.
Image Source: Facebook page for the US Colored Troops Living History Association (USCTLHA), added February 9, 2015

This past February 7th and 8th, the Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, NC, presented the 10th Annual Civil War Living History Weekend, to commemorate the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Battle of Forks Road. The theme of the event was “Forks Road…The Beginning of the End,” which was appropriate, in that the fight occurred just several months before the the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia. I had hoped to attend, but it was not meant to be. However, I can share some images from the event which are on social media further below.

The Battle of Forks Road website has an excellent account of the battle, and reporting of its importance. As noted at the site,

Although officially considered a skirmish, the Battle of Forks Road, February 20-21, 1865, fought on the site now occupied by Cameron Art Museum, is arguably one of the most important social and political events in the history of the Wilmington area.

In contrast to many Civil War battles, at Forks Road there were white and African American soldiers serving in both the Union and Confederate forces. Furthermore, many soldiers in both forces were local men—North Carolinians for generations. Of course, most of the African American soldiers had been slaves, but they were, nonetheless, on their home ground as were the white Confederates. There were African American soldiers, too, who had been sent, as slaves, to serve in their owner’s place, throughout the Confederate army.

One group whose contribution at Forks Road is not widely known is the force of 1600 African American Union troops, known as the U.S. Colored Troops or U.S.C.T. These men, along with other Union troops, were victorious at Forks Road, defeating the Confederate forces, taking control of Wilmington, and hastening the end of the war. The U.S.C.T. emerged from the war as heroes, viewed by former slaves and freemen alike as liberators of their people. Though there were certainly casualties among the U.S.C.T., most survived the war, and many of those remained to make their home in the area.

Very soon after the end of the war Wilmington’s population shifted from a majority white population to a majority African American population; an effect that some have attributed to the influence to the soldiers who remained to make Wilmington their home. The cultural and political effects of that population shift were profound and are still reflected in the social and political life of the region.

More history of the battle is here. An article that features interviews with two US Colored Troops reenactors/living historians who have attended the event is here.

The commemoration weekend included lectures, living historian presentations, a battle reenactment, cannon and artillery demonstrations, and an encampment with tents, sutlers, period games and music, artisan demonstrations, and children’s activities.

These three photographs, taken by Chuck Monroe, are from the Facebook page for the US Colored Troops Living History Association (USCTLHA):

Battle of Forks Road 2 copy

Battle of Forks Road 4

Battle of Forks Road usctlha 2

These photographs are from an Image Gallery on the Battle of Fork Roads site, courtesy Alan Cradick Photography. Click on the link to see the full set of photos.

These are scenes from prior year events: Continue reading

Self-emancipation during the Civil War: Remembering the Corinth Contraband Camp, MS

[​IMG]
Statue and markers near the entrance to the Corinth Contraband Camp, in Corinth, Mississippi.
Image Source: Corinth Contraband Camp, National Park Service; see photo gallery here.

The Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War is winding down. In a scant few months, we will observe the 150th anniversary of Confederate general Robert E Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, which signaled the beginning of the end of the Civil War. This is a good moment to reflect on how the War was commemorated these past few years.

One disappointment of the Sesquicentennial, in my opinion, has been the relative lack of attention given to contrabands/runaways/self-emancipated slaves.

During the War, over a hundred thousand enslaved African Americans escaped their masters and sought refuge from bondage behind Union lines. At the start of the War, Union policy was to return these freedom seekers to their owners; the goal was to maintain the owners’ loyalty to, and support for, the Union cause. That policy unraveled as the Union came to see the slaves as valuable and necessary allies in the war against the Confederate regime.

Over time the Union evolved new policies, under which slaves who escaped their masters would be given asylum, usually in war refugee/labor camps that were in or near army encampments or forts. These places were variously called contraband camps or freedom colonies or freedom villages. The escaped slaves were called ‘contraband’ by northerners, on the basis that they were property that was seized from Confederates. I do not know if the self-emancipators defined themselves using this northerners’ lexicon.

There has been a very good focus during the Sesquicentennial, I think, on the role of African descent soldiers during the War, due in part to the efforts of African American reenactors and living historians. But the black southern soldier was a subset of a larger group of people who escaped bondage. And the story of that larger group hasn’t seen as much attention, as I look back at the spate of events and activities since the Sesquicentennial period began in 2011.

Many of the stories of these former slaves are about families, women and children especially, taking huge risks, and enduring much suffering in the process, to gain their freedom. Even if these families were successful in reaching a contraband camp, they sometimes lived in harsh conditions. Many of their menfolk joined the United States armed forces; by the War’s end, over 135,000 men from Confederate or Union slave states joined the US army, and thousands more joined the navy. With the men gone, black women were forced to care for themselves, their children and the elderly, in places that might seem like war refugee camps today. Groups like the American Missionary Association aided the military in providing educational and other services to the freedmen and women.

We know much about the black men who joined the armed forces because of the records that were kept about their service. But literacy, gender, age (again, many of these former slaves were children) and other factors have resulted in a more spare record of the former slaves at these camps.

This is not to say that the memory of these folks has been completely ignored in the commemorative landscape, that is, the public and non-public spaces which memorialize the past. An exemplary public site for the recognition of the runaways is the Corinth Contraband Camp, in Corinth, Mississippi, near the state border with Tennessee.

End of Slavery Civil War exhibit in Corinth, Mississippi

Statues inside the Civil War Interpretive Center at Corinth Contraband Camp, in Corinth, Mississippi; featuring an African American Union soldier and a freedwoman taking a class.
Image Source: Photo/Copyright by Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright. Photo is not in the public domain. 

[​IMG]
Statue of freedwoman and child reading a book at the Corinth Contraband Camp, in Corinth, Mississippi.
Image Source: Corinth Contraband Camp, National Park Service; see photo gallery here.

The Camp is a National Park Service (NPS) site, and part of the larger Shiloh National Park complex. This is from the NPS description of the site:

As Federal forces occupied major portions of the South, enslaved people escaped from farms and plantations and fled to safety behind Union lines. Once President Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued in September 1862, the number of freedom seekers increased considerably in Union occupied Corinth.The Corinth Contraband Camp was established by Union General Grenville M. Dodge to accommodate these refugees.

The camp featured numerous homes, a church, school and hospital. The freedmen cultivated and sold cotton and vegetables in a progressive cooperative farm program. By May 1863, the camp was making a clear profit of $4,000 to $5,000 from it enterprises. By August, over 1,000 African American children and adults gained the ability to read through the efforts of various benevolent organizations.

Although the camp had a modest beginning, it became a model camp and allowed for approximately 6,000 ex-slaves to establish their own individual identities. Once the Emancipation Proclamation was implemented, nearly 2,000 of the newly freed men at the Corinth Contraband Camp had their first opportunity to protect their way of life and made up a new regiment in the Union army. Since most of the men came from Alabama, the unit was named the 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment of African Descent, later re-designated the 55th United States Colored Troops.

In December 1863, the camp was moved to Memphis and the freedmen resided in a more traditional refugee facility for the remainder of the war.

The Corinth Contraband Camp was the first step on the road to freedom and the struggle for equality for thousands of former slaves.Today a portion of the historic Corinth Contraband Camp is preserved to commemorate those who began their journey to freedom there in 1862-1863. This land now hosts a quarter mile walkway which exhibits six life-size bronze sculptures depicting the men, women, and children who inhabited the camp.​

[​IMG]
Statue of United States Colored Troops solider at the Corinth Contraband Camp, in Corinth, Mississippi.
The 1st Alabama Infantry Regiment of African Descent, later re-designated the 55th United States Colored Troops, was formed at the Corinth Camp.

Image Source: Corinth Contraband Camp, National Park Service; see photo gallery here.

One of the wonderful things about the statues in the park is that women are so well represented. The inclusiveness is important, and for visitors, informative and even enlightening.

The Corinth site is in northeast Mississippi, about 60 miles from Jackson, TN, about 100 miles from either Memphis, TN, or Decatur, AL, and about 120 miles from Huntsville, AL. This will make for a great visit for those who want to learn about this important part of Civil War and American history.

Robert Houston, US Colored Troops reenactor; and a list of USCT reenactor/living historian groups

This Youtube video from AL DÍA News Media features Robert F. Houston, a United States Colored Troops reenactor.

From the video description: Published on Jun 26, 2013: Robert F. Houston, a 20-year Civil War re-enactor for the 3rd Regiment Infantry, United States Colored Troops. Houston advocates for living history to engage youth in history, while remembering his own. The 3rd Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T. is a nationally recognized non-profit dedicated to presenting and preserving the role of freedom fighters of African descent during the Civil War.

Houston is one of several hundred African Americans who are engaged in the craft of Civil War reenacting and living history. The US Colored Troops Living History Association (USCTLHA) has been formed to educate the public about the role of African Americans in the Civil War, and to promote the participation of African American in reenacting/living history activities, as performers and attendees. Their Facebook page is here. Houston’s 3rd Regiment United States Colored Troops Reenactors operates in the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware area, and beyond.

The USCTLHA maintains a directory of these USCT units and organizations. The following is a recent list of living history/reenactment groups with locations, if known (thanks to Yulanda Burgess of the USCTLHA for this). I encourage readers of all backgrounds to consider using these folks as a resource for educational and commemorative events; and I encourage African Americans to consider taking part in this important project to ensure that the service and sacrifice of African American soldiers, sailors, and civilians during the Civil War is not forgotten.

List of African American Civil War Reenactors/Living Historians per the US Colored Troops Living History Association

First Mississippi Volunteer Infantry (African Descent)

First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Savannah, GA

2nd Infantry Regiment of United States Colored Troops, Tallahassee, FL

2nd Regiment US Colored Light Artillery, Battery B

Battery B, 2nd United States Colored Light Artillery, Wilmington, NC

3rd USCC, Philadelphia, PA

3rd USCI, Philadelphia, PA

4th USCT, Benicia, CA

5th USCI, Co. C (Toledo), Toledo, OH

5th USCT, Co. G. (Cleveland), Cleveland, OH

6th Regiment United States Colored Troops and 1st Rhode Island Regiment Reenactors Inc), NJ

8th USCI, Co. A, Central Pennsylvania

8th USCT, Co. B, Tampa, FL

12th USCHA, Nicholasville, KY

13th USCT Living History Association, Nashville, TN

14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, Providence, RI

22nd USCT (USCI)

23rd Regiment USCT, Spotsylvania, VA

26th USCT, NY Metro, New York Metropolitan Area, NY

26th USCT, Albany, NY

29th USCT, Illinois

Company F, 29th Infantry Regiment USCT, Milwaukee, WI

30th USCT, Dinwiddie, VA

37th USCT, Kinston, NC

38th USCT, Co. D., Richmond, VA

44th USCT, Knoxville, TN

54th Mass, FL

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company A and Colored Ladies Christian Relief Society, Boston, MA

54th Massachusetts Infantry, Co. H (Vancouver, Washington), Dallas, OR

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Company, Hyde Park, MA

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company B Reenactors , Washington, DC

54th. Mass. Volunteer Infantry, Co. I, SC

62nd USCT and 65th USCT, St. Louis, MO

Co. B, 102nd USCT/Black History Group, Detroit, MI

33rd USCT, Mount Pleasant, SC

Gospel Army Black History Group , Grand Blanc, MI

Stone Soul Soldiers, (Peter Brace Brigade), Springfield, MA

United States Colored Troops Living History Association, Louisville, KY

“Bid Em In” – A Video for Oscar Brown Jr’s Biting Riposte on Slave Auctions

This video is based on Oscar Brown Jr’s song “Bid Em In.” This was the subject of one of my first posts when I opened this blog four years ago. I find the video moving even after numerous views.

Thanks and congratulations to Neal Sopata for his excellent animation work.

Toy Soldiers

10931264_768650006552267_8268701233816863966_n
Figurines of United States Colored Troops from the American Civil War.
Image Source: United States Colored Troops Living History Association, added on January 18, 2015.

These are pictures of some very cool figurine displays that were posted to the Facebook page of the United States Colored Troops Living History Association. Unfortunately, the site of these displays is not clearly identified. Too bad; I’d love to see them in person. If anybody knows where these are, please drop me a line.

10246322_768649999885601_5546554524345218608_n
Figurines of soldiers from the American Revolutionary War. The figure to the far right is wearing the uniform of the First Rhode Island Regiment, which fought with the Patriots.
Image Source: United States Colored Troops Living History Association, added on January 18, 2015.

10896853_768650009885600_7238741164981218406_n
I suspect this scene is based on the story of Henry “Box” Brown, a 19th-century Virginia slave who escaped to freedom by having himself mailed in a wooden crate to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania abolitionists.
Image Source: United States Colored Troops Living History Association, added on January 18, 2015.

Reenactor/living historian Ludger Balan discusses the Civil War’s US Colored Troops

Ludger Balan is with New York-based CHE Nautical & Enviro Edutainment, a non-profit group that researches and interprets African Heritage History in Colonial America and World History. The organization facilitates the work of reenactors and living historians who provide education about historical figures and events from the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries.

The video is a brief interview with Balan at the commemoration/celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Camp William Penn, AKA Camp Penn, in September 2013. Camp Penn, located just outside of northwest Philadelphia, was a federal site that was dedicated to training African Americans who enlisted in the United States Army during the American Civil War. Just under 11,000 men of African descent were trained at the site. Camp Penn took in men from Pennsylvania, and also nearby Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. These men were part of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Balan, who was a reenactor/living historian at the event (he does living history for other periods as well, such as the War of 1812), spoke for a few minutes about the importance of telling the story of the US Colored Troops, his passion for the subject, and his hopes for getting the story to the mass of African Americans who might not be aware of this vital part of their history.

The video above is also from the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Camp William Penn, September 2013. Balan and fellow reenactor/living historian Derrick James are showing visitors how soldiers trained and used their weapons. The event was attended by several dozen USCT living historians who discussed several aspects of camp life and military service. See also this previous blog post.

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

image
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!

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

image
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.

image
More reenactors/living historians who were at the event. From left to right, they are Mia Marie McKay, Wisteria Perry and Yulanda Burgess. Perry works at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, VA. Burgess’ history specialty is the American Missionary Association.

image
Another scene from the commemoration events.