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.


ABOVE: 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.


ABOVE: 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 US Colored Troops at the battle have been noted for their bravery in the face of considerable losses. In the book The Tennessee Campaign of 1864, D. L. Turner and Scott L. Stabler write (p. 155) that

While the USCT suffered enormous casualties, they also enjoyed effuse praise for their actions in battle. The 13th alone recorded 220 casualties (killed, injured, missing) or 40% of its force. One Confederate commander who praised USCT actions said he “never saw a dead men thicker than in front of my two regiments.” Following the engagement, an officer of the 100th USCT surveyed the battlefield and stated, “The blood of the white and black men has flown freely together for the great cause which is to give freedom, unity, manhood and peace to all men, whatever birth or complexion.”

C.B. Leitner of Geneva, Georgia, a soldier in Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army, at one point attempted to persuade Confederate President Jefferson Davis to consider recruiting Black troops as well. Believing that the presence of black Confederate troops might have helped the Southern army push Union forces back to the Ohio River, he wrote, “{if you} could have reinforced the Army of Tennessee with 40,000 Negro troops today it would have been up on the banks of the Ohio River.”

“Falling like wheat before a mowing machine,” southerner James Holdsclaw later wrote, “they gallantly dashed up to the abates(sic), forty feet in front, and were killed by the hundreds.” Lastly, one Ohioan wrote, “I never saw more heroic conduct shown on the field of battle then was exhibited by this body of men so recently slaves.”

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


ABOVE: 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

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.
********

Fort Pillow – 150th Anniversary and Memorial Service
Fort Pillow State Park

Schedule of Activities:

Saturday Schedule (April 12, 1984)

Continue reading

A Letter to Lincoln from a Colored Soldier: “I… grasp at the Flag… and Declared it shall never fall”


Letter from Hannibal Cox, 14th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry to president Abraham Lincoln
Source: From The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

This is a letter to Abraham Lincoln from an African American soldier which contains a poem:

From a man of no education. And have been doomed to slavery –
During life, and was born In Powhatan Co. and was raised in –
Richmond Virginia. And I am now a Soldier In U. S. Army. –
And I will Speak these few words In Answer to all whom it –
May Concern. Where Ever it may roam.

I have left my wife And Children but –
Tho. I. have not yet forsaken them. and made one grasp –
at the Flag of the union and Declared it shall never fall–
For we love it like the Sunshine, and the Stars and azure air. –

Ho for the flag of the union. the Stripes and the Stars of light.–
A million arms. Shall guard it. and may god defend the right.–
Ay, brothers let us love it, and let Every heart be true.–
And let Every arm be ready, for we have glorious work to do.–
Ho. for the Flag of the union. the Stripes and the Stars of Light.–
a million arms shall guard it. and may. God defend the right.–

I. Hope we may meet again In the bonds of love to greet
fare well I hope History may tell

Hannibal Cox
Co. B. 14th U. S. Colored Troops
Chattanooga Tenn
march 30th 1864

I. sends this for you to look at
you must not laugh at it

This poignant letter is from Hannibal Cox, a former enslaved person who joined the Union army and was a member of the 14th Infantry regiment, United States Colored Troops. The letter was sent to Abraham Lincoln via Benjamin Woodward, a Surgeon with the Union’s 22nd Illinois Regiment. Woodward wrote to Lincoln:

Permit me respectfully to enclose to You a letter received by me a few days since. The writer was a Slave held in bondage by a man named “Green” in Lincoln Co Tenn. In August last he escaped and came to me at the U S Gen Hospital at Tullahoma Tenn. While there the Soldiers taught him to read and write, for prior to that time he could do neither. Early this spring he enlisted as a Soldier.

This Mr Lincoln is but a sample of the glorious fruits of Your “Proclamation” of Liberty. When at Springfield Ill as You were leaving for Washington you said “Pray for me” a thousand hearts responded, and we now thank God who has so “led You into all truth” and thousands in the army rejoice in Your work and pray for you that you may be sustained till the great work which God has called You to is fully accomplished.

Hannibal Cox had fled bondage, but it was a troubled freedom. Liberation meant that he had to leave his wife and children behind. He swears to Lincoln, and perhaps himself, that he has not forsaken his family. In the meantime, his escape from slavery had given him literacy, a uniform, and a flag; and he was more than ready to fight for that flag.

Cox, as a “man of no education,” may have been uncomfortable with his use of words (and it’s possible that although he wrote the letter, it was transcribed by someone else) but he says firmly about his letter: “you must not laugh at it.” If Lincoln did read the letter, I don’t think he would have laughed. Lincoln might well have found it moving and touching, as no doubt many of us do today.

This is the grave marker for Hannibal Cox in Riverside Cemetery, Troy, Ohio from the website Find a Grave: :


Sources: Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops by John David Smith, p1-2; thanks to the member Littlestown at CivilWarTalk.com for information on Hannibal Cox’s gravesite.

Norman Hill: “We must participate in our own re-awakening.”


Norman Hill, member, Tennessee Historical Commission, Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission
Source: Screenshot from Nashville Cemetery USCT Sculpture YouTube video from the Veterans Health Administration

A hot topic regarding the Civil War Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) is the interest, or perceived lack thereof, of African Americans in the War and related commemoration activities and events. A discussion of African American attitudes toward the war is here.

An essay on the subject is provided by Norman Hill, who is a member of the Tennessee Historical Commission, the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and is a United States Colored Troops re-enactor. Hill wrote this after visiting historic sites in Tennessee with content related to African Americans in the Civil War. I found this piece interesting and thought-provoking.

I want to give thanks to the people at the Eagle News newspaper for granting permission to re-print this piece:

I am traveling today with the Historic Commission, visited the 13th US Colored Troops (USCT) exhibit at the Clement museum in Dickson, Tennessee, and the “Promised Land settlement” in Dickson, Tennessee.

I participate as a member of the Historic Commission of the State of Tennessee consisting of gubernatorial appointees from all the Grand Divisions.

Even as we visited the historic African American settlements, we were distracted by rebel flags and auto horns sounding “Dixie.” The implications were quite clear that the old guard is not going away.

Many black and white historians agree that it is our challenge to fill the void of our own silence, recognize the legacy we have inherited. We should be cautious not to spend our valuable time and resources counteracting every Rebel flag, or worse to hide away and hope that we are not noticed. Visual opposition is necessary, but it must not be our only course of opposition.

It is time to put aside the fear of our past, and face the promise of our future. We must celebrate and promote the opening of the Bradley Museum because it is our legacy. We must also the “Promised Land Settlement” in Dickson County. Their representative visited and supported our Bradley Festival and we should return and support their efforts.

Monuments and memorials such as Bradley Museum, Promised Land, and Freedom Hill in Gallatin are a part of an even larger renaissance of Black culture and History that has included the USCT Museum in Washington, DC, and the recent CBS Broadcast “Who do you think you are” featuring Vanessa Williams’ family history and revealing a USCT relative, as well as one of the first Black members of the Tennessee Legislature.

All over the Middle East, people are pushing back years of fear and suppression to express their desire for freedom. We are not immune from the implications and we must participate in our own re-awakening.

We are fortunate to be alive to witness and participate in the revival of our own Heritage and Pride.