U.S. COLORED TROOPS - USCT

THE enlistment of colored men in the army and navy of the United States was authorized under the provisions of a proclamation by President Lincoln (known as the Emancipation Proclamation) published in General Orders, No. 1, dated War Department, Adjutant-General’s office, Washington, D.C. January 2, 1863, and the enlistment and organization of colored regiments was at once begun in several of the States.

SCT regiments were led by white officers, and rank advancement was limited for black soldiers. The Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia opened a Free Military Academy for Applicants for the Command of Colored Troops at the end of 1863.  For a time, black soldiers received less pay than their white counterparts, but they (and their supporters) lobbied for equal pay.

Four Newmarket Men served in the USCT

EDGERLY, Charles E.B.—enlisted and mustered in on 26 Jun 1861 at age 22 as a Sergeant in Company E., 12 Infantry Regiment, MASS Volunteers for 3 yrs.  He was born about 1839 in
and resided in Newmarket and listed his occupation as that of Clerk.  Initially he was a drill and training sergeant with the 12th MA Infantry.  He mustered out 11 Nov 1862 with Disability Discharge.   He re-enlisted with a commission/promotion to Full 2nd Lieutenant in 18 Dec 1863 —in Company D, U.S. Colored Troops, 84th Infantry Regiment.  He mustered out on 28 Jul 1864 with a rank of Captain.  His name is on the G.A.R Memorial.   [See BIO]

 84th Infantry, US Colored Troops —Organized at Port Hudson, La.,  24 Sep 1863, as the 12th Infantry, Corps d’Afrique; designated this regiment, 4 Apr 864; the 87th Colored Infantry consolidated with it, 31 Aug 1865; mustering out, 14 Mar 1866.     (photo: Miliken’s Bend Louisiana was part of the Vicksburg Campaign Involving USCT from Louisiana & Mississippi - from The USCT Chronicle — http://usctchronicle.blogspot.com/2011/06/from-corps-dafrique-to-us-colored.html)

 

GREENE, Charles W. – enlisted 13 Aug 1862 at age 21 as a Private in Company B, 13th Infantry Regiment;  Discharged for promotion to Captain at age 23 on 22 Jan 1864 with Co. E, 25 Infantry – US Colored Troops.  Mustered in Feb. 1, ‘64; discharged Dec. 6, 1865.  Born in and resident of Newmarket. His name is on the G.A.R. Memorial.   [see BIO]

25th Infantry, US Colored Troops —Organized at Philadelphia, Pa., from 13 Jan 1864; mustering out 6 Dec 1865.

 MURRAY, George O.  –enlisted from Portsmouth on 4 Aug 1862 at age 29 as a Private in Company G, 10th Infantry. He was born in Newmarket, resided in and credited to Portsmouth.  Mustered in 4 Sep 1862, appointed to Corporal. Discharged with promotion 23 Nov 1863.  He re-enlisted 2 Dec 1863 with a commission in Company E, 9th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops.  Promoted to Full 1st Lieutenant on 2 Dec 1863.  Promoted to Full Captain 1 Jun 1865.  Mustered out 26 Nov 1866 New Orleans.  His name is on the G.A.R. Memorial.

9th Infantry, US Colored Troops — Organized at Camp Stanton, Md., from 30 Nov 1863; mustering out 26 Nov 1866.

WILSON, James – A Substitute – born in the West Indies enlisted and mustered in 7 Jan 1865 at age 23 as a Private in Co. K, 6th Infantry Colored Troops. Credited to Newmarket. He deserted within seven months on 18 Jul 1865 at Wilmington, N.C.

6th Infantry, US Colored Troops —Organized at Camp William Penn, Pa., 28 Jul to 28 Sep 1863; mustering out 20 Sep 1865.

Each NH man was a volunteer appointed or enlisted for three years. The records of the colored troops at the War Department are incomplete and it has been found impossible to obtain full records in all cases.  New Hampshire had no regiment of colored troops, but nearly three hundred men were enlisted, credited to the quota of the State, and sent to the proper recruiting rendezvous, from which they were distributed to different regiments.  In addition to these, more than one hundred officers and enlisted men of New Hampshire regiments received commissions in the United States Colored Troops, the appointments being made and the commissions issued by the War Department.

 

Corps d’Afrique

The Corps d’Afrique was formed in New Orleans after it was taken by Union forces. It was formed around the Louisiana Native Guards. The Native Guards were militia units raised in New Orleans. They were formed from property-owning free people of color, who had developed as a third class in New Orleans since the colonial years. Although they wanted to prove their bravery and loyalty like other Southern property owners, the Confederates did not allow them to serve and confiscated their arms. The Confederates said that enlisting black soldiers would hurt agriculture. Since the units were composed of freeborn creoles and black freemen, it was clear that the underlying objection was to having black men serve at all.

For later units of the Corps d’Afrique, the Union recruited freedmen from the refugee camps. Liberated from nearby plantations, they and their families had no means to take care of themselves and no place to go. Local commanders, starved for replacements, started equipping volunteer units with cast-off uniforms and obsolete or captured firearms. The men were treated and paid as auxiliaries, performing guard or picket duties to free up white soldiers for maneuver units. In exchange, their families were fed, clothed and housed for free.

Despite class differences between freeborn and freedmen, the Corps served with distinction at the Battle of Port Hudson. Its troops served throughout the South.

 

USCT Regimental Action

USCT regiments fought in all theaters of the war, but mainly served as garrison troops in rear areas. The most famous USCT action took place at the Battle of the Crater during the Siege of Petersburg. Regiments of USCT suffered heavy casualties attempting to break through Confederate lines. Other notable engagements include Fort Wagner and the Battle of Nashville. USCT soldiers suffered extra violence at the hands of Confederate soldiers. They were victims of battlefield massacres and atrocities, most notably at Fort Pillow in Tennessee. They were at risk for murder by Confederate soldiers, rather than being held as prisoners of war.

(photo: USCT  firing at Dutch Gap)

The prisoner exchange protocol broke down over the Confederacy’s position on black prisoners of war. Confederate law stated that blacks captured in uniform be tried as slave insurrectionists in civil courts—a capital offense with automatic sentence of death. USCT soldiers were often murdered without being taken to court. The law became a stumbling block for prisoner exchange.

Discussions were held in Washington as to the positioning of USCT soldiers on entering Richmond, Virginia, after its fall in April 1865. It was determined that due to the civilian sensibilities, the USCT soldiers would not be the first unit in; however, their presence was to be among the first units in.  Later USCT regiments served among the occupation troops in former Confederate states.

The motion picture Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick, portrayed the African-American soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It showed their training and participation in several battles, including the second assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863.  Although the 54th was not a USCT regiment, but a Volunteer regiment originally raised from free blacks in Boston, the film portrays the experiences and hardships that African-American troops went through during the Civil War.

 

 

               (photo: 54th Mass Infantry color guard)

Sources:

Dudley Taylor Cornish, The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1965), pp. 173-180.

Williams, George W., History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880: Negros as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens, vol. II, New York: G.P. Putnam Son’s, 1883, pp. 351-352.

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