BLACK SOLDIERS DURING LEE'S RETREAT
|Appomattox Campaign & African Americans
|Appomattox Civil War Surrender and Black Soldiers
Blacks Serving the Confederacy:
With General Robert E. Lee's manpower reserves quickly draining, on March 23, 1865, General Orders #14 was
issued which allowed for the enlistment of Blacks into the Confederate service. Shortly thereafter, a notice was posted in
Petersburg's The Daily Express: "The commanding General deems the prompt organization of as large a force of negroes
as can be spared, a measure of the utmost importance, and the support and co-operation of the citizens of Petersburg and the
surrounding counties is requested by him for the prosecution to success of a scheme which he believes promises so great benefit
to our cause...To the slaves is offered freedom and undisturbed residence at their old homes in the Confederacy after the
war. Not the freedom of sufferance, but honorable and self won by the gallantry and devotion which grateful countrymen will
never cease to reward."
The recruitment effort did bear fruit in Richmond where Majors James W. Pegram and Thomas P. Turner put together
a "Negro Brigade" of Confederate States Colored Troops. The Richmond Daily Examiner noted of the unit: "the knowledge
of the military art they already exhibit was something remarkable. They moved with evident pride and satisfaction to themselves."
As the Confederate army abandoned Richmond on April 3rd, apparently these Black Confederate soldiers went
along with General Custis Lee's wagon train on its journey. They would move unmolested until they reached the area of Painesville
on April 5. Here they were attacked by General Henry Davies' cavalry troopers. A Confederate officer, who rode upon this situation
as it was transpiring, recalled: "Several engineer officers were superintending the construction of a line of
rude breastworks...Ten or twelve negroes were engaged in the task of pulling down a rail fence; as many more occupied in carrying
the rails, one at a time, and several were busy throwing up the dirt...The [Blacks] thus employed all wore good gray uniforms
and I was informed that they belonged to the only company of colored troops in the Confederate service, having been enlisted
by Major Turner in Richmond. Their muskets were stacked, and it was evident that they regarded their present employment in
no very favorable light."
On April 10th, as Confederate prisoners were being marched from Sailor's Creek and elsewhere to City Point
(present day Hopewell) and eventually off to Northern prison camps, a Union chaplain observed the column. This incident
along the retreat to Painesville, seems to be the only documented episode of "official" Black troops serving the Confederacy
in Virginia as armed an unit under fire.
African-Americans also accompanied the Confederate army on the retreat with the First Regiment Engineer Troops
and provided yeoman service. One member of this unit remembered that they mounded roads, repaired bridges and cut new parallel
roads to old ones when they became impassable. When this was not possible, an engineer officer would post a group near the
trouble spot to extricate wagons and artillery pieces.
When Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox, thirty-six African-Americans were listed on the Confederate paroles.
Most were either servants, free blacks, musicians, cooks, teamsters or blacksmiths. A Black woman was to become the only civilian
casualty in the final fighting at Appomattox. Hannah stayed behind with her husband in the home of Doctor Coleman located
on the battlefield and was mortally wounded by an artillery round. A Union chaplain remembered: "she was sick
with fever and unable to be moved. As she lay upon her bed, a solid shot had passed through one wall of the house at just
the right height to strike her arm, and then passed out through the opposite wall."
Confederates paroled at Appomattox Court House include thirty-nine slaves and free blacks:
QUARTERMASTER'S DEPARTMENT OF THIRD CORPS ORDINANCE TRAIN: 16 Slaves (unnamed) in public service.
BATTALION: Musicians Enlisted for the War: Joe Parkman Co. A, Henry Williams Co. B, George Waddell Co. A,
Louis Gardeen Co. C, Cooks Enlisted for the War: James Polk Co. B, William Read Co. C, Scipio Africanus Co.
B, John Lery Co. A, QUARTERMASTER DEPT., GARY'S CAVALRY BRIGADE: James Barabsha, Guard Bob (slave of David Bridges), Thomas
Bowen Teamster, Teamster Burress Bowen, Teamster Jim (slave of T.M. Dettrick), Teamster John Bowen, Teamster Jack Caldwell,
Teamster Solomon Wright, Blacksmith DONALDSONVILLE ARTILLERY, COMPANY B: H. Blum, Cook, Jno. Mamply, Servant L. Leport, Servant
Jno. Semple, Servant DETACHED NAVAL BRIGADE: Privates attached to Naval Brigade, Charles Cleoper, Joseph Johnson, James Hicks.
Black Americans Serving the Union:
On August 25, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton authorized the enlistment of black troops into the Federal
Army. Although enlistments began in 1862, it was not until 1864 that recruitment of blacks gathered momentum. Eventually,
178,982 men served in 166 regiments in the Union Army. These regiments, designated United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.),
saw service throughout the South; however, the largest number in any one theater fought in the campaigns against the Army
of Northern Virginia.
U.S. Colored Troops in the Retreat to Appomattox The union armies under Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant would
sever Confederate General Robert E. Lee's supply line to Petersburg on April 2, 1865. Lee would be forced to evacuate the
Confederate Capital of Richmond and the fortified supply center of Petersburg thus beginning his final campaign of the war.
While most of the United States Colored Troops in the Federal Army were involved with the occupation of Richmond
on the morning of April 3rd, some did enter Petersburg when it fell on the same day. Brigadier General William Birney's second
division, XXV Corps, operating south of the Appomattox River, would be among the first units to come into the city from the
west. It was noted that the 7th U.S.C.T. regiment, recruited in Maryland, and the 8th U.S.C.T., from Philadelphia, were on
the skirmish line that morning and with those who marched into the evacuated railroad center. The 7th's commander, Lt. Colonel
Oscar E. Pratt, wrote: "I entered the city of Petersburg at 6 a.m., amidst the joyous acclamations of its sable
citizens." There were seven Black units (approximately 2,000 men, or 3% of the Federal force) which made the
journey all the way to Appomattox Court House with Major General Edward Ord's Union Army of the James and arrived in time
to be involved in the final fighting.
On their way they passed through the settlements of Blacks & Whites, Nottoway Court House, Burkeville
Junction, Rice's Station, and Farmville. From the latter point they stayed south of the Appomattox River and traveled via
Walker's Church (present day Hixburg) to Appomattox. These regiments were of Colonel William W. Woodward's brigade, the 29th
and 31st U.S.C.T., along with the 116th U.S.C.T., assigned to them from another brigade. Colonel Ulysses Doubleday's brigade,
8th, 41st, 45th, and 127th U.S.C.T., were also present. The first brigade, under Colonel James Shaw, Jr., would not arrive
until the day after the surrender, having marched ninety-six miles in four days. His brigade was detached from the others
and sent back to Sutherland Station for a period of time, causing their delay.
On the morning of the 9th at Appomattox Court House, the Black units were sent forward to support other Federal
units in the closing phase of the battle. Consequently, only Woodward's brigade participated in the final advance on the Confederate
line. Some of Doubleday's skirmishers did proceed forward, and the only casualty for the U.S.C.T. brigades was Captain John
W. Falconer of Company A, 41st U.S.C.T. - a white officer. He was mortally wounded and died on April 23rd. According
to Surgeon-in-Chief Charles P. Heinchhold: "during the entire campaign, the U.S.C.T.'s lost 4 men killed, 1 officer
(mortally) and 30 men wounded, a total of 35 casualties."
"We, the colored soldiers, have fairly won our rights by loyalty and bravery -- shall we obtain
them? If we are refused now, we shall demand them." Sgt. Maj. William McCeslin, 29th U.S.C.T.
Park Service; Appomattox Court
House National Historic
Reading: The Negro's Civil War:
How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union. Description: In this
classic study, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson deftly narrates the experience of blacks--former slaves and
soldiers, preachers, visionaries, doctors, intellectuals, and common people--during the Civil War. Drawing on contemporary
journalism, speeches, books, and letters, he presents an eclectic chronicle of their fears and hopes as well as their essential
contributions to their own freedom. Continued below...
Through the words of these extraordinary participants,
both Northern and Southern, McPherson captures African-American responses to emancipation, the shifting attitudes toward Lincoln
and the life of black soldiers in the Union army. Above all, we are allowed to witness the dreams of a disenfranchised people
eager to embrace the rights and the equality offered to them, finally, as citizens.
Reading: A Grand Army of Black Men:
Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army 1861-1865 (Cambridge
Studies in American Literature and Culture). Description:
The Civil War stands vivid in the collective memory of the American public. There has always been a profound
interest in the subject, and specifically of Blacks' participation in and reactions to the war and the war's outcome. Almost
200,000 African-American soldiers fought for the Union in the Civil War. Although most were
illiterate ex-slaves, several thousand were well educated, free black men from the northern states. The 129 letters in this
collection were written by black soldiers in the Union army during the Civil War to black and abolitionist newspapers. Continued
They provide a unique expression of the black voice that was meant for a
public forum. The letters tell of the men's experiences, their fears, and their hopes. They describe in detail their army
days--the excitement of combat and the drudgery of digging trenches. Some letters give vivid descriptions of battle; others
protest racism; while others call eloquently for civil rights. Many describe their conviction that they are fighting
not only to free the slaves but to earn equal rights as citizens. These letters give an extraordinary picture of the war and
also reveal the bright expectations, hopes, and ultimately the demands that black soldiers had for the future--for themselves
and for their race. As first-person documents of the Civil War, the letters are strong statements of the American dream of
justice and equality, and of the human spirit.
Reading: Black Union
Soldiers in the Civil War. Description: This book refutes the historical slander
that blacks did not fight for their emancipation from slavery. At first harshly rejected in their attempts to enlist in the
Union army, blacks were eventually accepted into the service—often through the efforts of individual generals who, frustrated
with bureaucratic inaction in the face of dwindling forces, overrode orders from the secretary of war and even the president.
By the end
of the Civil War, African American soldiers had numbered more than 180,000 and served in 167 regiments. Seventeen were awarded
the nation’s highest award for valor and heroism--the Medal of Honor.
Theirs was a remarkable achievement whose full story is finally revealed.
The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Modern War Studies). Description:
A bona fide classic, The Sable Arm was the first work to fully chronicle the remarkable story of the nearly 180,000 black
troops who served in the Union army. This work paved the way for the exploration of the black military experience in other
wars. This edition, with a new foreword by Herman Hattaway and bibliographical essay by the author, makes available once again
a pioneering work that will be especially useful for scholars and students of Civil War, black, and military history. Continued
Civil War Times Illustrated: "One of the one hundred best books
ever written on the Civil War."
Like Men of War. Description: Although countless books
have been written about the Civil War, the role of black troops has been consistently underrepresented until recently. Nearly
180,000 of them fought--mostly for the North, but a handful even took up arms for the slaveholding South. Many wanted to serve
at the start of the conflict, but a variety of factors kept them on the sidelines. Until Lincoln's
Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, many Union leaders--including the president--held that the war was not about slavery. Racist
views caused some to question further the value of black soldiers; there was also genuine concern about how Confederates would
treat captured blacks. Continued below...
But, as Noah Andre Trudeau reveals,
black soldiers demonstrated bravery and professionalism from the moment they suited up. He recounts well-known events, such
as the 54th Massachusetts'
attack on Fort Wagner,
as well as less familiar ones, such as blacks' involvement in the war's last directed combat one month after Lee's surrender.
There were atrocities, too: in 1864, Confederates slaughtered black prisoners of war at Fort Pillow (Southern historians once disputed
this brutal act of cold-blooded murder, but most scholars accept it as true today). Although Trudeau sometimes sacrifices
his narrative drive to excessive detail, Like Men of War remains a compelling book full of strong battle scenes.