U.S. Civil War History & Genealogy

Negro Troops in The Civil War

      In the American Revolution there were some 1,000 free and slave Negro soldiers enlisted, and in the War of 1812 there were none except from LA., where free Negroes fought with Jackson defending New Orleans. No records have disclosed Negro troops in the Mexican War.

      Free Negroes tried to enlist at the beginning of the Civil War, and in September 1862 a temporary "black brigade" was raised in Cincinnati, without weapons and uniforms, to combat Morgan's radiers.

      The previous month Ben Butler had raised the LA Native Guards (Corp d'Afrique) and mustered the 1st LA. N.G. on September 27, 1862, the first black regiment in the U.S.A. The 2nd LA. N.G. was mustered in on October 12, 1862 and the 3rd LA. N.G. on November 24, 1862. David Hunter in SC had started to do the same in May of that year, and both efforts were vetoed by Lincoln.

      RI issued the first state call for Negro troops, and Kansas and Massachusetts followed. After the Emanicipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) was issued, Lincoln called for four Negro regiments. By the end of the war, there were some 300,000 colored troops in 166 regiments (145 infantry, 7 cavalry, 12 heavy artillery, 1 field artillery, and 1 engineer regiment). About 60 of these were employed in the field.

      According to Livermore, 97,598 colored troops were called from the territories and Southern states and "all but one regiment enrolled after 1862" ( Livermore, 50n ).

      "Of the regiments brought into action," Fox points out, "only a few were engaged in more than one battle; the war was half over, and so the total of killed does not appear as great as it otherwise would have done. The total number killed or mortally wounded in the colored troops was 143 officers and 2,751 men. The officers were white."

      The first colored regiment to be engaged in combat was the 79th US Colored Infantry (First Kansas) at Island Mounds, MO on October 28, 1862. In the assault on Port Hudson, LA on May 27, 1863, colored troops were used for the first time in a general engagement. On June 7, 1863 the colored garrison was attacked by Walker's division at Millikens Bend, LA. and retained their postion after hand to hand fighting. Colored troops next participated in Gillmore's unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner, SC. on July 18, 1863. The 54th Mass. led the attack and lost 272 out of 650 engaged, including their commander. One of the most severe regimental losses of the war accurred in the 8th U.S.C.I. at Olustee, FL on February 20, 1864. This regiment later distinguished itself at Chafin's farm.

      Ferrero's 4th Div., IX Corps, was the first Negro unit to serve with the Union army in VA. It was not committed to action until the ill-fated Petersburg Mine Assault on July 30, 1864, where the misguided interference of Meade and Grant with Burnside's plans led to their being butchered. Hinks's division, XVIII Corps, made up entirely of Negro regiments, made a successful attack on the Petersburg defenses on June 15, 1864. Paine's colored division of XVIII Corps and William Birney's Col. Brig. of X Corps, about 10,000 total strength, were actively engaged in the action at Chafin's Farm on September 29, 1864. At Darbytown Road, VA, on October 27, 1864, the 29th Conn. C.I. performed good service. Two colored brigades took part in the battle of Nashville, TN. on December 15, 1864. The 13th U.S.C.I. lost 221 men in its assault on Overton Hill, which was the greatest regimental loss of the battle. At Honey Hill, SC on November 30, 1864, a colored regiment, the 55th Mass., had the highest casualties: 144 men. Fox, from whom the above is paraphrased, lists the following additional battles in which Negro troops were prominently engaged:

      In the last months of the war the XXV Corps was organized to consist entirely of Negro troops.
      The Confederate Army used many Negro servants and laborers, but did not employ Negro combat troops. A regiment was organized in New Orleans but not accepted into service. In 1863, a proposal to arm slaves was briefly considered. In January 1864, a movement by Pat Cleburne to use slaves as soldiers, giving them freedom for good service, was suppressed by Davis when he learned of it. In November 1864, Davis considered the limited use of negro troops, and R.E. Lee agreed that the idea had merit. In March 1865, the Confederate congress passed a law authorizing that up to 300,000 slaves be called for military service, but there was no mention of their being freed in connection with this duty. The next month a few companies were organized, but the surrender came before any of them were used.

79th United States Colored Infantry ( 1st Kans. Col. Volunteers).

Present also at:
Bush Creek, Prairie d'Ann, Jenkins' Ferry, and Joy's Ford.

      Originally organized as the 1st Kansas Col. Volunteers, its designation was changed on December 13, 1864. This regiment had the distinction of being the first colored unit to fight in the Civil War (Island Mounds). Recruiting started in August 1862, but a regimental organization was not established until January 1863, when six companies were mustered in. The other four companies were organized by May 1863. In May 1864, Williams was given command of the 2nd Brig., Frontier Div., VII Corps, with the 79th Infanry as part of that brigade. Mustered out on October 1, 1865. This regiments ranks 21st among Federal regiments in highest percentage of total enrollment killed in action.

Additional information on on this topic is now available.
To view the compiled references regarding Black Confederates
developed through research by the 37th Texas Cavalry, please visit:
Black Confederates.

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