"Appomattox County Jail (1870) Background Bocock-Isbell House (1850)" by U.S. National Park Service , public domain
Appomattox Court House
United States Colored Troops (USCT)
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National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Our m en m ust pr evail in com bat, or lose their pr oper ty, countr y, fr eedom, ever ything…On t he other ha nd the enem y, in yielding the contest, may r etir e into their own countr y, and possess everything Appomattox Court House they enjoyed before the war began.” – Cler k John Jo nes, Confeder ate W ar Departm ent. National Historical Park Appomattox Court House All images Library of Congress United States Colored Troops at Appomattox During the latter half of the American Civil War more than 180,000 African-American soldiers served in the ranks of the Union Army, they were known as United States Colored Troops. Of the more than 150 units of USCT organized, seven regiments, totaling more than 5,000 soldiers, participated in the Battle of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. This engagement resulted in the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and the beginning of the end of the Civil War. With Federal victory came not only the restoration of the Union but the realization of emancipation for more than three million formerly enslaved individuals. The Men These African-American soldiers, led by white officers, reflected the diversity of black society in America in the 1860s. Roughly one-third were Northern born free men, particularly from northeastern cities. More than ten percent were free blacks from slave states. A small percentage were foreign born, representing nearly every corner of the globe. However, more than half of the troops had escaped slavery in the Confederacy or the pro-Union border slave states. The majority of these black soldiers hailed from Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland and were overwhelmingly young men; eighty percent were under 30. Their occupations included farmers, laborers, sailors, barbers and waiters. Together, they represented the most diverse group of soldiers found during the war. Ron Rittenhouse Collection Sgt. John Peck of Pa., 8 U.S. Colored Infantry Lib. of Congress th Unidentified Former Slave Enlistment and Organization Lib. of Congress Unidentified Artillery Soldier The vast majority of these men were volunteers, but roughly ten percent were drafted into Federal service and nearly one in three enlisted as a substitute for a white draftee. The seven regiments at Appomattox on April 9th (8th, 29th, 31st, 41st, 45th, 116th, and 127th U.S. Colored Infantry) contained a variety of combat experience. The 8th was organized in Philadelphia in 1863 and fought their bloodiest battle at Olustee, Florida. The 29th and 31st, formed in early 1864 in Illinois and New York, both suffered heavily at the Battle of the Crater near Petersburg. The 116th was recruited almost entirely from newly freed slaves in Kentucky while the remaining three units were all organized at Camp William Penn in Philadelphia. These latter regiments, raised in the summer and fall of 1864, had seen little combat during their time in the siege-lines outside of Petersburg and Richmond. Lib. of Congress 1863 Lithograph by H. L. Stephens The Appomattox Campaign Civil War Gazette In early April 1865, the 2nd Division of the all black 25th Corps participated in General Ulysses S. Grant’s final attacks on Petersburg. Although the division did not see any serious fighting, they were some of the first Federal troops to march into Petersburg on the morning of April 3. While Lee's army retreated and Grant's followed, the USCT marched along the South Side Railroad. On April 7 near Farmville, the two brigades commanded by Colonels Ulysses Doubleday and William Woodward were attached to the white troops of the 24th Corps. As Lee's forces fled westward on April 8, the USCT and the remainder of the Army of the James moved parallel to the south in an attempt to cut off the Confederate retreat. After marching thirty miles in less than twenty hours, the troops reached the vicinity of Appomattox Station around 1:30 a.m. on April 9. th The 25 Corps Headquarters Flag contains the corps badge insignia “The men, though short of rations, and almost always worn out with fatigue, moved on without a murmor, as long as there was an enemy to follow." - Lieutenant Colonel James Givin, 127 th U.S. Colored Infantry “In an experience of more than three years I never witnessed greater powers of endurance. There was no straggling, and the men were constantly in the best of spirits." - Surgeon C.P. th Heichold, 25 Corps Battle of Appomattox Court House Before 8:00 a.m. on April 9, Confederate troops attacked the Federal cavalry roadblock just west of Appomattox Court House. Lee's final attempt to escape was initially successful, until the Army of the James arrived. Advancing to the left of the developing battle line, Doubleday's Brigade (8th, 41st, and 45th, minus the 127th left to guard supply wagons) drove back a force of Confederate cavalry. Meanwhile, Woodward's Brigade (29th, 31st, and 116th) moved forward amidst the white troops of the 24th Corps. One soldier described this line as looking like a blue checkerboard, the white and black troops advancing together. The arrival of Federal infantry forced the Confederates back; General Lee surrendered that afternoon. Though the battle was short, it proved to be decisive. Of the roughly 300 Federal casualties, at least three were USCT who played a key role in blocking the Confederate escape route. “What cared we for the color or race of those men who brought relief to us. We saw courage and determination in their coal-black faces." - Captain Luman Tenney, 2nd Ohio Cavalry Lib. of Congress Unidentified Infantry Sergeant “Early we advanced and our skirmish lines met those of the enemy. We expected a fight...I never felt more like it...the Rebs gave way and all was quiet." - Colonel Samuel Armstrong, 8th U.S. Colored Infantry After Appomattox On April 11, the USCT brigades began their return march to Petersburg. Following a month of occupation duty near Richmond, the 25th Corps was ordered to Texas. Garrisoned along the Rio Grande, the USCT spent the rest of 1865 discouraging resurgent Confederate activity and guarding the border with Mexico. Epidemics of cholera, scurvy and dysentery ravaged the troops, killing hundreds of soldiers who been present at Appomattox. These seven regiments began mustering out of service in late 1865, but the 116th would not be released from the army until early 1867. Despite an uncertain future and the continued realities of racism and discrimination, the veterans of the USCT could rightfully be proud of their vital contribution to the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. "I was with General Grant when Lee surrendered at Appomattox...that was freedom." - Private William Harrison, 45th U.S. Colored Infantry “We the colored soldiers, have fairly won our rights by loyalty and bravery...shall we obtain them? If they are refused now, we shall demand them! - Sergeant Major William McCoslin, 29th U.S. Colored Infantry “No set of men in any country ever suffered more severely than we in Texas. Death has made fearful gaps in every regiment." - 25th Corps Chaplain Wisconsin Veterans Museum Pvt. Horace Artist of Va., 31 U.S. Colored Infantry st EX PER IEN CE YO UR AM ER IC A Research for this project funded by The National Park Foundation and the Appomattox 1865 Foundation. ™ The Na tiona l P ark Se rv ice car es f or s pec ia l places sa ve d by t he Amer ic an pe ople s o t ha t all ma y ex per ie nc e our her ita ge .