bildeIt’s such a breadth of fresh air to read this story in light of the recent attempts by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage groups to distort the past by honoring slaves as Confederate soldiers.  Finally, a story where the historical record justifies the placing of a marker acknowledging the military service of Amos McKinney, a former slave who served voluntarily in the 1st Alabama Cavalry USV.  McKinney’s granddaughter, Johnnie McKinney Lester, remarked that her grandfather “would be so proud of all of this.”  Well, we have no way of knowing what he might think, but at least this recognition reflects the historical record and doesn’t have to distort the past (as in the case of so-called “black Confederates”, which ignores the fact of coercion) to satisfy our own emotional need to remember and commemorate our past.

About Kevin Levin

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22 comments add yours

  1. Cool! As a former resident of the Huntsville area, I knew of the 1st Alabama Cav., USV, but I didn’t know they were integrated. Kind of surprising.

  2. Kevin, You beat me to it! Anyway, the least I could do is add to the story a little with a link to his service record found on the website for the 1st Alabama Cav. (US)… he is listed as “colored” and served as an “undercook.”

    Robert @ Cenantua’s Blog

  3. Robert,

    You have to get up pretty early to beat me. 🙂 Thanks so much for passing along his service record. It’s a great story.

  4. No doubt! I’ve noted the average early hours in which you have been on my blog!

    It is a great story. Like James, I knew about the 1st Alabama (a really interesting history), but this is the first time I’ve been made aware of African-Americans in the unit. Nice addition to the overall story.

  5. Good to see a oversite corrected. Never knew any many slaves joined Union Units in the Deep South.

  6. Regretfully, while the story states that McKinney was a former slave, it’s not clear over the matter of his being a slave or free black at the time of his enlistment. That would be interesting to know.

    As for slaves in the ranks of the Union army in the Deep South (many of these regiments having actually been formed in the South)… it seems to me that the U.S.C.T. found it’s greatest source of enlistees from slaves (often escaped slaves and/or liberated slaves reclassified as contraband). I haven’t spent a great deal of time on it, but I would think that one could find a number of free blacks in the ranks of the U.S.C.T. as well.

  7. I think you are right, but given that this is a Deep South state chances are that McKinney was a former slave. Of course, we would need additional evidence to confirm it.

  8. Don’t know if you noticed, or not, but I have a listing of all those soldiers listed as ‘colored’ by the CSR from the National Archives.

    It is interesting to note, however, that some listed as colored also appear to be of mixed race. And the fact that some of these men were listed as ‘colored’ came as a shock to some of their descendants.

  9. Like Men of War by Noah Trudeau is a nice source for units, combat, and some look at free blacks and slaves in the USCT. Actually, I was just looking at this again recently and he details racial violence in one engagement after another – relating this to a previous post of the Petersburg action. Of course there is the Soldiers and Sailors project by the park service (if memory serves) where you can look up some details about men or units.
    Its great to see this kind of commemoration in the news. I hope we see more and more of this as the Sesquicentennial unfolds. I know I would like to see something similar in NC.

  10. While we are on the subject of black men in Union regiments, didn’t one of the Hemmings descendents (yes, *that* Hemmings) serve as Colonel of a Wisconsin regiment? I’m working from memory here, so I make no claims to absolute accuracy.

  11. There is more info about Amos McKinney in the “Stories” section of the 1st Alabama website. Good stuff found here.

    Thanks Ryan… has anyone looked into the 1860 census records to see if any of the men listed as “colored” were free blacks?

  12. I had the honor of attending this ceremony yesterday. It was a great day!

  13. This is a very refreshing change from all of the “Black Confederate” hooplah of the last several years. The honoring of a black man who served in the US military at the time is refreshing to say the least. To see him receive the respect he deserves is nice; if late.

  14. I have identified another black member of the 1st Alabama buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Huntsville. Don’t know if we will ever be able to locate his grave location or get to put up a headstone for him, but it is on my bucket list of things to do.


  15. Ryan,

    Great news! Keep us updated. There are a number of people here who are very interested in what you are doing.

  16. We have secured the headstone for John Read/Porter and will be conducting a grave dedication for him this spring (late March).

    For more information, follow our website or e-mail me directly at

    -Ryan Dupree

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