I’m Not the Only One Thinking About the Future of USCTs

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Thanks to my fellow Civil War bloggers for giving me quite a bit to chew on these last few days as I put together some brief opening remarks for the Gettysburg College panel on how USCTs are currently being interpreted and where we go from here.  My own posts can be found here, here, here, and here.

Head on over to Robert Moore’s site for a thoughtful post on USCTs in the Shenandoah Valley.  Moore reminds us that the motivation behind black enlistment was complex and not always captured by the popular explanation that they were simply fighting for freedom.

One can say the local Confederates were fighting for slavery… but that would only be telling part of the truth. One can also say the USCTs were fighting for the chance to be free, but that too would be telling only part of their story. We have complicating factors that make us put on brakes… and pretty darn quick. Were some Confederates fighting to keep slaves, while others were fighting because… and, let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves and history… the boys in blue were “down here”? Absolutely. Of course, there were other Confederates who were in the ranks as well… and some of them didn’t even want to be there in the first place. That being the case, should we not expect the story of the USCTs to be equally complicated?

Jimmy Price adds to one of my recent posts on the difficulties of coming to terms with battlefield atrocities committed by USCTs.  This is something that I am particularly interested in right now.

One cannot approach the topic of US Colored Troops without encountering numerous occasions in which black soldiers were ruthlessly cut down on the battlefield while in the act of surrender. Olustee, Fort Pillow, the Crater, Saltville – the list of places where Confederate troops perpetrated these war crimes goes on and on.

But there is a flip side to this coin, and the way it is presented in the grand narrative can be problematic. Just as one can find numerous examples in Civil War texts that lay out the atrocities committed by rebel soldiers, one can also find the examples of when US Colored Troops went into action shouting “Remember Fort Pillow!” and encouraging their fellow soldiers to “raise the black flag” and give no quarter to any Confederate soldier who sought any.

Emmanuel Dabney, who will join me this weekend for this panel discussion, provides some fruitful sources for those looking for the elusive black voices in the military.  Finally, Craig Swain points to the possibilities of interpreting and commemorating the service of USCTs on the local level.

Thanks to Robert, Craig, Jimmy and Emmanuel for sharing their thoughts on this subject.  They have given me quite a bit to think about, which I hope has a chance to surface during the panel discussion on Saturday.

8 comments… add one

  • Robert Moore Mar 12, 2013
    • Kevin Levin Mar 12, 2013

      Thanks, Robert. At some point you are going to need to write a book about the Civil War and the Shenandoah Valley. You yourself made a good case for it not too long ago on your blog. I would read it.

      • Jimmy Dick Mar 13, 2013

        I would love to find a good book explaining whether or not the Shenandoah was burned down to the ground like so many claim. That is a major gap in my CW knowledge. I find too many conflicting accounts and too many people that make claims for a total destruction scenario or a milder variety.

        • Robert Moore Mar 14, 2013

          John Heatwole’s book about the burning (Sept – Oct 1864) makes it clear, Jimmy. Sheridan did hefty damage to barns and mills (and grain), and had an ever-growing caravan of livestock as he progressed down the Valley, toward Winchester. Yet, not a single house was burned-down. Yes, there were threats made by Federal soldiers, but none followed through in burning homes (Hunter’s raid on Lexington proved differently, and I suspect memory has bled over to Sheridan’s exploits). In some scenarios it was very similar to “bummer’ activity from Sherman’s columns. Troopers engaged in independent ops, and some of them drunk on the local applejack.

  • Robert Moore Mar 14, 2013

    Thanks again, Kevin. It’s actually been underway since late last year. Southern Unionism in the Valley is the core focus, though I suspect I might expand a little more than that. I’m targeting Fall, 2014 for a release date. At least that’s the plan/hope.

  • Tony Henchinski Apr 20, 2013

    I just finished watching the discussion on the USCT on C-Span. I live in Galloway Township NJ which is aprox 12 miles inland from Atlantic City and while the area is rich in colonial and revolution era history, about 2 miles down the road from me is a what remains of the Josia Boling property. The plot of land is a family cemetery. The town of Port Republic surrounds the area but there was a small black community in the mid 1800′s. There are six headstones of men, all relatives, who were in the 24th and 25th Regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops: Moses Miller, Sam Smith, William Lee, Josiah Boling, Alexander Smith and Charles Boling. The cemetery also contains World War I veteran Samuel S. Boling and his son Henry Boling, who is not a veteran. I’ve included a link just in case anyone wants to take a gander. http://www.blacktowns.org/atlantic/port/

    • Kevin Levin Apr 20, 2013

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for the comment. You may know that I grew up in Ventnor and my parents live in Galloway. Small world.

      • Tony Henchinski Apr 20, 2013

        No kidding! I did not know. Then I dont have to educate you on the area. LOL.

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