A Positive Sign: USCTs in the Public Mind

Yesterday I was perusing through the newspaper, Virginia’s Civil War, which is published by Civil War Traveler’s Don Pierce.  On p. 15 there is a short article about United States Colored Troops and the service of black Americans in the Civil War.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the author made the correct distinction between black service in the Union as opposed to Confederate Army.  The author notes that both the Richmond and Petersburg National Battlefield Parks include exhibits that highlight the service of USCTs and it lists other sites where black Union soldiers saw action.  Here is how the author characterizes the service of blacks in the Army of Northern Virginia:

Thousands of blacks certainly traveled with the Confederate armies as well–as cooks, teamsters and personal servants.  For most of the war, it was the official policy of the Confederate government not to enlist blacks as combat soldiers, although, a handful may have served in that role.  However, blacks were preparing for entry into the Confederate army in March 1865.  Witnesses saw black Confederate recruits on Richmond’s Capitol Square

Those black Confederates may have been the ones captured during Lee’s Retreat to Appomattox.  A total of 36 blacks were surrendered with the Confederate army at Appomattox.  All were listed as cooks, teamsters, musicians and other non-soldier roles.

The passage reflects speculation more than conviction, which is both accurate and honest given how little we know about the ways in which Confederates and slaves/free blacks operated in the army.  It is encouraging to see such an important distinction being made in a popular publication. 

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