Preserving the Land Where United States Colored Troops Fought
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In 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, which granted the federal government the power to recruit African-Americans into the Union army. Although this opened military service to African-Americans, the wide-scale recruitment of African-American troops did not begin in earnest until President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The process was streamlined by the creation of the Bureau of Colored Troops in May 1863. Ultimately, nearly 185,000 men of African descent enlisted in the 175 regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Library of Congress
USCT regiments quickly earned respect and a reputation for courage under fire. They broke through the lines at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, penetrated the Confederate cliff fortress at Port Hudson, La., and charged seas of gray and butternut at New Market Heights, Va., and Fort Wagner, S.C. In honor of their legacy of service and sacrifice to the United States, the American Battlefield Trust works to preserve the history of these American soldiers, from the plains of Oklahoma to the shores of South Carolina.
Big Cabin, Okla.
Two Civil War battles were fought at Cabin Creek; both were Confederate raids on Union supply wagon trains moving from Fort Scott toward Fort Gibson. On July 1-2, 1863, Confederates failed to stop the wagon train as it crossed Cabin Creek. It was one of the first battles in which African-Americans fought as a unit west of the Mississippi River. On September 19, 1864, Confederate troops won the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, capturing 740 mules, 130 wagons and more than $1.5 million in supplies. Through two transactions in 2011, the Trust has acquired 88 acres at Cabin Creek.
Battle of Port Hudson / J.O. Davidson by L. Prang & Co.
Library of Congress
Port Hudson, La.
From May 21 to July 9, 1863, Union and Confederate forces at Port Hudson, La., found themselves locked in a protracted 48-day siege – the longest of the war until that point. The Union army owed much of its ultimate victory to the troops of African descent involved in the fighting. The 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards participated in a critical attack against the seemingly impenetrable Confederate fortress. Although unsuccessful in capturing the fort, their courage under fire began to chip away at prejudices within the army – and the public at large – that maintained black troops were not reliable in combat. To date, the Trust has secured 256 acres of land at Port Hudson.
Honey Springs, Okla.
The Battle of Honey Springs, fought on July 17, 1863, was the first large-scale battle involving African-American, Native American, Hispanic and white troops — a distinction that has led renowned historian Ed Bearss to dub it the “Rainbow Coalition.” The heroics of the First Kansas Colored Infantry, among the first regiments of soldiers of African descent recruited by the Union, ensured the federal victory. The Trust has preserved 84 acres at the Honey Springs Battlefield, commemorating this unique engagement and the largest battle fought in Oklahoma.
Morris Island, S.C.
Once listed as one of the nation’s most endangered battlefields, 117 acres on Morris Island are now preserved for future generations, thanks to the efforts of a coalition of concerned preservationists. This area is closely associated with the July 18, 1863 assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts, as depicted in the award-winning film Glory. In 2003, proposed development threatened the historic integrity of the area, but was deterred by increased opposition. Soon after, a new buyer sought to transform the historic island into a resort community, but political and public pressures forced the developer to abandon its plans, and instead, sell the parcel for conservation purposes. The protection of Morris Island in 2006 was led by the Trust for Public Land, in cooperation with the Civil War Trust, the South Carolina Conservation Bank, the City of Charleston and the South Carolina State Ports Authority.
New Market Heights, Va.
William Carney - 54th Massachusetts. Medal of Honor Recipient
The Battle of New Market Heights was one of the most notable engagements involving African-American troops during the Civil War. On September 29, 1864, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler launched an offensive against the Confederate defenses north of the James River, southeast of Richmond. USCT troops, eager to prove their abilities in the strategic heart of battle, spearheaded the charge up the slope to capture Rebel artillery atop the heights. For their part in this Union victory, 14 African-American soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor. The American Battlefield Trust has protected 65 acres at New Market Heights, augmenting the preservation and interpretation efforts of Richmond National Battlefield.
Siege of Petersburg, Va.
Considering its proximity to many major transportation arteries, Petersburg, Va., has long enticed ill-advised development. Although the National Park Service controls many areas of historically significant land within Petersburg National Battlefield, numerous areas outside NPS boundaries remain open to developers. To preserve the historic integrity of the area, the Trust worked with local, state and federal authorities to preserve more than 528 acres at Petersburg, including 407 acres at the April 2, 1865 site of the “Breakthrough.” Another area in which the Trust has had significant success is with lands associated with the infamous Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, where USCT troops engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
In addition to these battles, the Trust has preserved USCT-related sites in North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi and more – totaling more than 1,000 acres of hallowed ground. The stories of courage and bravery surrounding the American Civil War are not limited by color or creed, and the Trust remains committed to preserving an array of sites where African-Americans fought for the Union and their freedom.
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