At Ease: Fighting for Freedom
Fighting for Freedom
Today, we're highlighting some accounts of African American soldiers and civilians with the Union armies in Central Virginia. There are many good accounts to choose from, and we tried to focus on the stories that would be of interest based on your survey answers. We hope you're staying warm! (Check out our social media posts for recent snow pictures.) And take the opportunity to continue discovering lesser-known Civil War accounts this February which is Black History Month. Don't forget to vote in our survey and help us get ready to talk about historic presidents who have visited "the four battlefields."
We've organized the survey answers in bold and added a few extra historical notes. The 13th, 23, 27, 29, 30, 31, and 39th USCTs of Ferrero's Division at the Crater (They should have been given more of a chance.) These regiments plunged toward and into the Crater at Petersburg on July 30, 1864. Some of the units had previously marched through Central Virginia during the Overland Campaign. Troops associated with the fighting about New Market Heights in September 1864. For their actions in this battle, fourteen Black soldiers later received the Medal of Honor. 54th MA Infantry Regiment - 2 votes! One of the most famous African American regiments of the Civil War. Led by Colonel Robert G. Shaw, the regiment disastrously attacked Battery Wagner in South Carolina, suffered heavy losses, and was recognized for courage under fire. Part of the regiment's history was depicted in the 1989 film Glory. 1st USCT Infantry Regiment Created by the War Department in May 1863, this regiment was active in the campaign and battles at Siege of Petersburg, Battle of Chaffin's Farm, Battle of Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road, Second Battle of Fort Fisher, and the Carolinas Campaign. 38th USCT Infantry was recruited with freedmen and escaped enslaved men from Maryland; three members of the unit received the Medal of Honor. After serving and fighting in Virginia, the regiment transferred to Texas to complete their enlistment period. 1st Kansas (Colored) Regt was organized in 1862 as the first black regiment recruited in a northern state and the first Black regiment to see combat in the Civil War. The unit lost almost half its members at the Battle of Poison Spring. 23rd USCT - check out the report of this regiment's fight at Alrich Farm later in this email! Contraband This is a Civil War era term for escaped enslaved men, women, and children who went to Federal army lines to secure freedom. Many "contrabands" sought employment with the army and some struggled to find opportunities to support their families in their new freedom. Read about the "contraband" men who made a difference in medical service later in this email.
Liberating from Bondage
This new video highlights a quote from a Sergeant in the 43rd USCT which marched in the Overland Campaign of 1864:
At Alrich Farm
On May 15, 1864, Union Brigadier General Edward Ferrero commanding the Fourth Division of the IX Corps wrote this report about a fight near Alrich Farm and the first time African American soldiers fought in combat during the Overland Campaign: "I have the honor to report that at 12:30 p.m. this day the Second Ohio Cavalry, stationed at Piney Branch Church, were compelled to fall back, being attacked by superior forces, consisting of one brigade of cavalry, with two pieces of artillery. I immediately ordered the Fourth Division in readiness, and marched the Twenty-third U.S. Colored Troops to support the cavalry. On arriving at Alrich's, on the plank road, I found the Second Ohio driven across the road, and the enemy occupying the cross-roads. I ordered the colored regiment to advance on the enemy in line of battle, which they did, and drove the enemy in perfect rout. Not being able to pursue with infantry, the Second Ohio formed and gave chase to Piney Branch Church, which they (the Second Ohio) now occupy. All quiet elsewhere. Our loss amounted to about 8 or 10 wounded. The enemy lost some 5 horses killed. I have changed my position to a more secure one, to protect the [wagon] trains and roads leading to the army. I have since learned from one of my scouts that Hampton's brigade is in full retreat, in perfect disorder, toward Todd's Tavern.
This map (with some troop markings from earlier in the campaign) shows Alrich Farm and Piney Branch Church. (Created by Hal Jesperson; original map cropped for easier viewing in this email.)
Overseeing Medical Evacuation
We read about ambulance evacuation of the wounded from Civil War battlefields, but who was driving those medical wagons? Throughout the Civil War medical records and many photographs of ambulances and drivers, evidence supports that many African Americans worked in this job which was crucial for living saving measures of Black and White soldiers throughout the war. This article from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine goes into more details about "contraband" (formerly enslaved) finding work as ambulance drivers and other medical nurses or orderlies. The image below is cropped from a photograph taken at the headquarters of the Chief Ambulance officer of the IX Corps in 1864. The African American man sits in the center background of the photo and it is possible that he transported or tended to the wounded during the Overland Campaign.
Camp of the Chief Ambulance Officer of the IX Corps, 1864. Image cropped. Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2012650178/)
Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.