Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What About African-American Monuments

In the dialogue between those who want to keep Confederate monuments at their current location and those who want to remove them historians have missed an important part of the historic record - the role African-Americans played in winning the war and ending slavery.

According to Black Soldiers in the Civil War, by the end of the Civil War, approximately 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the US Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died during the of the war including 30,000 who died from infection or disease. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly eighty black commissioned officers. Black women, who could not formally join the Army,  served as nurses, spies, and scouts. The most famous of which was Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the Second South Carolina Volunteers.

Because of prejudice against them, black units were not used in combat as extensively as they might have been. Nevertheless, the soldiers served with distinction in a number of battles. Black infantrymen fought at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana;  Port Hudson, Louisiana; Petersburg, Virginia; and Nashville, Tennessee. In the July 1863 assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers lost two-thirds of their officers and half of their troops.
Battle of Milliken's Bend, Louisiana
Wikipedia compiled a list of 138 USCT infantry regiments, 6 cavalry regiments, and 15 artillery units.

Black troops faced greater peril than white troops when captured by the Confederate Army. In 1863, the Confederate Congress threatened to severely punish officers of black troops and to enslave black soldiers. As a result, President Lincoln issued General Order 233, threatening reprisal on Confederate prisoners of war for any mistreatment of black troops. Although the threat generally restrained the Confederates, black captives were typically treated more harshly than white captives. In perhaps the most heinous known example of abuse, Confederate soldiers shot to death black Union soldiers captured at the Fort Pillow, Tennessee, engagement of 1864.

54th Massachusetts Monument
Boston, Massachusetts
Where are the monuments to these men? There are more than you might expect. The CivilWarTalk blog lists thirty sites. At least fifteen of these monuments were erected in the past twenty years. Perhaps this activity is due to the 1989 movie Glory that celebrates the 54th Massachusetts.

Corinth, Mississippi Visitor Center

The following images from sites in Corinth, Mississippi are among my favorites. They illustrate how important literacy was to liberated African-Americans. They show US Colored Soldiers giving books to the former slaves. The ability to read and search for knowledge was denied to slaves.

Corinth Contraband Camp 

Corinth Contraband Camp

1. The Connecticut Twenty-Ninth Colored Regiment, C. V. Infantry; New Haven, Connecticut.
2. The African-American Civil War Memorial - The Spirit Of Freedom; Washington, District of Columbia
3. Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment; Washington, District of Columbia
4. 2nd Regiment Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops; Fort Myers, Florida
5. Colored Soldiers Monument (AKA Kentucky African American Civil War Veterans Monument); Frankfort, Kentucky
6. In Memory of More Than 400 Prominent United States Colored Troops from Kent County; Chestertown, Maryland
7. Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment; Boston, Massachusetts
8. African American Monument; Vicksburg, Mississippi
9. 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Civil War Monument - “Battle of Island Mound;” Butler, Missouri
10. 56th United States Colored Troops Monument; St. Louis, Missouri
11. Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri; Jefferson City, Missouri
12. In Memory of the Colored Union Soldiers; Hertford, North Carolina
13. Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Cleveland, Ohio
14. United States Colored Troops National Monument; Nashville, Tennessee
15. West Point Monument (AKA Norfolk African-American Civil War Memorial); Norfolk, Virginia
16. Civil War Monument; Portsmouth, Virginia
17. Freedom Park; Helena, Arkansas
18. African American Soldiers Monument; Danbury, Connecticut
19. African American Medal Of Honor Recipients Memorial; Wilmington, Delaware
20. African American Civil War Monument; Decatur, Illinois
21. Union Monument at Fort Butler; Donaldsonville, Louisiana
22. United States Colored Troops Civil War Memorial Monument; Lexington Park, Maryland
23. 54th Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Plaza; New Bedford, Massachusetts
24. Corinth Contraband Camp; Corinth, Mississippi
25. Monument to 26th Regiment United States Colored Infantry; Ithaca, New York
26. All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers & Sailors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
27. Camp William Penn Memorial; Cheltenham, Pennsylvania 
28. Monument to the 1st Regiment, Kansas Colored Volunteers, Honey Springs Battlefield; Checotah, Oklahoma
29. Monument at Petersburg National Battlefield; Petersburg, Virginia
30. Memorial to the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers; Cabin Creek Battlefield near Pensacola, Oklahoma

I think that you could plan a trip to several sites as part of African-Americans in the Civil War Tour. I would start at the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC. Then visit the African-American Civil War Memorial - The Spirit Of Freedom in Washington. The following sites could be visited as part of Eastern US tour:  Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment in Washington, DC; African American Medal Of Honor Recipients Memorial in Wilmington, Delaware; Camp William Penn Memorial in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia); All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers & Sailors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 54th Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Plaza in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regimen in Boston, Massachusetts; African American Soldiers Monument in Danbury, Connecticut. 

African American Monument
Vicksburg, Mississippi

African American Monument
Vicksburg, Mississippi

Of the thirty sites, nine are located in former Confederate states.

Five are located at or near battlefields where African-American troops fought - Honey Springs, Oklahoma; Petersburg, Virginia; Cabin Creek, Pensacola, Oklahoma; Nashville, Tennessee; and Donaldsonville, Louisiana.

First Kansas Marker
Honey Springs, Oklahoma
Perhaps additional monuments could be placed next to existing Confederate monuments in honor of African-Americans who fought and helped to preserve the Union, and in the memory of the of the slaves who suffered under bondage. I think that either of these ideas would be better than a marker explaining why a statue of a former general was placed at a site. 

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