Along the Union siege lines at Petersburg National Battlefield sit almost anonymously the remains of slave
quarters on the former Taylor Farm. The irony could not have escaped the free black soldiers of the 19th U.S. Colored Troops
(USCT) as they waited here in July of 1864 for the assault soon to become part of the
Battle of the Crater
. Eager to prove their mettle, they waited next to the symbol of an institution they hoped to
destroy along with the bias held by some that they were somehow less than their white brothers in arms. Major General George G.
Meade would eventually opt for a white unit to lead the attack, due to fears of Northern backlash if the assault proved
unsuccessful. In "The Colored Troops at Petersburg", Colonel Henry Goddard Thomas of the 19th USCT said, "We were
all pleased with the compliment of being chosen to lead in the assault. Both officers and men were eager to show the white troops
what the colored division could do. We had acquired confidence in our men."
Further north in Pennsylvania,
a marker found on some quiet, almost forgotten ground reads:
Established in 1867 by the Sons of Good Will for the proper burial of Gettysburg's African American citizens and Civil War veterans.
Some thirty members of the US Colored Troops are buried here, having been denied burial in the National Cemetery because of
segregation policies. Also here are many of the towns earliest black residents, re-interred when the towns "Colored
Cemetery" was cleared in 1906 to provide space for new houses."
Buried on the grounds of Gettysburg's Lincoln Cemetery, Privates John I. Redding and Isaac Buckmaster are just two of the estimated
198,000 African Americans to risk all for their rights, their families, and the preservation of the Union. Of that number, about
40,000 died by wars end, many from disease. Although both men mentioned above survived the war, one account notes that 72 men were
killed and 145 died from disease in Redding's 22nd Regiment. After President Lincoln's assassination, the 22nd assisted in pursuing
those believed to be his assailants. As for the 8th to which Buckmaster belonged, numbers range from between 250 and 300 who lost
their lives in the service of their country. The 8th, along with other U.S.C.T. regiments, were present at General Lee's surrender
at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.
Throughout this bloody and difficult war, black soldiers would prove time and again
their worth as soldiers. Twenty-two USCT soldiers would do so while winning their country's highest form of thanks and recognition
for gallantry under fire. Twenty-two would win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sergeant William H. Carney of the 54th
Massachusetts would be the first to receive that honor.
His Medal of Honor citation reads:
CARNEY, WILLIAM H.
Rank and organization: Sergeant
Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry
Place and date: At Fort Wagner, S.C., 18 July 1863.
Entered service at: New Bedford, Mass. Birth: Norfolk, Va.
Date of issue: 23 May 1900.
Citation: When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors
thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.
Petersburg Virginia, a relatively short distance from the slave quarters depicted above rests a simple yet important marker, one
perhaps unimaginable at the beginning of this long and costly war. Along the general line of the Union's Petersburg defenses stands
a monument (pictured here) to the United States Colored Troops of the Armies of the Potomac and the James. This simple memorial
honors those soldiers of the USCT who bravely fought in the fields around Petersburg, Virginia during the siege of 1864 and 1865.
This monument forever memorializes their key role in aiding to secure the final downfall of the Confederacy's most important fighting
force, the venerable Army of Northern Virginia.