Black Soldiers and Sailors during the Civil War : Selected Materials & Links

National Archives https://www.archives.gov/files/research/military/civil-war/photos/images/civil-war-006.jpg

Approximately 200,000 men of color would serve in the Union Army or Union Navy during the Civil War. Some of the men were free black men from Northern states; some were former enslaved men from the states which seceded from the United States of America. Because the area around Port Royal and St. Helena Sounds was occupied by the Federal government so early in the Civil War, three of the four regiments of USCT soldiers raised in South Carolina were organized here. The list of materials below provide a starting point to learn more about the individual Black soldiers and sailors and their contributions to the war effort.

Compiled by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Beaufort District Collection Manager, Beaufort County Library (SC). The Beaufort District Collection is the special local history collection and archives unit of the Beaufort County Library (SC). (Originally posted 24 February 2012) Latest update: 14 June 2017. All links active on 14 June 2017.

Online Resources:

The Civil War Trust has a United States Colored Troops hub that offers primary source materials, articles, a slideshow, and a quiz about actions in which the men of the USCT participated.

The Civil War Archive: Union Regimental Index, United States Colored Troops

Men of Color: To Arms! To Arms!” by Elizabeth Berlin Taylor for the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History at. (Please note: You will be asked to register for a free account.)

“Soldiers on Review, South Carolina,” [1864]. Shows black troops at attention, white officers aligned in front.
Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick H. Dyer. (3 vols.)

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (130 vols.)

The New South, a Civil War era newspaper published in Beaufort, SC from 1862-1866.

There is a list of materials about Robert Smalls, a local African-American Civil War naval hero elsewhere in this blog.

National Park Service, Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System allows one to search for specific military personnel by name, regiment, Army (Union or Confederate) or Navy (Union or Confederate). Information is also provided about battles and prisoners of war.

Read the “United States Colored Troops in the Civil War” by the National Parks Service.

In honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, the Navy has posted an online brochure “Blacks in Blue Jackets: African Americans in the Civil War.”

Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War,” an article originally published in the National Archives Prologue Magazine, is a very good introduction to what life was like for black sailors in the Union Navy.

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship” at the Library of Congress has several sections worth review. Select “The Civil War” section and read “Soldiers and Missionaries” and “Fighting for Freedom.”

The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War Preserving the Legacy of the United States Colored Troops” by Budge Weidman is part of the “Teaching With Documents” series offered to the schools by the National Archives.

First to Serve” states: “During the Civil War, Kansas was the first state to officially recruit and train military units comprised of black soldiers.”

“Keep the Flag to the Front” is a history of the Kansas Colored Troops.

Valley of the Shadow” contains limited information about USCT. Use the “Enter the Valley Archive” button to gain access to resource materials broken into three major time frames: The Eve of War, 1859 – 1861; The War Years, 1861 – 1865; and The Aftermath, 1865 – 1870.

Montgomery's Raids on the Combahee River Plantations
Combahee River Raid, Harper’s Weekly, BDC Print #43

The Massachusetts Historical Society displays some of its archival holdings of photographs, broadsides, and manuscripts relating to the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 54th Mass. was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War.

The Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs at the Library of Congress contains almost 350 images showing African Americans and related military and social history. The Civil War era is the primary time period covered.

The Library of Congress Digital Collections has at least 15 collections directly related to African American History. For example, the Frederick Douglass Papers contains a digital copy of The Negro as Soldier written by former USCT soldier, Christian A. Fleetwood in 1895.

The Library of Congress created a landing page for some of its Civil War images that lets the researcher explore the faces, places and events of the U.S. Civil War through photographs, prints and drawings across many collections. Among the pictures combined in this category are:

Search the Historical Division of the United States Navy website for articles about the history of African-American sailors and nurses.

Search the Historical Division of the United States Navy website for articles and images relating to Robert Smalls, one of Beaufort’s most influential native sons.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji wrote a blog entitled “The USCT Chronicle: Telling African American Civil War Stores, of Soldiers, Civilians, Contrabands, First Days of Freedom, and the Events that led to Freedom“. Although no longer active, the blog contains helpful information.

Journals of Charlotte Forten edited by Ray Allen Billington, 1953.

Life and public services of Martin R. Delany [Excerpt photocopied from book]: Sub-assistant Commissioner Bureau Relief of Refugees, Freedmen, and of Abandoned lands, and Late Major 104th U.S. Colored Troops by Frank A. Rollin (Kraus Reprint Co., 1969, c1868).

You can check out these materials from a SCLENDS library:

An’ We Ob Jubilee: The First South Carolina Volunteers by John Saucer (Aaron Book Publishing, c2012).

Army life in a Black regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1869, many reprint editions by various publishers.

Black Soldiers / Blue Uniforms: The Story of the First South Carolina Volunteers by Thomas Higginson (Fireship Press, 2009).

Blue-eyed child of fortune: the Civil War letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw edited by Russell Duncan (University of Georgia Press 1999).

Camp William Penn, 1863-1865: America’s First Federal African American Soldiers’ Fight for Freedom by Donald Scott (Schiffer Pub., ©2012).

The complete Civil War journal and selected letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson edited by Christopher Looby (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

Congressman Robert Smalls [DVD]: a patriot’s journey from slavery to Capitol Hill narrated by Sean Patrick Thomas; written and directed by Adrena Ifill. (DoubleBack Productions, c2005).

Diary of a contraband: the Civil War passage of a Black sailor [edited by] William B. Gould IV (Stanford University Press, 2002).

Eagles on their buttons: a Black infantry regiment in the Civil War by Versalle F. Washington (University of Missouri Press, c1999).

Firebrand of liberty: the story of two Black regiments that changed the course of the Civil War by Stephen V. Ash (W.W. Norton & Co., c2008).

For cause and comrades: why men fought in the Civil War by James M. McPherson (Oxford University Press, 1997).

Forged in battle: the Civil War alliance of Black soldiers and white officers by Joseph T. Glatthaar (Free Press, c1990).

Forgotten Confederates: an anthology about Black southerners compiled & edited by Charles Kelly Barrow, J.H. Segars & R.B. Rosenburg (Southern Heritage Press, c1995).

Freedom by the Sword: The United States Colored Troops, 1862 – 1867 by William A. Dobak (U.S. Army, Center of Military History, 2011).

Freedom’s journey: African American voices of the Civil War edited by Donald Yacovone (Lawrence Hill Books, c2004).

Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke edited by Brenda Stevenson (Oxford University Press, 1988).

Like men of war : Black troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Noah Andre Trudeau (Little, Brown, c1998).

The Massachusetts 54th [DVD]: colored infantry by Jacqueline Shearer (WGBH Boston Video, [2006]).

Nineteenth Century Freedom Fighters: The 1st South Carolina Volunteers by Bennie J. McRae, Jr., Curtis M. Miller [and] Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller (Arcadia, 2006).

The sable arm: Black troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 by Dudley Taylor Cornish (University Press of Kansas, 1987).

Slavery in the Clover Bottoms: John McCline’s narrative of his life during slavery and the Civil War edited by Jan Furman (University of Tennessee Press, c1998).

The slaves’ war: the Civil War in the words of former slaves by Andrew Ward (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2008).

South Carolina African-Americans in the Civil War: two sides to a story, compiler and author, Roberta V.H. Copp; editing, Judith M. Brimelow (Public Programs Division, South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History, c1990).

Swamp angels: a biographical study of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment: true facts about the black defenders of the Civil War by Robert Ewell Greene (BoMark/Greene Pub. Group, 1990).

Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments that Redeemed America by Douglas R. Egerton (Basic Books, 2016).

A Woman Doctor’s Civil War : Esther Hill Hawks’ Diary edited with foreword and afterword by Gerald Schwartz (University of South Carolina Press, c1984).

Come to the BDC Research Room to see these items:

B DELANY Life and public services of Martin R. Delany [Excerpt photocopied from book]: Sub-assistant Commissioner Bureau Relief of Refugees, Freedmen, and of Abandoned lands, and Late Major 104th U.S. Colored Troops by Frank A. Rollin (Kraus Reprint Co., 1969, c1868).

B SHAW Blue-eyed child of fortune: the Civil War letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw edited by Russell Duncan (University of Georgia Press 1999).

Robert Smalls Captain of the Gun-boat “Planter” (From Harper’s Weekly, June 14, 1862 BDC)

B SMALLS Congressman Robert Smalls [DVD]: a patriot’s journey from slavery to Capitol Hill narrated by Sean Patrick Thomas; written and directed by Adrena Ifill. (DoubleBack Productions, c2005).

SC 306.3621 HUN South Carolina Volunteers [Pamphlet Articles] : Letter from the Secretary of War, in answer to a resolution of the House of June 8, 1862, transmitting correspondence of Major General Hunter, in relation to arming South Carolina volunteers: fugitive slaves : July 2, 1862 by D. Hunter (War Department, 1862).

SC 371.1 JOU The journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke edited by Brenda Stevenson (Oxford University Press, 1988).

SC 973.7 BRO Desperate deliverance: the story of African Americans in the Civil War by Robert Broadwater; edited by Patricia Mitchell [and] Judy Gowan (Daisy Publishing, c1998).

SC 973.7 HAW A woman doctor’s Civil War: Esther Hill Hawks’ Diary edited with foreword and afterword by Gerald Schwartz (University of South Carolina Press, c1984).

SC 973.7 HEL South Carolina’s African American Confederate pensioners, 1923-1925 by Alexia Jones Helsley (South Carolina Department of Archives and History, c1998).

SC 973.7 HIG The complete Civil War journal and selected letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson edited by Christopher Looby (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

SC 973.7 OFF Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (25 vols.) (United States. Navy War Records Office, 1894-1922).

SC 973.7 ROS The roster of Union soldiers, 1861-1865. United States Colored troops edited by Janet B. Hewett (Broadfoot Pub. Co., 1997).

SC 973.7 SUP Supplement to the Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies edited by Janet Hewett (Broadfoot Pub. Co., 1994-<1998>).

SC 973.7 TAY A Black woman’s Civil War memoirs: reminiscences of my life in camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, late 1st South Carolina Volunteers by Susie King Taylor edited by Patricia W. Romero with a new introduction by Willie Lee Rose (M. Wiener Pub.,  c1988).

SC 973.7 WAR The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (130 vols.)

SC 973.7415 ASH Firebrand of liberty: the story of two Black regiments that changed the course of the Civil War by Stephen V. Ash (W.W. Norton & Co., c2008).

SC 973.7415 FOR Forgotten Confederates : an anthology about Black southerners compiled & edited by Charles Kelly Barrow, J.H. Segars & R.B. Rosenburg (Southern Heritage Press, c1995).

SC 973.7415 FUL Men of Color, To Arms!: Vermont African-Americans in the Civil War by James Fuller (IUniversity Press, c2001).

SC 973.7415 GLA Forged in battle: the Civil War alliance of Black soldiers and white officers by Joseph T. Glatthaar (Free Press, c1990).

SC 973.7415 GOO On the altar of freedom: a black soldier’s Civil War letters from the front by James Henry Gooding (University of Massachusetts Press, c1991).

SC 973.7415 GOU 104th infantry regiment-USCT, Colored Civil War soldiers from South Carolina by J. Raymond Gourdin (Heritage Books, 1997).

SC 973.7415 GRE Swamp angels: a biographical study of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment: true facts about the black defenders of the Civil War by Robert Ewell Greene (BoMark/Greene Pub. Group, 1990).

SC 973.7415 HUM Intensely human: the health of the Black soldier in the American Civil War by Margaret Humphreys (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

SC 973.7415 EGE Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments that Redeemed America by Douglas R. Egerton (Basic Books, 2016).

SC 973.7415 SMI 2013 Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops by John David Smith (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013)

SC 973.7415 WES Black troops, white commanders, and freedmen during the Civil War by Howard C. Westwood; with a foreword by John Y. Simon (Southern Illinois University Press, c1992).

SC 973.74157 MCR Nineteenth century freedom fighters: the 1st South Carolina Volunteers by Bennie J. McRae Jr., Curtis M. Miller, Cheryl Trowbridge-Miller (Arcadia, 2006).

SC 973.742 HIG Army life in a Black regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1869, many reprint editions by various publishers).

SC 973.896 KIN Wounds that Bind: A Comparative Study of the Role played by Civil War veterans of African descent in community formation in Massachusetts and South Carolina, 1865-1915 by Lisa Yolande King. Thesis (Ph. D.)–Howard University, 1999. (UMI [University Microfilms International], c1999).

Records on Microfilm in the Beaufort District Collection Research Room:

NEWSPAPERS

New South, Free South, Palmetto Herald, 1862-1866

Beaufort Republican, 1871-1873

Port Royal Commercial and Beaufort County Republican, 1873 -1874

Palmetto Post, 1882-1906

LAND RECORDS

Index to and Heads of Family Land Certificates, 1863-1872

Tax Sale Certificates, 1864

Land Sale Certificates, 1869-1870; 1875-1876

VOTER REGISTRATION

Abstract of Voter Registrations reported to the Military Government, 1868

CENSUS RECORDS

1890 Federal Census of Union Veterans and Widows 

1790 – 1880, 1900 – 1930 Federal Census for Beaufort County. Also available electronically in all branch libraries through Ancestry Library Edition database.

1870, 1880, 1900-1930 Federal Census for Hampton County.  Also available electronically in all branch libraries through Ancestry Library Edition database.

1910-1930 Federal Census for Jasper County. Also available electronically in all branch libraries through Ancestry Library Edition database.

Suggested Subscription Databases in the Beaufort County Library

Please note: (Valid Beaufort County Library card and Password is required.)

History Reference Center database

Biography in Context, Academic Search Premier, StudySC, and Historic American Newspapers databases are particularly helpful when learning more about key figures and military actions during the Civil War era, including the role of the members of the USCT. Please note: The Historic American Newspapers database links directly into the Chronicling America database which is free and open on the internet.

ANCESTRY LIBRARY EDITION

ALE in library onlyAncestry Library Edition is available on the library’s Internet stations located in each of our branch libraries. We cannot provide home access.  To get the most out of the experience, come prepared with a list of USCT or Civil War Sailor ancestors to research. Go to the Ancestry Database Card Catalog search search, type in “Civil War” as keyword and filter the location to the “United States.” (This eliminates records to civil wars in other countries). You will get a listing of 175 databases inside ALE about Civil War soldiers, sailors, and civilians. Here you will find links to key series:US Civil War Soldiers, 1861 – 1865; US Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles; Civil War Pension Index; Civil War Prisoner of War records; US, Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1861 – 1865; US Navy Pension Index, 1861 – 1910; the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861 – 1865,and the African American Photo Collection, 1850 -2000 among others.

Ancestry Library Edition also offers a version of the National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System database. Ancestry Library Edition calls its versions the U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database collection]. This database tells the researcher whether a specific African-American is included in the African American Civil War Memorial and if so, the soldier’s name and plaque number.

Ancestry Library Edition is the largest online genealogy resource available with over 10,000 complete databases, and includes more than 4 billion names. The database includes census data; maps; military records and slave stories. New content is added regularly.

Suggested USCT and Civil War Web Sites on the Net

025.06 THO The Civil War on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites by William G. Thomas and Alice E. Carter (SR Books, 2001) is a bit dated now though it still offers valuable suggestions for the Civil War researcher. Chapter 5 evaluates web sites about “The Experience of the U.S. Colored Troops. Part II recommends specific topical sites that are well organized and updated regularly.

Suggested Sources for Images and Maps of the Civil War

We have a number of digital images embedded within our Library’s website that our customers can view and photocopy for educational use. Note: If you should choose to download our images, please attribute us with the phrase “Image courtesy of Beaufort County Library.” When an image used is credited in this fashion, it increases public awareness of the Beaufort County Library, the Beaufort District Collection, and the contribution that archival and historical collections make to community life throughout our nation.

This map from the Library of Congress shows the Union Hospitals in Beaufort, SC.

SCIway hosts a number of online maps on its site found at http://www.sciway.net/hist/maps/ including:

Note: Current hours and branch locations are posted on the Beaufort County Library’s (SC) website.

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