Who Is This Benton Barracks Soldier?

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One of the most recognizable African-American soldiers of the Civil War, this young soldier has represented the nearly-200,000 USCTs who served in the Union armies. Standing in front of the famous “Benton Barracks backdrop,” he has also been the face of former Trans-Mississippi slaves who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Around 8,000 of them were from Missouri. Unfortunately, he has remained anonymous to historians for over 150 years. Continue reading “Who Is This Benton Barracks Soldier?”

Freedom Fighters of Missouri

Over 8,000 African Americans from Missouri – mostly former enslaved – volunteered to fight for freedom in the Union Army in 1862 with the Confiscation Acts. Not until the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 did the Government approve of the mass mobilization of all-Black units for combat in the infantry, cavalry, and artillery. On May 22, the Bureau of Colored Troops was established by the War Department to handle the recruitment and mobilization of United States Colored Troops units. From that day forth, all African American units were to be designated as such. In total, about 190,000 joined the USCTs, making up for one-tenth of the entire Union Army by 1865.

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1 Sgt. William Messley of the 62nd USCTs. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Below, I have compiled a list of the USCT units that were organized in Missouri during the war. The 8,000 men from Missouri that enlisted in these units joined mostly out of determination to achieve freedom from bondage, not necessarily to fight for country and union. Pay, stability, manhood, and the ability to finally independently care for their wives and children were many of the driving factors that encouraged their enlistment. For former Missouri slaves who fled to free territory in Kansas, where ardent abolitionists welcomed them, the stakes for freedom were even greater. These same troops would deploy into slave territory to fight the men who kept them and their families in bondage. Though many white soldiers and officers doubted whether they could actually fight in combat, these troops repeatedly proved their courage at battles such as Island Mound, Cabin Creek, Honey Springs, and Fort Blakely. Island Mound in Bates County, Missouri was the first known engagement where the Union Army deployed African Americans in combat in October 1862, even before the Emancipation Proclamation. Continue reading “Freedom Fighters of Missouri”