First National Ceremony Dedicated to Black Civil War Troops

The United States Colored Troops were regiments of the United States Army during the American Civil War that were comprised of African soldiers, many of whom were slaves. First recruited in 1863, the 175 regiments of USCT constituted approximately one-tenth of the Union Army. (Sons & Daughters of the U.S. Colored Troops)

@NickWestbrooks reports:

WASHINGTON- As a part of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, the African American Civil War Museum and Memorial honored the United States Colored Troops (USCT) with a candlelighting ceremony, making it the first national commemoration of its kind.

In addition to the candlelighting ceremony, the November 5th event included Civil War-era performances, a presentation of charters to the Sons and Daughters of the USCT and a keynote speech by NY1 News TV anchor and author, Cheryl Wills. 

Although America’s domestic conflict, which pitted the North (Union) against the South (Confederacy) between the years 1861 and 1865, is a century and a half old, Wills explained that the national moment of recognition for the USCT has never happened before.

“There hasn’t been a national ceremony or a national recognition of them at all during this 150th anniversary. This is the first one,” Wills said. “There have been national recognitions of the Confederate soldiers who fought to preserve slavery.”

Wills is also the great-great-great granddaughter of Sandy Wills, a Black Civil War soldier whom she wrote about in her book Die Free: A Heroic Family Tale. She said knowing this history of her family has been profoundly influential.

It has changed my entire life,” Wills said. “It’s given me a new sense of pride, and it’s reenergized me to be the very best that I can be.”

Prior to the inaugural national dedication, the African American Civil War Museum and Memorial has been conducting monthly presentations in which it invites the descendants of the USCT to attend similar dedication programs on the first Saturday of each month. Frank Smith, the founding director of the museum and memorial got the idea from Wills to include the national ceremony as an addition to the monthly program.

Smith said the event was necessary to help combat the rising historical misconceptions concerning the involvement of the Black troops in the war.

“The Confederates and the neo-Confederates have succeeded in getting Americans to believe that there were only White people in the Civil War,” Smith said.

Among the other inconsistencies Smith hopes to dispel through the museum and its programs are the benevolence of the Confederacy, the lack of Black self-help and the slaves’ preference to remain in bondage.

Smith said of the misconceptions: “They [Confederates and neo-Confederates] got the world believing a story that’s really outrageous and ridiculous. What we had to do was build a monument or museum big enough where we could change that and get people now to look at this war more seriously as a war of liberation not only for Black people, but liberation for America.”

During the time of reflection, Wills emphasized the timeliness and importance of keeping the Black soldiers in mind.

“It’s the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and Americans are remembering that epic battle. Once again, they’re largely forgetting the United States Colored Troops, so this is relevant because we cannot allow them to be forgotten,” Wills said.

“It’s fitting that we lit a candle highlighting a national remembrance of them in the nation’s capital with the national museum that’s dedicated in their honor.”