From May 22 to 31, the digital collection of the USCT Service Records will be free on www.Fold3.com.
On May 22, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders 143, establishing a Bureau of Colored Troops in the Adjutant General’s Office to recruit and organize African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army. With this order, all African American regiments were designated as United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the USCT, and the National Archives is pleased to announce the completion of the USCT Service Records Digitization Project. In partnership with Fold3, the project provides online access to all service records—more than 3.8 million images—of Union volunteers in USCT units.
Remember: All National Archives collections on Fold3.com can always be viewed for free at a computer at any National Archives facility nationwide.
The photo and paperwork above come from the compiled military service records of former slave Edmund Delaney. Read his story on the Prologue blog.
War Department General Order 143: Ordering the Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops, May 22, 1863
The outbreak of the Civil War set off a rush by free black men to enlist in U.S. military units. They were turned away, however, because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. Army. The Lincoln administration wrestled with the idea of authorizing the recruitment of black troops, concerned that such a move would prompt the border states to secede.
However, following the Emancipation Proclamation and faced with dwindling white volunteers, black recruitment was pursued in earnest. Volunteers from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Massachusetts filled the first authorized black regiments. Recruitment was slow until black leaders such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure eventual full citizenship. (Two of Douglass’s own sons contributed to the war effort.) Volunteers began to respond, and in May 1863 the Government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the burgeoning numbers of black soldiers. By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10 percent of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army, and another 19,000 served in the Navy.
via Our Documents
The siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi by Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant began 150 years ago on May 18, 1863. Confederates forces would surrender the fortress city after 40 days, effectively yielding control of the Mississippi River to the Union.
Map of the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss., By the U. S. Forces Under the Command of Maj. Genl. U. S. Grant, U. S. Vls., Maj. F. E. Prime, Chief Engr. Surveyed and constructed under direction of Capt. C. B. Comstock, U.S. Engrs., and Lt. Col. J. H. Wilson, A. I. Genl. 1st Lt., Engrs….Drawn by Chs. Spangenberg, Asst. Engr., 08/20/1863
Photograph of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson
Accidentally shot by his own troops following the Battle of Chancellorsville, Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee’s “right arm”, died of complications from his injury on May 10, 1863.
150 years ago the Battle of Chancellorsville pitted the Union Army of the Potomac, under Major General Joseph Hooker, against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee. Lee decided to divide his forces in the face of a larger Union army, which resulted in a major Confederate victory, Lee’s “perfect battle”. Despite having a reputation as an aggressive division commander, Hooker’s failure to take the initiative during the engagement lost him not only the battle but also President Lincoln’s confidence and he was replaced soon afterwards as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
- Map of Field of Occupation, Army of the Potomac, [from Dumfries south to Port Royal and west to Chancellorsville]. Prepared by order of Gen. Hooker from reconnoisances made under Capt. R. S. Williamson, Lt. N. Bowen, Gen. D. P. Woodbury, and others. From the Civil Works Map File
- Wilderness, near Chancellorsville, Va, ca. 1860 - ca. 1865. From the Matthew Brady Photographs series.
Happy DC Emancipation Day!
DC Emancipation Act (by usnationalarchives)
Predating the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the District of Columbia Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, freeing enslaved persons in Washington, DC and ending “the national shame” of slavery in the nation’s capital. Unlike the later terms of the Emancipation Proclamation, slave owners in DC were compensated by the U.S. Treasury Department.
In this Inside the Vaults video short, Documentary Archivist Damani Davis discusses the petitions filed by owners and slaves under the Act and the details they reveal about the enslaved African-American community at the time. Archivist Robert Ellis explains how the process worked.
Learn more about the DC Emancipation Act and the journey to Emancipation in the new free eBook from the National Archives: The Meaning and Making of Emancipation, in ePub, iBook and Scribd formats.
“‘Overseer Artayou Carrier whipped me. I was two months in bed sore from the whipping. My master come after I was whipped; he discharged the overseer.’
The very words of poor Peter, taken as he sat for his picture.”
Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 4/2/1863
This 1863 photograph of “Peter,” a former slave displaying scars from his overseer’s whippings, was widely reproduced as evidence of slavery’s cruelty. The image was sometimes paired with a photo or drawing of “Peter” after his enlistment in the U.S. Army. “Peter” was sometimes identified as “Gordon.”
During their presidencies, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis suffered the death of a child—a not uncommon event for most American parents in the 19th century. Starting with the death of Willie Lincoln in 1862 and the tragic accident that befell Joseph Davis in 1864, Catherine Clinton explores Victorian mourning and the embrace of rituals of grief and symbols of remembrance during the Civil War.
Join us at noon on March 29 in the McGowan Theater at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, or watch online at our Ustream channel.
Image: Abraham Lincoln and his youngest son Tad (ARC 52628). While Lincoln was President, Tad’s older brother Willie—the middle child—died of typhoid fever while living in the White House. Tad himself died at age 18 in Chicago in 1871. Only the oldest son, Robert, lived to adulthood.
Letter from Brigadier General W. Sooy Smith to the Commander of the 1st Division of the 16th Army Corps. 3/27/1863
After the Emancipation Proclamation, the stream of slaves running to freedom swelled to a flood. Gen. W. Sooy Smith, who commanded Union troops in Tennessee, faced a dilemma. Men loyal to the Union wanted their property returned. But Smith’s orders were to refuse such requests. This letter asks how to avoid “the charge of furnishing Asylum to the Servants of loyal men.” The War Department usually advised that runaways be employed by the Army.
The Battle of Hampton Roads began March 8, 1862 when the newly-launched Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (built on the hull of the former USS Merrimac) engaged the USS Congress and USS Cumberland, defeating the two conventional wooden vessels.
Also shown is an excerpt of a first-hand account by Rear Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr. At the time of the battle, Selfridge was a lieutenant in command of a gun division aboard the Cumberland.
The Sinking of the Cumberland by the Iron Clad Merrimac, off Newport News, Virginia, March 8th, 1862. Cumberland went down with all her Flags flying: destroyed but not conquered. Copy of lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1862.
(Ed. note: As a rare personal aside, my great-great grandfather served as a Marine aboard the Congress and was wounded during the battle. Luckily he survived, although the injuries troubled him long afterwards, according to his pension records. -D.)
Enlistment paper of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody from his compiled military service record, 7th Kansas Cavalry, Civil War., 02/19/1864
Shortest tenure on record
Colonel P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of West Point and superintendency of the United States Military Academy on January 23, 1861. He resigned on January 28, 1861, after his native Louisiana seceded. Two days later, Colonel Richard Delafield, Beauregard’s predecessor and successor, sent this letter to Brigadier General Joseph G. Totten, about Beauregard’s resignation.
Letter from Colonel Richard Delafield Regarding His Assumption of Command of the United States Military Academy at West Point After the Resignation of Colonel P. G. T. Beauregard, 01/30/1861
Circular Letter Setting Out Requirements for Proper Measures to Secure the Identification of Soldiers Dying in Hospital Under Their Charge, 01/29/1863