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Black History and the Civil War

Black History and the Civil War

January 31, 2024

When you think of Black History Month, you might think of civil rights activists, scientists, or athletes. However, there are approximately 180,000+ names that are not mentioned as often when bringing up the subject. Those names are of the brave African American soldiers who served in the Civil War under the United States Colored Troops division. Many men sacrificed their lives to change the trajectory of how we celebrate Black culture today.

Often, it is hard to imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes, especially if that person was an African American soldier serving in the Civil War during a different century. We may wonder, “How did they…?” or “I would have done it this way…” Luckily, the voices and experiences of some former troops were preserved and published, giving us a chance to see things from their perspective.

Midwest Genealogy Center has several books about the United States Colored Troops and the Civil War. They Served by Nancy Burke gives you an inside look at pension record applications that tell the story of troops from Hilton Head Island. Borrowed Identity - 128th United States Colored Troops by J. Raymond Gourdin documents 76 soldiers from South Carolina, identifying more than 500 surnames and an index of nearly 1,500 F.A.N.s (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors). Now, if you’re anything like me and need to put a face to the name, African American Faces of the Civil War by Ronald Coddington combines archival images with biographical stories of soldiers that reveal the human side of the war. 

With the high number of men who enlisted, you likely have an ancestor who served in the United States Colored Troops, or you may know someone whose ancestor did. Research databases such as Fold3 (Library Edition available through Midwest Genealogy Center)  and Ancestry (Library Edition available through Midwest Genealogy Center) are great for tracing your U.S.C.T. soldier. Fold3 has compiled military service records of the United States Colored Troops. Those records may contain the soldier's name, rank, date of enlistment/discharge, widow’s name, and, more importantly, original muster rolls, descriptive books, enlistment papers, and more. Ancestry has the 1890 Veterans Schedule, a special census of Civil War Union veterans and widows of veterans. This census may include the soldier’s name, rank, date of enlistment/discharge, widow’s name, and other important information. 

Nearly 159 years later, the courageous acts of these soldiers are still an essential part of Black history. Celebrate this month by researching the United States Colored Troops and African American genealogy at the Midwest Genealogy Center! 

Angela W.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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