This Memorial Day I’m thinking about a group of heroic soldiers from deep in our country’s history. Nearly 180,000 free Black men and escaped slaves served in the Union Army during the Civil War. They joined what was officially called the United States Colored Troops, usually led by white officers. The Black regiments were often assigned the worst jobs (like digging trenches), were paid less than white soldiers, were given inferior equipment, and had unequal medical treatment in racially segregated hospitals.
“Despite the inequality, the Black troops in Union blue had proven themselves to be courageous, effective soldiers. Black soldiers, including more than a dozen Congressional Medal of Honor winners, fought in 449 Civil War battles. More than one-third of them died during the war. Through their courage and sacrifice, these Black men helped press the African-American fight for equality.” (Constitutional Rights Foundation website).
One of my 4th great grandfathers was a man named Moses Pennington. Born into slavery, he lived most of his life in Arkansas – before and after being freed. In my search for information about him I came across a Moses Pennington, born around the same time, who served in the 115th regiment of the Colored Troops. While in D.C. last month, I stopped at the African American Civil War Soldier memorial, and found his name listed there among thousands of other men.
I now think that this Moses may have actually been a cousin of my 4th great grandfather. I’m still researching the facts. Either way, he was most likely family. In the meantime, as I go through Civil War records I’m learning more about the important history of the troops, and all that they faced while fighting for their freedom.
I’m deeply proud that one of my ancestors may have fought for the Union in pursuit of equality. My deepest respect to all the soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops – I honor and thank them for their sacrifices and courage.
Featured image by Will Austin.