On New Year’s Day in 1863 during the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. Not only did the decree free Blacks who were enslaved in the rebellious Confederate-aligned states, it also authorized the U.S. military to begin full-scale recruitment efforts to enlist African Americans into its ranks.
By May, the United States War Department had created the Bureau of Colored Troops. The bureau’s chief responsibility was to oversee the efforts of the new mostly Black, but also Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander, soldiers known as the United States Colored Troops.
Comprised of 175 regiments, the USCT fought with valor in every major Union Army military battle during the last two years of the Civil War including the Battle of Nashville, Battle of Chickamauga, Siege of Vicksburg, and the Battle of Appomattox Court House.
Atlanta History Center is home to one of the nation’s most comprehensive collections of Civil War memorabilia including a growing number of rare objects identified specifically with African American USCT soldiers and regiments such as a canteen, swords, a rifle, brass drum, knapsack, Bible, badges, a Medal of Honor, and a USCT flag. Atlanta History Center Historian Gordon Jones examines and discusses the history of some of these artifacts in the series of videos in this online exhibition.
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Black soldiers have served this country since the Revolutionary War and their stories are vital in creating a more complete, more accurate picture of America’s past.
The USCT was comprised of 135 regiments of infantry soldiers. In addition to infantry, the USCT had 13 heavy artillery, six cavalry, and a light artillery regiment. The people of color who were not allowed to enlist, such as women, helped the war effort by being cooks, spies, nurses, and scouts.
Atlanta History Center online exhibition: American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow explores the African American struggle for full citizenship and racial equality that unfolded in the 50 years following the Civil War.