US Colored Troops remembered on Memorial Day

Honoring thousands of USCTS

(WBTV) - When Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War, at the McClean House in Appomattox, Virginia - another Civil War subplot was unfolding.

This story line became a defining moment for members of the U.S. Colored Troops. At the end of the war, thousands of black troops were there for Lee's surrender.

"We used to think there were about 2,000 USCT's that were here at Appomattox," park guide Chris Bingham said. "We know there are a great many more - about 5,500."

Segregated units were made up of former slaves and freedmen and thousands who served during the war had ties to the Carolinas.

"To put a brass plate, a brass eagle plate on their chest, a bullet in their pocket and a rifle on their shoulder," said USCT reenactor Ludger K. Ballan. "I think that resonated to a lot of these men."

Remembering this group brings people on annual trips to Morris Island, near Charleston, where they pay tribute to the 272 lives lost at during the assault on Fort Wagner. The movie Glory showcased the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

Joe Long is a curator with the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia.

"The 54th Massachusetts did not include former slaves," Long said. "These were men who grew up in freedom and in the North."

Former slaves in the Carolinas did serve and during some battles paid a very heavy price, including the 8th regiment of the USCT's from South Carolina.

"Their first trial by fire had been at Olustee, Florida in February of 1864. A relatively unknown battle - small scale - but for those men involved in it was a real blood bath. They lost 310 men," Bingham said.

They are buried in a mass grave with black troops who also came from North Carolina and Massachusetts.

At the end of the four-year battle, more than 20 men of color would receive what is now known as the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Theirs was a journey of liberation - not only for the country they served - but also for the freedom they pursued.

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