US Colored Troops
What Was the USCT?
The United States Colored Troops (USCT) were regiments in the United States Army that served during the Civil War from 1863-1866. These regiments were made up primarily of Black soldiers. When the Civil War began, Black men were not allowed to serve in the US Army, although they were allowed to serve in the Navy. President Abraham Lincoln initially did not approve of using Black soldiers and allowed Black men to contribute to the War effort only as laborers. As the war continued, however, attitudes began to change, and the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, provided for the enlistment of Black men to serve in the US Army and US Navy. In total, they formed:
The Nashville Daily Union, Tuesday October 6, 1863
In early October, 1863, soldiers enlisted in the USCT were parading in Nashville.
The Nashville Daily Union, Thursday November 5, 1863
Headquarters Commission for the Organization of USCT was actively recruiting men into the USCT in Nashville and throughout Middle Tennessee
List of USCT Regiments by State Where Organized and Battles Fought
How Many Men Served in the USCT?
By the end of the Civil War, more than 185,000 men had served in the USCT, including more than 178,000 Black soldiers and approximately 7,000 white officers. 175 USCT regiments had been formed. These men constituted about 10% of the manpower of the US Army. Tennessee contributed the third-largest number of soldiers to the USCT of any state. These men made up about 20% of Tennesee's soldiers fighting in the US Army.
Who Served in the USCT?
USCT regiments were composed mostly of African-American ("colored") enlisted soldiers (i.e., privates, corporals, and sergeants). In addition to Black soldiers, members of other groups also served within the units such as Native American and Hawaiian. Nearly all of the officers in the USCT were white. In some cases, Black men served as chaplains and surgeons and in other leadership capacities within the USCT. You can learn more here.
Was the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Part of the USCT?
Not exactly. Following the Emancipation Proclamation, it took until May 1863 for the federal government to create the Bureau of Colored Troops and begin recruiting troops. Some state Governors and free Black men were anxious to begin forming regiments to fight for the US before then. An illustration of these regiments is the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous in part due to the 1989 movie Glory. One Williamson County man served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and one man served in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. Some of these early Black regiments later converted to USCT regiments, but others retained their state-named designations. - including the Massachusetts regiments. In the fall of 1862, there were at least three US regiments of Black soldiers organized in New Orleans, Louisiana. These units later became the 72nd, 74th, and 75th United States Colored Infantry (USCI). The First South Carolina Infantry (African Descent) would become the 33rd USCI. Similarly, the First Kansas Colored Infantry later became the 79th [New] USCI. Additionally, the 1st Mississippi Heavy Artillery (African Descent) later became the 5th US Colored Heavy Artillery. The 49th United States Colored Infantry was first established as the 11th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent) . The 4th Arkansas Infantry (African Descent) later was named the 57th US Colored Infantry. The 12th US Colored Infantry was at various times named the 2nd Alabama Regiment (African Descent) , the 3rd Tennessee Volunteers (African Descent) and the 1st Regiment US Colored Infantry. These are just a few examples of the various naming conventions used for the all Black US Army regiments organized during the Civil War.