11th US Colored Infantry (New)

Four Williamson County-born men served in the 11th US Colored Infantry (New).

  • Cpl. James Fate, a 24-year-old farmer, enlisted on May 23, 1863, in Corinth, Mississippi in Company A of what was then called the 1st Alabama Siege Artillery. The troops were trained as both artillery and infantry soldiers.

  • Pvt. Solomon Higgens and Pvt. Charles Keith were both 44-year-old laborers when they enlisted on January 12, 1864, at Fort Pickering in Memphis in Company G

  • Pvt. John Perkins, an 18-year-old waiter, enlisted as a private in Company A in Memphis on April 15, 1864.

As Black troops were being organized into regiments under the US Colored Troops, the naming conventions changed and units were frequently merged. The 11th US Colored Infantry (New) has one of the most convoluted histories of the service.

Originally, it began as the 1st Regiment Alabama Siege Artillery (African Descent). The regiment was renamed the 6th US Colored Heavy Artillery, then became the 7th US Colored Heavy Artillery, and finally the 11th United States Colored Infantry (New).

On March 11, 1864, the Regiment was renamed the 6th US Colored Heavy Artillery. A few weeks later, the regiment was sent to Fort Pillow in Tennessee. On April 12th, 1864, the Fort was attacked by Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest and 1,500 cavalrymen. Companies A, B, C, and D of the 6th Colored Heavy Artillery, along with men of Company D, 2nd US Colored Light Artillery manned artillery in an attempt to defend the Fort. The official records show that many of the Black soldiers and their white officers were killed. That day became a rallying cry for USCT Troops across the country - as they prepared for battle, they would cry out "Remember Fort Pillow."

Incredibly, it appears that none of Williamson County's members of the regiment were there that day. Cpl. Fate was on detached duty at Fort Pickering and was not involved in the Fort Pillow massacre, although his Company was. Likewise, Pvt. Higgens had been sent on daily duty to the Engineering department beginning on April 3rd and also was not at Fort Pillow. Likewise, Pvt. Charles Keith was on daily duty in the Commissary of Company G, which was not assigned to Fort Pillow at that time.

Just three days after the assault at Fort Pillow, Williamson County-born John Perkins enlisted in Memphis. Perkins and all the survivors of the 6th US Colored Heavy Artillery were reformed into the 7th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment on April 26, 1864, and last on January 23, 1865, into the 11th United States Colored Infantry.

Six months later, on June 3, 1865 Pvt. Higgins was discharged for disability. On January 12, 1866, the regiment mustered out in Memphis.

The photo, taken between 1861 and 1865, shows guns mounted along the perimeter of Fort Pillow. (Library of Congress)

The Fort Pillow Massacre Kurz and Allison Print, 1892

Tennessee State Library and Archives