16th US Colored Infantry

Five men with ties to Williamson County enlisted in the 16th US Colored Infantry:

The 16th U.S. Colored Infantry was organized in Clarksville, Tennessee beginning December 4, 1863 and mustered in for three-year service under the command of Colonel William B. Gaw. The regiment was sent to Chattanooga from April 1864 until November 1864 where they were put to work building fortifications and railroads. In December 1864, they participated in the Battle of Nashville (see more here) and the pursuit of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. While the regiment remained in the rear during the Battle of Nashville, they were actively involved in skirmishing in the weeks preceding the battle.  They were assigned to Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga until they mustered out of service on April 30, 1866.

Description of the 16th USCI Dress Parade at Chattanooga in 1866 by J. T. Trowbridge

“I went up on a hill east of town and witnessed the dress-parade of the sixteenth colored regiment (Tennessee). I never saw a finer military display on a small scale. The drill was perfect. At the order, a thousand muskets came to a thousand shoulders with a single movement, or the butts struck the ground with one sound along the whole line. The contrast of colors was superb, - the black faces, the white gloves, the blue uniforms, the bright steel. The music by the colored band was mellow and inspiring; and as a background to the picture we had a golden sunset behind the mountains.” 

A Picture of the Desolated States And the Work of Restoration. 1865-1868 By John Townsend Trowbridge · 1868, pp. 253-254

Elihu Wadsworth was a college student from Ohio who came to Tennessee to be an officer for US Colored Troops soldiers.  The Tennessee State Library and Archives retains copies of letters between Elihu and his brother providing some details about the Regiment. Wadsworth was mustered into Company B, 16th USCT at the rank of First Lieutenant. The next day, he wrote a letter to his brother describing recruiting efforts in Fort Donelson and Clarksville, Tennessee and a visit to a “contraband school.” He also described the Confederate response to enlistment of Black soldiers and the “line of patrols to keep the Negroes from coming in. A party of sixty started and only one got through. Although they are watched so diligently about ten per day get through the lines and enlist immediately. When we get two companies armed we will break the bloccade [sic] and then the men will come in in swarms….” ( “Brother Charles”: Letters Home to Michigan Civil War Correspondence of the Wadsworth Brothers, Tennessee State Library and Archives., Box 1, Folder 9