17th US Colored Infantry

The 17th US Colored Infantry was organized in Nashville beginning on December 12, 1863. In the spring of 1864, a portion of the 17th USCI was garrisoned in Franklin. During that time, 3 soldiers died and the 17th USCI was also enlisting new soldiers into the regiment. On March 21, 1864, 19-year-old Samuel Cox - who was born in Williamson County - enlisted in Franklin in Company C of the 17th US Colored Infantry (read more here). The regiment performed guard duty at Murfreesboro, Franklin, and Saundersville, Tennessee, until November 1864.

On December 15, 1864, the two-day-long Battle of Nashville commenced. Several regiments of US Colored Troops were involved in intensive and deadly combat. The 17th USCI served in the 1st Colored Brigade under the command of Col. Thomas J. Morgan. On the first day of the Battle, the 14th US Colored Infantry, flanked by the 17th and 44th USCI, led an assault on the far eastern part of the battlefield (the Confederate’s right flank). The plan was for the ​​USCT soldiers to provide a feint, intended to convince Gen. John B. Hood that their attack was the primary assault in order to push the Confederates to support their right and weaken their left. That day, as the 14th USCI encountered some resistance, the 17th US Colored Infantry pushed through and took the Confederate rifle pits. They then pushed forward until they reached the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad at Rains’ Cut. Unfortunately, the US officers had not realized that the Confederates had constructed a lunette - a small fort flanked by cannons. This would prove deadly for the men of the 17th US Colored Infantry. One of the USCT officers described how the 17th USCI,

“Pushing on, the right of the skirmish-line passing through an orchard and cornfield and the left through a field lately cleared of timber and thickly strewn with stumps and piles of brush, over the crest of the slope it had ascended, it found itself on a sloping field…and face to face with heavy earthworks on its opposite side, from which, came at once a heavy and deadly fire of both artillery and infantry.”

As the 17th reached the railroad line they found their way blocked by a deep ditch cut to allow the railroad to pass through. Confederate cannons opened fire from the lunette. The 17th was trapped. In order to escape, some soldiers jumped down into the railroad bed and 17 men were killed and 67 wounded. Three Williamson County men from the 17th US Colored Infantry were killed and one was wounded but survived.

On December 16, 1864, the regiment provided support during t the Battle of Nashville and participated in the pursuit of General Hood’s remaining forces until December 26, 1864. On December 19, 1864, James H. Alexander, who was born in Franklin, TN, enlisted into the 17th USCI in Nashville; perhaps his recruitment was an attempt to fill vacancies left by deaths following the Battle of Nashville.

A week later, on December 27, 1864, the regiment was engaged in light skirmishing near Decatur, Alabama. For the remainder of its service, the regiment served on guard duty in the Department of Tennessee until it mustered out on April 25, 1866.

All of the 37 men listed below were born in Williamson County.

Company A

  • Pvt. Spencer Floyd was granted a disability discharge on April 24, 1866. He left a mailing address in Eagleville and appears to have hired a claim agent in Nashville to help him collect his $300 bounty. However, when he never collected the payment and the funds were returned to the US Treasury in the 1870s. It is not clear whether Floyd died or perhaps moved out of the area.

  • Pvt. Peter Shaw mustered out April 25, 1866 in Nashville. He later lived in the Robertson Fork area of Marshall County, TN, and in Giles County, TN. In 1897 he applied for a pension. He died sometime between 1900 and 1907.

Company B

  • Pvt. James H. Alexander, died of small pox in Hospital No. 11 in Nashville. on January 25, 1866. His gravesite is not known.

  • Company C

  • Pvt. Watson Barnes, deserted March 11, 1864 in Murfreesboro

  • Pvt. Samuel Cox discharged for disability Sept. 19, 1865: "Samuel Cox has been totally unfit for service for over three months by reason of swellings and sores about the neck and the glands of the mouth and jaw. I do not consider that he will ever be of any service.”

  • Pvt. Samuel Ellison June 29, 1864 deserted at Murfreesboro

  • Sgt. Archie Reems April 25, 1866 mustered out in Nashville. Following the War he moved to Pecan Point, Arkansas - a place where many enslaved people from Williamson County were taken before the War. He received a pension for his service.

  • Pvt. Martin Van Buren March 11, 1864 deserted from Murfreesboro

  • Pvt. Henderson Woods enlisted at Murfreesboro on January 19, 1864. His paver was sponsored by the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County.

Company D

  • Pvt. Surrey Hailey March 28, 1864 – absent at “home” sick; later this turned into absent as a deserter June 26th, 1864

  • Pvt. Jacob King dropped as deserter April 24, 1864

  • Pvt. William Marshall, Sr. dropped as deserter (no date)

  • Pvt. Green McRhen dropped as deserter July 21, 1864 from Nashville

  • Pvt. Monroe Owens April 27, 1864 dropped as a deserter from Nashville

  • Sgt. Samuel Shane (color bearer) 18-year-old barber; enlisted as a sergeant; April 27, 1864 on daily duty as color bearer; April 25, 1866 mustered out

Company E

  • General Carroll, Regimental Teamster on daily duty as Regimental teamster since April 6, 1864; mustered out April 25, 1866 in Nashville

  • Pvt. Verger Dobson deserted April 29, 1864 from Nashville

  • Pvt. William Ellison March 3, 1864 deserted at Murfreesboro

  • Pvt. Noah Elmore, died of typhoid pneumonia March 3, 1864 at Murfreesboro, buried at Stones River National Cemetery in an unknown grave

  • Pvt. Jesse Hailey Feb. 28, 1864 deserted Murfreesboro; March 30, 1864 returned from desertion; Was tried by General Court Martial and while awaiting sentencing under guard deserted a 2nd time on April 12, 1864 in Murfreesboro

  • Pvt. John Hailey March 2, 1864 deserted Murfreesboro; March 30,1864 returned from desertion; Was tried by General Court Martial and while awaiting sentencing under guard deserted a 2nd time on April 12, 1864 in Murfreesboro (Same as Jesse Hailey)

  • Pvt. Randall Johnson deserted at Murfreesboro Feb. 28, 1864 (served one week)

  • Cpl. Washington Johnson deserted April 29, 1864 in Nashville; re-enlisted in 59th USCI.

  • Pvt. Evans Jordan, was born in Buckingham, Va in 1824. He enlisted in Murfreesboro on Feb 21, 1864. After the War he settled in Williamson County. His widow received a pension for his service.

  • Pvt. Lewis Moon Born in Virgnia, raised in Williamson County near Triune, wounded at Battle of Nashville Dec 15, 1864; returned May 20, 1865 from Wilson Hospital in Nashville; February 7, 1866 while on furlough home to Triune his brother was shot and killed by a civilian (read more about his story below). Lewis Moon moved to Bedford County, TN

  • Pvt. Isam Owen deserted from Murfreesboro March 28, 1864. Following the War, he lived in the Eagleville area of Rutherford county on the Williamson County border until he died in 1919.

  • Pvt. Edward Peoples April 25, 1866 mustered out in Nashville

  • Pvt. Joseph Shelman April 29, 1864 deserted from Nashville

Company F

  • Pvt. Samuel H. Jordan on daily duty as an ambulance driver; mustered out April 25, 1866 Nashville

  • Pvt. Franklin King mustered out April 25 1866 Nashville; moved to Topeka, Kansas and belonged to the Fort Pillow GAR Post along with Benjamin Jordan and Granville Scales from Williamson County

Company G

  • Pvt. Charles Clayburn, Killed in Action at the Battle of Nashville. No headstone has been identified. His paver has been sponsored by Joe Cashia.

  • Pvt. Henry Dotson engaged in action at the Battle of Nashville Dec. 15 & 16, 1864; April 25, 1866 mustered out in Nashville. A paver in his honor was sponsored by Gary Burke.

  • Pvt. Daniel Dotson, Died at Nashville May 29, 1865 of scurvy also “rheumatism of the heart"; he “left no effects of any value”; his remains were buried in the Nashville National Cemetery

Company H

  • Pvt. Joseph Hailey April 26, 1866 mustered out Nashville

  • Cpl. George Haley mustered out April 26, 1866 in Nashville

  • Cpl. Henry McPearson, wounded at the Battle of Nashville (gunshot wound and broken arm), and died February 21, 1865 at at the Wilson hospital in Nashville. His remains are buried in the Nashville National Cemetery.

Company I

  • Pvt. John Woods engaged in Battle of Nashville Dec. 15, 1864; on April 25, 1866 mustered out in Nashville

Company K

  • Pvt. Isaac Hendricox April 25, 1866 mustered out Nashville

  • Pvt. John Jackson 1st, died of wounds received in the Battle of Nashville on Dec. 16, 1864. He died Jan.10, 1865. No gravesite has been identified.

  • Cpl. Henry Moon, killed by a civilian in Triune while on furlough (read more below)

Recruitment of Soldiers

Into the 17th USCI

Recruiting agent and preacher James T. Ayers accompanied cavalry expeditions from Nashville into northern Alabama to enlist Black men into the US Colored Troops. Many of the men he enlisted were former field hands along the railroad line from Bridgeport to Decatur. He carried with him copies of the attached Recruiting Picture. He described it this way in his diary:

"Well children see here," getting off of my horse then and handing them one of my Recruiting Pictures "here is what Father Abraham is doin for you" showing them the Darky in Center with flagstaff flag waving and on the write, men knocking off the chains from the slaves wrists and some Just has got Loose and hands stretched upward shouting and Praising God for there Deliverance and on the left side A free school in full Opperation with miriads of Little Darkies Each with his Book, then on the other side in Large Letter "All slaves were made free by Abraham Lincoln President of the United States Jan 1st 63. Come then Able boddyed Collered men and fight for the stars and stripes." You would have to be present to understand the Joy of those pore down trodden Abused People. "Well now Children" said I "Father has been good haint he."

The Regimental Band of the 17th US Colored Infantry.

Pvt Noah Elmore was born about 1838 in Williamson County. He enlisted on Feb 21, 1864 in Murfreesboro in the 17th US Colored Infantry. He was described as a 26 year old farmer. He died March 3, 1864 at Murfreesboro of typhoid pneumonia. His remains are buried in the Stones River National Cemetery in Murfreesboro with an headstone marked "Unknown".

Pvt. Henry Moon, 17th US Colored Infantry.

About dusk on Sunday February 4, 1866, two men described as brothers, Lewis Moon and Henry Moon - both privates in the 17th US Colored Infantry Company E - were on furlough from Nashville and walking down Nolensville Pike heading to their home near Triune in eastern Williamson County. They had both enlisted in Murfreesboro on January 17, 1864 and were described as 5'5" tall farmers. It appears that their parents and a young Lewis and been sold from Virginia (where Lewis was born) to Wilson County (where Henry was born in 1846), and then later sold or taken to the Triune area - where they were now headed. As the brothers walked down Nolensville pike that winter evening they were combat-tested veterans - both had fought at the Battle of Nashville. Pvt. Lewis Moon, was just 20 years old, and recovering from a wound he received on the first day of fighting on December 15, 1864.

According to the reports, John Henry Griggs, Jr. (a white man) and two other men - perhaps William Pogue and John Griggs Sr, confronted the soldiers and became involved in an altercation with them outside of John Bostick's gate south of the four-way intersection in Triune. John Henry Griggs shot Pvt Henry Moon during that incident. Private Moon was wounded and taken to John Bostick's house where he was treated by Dr. Mills. His older brother Lewis Moon went back to Nashville to report the shooting and Lt. Col Pickering of the 17th USCI sent an ambulance to retrieve the injured soldier. However, despite their efforts, Private Henry Moon died on Friday, February 9th, 1866. His official military records state that he "died from wounds received from a civilian." He was buried in the Nashville National Cemetery in Madison, Tennessee and his grave is marked with a military headstone. You can read his full story here.

Gary Burke is a good friend and supporter of the #SlavesToSoldiers Project. His great-great-grandfather, Pvt. Peter Bailey was born in Wilson County, Tennessee and served in the 17th US Colored Infantry.

The 17th US Colored Infantry

The barracks of this splendid regiment of colored troops is on the west side of the Buena Vista Pike, in the north-western suburbs of the city. A visit to it will satisfy one that the Government has made provisions for the comfortable accommodation of the men, and that the officers in command discharge their duties faithfully and conscientiously. The quarters are neat two story frame houses, well white-washed, and kept clean and in good order. The parade ground is large and one of the best we have ever seen. This regiment is under the command of Col Shafter, who feels a becoming pride in the maintenance of its high reputation as one of the best drilled fighting regiments left to the service. In the bloody battles in front of Nashville, which resulted in the utter rout of Hood, and in the assurance of no further trouble in this Department, the 17th participated, and won distinction for its efficiency and bravely. We had the pleasure yesterday afternoon of being present at the dress parade of the regiment, and were struck with the soldierly bearing of the men, and their proficiency in the manual. We were glad to see, too, what we had not witnessed before, a gymnastic drill, which has been introduced, - at the suggestion of Col Van Schrader, one of the most meritorious officers int he service - and which, we are assured, has proved to be of great benefits to the men, developing their physical organizations and giving them better use of all their muscles and limbs.

We do not know what is the policy of the Government: but we think regiments like this ought to be retained in the service and incorporated into the regular army.

The Nashville Daily Union, Saturday November 11, 1865

Sgt. George Singleton,

Co. C, 17th US Colored Infantry.

From the Looking Back at the Civil War collection.

Tennessee State Library and Archives

Captain C. T. Bateman

Christopher T. Bateman was a captain of the 17th USCI. He was also a teacher and author. During his time with the 17th he wrote a book of poems entitled "Noah and Other Poems." One of those other poems was entitled, "Ode to Freedom." Here are a few stanzas:


O, Liberty! I've heard they name,

They worthy deeds, they wond'rous fame,

Where freedom's fires glow,

Where freemen hang their banners high,

To stream along the azure sky,

The tyrant's dreaded foe.

O, Goddess! friend of God and man,

Arouse thy hosts, lead on the van,

And free the world from chains.

Let tyrant thrones in thunder fall;

Let cruel lords for mercy call

Upon a thousand plains.

Leave not the world to slavery's doom,

Though Tyrants oft have worn they plume,

And fought for selfish ends,

And sons have recreant traitors proved,

Where freedom's hosts victorious moved

Against oppression's friends

Pvt. Daniel Dotson

Died at Nashville May 29, 1865 of scurvy also “rheumatism of the heart"; he “left no effects of any value”; his remains were buried in the Nashville National Cemetery

Cpl. Henry McPearson, wounded at the Battle of Nashville (gunshot wound and broken arm), and died February 21, 1865 at a hospital in Nashville. His remains are buried in the Nashville National Cemetery.

Fun Fact: "Pecos Bill"

The legendary "Pecos Bill" was Colonel of the 17th US Colored Infantry. William Rufus Shafter and his two brothers, James N. Shaftner and John W. Shaftner (both 1st Lieutenants) were all officers in the regiment. Prior to his service with the 17th USCI William R. Shafter had served in the 19th Michigan Volunteers and was captured at the Battle of Thompson's Station in Williamson County. After spending three months in a Confederate prison, he was released and took an assignment in the US Colored Troops. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to brevet brigadier general of volunteers. He stayed in the regular Army and continued as an officer of Black Troops - commanding the 24th Infantry, a Buffalo Soldier regiment. It was during this time that he earned the nickname "Pecos Bill."

Generals Joseph Wheeler (left) and William Rufus Shafter in Cuba. From p. 386 of Harper's Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Vol. II, published by Harper and Brothers in 1899.