29th US Colored Infantry
The 29th US Colored Infantry regiment mustered into service in April 1864 in Quincy, Illinois. The men were sent to fight in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War. Initially, the 29th was sent to Annapolis, Maryland, then Alexandria, Virginia and finally White House, Virginia where they worked as guards for army wagon trains and dug trenches for a few weeks.
The regiment fought its first major action at the Battle of the Crater in July, where it suffered heavy casualties. It fought in other actions during the Siege of Petersburg and participated in the final Appomattox Campaign in April 1865. The unit transferred to Texas and was probably present in Galveston when Union General Gordon Granger announced emancipation on Juneteenth (19 June 1865). The regiment was mustered out in November 1865.
Battle of the Crater.
In a letter to The Christian Recorder, Sgt. William McCoslin of the 29th USCI wrote on July 26th, just days before the Battle of the Crater that the regiment had:
"built two forts and about three miles of breastworks, which shows ... that we are learning to make fortifications, whether we learn to fight or not. We are now lying in camp ... resting a day or two. ... We have worked in that way for eight or ten days without stopping."
On July 30, 1864, the Regiment fought at the infamous Battle of the Crater, where it suffered heavy casualties. Two officers and 38 enlisted men were killed, four officers and 53 enlisted men were wounded, and 33 enlisted men were captured or missing in the aftermath. Sgt. McCoslin described the assault in a letter to his wife:
"I hope you will not be uneasy about me for I am safe and sound, and feel as though I will go through all right. Give my respects to all my friends, tell them that the colored soldiers can fight and have the honor of being brave."
Subsequent Action & Siege of Petersburg
For the remainder of 1864, the 29th USCI continued to see action. The regiment was present during the Battle of Weldon Railroad in August 1864. Next, the regiment saw action at the Battle of Poplar Grove Church in September and the Battle of Boydton Plank Road in October.
In the spring of 1865, the 29th USCI served on the Bermuda Hundred front, and held trenches in the area of Chafin's Farm and Fort Burnham. On April 2, 1865, the regiment participated in an assault that broke through the Confederate defenses. The 29th USCI marched into Petersburg singing the popular song, "John Brown's Body." The regiment participated in the Appomattox Campaign through April 1865. The 29th USCI performed garrison duty in Virginia until May 1865 when they were transferred to the Mexican border in Texas.
Sgt. Moses Nelson
Sgt. Moses Nelson is the only Williamson County man known to have enlisted in the 29th US Colored Infantry. He enlisted in Company D in Chicago, Illinois. He was described as a 23-year-old farmer. Nelson was a substitute for S. J.Todd of the 1st Ward of Beloit, Wisconsin. Todd was a white man from New York who was a lawyer in Beloit. Nelson was on detached duty during part of his service guarding cattle and mustered out as a sergeant in April 1866 in Brownsville, Texas. Following the War, he settled in Illinois where he received a pension for his service . He is buried in the Hope Cemetery in Galesburg, Illinois.
Sgt. Nelson's memorial paver has been sponsored by Barbara Heerman.
Pvt. Lewis Martin
Private Lewis Martin, of Company E, 29th USCI, was a comrade of Williamon County's Pvt Moses. He was born free and severely injured at the Battle of the Crater. His photograph was found glued to his certificate of disability for discharge. His wounds were described in his discharge form: “Loss of right-arm and left-leg by amputation for shell and gunshot wounds received in battle at Petersburg on July 30, 1864 in charging the enemies works. In consequence of which is totally disabled for military service and civil occupation wholly.”
"We the colored soldiers have fairly won our rights by loyalty and bravely -
shall we obtain them?"
Sgt. William McCoslin, 29th US Colored Infantry
Cropped portion of Part of Federal Line of Works showing bombproof tents occupied by U.S. Colored Troops in front of Petersburg, Va., Aug. 7, 1864, Library of Congress
[View of bombproof tents occupied by U.S. colored troops in front of Petersburg, Va., August 7, 1864], Library of Congress
In early April 1865, the 2nd Division of the all black 25th Corps participated in General Ulysses S. Grant’s final attacks on Petersburg. Although the division did not see any serious fighting, they were some of the first Federal troops to march into Petersburg on the morning of April 3. While Lee's army retreated and Grant's followed, the USCT marched along the South Side Railroad. On April 7 near Farmville, the two brigades commanded by Colonels Ulysses Doubleday and William Woodward were attached to the white troops of the 24th Corps. As Lee's forces fled westward on April 8, the USCT and the remainder of the Army of the James moved parallel to the south in an attempt to cut off the Confederate retreat. After marching thirty miles in less than twenty hours, the troops reached the vicinity of Appomattox Station around 1:30 a.m. on April 9.
“The men, though short of rations, and almost always worn out with fatigue, moved on without a murmor, as long as there was an enemy to follow." - Lieutenant Colonel James Givin, 127th U.S. Colored Infantry
“In an experience of more than three years I never witnessed greater powers of endurance. There was no straggling, and the men were constantly in the best of spirits." - Surgeon C.P. Heichold, 25th Corps
Before 8:00 a.m. on April 9, Confederate troops attacked the Federal cavalry roadblock just west of Appomattox Court House. Lee's final attempt to escape was initially successful, until the Army of the James arrived. Advancing to the left of the developing battle line, Doubleday's Brigade (8th, 41st, and 45th, minus the 127th left to guard supply wagons) drove back a force of Confederate cavalry. Meanwhile, Woodward's Brigade (29th, 31st, and 116th) moved forward amidst the white troops of the 24th Corps. One soldier described this line as looking like a blue checkerboard, the white and black troops advancing together. The arrival of Federal infantry forced the Confederates back; General Lee surrendered that afternoon. Though the battle was short, it proved to be decisive. Of the roughly 300 Federal casualties, at least three were USCT who played a key role in blocking the Confederate escape route.
“What cared we for the color or race of those men who brought relief to us. We saw courage and determination in their coal-black faces." - Captain Luman Tenney, 2nd Ohio Cavalry
Abraham Lincoln, ca. 1846
One member of the 29th USCI was William H. Costley of Pekin, Illiois. He served in Company B.. Costley was the son of Nance Legins-Costley, who was emancipated from slavery in 1841 by a Supreme Court of Illinois case. Costley's attorney in the case was Abraham Lincoln.
Random Thoughts on History blog post about USCT at the Crater
Memorial of Colonel John A. Bross, Twenty-Ninth U.S. Colored Troops, who fell leading the assault on Petersburgh, July 30, 1864 : together with a sermon by his pastor, Rev. Arthur Swazey
Regimental and Company Books of the 29th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment
The black Civil War soldiers of Illinois : the story of the twenty-ninth U.S. colored infantry by Edward A. Miller, 1998