40th US Colored Infantry
The 40th U.S. Colored Infantry was organized in Nashville, Tennessee beginning February 29, 1864.
The regiment was attached to Defenses of Louisville & Nashville Railroad, Department of the Cumberland, to June 1864. Defenses of Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, Department of the Cumberland, to December 1864. Defenses of Louisville & Nashville Railroad, Department of the Cumberland, to April 1865. 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, District of East Tennessee, Department of the Cumberland, to July 1865. 1st Brigade, 4th Division, District of East Tennessee, to August 1865. Department of the Tennessee to April 1866.
The regiment served as railroad guard duty during its entire term of service along the Nashville & Louisville Railroad and Nashville & Northwestern Railroad. It saw action in a skirmish at South Tunnel, Tennessee, on October 10, 1864.
The 40th U.S. Colored Infantry mustered out of service April 25, 1866.
Four Williamson County men are known to have served in the 40th US Colored Infantry.
Sgt. Major Calvin Swanson enlisted in Co A & F, on 16 Nov 1863, at Nashville. He was born in Williamson County around 1842. He was described as a 21 year old laborer. He was promoted to Sgt. Major of the regiment and was detailed on recruiting service also worked drilling new recruits. In the immediate post-War period, he joined Company K of the 2nd Tennessee State Guard and served as 2nd Sergeant. This was an all-black local militia that was sent to Franklin to keep the peace following the "Franklin Race Riot" of 1867.
Pvt Edmund or Edward Davis enlisted Co B, on 18 Jul 1863, at Nashville. He was born in Williamson County and enslaved by"Z. Davis." He was laborer #2377 at Fort Negley. He mustered out April 25, 1866 at Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Pvt. Craig Woods enlisted in Co B, on 18 Jul 1863, at Nashville. He was born in Williamson County around 1844. He mustered out April 26, 1866 in Chattanooga.
Pvt. Miles Washington enlisted on 18 Jul 1863, at Nashville. He was born in Williamson County around 1840. He was later transferred to the 42nd (“Invalid Corps”) due to chronic rheumatism on April 15, 1865 at Vicksburg, Miss. See the below note for more information about Miles Washington.
This note is held by the Tennessee State Library and Archives in the Washington Family Papers. It appears to contain the first names of Black men from the Washington family at Wessyington Plantation in Robertson County who enlisted in Company B of the 40th US Colored Infantry Regiment. Perhaps the note was made as a way to keep track of the men during the War. The name Bill Henry may refer to William Washington. Otto may be Oster Washington. Frank is likely Frank Washington and Miles was probably Miles Washington (noted above as being born in Williamson County). Jake was likely Jacob Washington. The men all enlisted in Company B of the regiment.
"no distinction be made on account of color or race"
On January 1866, the 40th US Colored Infantry's Company E was stationed in Stevenson, Alabama under the command of Captain Martin Hartman. Hartman had served as Sgt Major in the 106th Ohio Volunteer Infantry before accepting a transfer to the 40th US Colored Infantry.
One night, late in January 1866, two of his black soldiers went to a restaurant (an "eating-house") in Stevenson and requested service. When they were refused, the soldiers reported their treatment to Captain Hartman who sent a letter to the owners of the establishment, Mssrs. Joiner & Co. It stated, "as your house is a public one, it is expected at these headquarters that no distinction be made on account of color or race." Captain Hartman threatened the restaurant with closure if his soldiers were not treated in the same manner as all other customers. When they were again refused, on January 24, 1866, he closed the restaurant and placed it under guard "until ample apology is made at these headquarters for the insult offered to the Government of the United States by you in disregarding the rights of one of her brave defenders."
The southern press responded with indignation - claiming that "unoffending citizens, in the pursuit of their private business, are rudely interfered with and their houses closed because they did not choose to admit the negroes to their table upon the same footing as white men."
Those soldiers and Captain Hartman were men ahead of their time. This protest was likely the first attempted "sit-in" in Stevenson. Unfortunately, it was not ultimately successful. General George H. Thomas was appealed to by the white restauranteurs and he did not back up his soldiers. He notified Captain Hartman that he "disapproved" the order. The newspapers applauded General Thomas' response, noting their only regret was that Captain Hartman had not been punished for his actions.