57th US Colored Infantry
Organized March 11, 1864, from 4th Arkansas Infantry (African Descent). Attached to District of Eastern Arkansas, 7th Corps, Dept. of Arkansas, to May, 1864. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 7th Corps, to January, 1865. Colored Brigade, 7th Corps, to February, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 7th Corps, to August, 1865. Dept. of Arkansas to December, 1866.
On April 26, 1864 - just a few weeks after the massacre of USCT troops at Fort Pillow - the 57th USCI regiment was involved in a skirmish near Little Rock. Then in May the 57th conducted operations against Confederate General Joe Shelby north of the Arkansas River. The regiment was next involved in skirmishes near Little Rock on May 24 and 28, 1864.
The regiment marched to Brownsville, Arkansas on August 23, 1864, and then moved to Duvall's Bluff - about 50 miles to the west of Little Rock on the Smith River - on August 29, 1864. That October Williamson County's George N. Perkins was on duty as the color Sergeant for the regiment. The regiment was on duty there and at Little Rock until June 1865. In January 1865, the regiment was sent back to Little Rock.
Fort Smith. When the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi surrendered on May 26, 1865, the 57th USCT was divided between Little Rock and Duvall's Bluff. The regiment was then transferred to Ft. Smith, Arkansas. While at Fort Smith, the 57th guarded property and maintained law and order. During this time, 46 enlisted men married women at the Fort Smith Freedmen’s Bureau office (more records here).
In September 1866, it appears as though the 57th was sent to New Mexico, although it is interesting that most of the official descriptions of the regiment omit this part of their service. Several newspapers reported that on September 13, 1866, the regiment reached Fort Union, New Mexico after marching for 67 days over almost 700 miles across Oklahoma from Fort Smith. The 57th remained on duty at Fort Union in New Mexico until November when they seem to have marched northeast another 660 miles to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where they arrived in early December 1866.
Just a few weeks later, on December 13, 1866, the regiment mustered out in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, a full 18 months after the end of the Civil War.
Predecessor unit: ARKANSAS VOLUNTEERS. 4th REGIMENT INFANTRY (AFRICAN DESCENT). Organized at Devall's Bluff, Little Rock and Helena, Ark., December 2, 1863. Attached to District of Eastern Arkansas, 7th Corps, Dept. of Arkansas, to March, 1864, and on duty at Helena. Designation of Regiment changed to 57th U.S. Colored Troops March 11, 1864
Five men from Williamson County have been identified as having served in the 57th US Colored Infantry. They all shared the last name of Perkins and they all enlisted in Little Rock, Arkansas into Company C of the regiment. It is believed they were all brought from Williamson County to Arkansas by Constantine Perkins, the son of Nicholas "Bigbee" Perkins from Del Rio Pike in Franklin. In 1860, Constantine Perkins was enslaving 79 people in Campbell, Pulaski County, Arkansas.
Sgt. George Napier Perkins was born around 1840 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company C of the 57th USCI on December 4, 1863 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as a 23 year old farmer. Following the War, he became a lawyer, judge, politician and newspaper publisher. You can read more about his life below.
Pvt. Grundy Perkins was born around 1828 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company C of the 57th UCI on December 4, 1863 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as a 35 year old farmer. He deserted on January 13, 1864 at Little Rock.
Lance Sgt. and Color Bearer James Perkins was born around 1837 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company C of the 57th USCI on December 4, 1863 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as a 6'2" tall, 26 year old engineer. Perhaps he is the tall soldier holding the flag in the photograph below. He survived to muster out with the regiment.
Matthew Perkins was born around 1841 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company C of the 57th USCI on December 4, 1863 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as a 22 year old farmer. Deserted December 19, 1863 at Little Rock.
Pvt.William Perkins was born around 1818 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company C of the 57th USCI on December 4, 1863 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as a 45 year old farmer. Discharged March 26, 1864 at Little Rock by order of the medical board for disability.
Color Guard of the 57th USCI. Likely taken at Little Rock, Arkansas. in 1866.
Courtesy of the UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture
Judge George Napier Perkins
George N. Perkins was - in addition to being an Army veteran - a lawyer, justice of the peace, a two-term alderman on the Little Rock (Arkansas) City Council, political and civil rights activist, a newspaper publisher in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and devoted uncle. Perkins was the son of Moses and Millie Perkins - both of whom were born in Virginia and then brought to Williamson County, Tennessee in bondage. They all appear to have been enslaved on the expansive Perkins family plantations on Del Rio Pike in the Forest Home area of Franklin. Some of the Perkins holdings include Two Rivers, Meeting of the Waters, and Montpier. Nancy Perkins Gardner was enslaved by the Perkins family and was George Napier's Perkins' niece. It is believed that George N. Perkins and his family were enslaved in Williamson County by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins. When Nicholas Bigbee Perkins died in 1848, he left his children large groups of enslaved people as property, including George Perkins' own extended family. George N. Perkins was inherited by Nicholas Bigbee Perkins' son Constantine Perkins. By 1860, Constantine Perkins was operating a plantation on the bank of the Arkansas River in Campbell Township, just south of Little Rock, Arkansas. He does not appear to have lived there, but he enslaved 79 people - including 18 year old George Napier Perkins - and employed an overseer named A. J. Jones. Constantine Perkins was described as a planter with real estate assets worth $100,000 and personal property - which would have included enslaved people like George Napier Perkins - valued at $90,000.
1st Sergeant of the 57th US Colored Infantry
In September 1863, Federal troops took control of Arkansas' capitol, Little Rock. Just a few months later, on December 4, 1863, George N. Perkins enlisted in Company C of the 57th Regiment of the US Colored Troops in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was described as being 23 years old and 6 feet tall - which was quite tall at the time.
Also enlisting in the same company on the same day were four other men with the last name of Perkins who were also born in Williamson County, Tennessee: William Perkins, Matthew Perkins, James Perkins and Grundy Perkins. A few weeks earlier, on November 10, 1863, Charles Perkins from Williamson County had also enlisted in Company C of the 57th US Colored Infantry Regiment. It seems likely that they had all six men had been enslaved by Constantine Perkins and his family in Williamson County, Tennessee and brought to Arkansas to work his land.
Little Rock, Arkansas
One year after George N. Perkins mustered out of the Army, on January 30, 1867, he married Margaret A. Dillard in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Maggie appears to have been the divorced mother of a 6-year-old son, John Spring. Perkins quickly became very involved in politics during an incredibly tense and significant time in Arkansas history. In 1868 Arkansas adopted a new state Constitution and the Republican-controlled government - which was advocating changes that favored former slaves - took power. As was the case in former slave-states across the country, tensions arose regarding new laws empowering former slaves while disfranchising former Confederates. The Ku Klux Klan used violence to intimidate African Americans and Republican voters.
Perkins moved his new family to an area called "Perkins" near the state capital - Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas. In the 1870 Census, George N. Perkins was listed as 25 years old and working as a Justice of the Peace. He served as justice of the peace for six years in Campbell Township near where he had been enslaved. He was also a two-term alderman on the Little Rock City Council. Perkins was admitted to practice law in 1871 after having attended night law school.
In 1874, the Arkansas Legislature called for a new constitution. Perkins was chosen to be one of four Black delegates the Constitutional Convention assembled at the State House on July 14, 1874. At that time, he founded the town of Woodson, Arkansas (Saline County), which was created from parts of two 40-acre tracts that he owned.
In 1879, Perkins attended a National Conference of Colored Men of the United States in Nashville, Tennessee, as a representative of Arkansas. Representatives came from all over the country. Williamson County's ANC Williams represented Tennessee. At the Convention, Perkins was appointed to serve on the Committee on Migration to discuss the interest in large-scale migration by African Americans out of the south to northern and western states. Perkins proposed a resolution "favoring wholesale emigration on account of oppression and intimidation." At the Conference, the members formed the American Protective Society to Prevent Injustice to the Colored People, in recognition of the discrimination, segregation, and racial violence that was continuing throughout the country. George N. Perkins was appointed a Vice President of the organization to represent the state of Arkansas.
Perkins moved to the Oklahoma Territory in April 1891. In Guthrie, the territorial capital, he served as an alternate delegate to the Republican Convention. Williamson County's Green I. Currin was the only Black man elected to be a member of the first Oklahoma territorial legislature. You can read his story here.
The Oklahoma Guide - Newspaper
Perkins purchased a Guthrie newspaper, the Oklahoma Guide. Started in 1892, it became the longest continuously published black urban weekly in Oklahoma Territory. He also served on the Guthrie City Council from 1894 to 1902 and ran for police judge of Guthrie in 1896. In the early 1900s, Perkins brought his great-niece Elmira Ridley and nephew Samuel Ridley Jr on board to help him run the Oklahoma Guide. On October 6, 1914, Perkins died in Guthrie, Oklahoma. His long and vigorous protest for civil rights earned him the title of "the African Lion." You can click here to read a longer blog post about his remarkable life.
Judith Kilpatrick, “(EXTRA)Ordinary Men: African-American Lawyers and Civil Rights in Arkansas Before 1950,” 53 Ark. Law Rev. 299, 302 n7, 307, 311 n71, 320, 327-30, 334, 336, 340-41, 343, 345, 347 n352, 374 (2000)
1 Who’s Who of the Colored Race 214 (1915)
1886, 1890 Little Rock City Directories
“Proceedings of the National Conference of Colored Men of the United States,” 5/6-9/1879, Nashville, TN, pp. 16, 29, 67
R.O. Joe Cassity, Jr., “African-American Attorneys on the Oklahoma Frontier, 27 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 245 (2002)
African American Biographical Database, Profile available at http://aabd.chadwyck.com/bbidx/full_rec
Oklahoma Historical Society listing
The front page of George Napier Perkins' newspaper on the day he died.