Friday, March 29, 2013

Can We Honestly Say that the USCT Story is Still “Forgotten”?

Today I saw an advertisement for an upcoming Civil War event that is taking place in Richmond that features a living history program about USCTs. While it is always gratifying to see that such programs are taking place, the blurb advertising the event mentioned that it would honor “the conflict’s 200,000 unsung heroes.

Something about that phrase bothered me, and the question that eventually formed in my head was – is it still fair to portray the story of African American Union soldiers using terms like “unsung,” “forgotten,” and “neglected”?

I would gander that such adjectives were appropriate during the 125th commemorations, but I’m not so sure that they are applicable in 2013. A random sampling of some reasons why I would say this would include:

1. A recent series of blog posts that dealt with the issue of historic sites interpreting the USCT story at places where USCT units did not even serve

2. USCT inclusion in popular Civil War art – something that was once reserved for showing every square foot of territory visited by Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest during the war (indeed, the great Don Troiani has a print coming out in June that shows the 6th USCT at New Market Heights!)

3. New scholarship on previously overlooked people and battles
4. The fact that United States Colored Troops are front and center in Spielberg’s Lincoln
5. A museum and memorial in Washington DC solely dedicated to the history of US Colored Troops

6. Special events such as the USCT Grand Review in 2010 and the upcoming commemoration of General Orders No. 143 at Arlington National Cemetery on May 18th

Now, I’m in no way suggesting that we have exhausted the field – far from it. But I think we have achieved a level of general awareness of the contributions made by US Colored Troops to stop claiming that they have been relegated to the sidelines of Civil War history.

I don’t fault the event organizers for using such language – having been in the field of public history for 15 years, I certainly sympathize with the person who wrote the advertisement. You’re not going to draw a large crowd by using bland language that doesn’t “hook” the average person who could care less about history.

That being said, what do you think?

Would you still consider the saga of United States Colored Troops a “forgotten” aspect of Civil War history?


  1. Jimmy, Check out the follow-up post that I wrote, after surveying all of the markers in the Historical Markers Database. The truly disturbing thing about USCT interpretation is finding sites at which they served, and yet they aren't mentioned!

  2. Hmm...I'm pretty sure there's a monument to the 2nd USCT in Florida that I thought was related to Olustee. In any case, that is amazing that so many sites that you would think to be obvious for having a USCT marker actually don't. Seems like the Sesquicentennial would be a perfect time to remedy that!