Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The 23rd USCT, Then & Now

Pvt. George Washington, Co. D, 23rd USCT
As the Sesquicentennial rolls along, it is of vital importance to ensure that stories that have languished in the shadows for the past 150 years come to light. Therefore it is my pleasure to report that one of those stories – that of the 23rd United States Colored Troops – is getting renewed attention in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania region.

By now many of you are familiar with the excellent research that the crew over at Mysteries & Conundrums has uncovered regarding this regiment and its first action at the Alrich Farm on May 15, 1864, which you can read here. But there is more to the story of the 23rd than just this one fight.

Lt. Robert K. Beecham, 23rd USCT
The 23rd USCT was organized at Camp Casey, Va. from November 1863 – April 1864. That month it was ordered to Manassas Junction to become part of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Division of Burnside’s Ninth Corps. Lt. Robert Beecham, who had helped recruit and train the unit, later said of them:
As the 23d was made up mostly of men from Washington and Baltimore, very naturally we found among them some pretty hard cases, the equals, perhaps, of what white troops would show if recruited in the same cities; but as a rule the men were sober, honest, patriotic and willing to learn and fulfill the duties of soldiers.
At the outset of the Overland Campaign in May of 1864, the 4th Division was assigned to guard Germanna ford. It was during this time that they would be called upon to help repel Confederate cavalry at the Alrich farm, which marked the first time that USCTs had clashed with the Army of Northern Virginia north of the James River. As the campaign continued to unfold and then wind down, the 23rd found itself at Petersburg where it would participate in the notorious Battle of the Crater, in which they sustained 74 men killed, 115 wounded, and 121 missing.

The men of the 23rd stayed at Petersburg, where they would see large scale action again at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run on October 27, 1864. By the time that Richmond fell, the 23rd – now part of the 25th Corps of the Army of the James – had to march up a road strewn with landmines to get into the capital city. Like many USCT units, the 23rd ended its days in Texas after the fighting had ceased. They lost a grand total of 165 men from disease and 172 men killed or mortally wounded during the war.

For over 140 years the story of the 23rd has coasted under the radar, their fight at the Alrich farm nearly forgotten. But now I am happy to report that the 23rd United States Colored Troops is being reborn for the Sesquicentennial. Most of you must have read by now the post on John Cummings’ Spotsylvania Civil War Blog about the core group that is hoping to take the story of the 23rd into the nearby community and generate enough interest to have a proper commemoration of the clash at the Alrich Farm in May of 2014.

Since this is such an important task, I have decided to “join up” and will be portraying a 1st Lieutenant with the group and I would ask anyone in Central and Northern Virginia with an interest in portraying the African American fighting man of 1863-1865 to consider joining us in this effort. The unit has already partnered with the John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center Museum and we are actively seeking other members and sponsors to help us in our task.

Please take the time to consider the part you can play in helping us with this effort and look for updates on this blog as to the progress we make prior to our “big day” in 2014!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am working on a project for a museum in Gettysburg, and am interetsed to know where you found the image of Robert Beecham used in this post. We would love to include it in the exhibit media that we are producing. I was hoping you could point me towards your source?
    Thanks, Jen (