Monday, July 22, 2013

State Marker to be Placed at Site of 23rd USCTs First Combat

As many of you know, something that has filled me with immense pride over the last two years has been my small role in the formation of and participation with the recreated 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops.

While family tragedy and health issues have kept me from attending as many events as I would have liked over the last 14 months, I was very glad to hear from the units president, Steward Henderson, that a state highway marker has been approved to mark the site of the actual 23rd’s baptism of fire at the Alrich Farm in Spotsylvania County.

Map courtesy of FSNMP

As you can see from the map, this was the very first time during the Civil War that black troops had fired on Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia north of the James River.

This marker is important not only for the event that it memorializes, but also the momentous symbolism of that event.

As I told Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star in a recent interview:
The 23rd U.S. Colored Troops had many men in the ranks who had been held as chattel in Spotsylvania, Stafford, and the surrounding counties – their entrance into combat here saw them return to the site of their former degradation not as property, but as free men willingly taking up arms to liberate their enslaved brethren.
 Photo by John C. Cummings III

Those who worked hard to have this marker placed – people like John Hennessy of the National Park Service and John Cummings and Steward Henderson of the 23rd USCT – have done an incalculable service to future generations who will come to Spotsylvania seeking to better understand America’s Civil War.

The marker will be unveiled during the 150th anniversary commemoration that will take place at the actual site of the fighting on May 17, 2014. The 23rd USCT, along with other living history units, will recreate the march of the 23rd from the Chancellorsville ruins to the intersection of Catharpin and Orange Plank Road. This is shaping up to be a very special event, and I will post updates as the event planning continues. 

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