They fought and died alongside white comrades, yet received no recognition until long after the Civil War ended.
They are the United States Colored Troops, who battled around Virginia, and in the Fredericksburg area. The 23rd U.S. Colored Troops will be honored in Spotsylvania County on Saturday with the unveiling of a new state historical marker, “23rd USCT at the Alrich Farm.”
The marker ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. at the intersection of Furnace Road and Old Plank Road as part of a series of events in and around Chancellorsville Battlefield.
The day-long commemorative program, according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which approved the marker, is titled “Fighting for Freedom and Firesides: The Rise of the United States Colored Troops.”
The colored troops of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment were portrayed in the acclaimed 1989 film, “Glory.” That dramatized the unit’s July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner on Morris Island, S.C. There, Sgt. William Carney became the first African–American to receive the Medal of Honor.
The 23rd Infantry Regiment fought the Confederate 11th Virginia Cavalry in Spotsylvania on May 15, 1864—the first under-orders combat between black Union troops and Confederates in Virginia north of the James River.
“This small engagement has huge symbolic importance,” Noel Harrison, a historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said in a June 14, 2011, Free Lance–Star story.
The foot soldiers of the 23rd, which had been hastily pressed into action from duty guarding supply wagons in the Union army’s rear at Chancellorsville, prevailed against horsemen of Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia.
The new marker recalls that the 23rd USCT rushed into combat on May 15, 1864, to support the Union’s 2nd Ohio Cavalry, which was being overwhelmed by Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser’s forces. The USCT men “hurried forward to the intersection of Catharpin Road and Orange Plank Road,” the marker states. “After skirmishing with the Confederates, the 23rd charged and caused Rosser to withdraw.”
Speakers for the ceremony will be author and professor James K. Bryant II and Steward cq Henderson, president of the 23rd Regiment USCT. Other participants will be 23rd Regiment USCT members Jesse Johnson and the Rev. Hashmel Turner; Lucy Lawless, superintendent of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park; Gen. Ulysses S. Grant impersonator Larry Clowers; and a representative of the Department of Historic Resources.
Guests will include descendants of soldiers in the unit.
According to the Department of Historic Resources’ database, there are only four other historical markers across the state mentioning colored troops. Those are in Richmond and along the James River.