An 1863 printed broadside by abolitionist Frederick Douglass encouraging Black men to enlist in the military during the Civil War. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On Oct. 2, 1865, the 11th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, a regiment in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War that was assigned to Louisiana, disbanded.

During the Civil War, Congress passed the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, which allowed the federal government to “seize property, including enslaved people, from the Confederate rebellion, prohibited the return of fugitive slaves and allowed the Union Army to recruit Black soldiers.”

Frederick Douglass pushed for the recruitment of Black soldiers, Once let the Black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship,” he wrote in April 1863

The following month, the Bureau of Colored Troops was formed by the War Department. The United States Colored Troops (USTC) regiments, made up of mostly African Americans, also included Native Americans and Asian Americans who fought for the Union. According to the National Archives, these soldiers were used in mostly non-combat roles, including as cooks, guards, nurses and carpenters. 

United States Colored Troops also served in heavy artillery units. According to the 2003 report, “Black Artillerymen from the Civil War through World War I” published in the military magazine Army History, there were more than 25,000 Black artillerymen. 

There was a highly structured training regimen for the newly enlisted men, who, some feared, would seek revenge on their former masters if they served in the military. Their contributions to the union were invaluable. Black soldiers, both free men and escaped enslaved people, possessed critical intel about the southern landscape.

The Library of Congress reports that approximately 180,000 black soldiers fought in the Civil War, which comprised about 10% of the total army

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the majority of United States Colored Troop regiments were disbanded. 

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Shannon Stecker is a creative writer, a marketing director, and a lover of stories. She has spent the past 15 years of her career in a creative space – as a print and broadcast journalist, a freelance...