Did Black Soldiers Fight at Gettysburg?

Gettysburg Guide #154

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From time to time visitors on one of my tours will ask this question. Until recently my answer was "No, although blacks did serve in the Army of the Potomac as teamsters." However, I recently came across a diary entry that has me now saying "Maybe". Isaac Taylor of the 1st MN, who was killed in the attack by that regiment against Wilcox Brigade on July 2, left an interesting diary. His entry for Tuesday, June 23 states that a portion of Gen. Stahl’s Cavalry Div. passed near Gainsville, coming from the direction of New Baltimore. Isaac says: “In the 18th. Pa. I observed several colored troopers fully armed & equiped (sic).” Note that Isaac says that they were "armed and fully equipped". So, they were soldiers, not support personnel.

As the Army was not integrated, blacks could not have officially served in the ranks of white units. But could they have served incognito? We are certainly aware today that many women managed to do so. In my mind, it is altogether plausible, perhaps even probable, that a few blacks served with some Union units, and the issue of their race was simply not recorded on the roster.

The 18th Pa. Cavalry does not get too much attention, and their monument is a bit hard to find on Bushman Hill. It's back in the woods several rods and not visible from the road, at least not in summer with all the leaves. (see Photos) According to Major Wm. Darlington's O.R. report dated August 9, 1863, the regiment was engaged in the cavalry fight at Hanover on June 30; a skirmish at Hunterstown on the evening of July 2; the charge in the late afternoon of July 3; the capture of some Confederate wagons on July 4; skirmishing at Smithville on July 5, an engagement at Hagerstown on July 6; a fight with Stuart's cavalry on July 8; and some additional skirmishing on July 12. The report says that they were at Falling Waters on July 14, but not engaged.

18th PA Cav Front.jpeg


18th PA Cav Back.jpeg
 

JD Mayo

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I would say mostly no. They weren't used in action at James Island and Fort Wagner July 1863 that was the 54th Massachusetts infantry. A lot of political leaders thought using black troops that be killed in battle would look bad for newspapers. Union needed a victory first to use black troops that wasn't until Gettysburg.
 

Irishtom29

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A lot of political leaders thought using black troops that be killed in battle would look bad for newspapers. Union needed a victory first to use black troops that wasn't until Gettysburg.

In the western theater Black Federal units fought previous to Gettysburg: the battle of Milliken's Bend and the siege of Port Hudson for instance.
 
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Booner

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In the western theater Black Federal units fought previous to Gettysburg: the battle of Milliken's Bend and the siege of Port Hudson for instance.
According to the Kansas Historical society, the first black regiment to be formed was the First Kansas Colored Infantry, formed in Aug. 1862.
Link--> https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/first-kansas-colored-infantry/12052

One of the very first, (if not the first), black combatant's in the CW had to be at the Second Battle of Boonville, Mo, in Sept. 1861.
limk-->http://www.mogenweb.org/cooper/Military/Negro_Soldiers.pdf
 
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leftyhunter

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In the western theater Black Federal units fought previous to Gettysburg: the battle of Milliken's Bend and the siege of Port Hudson for instance.
The first troops of color to officially engage in combat was the 1st Kansas Coloured Infantry at Island Mound Missiouri in 1862. These were Kansas State Troops not federal troops.
Leftyhunter
 
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From time to time visitors on one of my tours will ask this question. Until recently my answer was "No, although blacks did serve in the Army of the Potomac as teamsters." However, I recently came across a diary entry that has me now saying "Maybe". Isaac Taylor of the 1st MN, who was killed in the attack by that regiment against Wilcox Brigade on July 2, left an interesting diary. His entry for Tuesday, June 23 states that a portion of Gen. Stahl’s Cavalry Div. passed near Gainsville, coming from the direction of New Baltimore. Isaac says: “In the 18th. Pa. I observed several colored troopers fully armed & equiped (sic).” Note that Isaac says that they were "armed and fully equipped". So, they were soldiers, not support personnel.

As the Army was not integrated, blacks could not have officially served in the ranks of white units. But could they have served incognito? We are certainly aware today that many women managed to do so. In my mind, it is altogether plausible, perhaps even probable, that a few blacks served with some Union units, and the issue of their race was simply not recorded on the roster.

The 18th Pa. Cavalry does not get too much attention, and their monument is a bit hard to find on Bushman Hill. It's back in the woods several rods and not visible from the road, at least not in summer with all the leaves. (see Photos) According to Major Wm. Darlington's O.R. report dated August 9, 1863, the regiment was engaged in the cavalry fight at Hanover on June 30; a skirmish at Hunterstown on the evening of July 2; the charge in the late afternoon of July 3; the capture of some Confederate wagons on July 4; skirmishing at Smithville on July 5, an engagement at Hagerstown on July 6; a fight with Stuart's cavalry on July 8; and some additional skirmishing on July 12. The report says that they were at Falling Waters on July 14, but not engaged.

View attachment 367069

View attachment 367070
I would still say no, as it doesn't sound they were very incognito. Depending on the distance I could see suntanned dirty dusty troops in July being mistaken as darker then they were. As sweat does tend to cause dust and grime to stick to one's skin.
 
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JD Mayo

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In the western theater Black Federal units fought previous to Gettysburg: the battle of Milliken's Bend and the siege of Port Hudson for instance.

Ah that's right they just weren't popular yet in the eastern theater because the Union were not victories yet.
 

Tom Elmore

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7thWisconsin

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It is possible that heavily sun-tanned white soldiers were mistaken for black troops. A lot of soldiers were dark complected from cooking over fires built from green wood, mostly pine which is sooty and pitchy. Also, it is possible that there were a small number of light complected black men "passing" as white when they enlisted. Perhaps Perhaps a Southerner, from a region where race was exceptionally important, may have brought a keenly practiced eye to the description. Certainly there were no organized bodies of black troops at Gettysburg. Honestly, who can say about these exceptions.
 
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It is possible that heavily sun-tanned white soldiers were mistaken for black troops. A lot of soldiers were dark complected from cooking over fires built from green wood, mostly pine which is sooty and pitchy. Also, it is possible that there were a small number of light complected black men "passing" as white when they enlisted. Perhaps Perhaps a Southerner, from a region where race was exceptionally important, may have brought a keenly practiced eye to the description. Certainly there were no organized bodies of black troops at Gettysburg. Honestly, who can say about these exceptions.
Calvary in summer can draw a lot of dust if not up front, also if they had been engaged even smoke and gunpowder could stick with sweat besides the dust and grime.

When I was a kid, and you'd still see tractors without air-conditioned cabs, you be amazed how much dust can stick to a sweaty farmer.........seen firefighters from brush fires in summer looking pretty dark as well
 

WJC

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The 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry was a State volunteer unit. Pennsylvania had a small, but significant population of Black Freemen. Unless the State of Pennsylvania specifically prohibited enlisting Blacks, it is possible some individual Blacks were enlisted and may have participated in actions during the Rebel incursion into the Keystone State.
This would make a great research project!
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Randolph Johnson, a black Gettysburg civilian, " poured hot lead " into the fight-I've lost which man in which regiment made note of him, rats. Odd that John Burns seems to be the only civilian celebrated as doing the same thing. Tracked him down, had a tavern apparently. That he hung around to fight at all makes it even more remarkable. Black population was terribly at risk and in fact quite a few were captured and taken south.
 

7thWisconsin

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Calvary in summer can draw a lot of dust if not up front, also if they had been engaged even smoke and gunpowder could stick with sweat besides the dust and grime.

When I was a kid, and you'd still see tractors without air-conditioned cabs, you be amazed how much dust can stick to a sweaty farmer.........seen firefighters from brush fires in summer looking pretty dark as well
Don't you know it! I was a tank platoon leader. After you drive down a dirt tank trail in the summer, dust covers everything! I still have the map bag I used to carry slung around the TC's hatch. To this day, if you beat on it really hard, dust will fly out of it!
@WJC: Federal enlistment standards would not allow a state to enlist African Americans knowingly. Anyone who succeeded in enlisting had to lie to get it the same way women impersonating men did. While it is true that Pennsylvania was home to a large population of people of color, they were unable to enlist until 1863. IIRC, 6th USCT was the first unit of color fully raised and trained in Pennsylvania. It had a very diverse population, including a number of Pacific Islanders.
 
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Andersonh1

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Just to give a glimpse at the other side, the South obviously had no organized regiments of black soldiers at Gettysburg, but some black individuals were apparently captured there. To what extent they fought or otherwise participated in the battle is unknown. I don't want to turn this thread into a "black Confederate" debate, just wanted to share some of these accounts and to note that there may be comparable newspaper stories about black participation for the Union side that could address some of the OP's questions. If these few black men were seen and reported on, surely black men participating on the Union side would have been as well.

The New York herald. (New York [N.Y.]) 1840-1920, July 11, 1863
6wbermr-jpg.jpg


Staunton spectator. (Staunton, Va.) 1849-1896, October 13, 1863
mxeiexz-jpg.jpg



The Southern Enterprise. (Greenville, S.C.) November 12, 1863
mtpadsn-jpg.jpg


Titus Brown, Pvt. Co. I, 2nd Regt. SC
Appears on a list of wounded Confederates sent to the Provost Marshal, New York, the forenoon of July 21, 1863, Gettysburg Pa
bb7qveu-png.png


The weekly democratic statesman. (Austin, Tex.) 1871-1883, September 02, 1880
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Abraham Moser claims to have "fought with Mississippi troops at Gettysburg". Gettysburg Compiler, 2 July 1938
1561354325190-png.png
 

19thGeorgia

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Titus Brown, Pvt. Co. I, 2nd Regt. SC
Appears on a list of wounded Confederates sent to the Provost Marshal, New York, the forenoon of July 21, 1863, Gettysburg Pa
View attachment 367348
There were only three or four men in SC of military age with this name. They were all black. In fact, I could not find anyone by this name (whatever the age) in SC who was white.

This Titus Brown appears only on a POW record and not on any regular roll. Probably a servant.

There was another Titus from SC that joined the USCT, but it was before Gettysburg. He joined at Hilton Head in May 1863. Titus of the 2nd SC CSA remained true.
 
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Tom Elmore

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Three wounded and captured Confederates from Company I, 2nd South Carolina were sent to hospitals in New York, which makes them the most eligible candidates to have owned Titus Brown:
5th Sergeant William P. Westcoat.
Private C. P. Bellinger.
Private Joseph M. Harley.

"Bob" was a servant (slave) of Lt. William Lowndes Daniel, Company I, 2nd South Carolina, who (Daniel) was killed on July 2.

British Colonel Fremantle observed the brigades of Kershaw, Semmes and Barksdale on June 25, and recalled that 20-30 black slaves on average accompanied each regiment on the march into Pennsylvania.
 

James N.

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One part of Titus Brown's news story stood out for me:

Titus - Dat's all you know about it; de money's jist as good in de Souf as 'tis in de Norf; for dar ebryting high and money plenty, here ebryting cheap and money skace. Nigga have a dollar in de Souf where buckra don't have a dime in de Norf...

Remember the scene in Glory where Morgan Freeman has to explain to Andre Braugher that "buckra" is the Sea Islander's slang for whites. (Likely poor whites at that.)
 
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