United States Colored Troops History

The Wall of Honor at the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC, displays 209,145 names taken from official records of the Bureau of US Colored Troops (USCT) at the National Archives. The number of enlistees from each state where they enlisted is below:

Louisiana – 24,052 Kentucky – 23,703 Tennessee – 20,133 Mississippi – 17,869
Maryland – 8,718 Pennsylvania – 8,612 Missouri – 8,344 Virginia – 5,919
Arkansas – 5,526 South Carolina – 5,462 Ohio – 5,092 North Carolina – 5,035
Alabama – 4,969 New York – 4,125 Massachusetts – 3,966 Georgia – 3,486
District of Columbia – 3,269 Kansas – 2,080 Rhode Island – 1,837 California – 1,918
Illinois – 1,811 Connecticut – 1,764 Indiana – 1,537 Michigan – 1,387
New Jersey – 1,185 Florida – 1,044 Delaware – 954 Iowa – 440
Wisconsin – 165 Maine – 104 Other States and Areas – 35,786

During the Civil War, the United States Colored Troops made up more than 10% of the Union or Northern Army, despite being prohibited from joining until July 1862, 15 months after the war began.

They made up 25% of the Union Navy, even though only 1% of the Northern population was African American. This overrepresentation highlights the significant role African Americans played in the war.

July 1862

Congress passed the Militia Act of 1862 to address the urgent need for military support. This legislation allowed America's African-descent population to join the Union army and help save the Union. It had become an "indispensable military necessity." Shortly after President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation on July 17, 1862, free men of color joined volunteer regiments in Illinois and New York. These men would later participate in some of the war's most notable campaigns and battles, including Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Sherman's Atlanta Campaign.

September 27, 1862

The first United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiment was established on this date and joined the Union Army. All of its captains and lieutenants were of African descent. The regiment was immediately assigned combat duties and captured Donaldsonville, Louisiana, a month later, on October 27, 1862. Before the Emancipation Proclamation, two additional African-descent regiments from Kansas and South Carolina demonstrated their impressive combat abilities.

January 1, 1863

Once President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on this date, the War Department authorized the recruitment of African Americans. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry was the first regiment to receive this authorization. By the end of 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant recognized the African-descent population, armed with the proclamation, as a "powerful ally."

During the final two years of the war, African Americans played a vital role in all major campaigns and battles. They demonstrated great bravery and earned 25 Medals of Honor. The USCT regiments accomplished significant victories, including capturing Charleston, the Cradle of Secession, and Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Lincoln recognized their contributions and declared, "Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won."