Save and Interpret Battlefields Where Black Troops Fought
Throughout the first 100 years of our nation’s history, more than 200,000 African Americans fought to establish a more perfect union on the battlefield. During the American Revolution, they assigned loyalty to the British or Patriot cause based on the prospect of freedom. Some joined the Connecticut Line in the Continental Army and what became the Rhode Island Regiment, although not all such enlistments by enslaved men were voluntary. Midway through the Civil War, the U.S. War Department issued General Order No. 143, establishing the United States Colored Troops, enabling more than 178,000 Black men to fight for liberty, a figure representing approximately 10 percent of all federal armies. “Freedom,” wrote Union General Benjamin Butler, “will be theirs by the sword.”
These soldiers served honorably and deserve to be remembered, but their sacrifices are too often relegated to footnotes. Preserving and interpreting these underrepresented chapters of American history is a vital aspect of the American Battlefield Trust’s mission, as we seek to educate the public about what happened on America’s battlefields and why it continues to matter today. During the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, there is documented evidence of African American soldiers fighting in more than 60 of the most important battles of these conflicts.
To honor this rich legacy of valor, the American Battlefield Trust has preserved more than 1,200 acres of hallowed ground associated with the African American military experience during our nation’s first century. Among the sites benefitting from our work to date are:
- Lexington, Mass.: A Black member of the Lexington militia was wounded on the first day of the Revolution. 1 Acre.
- Brandywine, PA: One of the largest battles of the American Revolution where George Washington kept his army intact but ultimately lost the American capital at Philadelphia. 116 Acres.
- Saratoga: The American victory that turned the tide of the war and led to French intervention. 26 Acres.
- Camden, S.C.: A devastating American defeat during the Southern Campaign. 294 Acres.
- Eutaw Springs, S.C.: The last major battle in the South during the American Revolution. 14 Acres.
- Yorktown, Va.: Where the Rhode Island Regiment participated in the critical assault on Redoubt 10 which turned the tide of the siege and witnessed the British surrender. 49 acres.
- Port Hudson, La.: A valiant attack against an impregnable position proved African American courage in combat. 256 Acres.
- Morris Island, S.C.: Site of the charge of the 54th Massachusetts depicted in the film Glory. 117 Acres.
- New Market Heights, Va.: Where 14 USCT soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for valor. 65 Acres.
- Siege of Richmond and Petersburg, Va.: USCT solders were engaged in many elements of the nine-month siege, notably the Battle of the Crater and Second Deep Bottom. 296 Acres.
- Plus many more, including sites in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Carolina
Despite these successes, there is still much more to be done. The Trust is committed to elevating stories about the role African Americans played in the formative conflicts of America’s first century through digital interpretation, the development of key park sites and continued preservation at battlefields central to these stories. As we approach the 250th anniversary of this nation, our commemoration must honor those who, although not free or full citizens, were still willing to fight and even die for the cause of liberty.
Thousands of relevant acres remain endangered, and the Trust is actively working with partners at the federal, state and local levels to secure additional properties. For example, with the Trust’s backing, such sites have been recognized as priority targets within Virginia’s new ConserveVirginia framework. We encourage other states to consider similar opportunities as they evaluate the holistic conservation value of projects.
Beyond land preservation, with your support, we are pursuing a robust suite of educational programs to tell these stories, ranging from traditional on-site interpretive signage, to interactive multimedia applications, virtual exhibits and more.
Please honor the valorous legacy of African American troops by saving the battlefields where they fought.