Military Service

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”

Frederick Douglass, April 6, 1863

Armed for Glory
Following the Emancipation Proclamation, the military formed the United States Colored Troops. By the end of the war, more than 186,000 African Americans joined the U.S. armed forces. Of these, an estimated 93,542 black soldiers were former slaves who understood firsthand the nation’s fight for freedom. Even as black soldiers fought and died, their citizenship status remained uncertain. Racist policies limited opportunities for black soldiers to become line officers and paid them lower wages than whites.

Officer's Commission

Officer's Commission

As one of roughly 110 African American officers to serve in the Civil War, 1st Lt. Richard Andrews participated in the battles of Pierson Farm, Petersburg, and Chapin’s Farm in Virginia. He was promoted to captain on October 21, 1864, before being severely wounded in battle.
National Museum of African American History and Culture

Butler Medal

Butler Medal

After the Battle of New Market Heights, Gen. Benjamin F. Butler commissioned a medal of honor to be awarded to African American soldiers for bravery. Officially known as Army of the James Medals, these are the only U.S. medals designed specifically for African American troops.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Family of Irving and Estelle Liss

Badge, E. A. Hill, 54th Massachusetts Infantry

Badge, E. A. Hill, 54th Massachusetts Infantry

Hill was wounded during the assault on Ft. Wagner, South Carolina.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift from the Liljenquist Family Collection

Drummer Badge, George Washington (aka George Hooker)

Drummer Badge, George Washington (aka George Hooker)

After escaping slavery, Washington enlisted as a musician at age 16 in the U. S. Colored Infantry.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift from the Liljenquist Family Collection

Identification Tag, William H. Clay, 28th U.S. Colored Infantry

Identification Tag, William H. Clay, 28th U.S. Colored Infantry

Clay died in April 1865 of typhoid fever and was buried at the Alexandria National Cemetery in Virginia.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift from the Liljenquist Family Collection

U.S. Colored Troops Flag

U.S. Colored Troops Flag

Colors of the 12th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery, organized at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, July 15, 1864

National Museum of American History, gift of Town of North Brookfield, Massachusetts