City’s Black Troops, Civil War and Union Army Theme at Historical Society Meeting May 24 – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper
Many, if not most of us, are unaware of the significant impact on Union Army troop numbers and effectiveness of the Civil War enlistment of former slaves, men who had been freed from slavery by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. .
Likewise, how these enlistments arose, who the enlistees were, what their fate was, and how Natchez was affected have not been widely understood, even here a major site of this groundbreaking development in the continued war by l ‘Union.
Consider the significance of the virtually overnight journey to Natchez of these people from chattel slavery to one of the key indices of American citizenship, service in the nation’s armed forces. How extraordinary this development must have been for the enlisted and all those involved.
These questions and more will be answered at the Natchez Historical Society’s monthly meeting this Tuesday, May 24 at 6 p.m. at the Historic Natchez Foundation, 108 S. Commerce St. The title of the evening’s presentation is “From Slavery to Enlistment: Profiles of the Men of the 58th Infantry, American Colored Troops.”
The guest speaker is Jeff Mansell, Chief Historian of Natchez Historical Park. A familiar face to the Historical Society and Natchez, Jeff will present the results of his latest research on the U.S. 58th Colored Troops and the creation of Fort McPherson, the Union fortification established by Union troops after their arrival at Natchez in July 1863. In Jeff’s research, he reviewed and recorded information found in over 1,500 enlistment documents for men of the 58th. These records provide a great deal of information about members of the regiment, including their names, ages, lengths of service, and vocations. Remarkably, these enlistment papers also identify the “owners” of former slaves, information not usually found in similar documents of the time. The birthplaces of the new recruits were also recorded, thus indicating those of the men who were probably sold at the Forks of the Road slave market.
The men of this regiment took part in the dismantling of the slave pens at the Forks in the fall of 1863. Tragically, enlistment papers also reveal that almost a third of the regiment’s men died of various illnesses during the first two month. of their service.
We are fortunate to have such an intrepid scholar and historian as Jeff Mansell to address this important part of our heritage. Join us for the patriotic story of these former slaves who threw off the chains of slavery to don the blue uniforms of the Union Army and take a giant step towards full citizenship. We promise a fresh, lively and intriguing evening.
Alan Wolf is a director of the Natchez Historical Society and chairman of its program committee.