by Camille Corte
There were almost 200,000 African-Americans serving in the Union Army during the War Between the States. The last major battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Blakeley, saw nine regiments, three infantry brigades, of U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops) fight on the Blakeley Battlefield. Two additional Black regiments helped make up the Engineer Brigade that was present locally in this last phase of the Mobile Campaign, making a total of 11.
A normal regiment usually contained 1,000 soldiers. Towards the end of the war the troop makeup of military unit divisions was not up to full strength. It is estimated then that somewhere between 6,000 and 9,000 black soldiers fought here for the Union. These numbers prove Blakeley to be the site of the third largest accumulation of Black troops in the entire Civil War.
Only two Civil War engagements saw greater Black soldier participation, Petersburg with 22 regiments and Chapin's Farm with 13 regiments, both in Virginia. The United States Colored Troops participated in a total of 449 engagements, 39 of which were major.
Two little known facts of the Civil War remain today: 10% of the entire Union Army was comprised of African-American soldiers. Secondly, Hawkins' Division of Black troops accounted for almost half of the Union forces at Blakeley.
There were a total of 11 U.S.C.T. regiments in the Mobile Campaign in the last days of the spring of 1865. Eight were from Louisiana, one from Mississippi, one from Missouri, and two organized in Louisiana and Missouri. Nine regiments were at the Battle of Blakeley, Hawkins' Division, and the remaining were attached to Brig. General Joseph Bailey's Engineer Brigade, the 9th and the 97th.
Hawkins' Division was stationed on the Union right flank, positioned up closest to the Tensaw River. They attacked Redoubt One and Two which were defended by Adair's Mississippi Brigade and Tarrant's Alabama Battery. "Greater gallantry than was shown by the officers and men could hardly be desired," wrote General C. C. Andrews of the Black Division. As the Black Troops roared towards the Confederate stronghold, some Rebels dreading to fall into their hands, ran off and surrendered to white troops. "Several of the Confederates, with muskets, remained outside of the works, refused to surrender, and maintained a cool and desperate struggle until they fell."
Andrews also wrote that "one soldier found his former master among the prisoners, and they appeared happy to meet and drank from the same canteen but other Blacks attacked prisoners until restrained by their white officers." While still other Confederates chose to escape to the waters of the Tensaw River and were said by eyewitnesses to have been methodically picked off by rifle fire from the shore.
One of the best historical references to the role the Blacks played in this battle is that of Major General Henry C. Merriam in his "Capture of Mobile." Merriam commanded the 73rd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment at Blakeley and served in General William A. Pile's First Brigade of Hawkins' Division. He was awarded the Medal of Honor when, as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 73rd, he "volunteered to attack the enemy's works at Ft. Blakeley in advance of orders and upon permission being given made a most gallant assault in from of Redout 2."
With Merriam in the lead, the 73rd Colored Regiment from New Orleans was the first to plant its colors on the parapet. The history of the 73rd, the first regiment of Black soldiers mustered into the Union army may be found at: History of the 73rd U.S.C.T.
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Thanks to Bennie J. McRae, Jr. for allowing Blakeley to use information from his U. S. C. T. research. His web site is one of the best U.S.C.T. pages and can be found below: