The involvement of Black soldiers in the American Civil War is common knowledge to many, with troops fighting for both the Union and Confederate forces. What might not be known to some is that Black troops in support of the Union Army fought on the front lines in some of the Civil War’s most significant battles.
The Battle of Appomattox occurred on the morning of April 9, 1865, and led to the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia General Robert E. Lee. Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant began advancing his troops into the city of Richmond, Va., which was the capital of the Confederacy. Earlier in the month, Grant broke Lee’s supply lines which led to an evacuation in Richmond and the final stand in Appomattox.
The United States Colored Troops became an important part of the Union forces by 1864, although they were authorized to fight two years prior. Blacks were reluctant to join the Union Army, but abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and others urged them to fight for freedom. The U.S.C.T.’s ranks swelled and were comprised of several units commanded by white officers.
Around 2,000 U.S.C.T. Fighters were in Appomattox the morning of April 9, 1865. Some of these soldiers were part of Grant’s forces that beat back Lee in Richmond. According to accounts, the 7th and 8th U.S.C.T. regiments, hailing from Maryland and Philadelphia respectively, were on the front line and marched into an evacuated railroad center.
Once the troops arrived at the Appomattox Court House, they were ordered to support federal troops during the final phase of the clash. Union Colonel William W. Woodward’s brigade, the 29th and 31st U.S.C.T., fought in the final battle against Lee’s forces. They were supported by Union Colonel Ulysses Doubleday’s brigade, the 8th, 41st, 45th, and 127th U.S.C.T.