A closer look at those USCT monuments and markers

Posted on March 12, 2013 by

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In the poll, from earlier today, I asked readers how many monuments and markers there are, that interpret the story of the USCTs. Based on the monuments/markers uploaded to the Historical Markers Database, there are 115 (using “USCT” in the search engine), and 161 (using the phrase “colored troops” in the search engine).

Where the USCT monuments and markers are...

According to the Historical Markers Database… where all those monuments and markers are, using “colored troops” as the search phrase…

I took both lists and compiled them, eliminating duplicates. I then went through this new list and weeded out markers in which neither “USCT” or “Colored Troops” appeared. It seems the search engine picked-up on secondary information on the Historical Markers Database pages, for the respective markers. Inevitably, this whittled the list down to 141 markers.

That’s the answer to today’s poll, based on the information available in the Historical Markers Database. I want to thank all those who participated in the poll. It helped to establish an idea of what our perceptions are, regarding how little/how much interpretation exists, in monuments and markers, for USCTs.

But, hold on… that’s not all.

In addition to generating this list, I went a few steps further. Next, I began combing through each of the monuments/markers to identify the types of information found.  I generated two classifications… the first “Subject”, where USCTs were the subject matter of the interpretation; the second was “Reference”, where USCTs were only referenced as a part of the overall interpretation.  That said, if USCTs were only part, but made-up a substantial part of the information, I nudged the monument/marker up to the “Subject” category.  Also, under the “Subject” category, I included markers in which the subjects were USCT veterans.

In all, there were sixty-five for “Subject”, and seventy-six for “Reference.” I should also add that I did not count duplicate markers, which seem to be a bit of a habit for Maryland (three or four in two different series). I only counted a replicated marker, once per series.

Where do monuments/markers dominate?

Virginia leads the way, with thirty-four, followed by Maryland (21), Pennsylvania (12), South Carolina (11), Tennessee (10), North Carolina (9), Connecticut (6), and Ohio (4). There are three each for D.C., Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Delaware; two each for Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Oklahoma; and one each for Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia.

Who was responsible for making the monuments/markers possible?

With a total of sixty-eight, state organizations top those responsible for making these possible. I probably should have broken this down, however. After all, Virginia Civil War Trails, Maryland Civil War Trails, North Carolina Civil War Trails, and Pennsylvania Civil War Trails programs have been major facilitators for these markers. I classified them as “state”, but in reality, they are programs that work with smaller, private organizations. Having worked with it directly for a few years, I’m most familiar with the Virginia Civil War Trails program, from which all the others (excepting Pa. CW Trails) sprung forth. After “state” support, the following applies: local/county/city, 25; un-sourced (should probably be “unknown sources”), 16; federal (usually DOI/NPS), 15; other/private/veterans, 12; state/private partnerships, 2; county/private partnerships, 1; county/state partnerships, 1.

When were all of these monuments/markers placed?

By far, the 2000s have proved huge for USCT markers, with placement of 85; followed by the “undated” markers (which, from appearance, look like they came into play in the 2000s as well), 32; the 1990s, 9; the 1980s, 6… and the 1970s, 1. Before this, there were huge gaps between markers. The following shows the years before the 1970s… 1943 (1); 1933 (1); 1908 (1); 1887 (2); 1886 (1); 1868 (1); 1865 (1).

Where are the oldest USCT monuments/markers?

Connecticut has three of the oldest that reference USCTs! But… let’s not get ahead of ourselves… look at the list of all placed between 1865 and 1943…

Terryville Soldiers Memorial, Litchfield, Ct – 1865 (BUT, this memorial only lists one USCT… a white officer); Montgomery County Civil War Memorial, Montgomery Co., Pa., 1868; Baxter Springs Civil War Memorial, Cherokee Co., KS, 1886; Soldiers and Sailors Monument, New Haven, Ct., 1887; Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, Suffolk Co., MA., 1887; Civil War Monument, Litchfield, Ct., 1908; Soldiers Buried in “Old Town Cemetery” – Crawfordville, Indiana, Montgomery Co., IN, 1933; Camp William Penn, Montgomery Co., Pa., 1943.

Now, sure… these are all interesting stats, but… there’s one more part of this that I found disturbing.

Remarkably, there are several markers that should have reference to USCTs, but do not. What makes this even worse is that these markers should, at the very least, reference the units by name. While they aren’t snubbed in interpretive signage at places such as the Crater and New Market Heights, they are absent from other sites at which they fought and died… places like Olustee, Fl. (five markers, with no reference to the 54th Mass. and 35th USCT), Morris Island, S.C. (two markers that mention Battery Wagner, but nothing about the 54th and 55th Mass.), Tupelo, MS. (two battle of Tupelo markers with no reference to the USCT brigade there), and Honey Hill, S.C. (one marker, and no mention of the involvement of USCTs).

With this in mind, I have to reconsider my earlier position. It’s places like these that need to take priority before we even think about how to weave the story of USCTs in places in which they were not. I mean, after all, how can we, in good conscience, begin to talk about them where they were not, when they aren’t even given proper recognition in places in which they fought, bled and died? Without giving these places our attention first, it speaks more of a greater failure in proper interpretation of the USCTs.

*Certainly, I may have slipped in my tallying of numbers. Let’s put it this way… I didn’t double-check the results. Still, I think they reflect accurately, based on percentages. Also, keep in mind, there may be other monuments and markers that have yet to make it to the Historical Markers Database… but I don’t think there can be that many, if any. 

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