Honoring Black Civil War Soldiers

BEAUFORT — When they were students at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the 1970s, Ben Hodges and Chris Allen learned a lot about the country’s various armed engagements.

Many years later — after Hodges retired as a three-star lieutenant general of the Army, after Allen retired from a career in the Special Forces — they discovered a void in their knowledge of U.S. military history.


“This marks the beginning of continuous service by African Americans in the U.S. Army,” Hodges said. And that service was high-risk and noteworthy.

Now the two friends are pushing for their alma mater — and for other institutions — to place greater emphasis on the history of African Americans’ military service. And they want the 1st South to get some kind of formal recognition.


In November 1861, Union troops took control of Port Royal Sound and created a base of operations in the Southeast. Local White property owners in the town of Beaufort and in its surrounding countryside fled. Suddenly, about 10,000 enslaved people were emancipated by default. Union administrators weren’t sure about what they should do.

Maj. Gen. David Hunter, commander of the Army’s Department of the South, assembled a regiment of 500 Black men in March 1862 but lacked the required political support to maintain it. Meanwhile, Frederick Douglass and Robert Smalls were in Washington, D.C. around this time to argue the merits of enlisting African Americans in the Union Army.


For most people interested in this history, it’s the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers who first come to mind, partly because they were the subject of the popular 1989 feature film “Glory,” which inadvertently “pushes the idea that that’s the Black regiment,” he said.

“We don’t talk about the guys who built the foundation for the 54th to be recruited.”

That foundation remains firmly in place. Upon it stands every African American who has served in the armed forces of the United States.

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