Last week, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams and other members of New York City Council honored the 150th Anniversary of the first African-American troops from New York to fight in the Civil War. Williams also introduced a resolution designating the month of February as New York Regiment Colored Troops (USCT) Month.
More than 4,000 free Blacks served in three USCT regiments that came out of New York City: the USCT 20th, 26th, and USCT 31st.
The NY USCT drew enlistees from near and far, including countries outside of the United States, such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Virgin Island, Barbados, Canada, Cape Verde and Native Americans from Long Island.
The 26th (USCT) United States Colored Troops Historical Interpreters, a Civil War reenactment group, wearing Civil War era military uniforms, presented a Color Guard in City Hall and marched into Chambers where they received the proclamation from Williams.
Some of the participants are descendants of those New York Regiments who fought in the Civil War.
Among those present was Queens resident Willie Cooper, retired junior high school social studies teacher, who wrote “Forgotten Legacy” dedicated to his great grandfather who served with the 36th Regiment in Virginia. Under one of its battles in northeast North Carolina, over 3,000 slaves– many family members of the soldiers–were freed.
Dr. Macomb Beech, president of the U.S. Colored Troops 350-member Living History Association was also among the Color Guard receiving acknowledgement and honors from City Council members.
According to the National Park Service, approximately 200,000 free African Americans enlisted in the USCT, which comprised 175 regiments from various states across the country, including 4,125 men in the New York Regiments.
More than 38,000 black soldiers died in the Civil War effort that included tens of thousands of black soldiers and sailors playing a crucial war to ending slavery in the United States.
The 20th and 26th Regiment were organized on Rikers Island, New York Harbor, on February 9 and February 27, 1864, respectively. The 31st Regiment was organized on Hart Island on April 29, 1864 and was comprised of New Yorkers whose descendants include Actress Vanessa Williams and NY1 News Anchor Cheryl Wills, whose great-great-great grandfather escaped his slave master and joined the USCT.
The New York 26th USCT- a Civil War Reenacting group based in the NYC area, is active in New York State, NJ, CT, PA regions proving educational enrichment programs, demonstrations, talks at living history events, classrooms, and battle reenactments.